My idea of a hot car is one that goes from zero to sixty – degrees – in under fifteen minutes. Even when I plunk down my two dollars for a twenty million dollar fantasy, a dream car is usually last on the list. My automotive apathy, however, met its match when I married a classic car junkie.
Not content to merely thumb through car magazines, the Big Guy lives for car shows. He’s successfully passed his love of all things automotive on to our two boys which means any car show or antique car museum in a 60 mile radius shows up on our weekend to do list. That’s why it’s hardly surprising that we’ve found ourselves speeding down route 22 in New York in the driving rain on what would normally be a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The rain should stop. This antique car show is at the studio and mansion of the man who sculpted the Lincoln memorial. Despite the rain and the fact that my fantasy to do list still doesn’t include finding another car show, I’m looking forward to the afternoon. It’s not the gourmet lunch or the elegant display of painstakingly restored cars that will make the day for me, however.
As with past shows – elegant or rustic – I know I’ll be focused, not on the cars but on the boys. My day will be spent snapping one photo after another as the Big Guy hoists six-year-old Thing2 up to examine the brass lights on a shiny Model T. I’ll try to surreptitiously capture twelve-year-old Thing1’s lanky form bending over to study a curvy dashboard through the window of an antique Mercedes. And, at some point in the day, when they’ve dropped their guards and their games and the three of them are smiling, comparing notes and fantasies, I’ll make another, permanently mental image of my three boys being boys on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
When our twelve-year-old, Thing1, was about four, he began begging us for a baby brother. He didn’t want more playdates with other boys, and he definitely didn’t want a baby sister. Fortunately, we were able to deliver on his request two year later, and, even though we couldn’t take credit for Thing2’s gender, Thing1 was perfectly happy to go along with our contention that Thing2 was the big present that Christmas.
Thing1 took his big-brother responsibilities very seriously. He read to Thing1and held his hand on the jungle gyms. He made sure that I didn’t pick any outfits or Halloween costumes that violated the boy code of ‘not-too-cute’. It didn’t take Thing2 long to decide that his older brother was a hero. Six years later, Thing1 is learning that no good deed goes unpunished.
The two of them share the same wants these days, and the perfect harmony that characterized their early years together goes off key with increasing frequency. They still share a bunk room, and, for a time, I thought the close proximity was the primary cause of their constantly overlapping material desires. But the other night, as the Big Guy and I orchestrated the circus that is homework hour at our house, it became apparent that it does’t always take the opposing forces that lead to conflict don’t have to be equal in size or determination.
The increased expectations and volume of homework this year drove Thing1 to study at the desk we put in his room two years ago. Thing2, however, still needs more supervision if we want his 20 minutes of homework done before eight o’clock at night, and we’ve designated the kitchen table as his study space. Anything can draw our happily distractible six-year-old away from his studies, and, if we don’t keep a close eye on him, we know we’ll find him in the bunk room pestering his older brother.
Last week I had a chance to watch this ballet once more. This time, however, a different angle made it seem like a completely new production. Thing2 had just been restored to his chair after bouncing around the house, showing us his afternoon artwork. Thing1 had the door to their room closed. Hoping a little music would help Thing2 concentrate, I hit play on If I Fell, one of his favorite Beatles’ songs.
My plan backfired immediately. Thing2 began singing, revealing that he wanted to sing Beatles at the school talent show. The love song ended, but instead of bending his head to his work, Thing2 hopped off the chair and ran to the bunkroom, calling to his brother through the door to let him know about the talent show plans.
“Leave me alone,” Thing1 yelled through the door. “I’m trying to work!” I ordered Thing2 back to his seat and opened the door to let Thing1 know yelling at his brother should be reserved for actual crimes. He came out to defend his reaction and, after we discussed the right tone to use with his parents, Thing1 trudged back to his desk. Thing2, watched the exchange and hopped up again as soon as his brother began his retreat. It was like watching a match chasing a long fuse.
I got up to pull my first-grader back to his homework before a fight broke out, but when I got to the door of the bunk room, Thing2 was hanging on the back of his brother’s chair, arms wrapped tightly around Thing1’s neck, consoling him while revealing his talent show plans. Thing1, still miffed, was trying to write while ignoring the stranglehold, but then I saw him pat his baby brother’s hand. At that moment I knew he also realized that this wasn’t pestering. It was worship. Sometimes it hurts, but even when he’s trying to find breathing space, Thing1 seems to understand that being someone’s hero is not just a responsibility; it’s a gift.
The steps creak a little more each day as Thing1 descends from his bastion on the upper bunk. He’s been taller than his mother for a year now, and, even though he enjoys sizing up the difference every time we pass in the hall, I am getting used to looking up at someone I used to carry around in a Snugli. It’s strange feeling, and a few weeks ago, I realized that Thing1, evoking a decidedly impish quality, didn’t really suit him anymore.
I’ve been using nicknames for my kids and husband since this blog’s inception. My six foot six husband is the Big Guy. My twelve and six-year-old boys are known as Thing1 and Thing2 (or SuperDude if he’s wearing his cape and wig), respectively.
My decision to use nicknames was not so much to safeguard their internet safety – very little is private anymore now – but more the result of the feeling that, especially with the kids, I had the right to tell our stories but not the right to opt in the use of their real names until they were old enough to make that decision themselves. The result has been a mostly illustrated blog (the few photos of the kids are usually old enough to prevent easy recognition by anyone but the people who already know them), and I’ve been happy with it. Now, however, as I’ve been searching for a new, more appropriate nickname for the gentle giant that roams our house, I realize that part of the motivation for the original nickname was my denial that he is growing up.
There is still a bit of the imp in him, but middle school and the discovery that a world lies outside Minister Hill have made him serious. When the imp is revealed, Thing2 is often the inspiration and the provocation. Like any good younger brother, Thing2 carries around a bit of loving hero worship for his big brother. Most afternoons he expresses his love by snuggling up to his older brother, but there are times when love hurts.
Sometimes inspired by boredom, sometimes by that most flattering of desires – to imitate his older brother in every possible way – Thing2 will sidle up to Thing1 at his desk or on the couch. He’ll work to inhabit the space with his brother. Then he’ll ask to play whatever Thing1 is playing, listen to whatever song Thing1 has blasting, or watch whatever show Thing1 thought was great last night but couldn’t care less about this afternoon. He is dogged in his admiration, and, when Thing1, in the time-honored tradition of surly preteens everywhere, ignores the initial overtures, Thing2 finds a plan B.
Snuggling becomes poking. Then poking becomes climbing, and sometimes the climbing hurts. Thing2’s faith that Thing1 would never hurt him is stronger David’s in a God that would guide his slingshot was. For the most part his faith is well-placed. Unlike the ancient Goliath, when our giant needs a lot of needling before he responds in kind. Sometimes the giant will lose his temper, but he rarely loses his cool.
Lately he’s been taking on more grown-up chores around the house. He’s attentive and responsive when we need a quick favor. Naturally, I see him through my maternal bias, but as I watch the imp becoming a man, I’ve decided it’s time for someone to get a new nickname and rehabilitate the name Goliath.
Maybe if it hadn’t been a snow day filled with lolling about and lying around, this milestone might have gone unnoticed. But twelve-year-old Thing1, getting as big as a good-natured Goliath these days, made the mistake of mentioning that he wanted a shower on a slow news day. The Big Guy and I looked at our son and then back at each other, the same question on our minds.
I think the Big Guy was the first to ask Goliath point blank if there was a girl involved. Our firstborn immediately rebuffed such a ridiculous suggestion. His hair was too long, he said. It was too warm and he needed to cool off.
I don’t mean to imply that Goliath doesn’t shower regularly. But anyone who’s raised or raising boys will concur that there comes a phase in their lives when they develop severe soap allergies, as evidenced – at our house – by the sounds of cajoling and pleading (and that’s the parents) that commence many evenings just after supper time. We have heard every excuse for why Goliath and his six-year-old tormenter, David, should abstain from contact with cleanliness. They don’t feel dirty. They’re just going to get dirty again tomorrow. They’re trying to save water and (going after our off-grid Achille’s heels) electricity. So when we haven’t had to cajole or plead for not just one night, but three in a row, it’s a major event.
The Big Guy and I didn’t contest any further his earnest contention that a sudden romantic interest was not at the source of this sudden spate of elective hygiene. Once Goliath cleared his place and retreated to his half-hour shower, however, the Big Guy and I looked at each other, realizing we are getting closer and closer to the scary hairy edge of being parents of a full-fledged teenager. And as frightening as that thought is, the scarier idea is just how fast it’s all going.