We were driving to school.
Those boys had just done a turn-on-a-dime shift from arguing and growling at one another to being “best brothers”, the code-word they use which seems to have the power to mysteriously change the atmosphere in the room or in the car when things aren’t going well.
Whatever it was that had started their growling was a mystery in the first place. It just happened. I gave a big sigh when I saw the big scalawag making that super nasty face he makes when he’s in a foul mood. The little one refused to get into the car because the big one was making the face (to be fair, I would have liked to refuse, too.)
And then the little one said, quite courageously, “Hey! Let’s be best brothers!”
“I don’t want to play best brothers,” the big one snapped back.
“Not play best brothers” replied the little one solemnly while I put on his seatbelt. “We are best brothers.”
I hovered a second before I popped my head back out of the car. My heart sometimes breaks for this little guy, who has to live through the big guy’s ups and downs like the rest of us, and does it with so much more grace than I often do. Whatever magic was happening was worth paying attention to–I have much to learn about grace from this little scalawag.
“Of course we are best brothers,” the big one said, with a goofy grin, all traces of the face erased. The tensions evaporated. “Mama, did I tell you that Lina kissed Louis?” he continued, with zero transition.
“Did she ask his permission?” I replied–the issue of consent being the only one I care to talk about with this particular six year-old who is apparently learning at school, in addition to Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, that sometimes boys and girls kiss.
I leaned in to kiss the littlest best brother and caught myself before I did. “May I kiss you?” I asked. He offered up his meaty cheek as a sacrifice, which I kissed with great enthusiasm. “Thank you for being such a great brother,” I whispered in his ear before I closed his door.
As I rounded the car to get in, I was thinking about this little six year-old Lina, who I know to be precocious in every way. I know her dad struggles with her. He’s a single father who does as much as he can for his girls, but this one girl is a particularly tough one to parent. I was feeling so sad for him, for her, for Louis, who probably had no idea what hit him when this gale-force tropical storm Lina wound up and kissed him.
It starts early, I thought to myself. I need to start early, too.
I got settled in the car and the music fired up. It was Christmas music (Carol of the Bells, to be specific). “Put on Summertime!” the eldest scalawag barked at me. Without considering a “no”, since the atmosphere had cleared and I didn’t want to create any reason for discord, I went to change the music. But then, the littlest scalawag objected. “But it’s the bell song!”
I waited a second. This was one of those myriad itty bitty choices I would have to make today: let my littlest scalawag exist and have a voice in our family, or try to keep the eldest from flipping that switch and becoming the supervillain. I hate living like this, always trying to mollify my eldest, whose mood rides on the wings of a butterfly in China.
“Okay, okay!” the eldest said, with a mystifying smile in his voice. “Let’s listen to Christmas music.”
I actually didn’t know how to respond. Was I supposed to thank him for letting his brother’s request stand? I shouldn’t have to, but I felt like I needed to. I was just so thankful for this tiny show of flexibility: he removed the responsibility of making one of them unhappy from my shoulders.
I pulled out of the driveway, contemplating this little gift my eldest had just given me. The traffic was smooth. I actually made the first two lights without having to stop. It was like that opening scene of Meet the Fockers, when Greg hits only green lights all the way to the airport.
The boys were gaily telling jokes in the backseat. Wait, no, let me rephrase: Little scalawag was saying silly things, then tacking on, “It’s a joke!”, which is the big scalawag’s cue to laugh uproariously. It’s usually pretty genuine. For whatever reason, I was laughing, too, either because it really was funny, or the big scalawag’s laughter was contagious, or, because the little scalawag’s efforts to keep the atmosphere light was a delicious mood enhancer.
I remembered something Dana K White had said about parenting: no matter how bad the jokes may be, we should always laugh at their jokes. As I was thinking about this, my eldest said, “Mama, you are fake laughing.”
“I swear I’m not,” I replied. “Your brother is funny!”
The song changed, and there was a long silence.
“Mama?” the littlest scalawag said. “I love you.”
“I love you too, babe,” I replied, putting on the turn signal for an imminent left turn.
Then it happened.
Jingle jingle jingle jingle… I waited for the impending feeling of irritation to set in. I do not like the sound of Christmas bells. Usually, this serves to irritate me beyond reason. Nothing happened. No irrational anger.
The Mariah started to sing:
I don’t want a lot for Christmas…there is just one thing I need…
Nothing. Huh. I wondered. What is wrong with me?
Blah blah blah, she doesn’t care about the presents, underneath the Christmas tree...
By now we were in the tunnel under the train station, well on our way to school.
Make my wish come true… I did the unthinkable…
I crooned along with Mariah.
Baby I all I want for Christmas is you…
“Stop singing!” my scalawags shouted in unison, then erupted into endless guffaws.
Here I was, mid-November, not irritated that Mariah was already singing about what she wanted for Christmas, not even irritated that my boys were telling me yet again to stop singing. I was laughing with my gents, who were getting along for once.
Then, my little entertainer in the backseat surprised us by singing along, in impressive imitation of Mariah, with a rousing version of All I want for Christmas is poop.
I can’t remember laughing so hard in my life.