These pleas pour from Oliver’s mouth. They are extended and whiny and generally annoying to everyone but his brother who has teased them out of him with skill. He has been slowly sorting through Oliver’s homework and has pulled out the only unfinished page which he now waves just out of his brother’s reach.
Oliver is a diligent student, and has just written a paragraph about civil rights which includes all of the vocabulary words introduced in fifth grade this week. The writing is a bit wooden as he worked to integrate each word despite being prompted to use only three of the list of 20. The ending of his essay breaks away from the assignment as he expresses his surprise at the suffering of pre suffrage, and the pervasive prejudice that he is privileged not to recognize in our daily life.
He embodies the stereotypes of the first born. He is stoic and responsible, and in almost every case the soother of ruffled feathers. All within the rules of society.
A year ago we sat at the same homework table. Oliver’s blond head was bent over his math, left hand gripping his pencil, tip of his tongue visible to help with concentration. Leo was messing around with small gems and minerals, lining them up for battle and sorting them into relative value. Probably thinking of the vulnerability of his imagined wealth he asked:
“What would happen if there was no law against stealing?”
I chose to interpret that as coming from the side of the victim rather than a possible future looter. “What do you think? How could you keep people from stealing your things?”
His answer was quick:
“Guns and knives.”
Without looking up from his math Oliver added his world view:
This was before the fourth grade government unit. What 9 year old thinks civil agreement would be more effective than guns and knives? My first born does.
By day Oliver is a student. In the afternoon he follows his passions with confidence that matches his age. After 3 guitar lessons he considers himself a guitar player. Now that he can count to five he believes he speaks Spanish. In the evening he is a great reader and loving son. He thinks he will be able to solve the water problem that keeps us from inhabiting Mars. He feels responsibility for his work and the world.
The boys are still fighting at the table. Leo has an evil grin as he hops off the bench to carry Oliver’s assignment into the other room. Oliver is half laughing and half crying as he trips over his own feet chasing him. I am no longer annoyed. I appreciate this, how Leo makes Oliver stay his age. How their teasing and tumbling and property rights arguments keep Oliver out of his head and into the world of three dimensions.
I love this brightness of brotherhood. The gleaming gold thread in the practical monochrome weave that is Oliver’s life. The wonder and humor of still being a little boy brought on by bickering.
Leo has given up the paper, careful not to crease it as he sets it aside. They are intertwined, 17 months apart, legs the same length. In a minute Oliver will be back at the table, pencil in hand, eye on the clock, ready to follow our evening routine. For now though he has set aside the responsibilities of being a student. Their laughs are as tangled as their limbs and I can’t tell where one boy starts and the other ends.