Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.
Oliver has spent the weekend reviewing his packing list getting himself ready to spend three days in the woods with his fifth grade class. At night we lie close and he tells me that he will come back more grown up, but that I don’t have to worry…he will always be my boy. Clasped together I notice that our hands are the same size.
Behind us the clothes are laid out across the living room. It looks as though a mini winter hiker stretched out on our rug and then disappeared, leaving his outline in gear behind. I ask if we are waiting for Elijah to come and join us for an outdoor adventure. Because passover was just last week my kids get the joke. Leo goes to open the door for him and lets in the gust of cold air that made Oliver plan for a bitter winter trip in a Colorado May.
While Oliver arranged and re-arranged his items Leo and I strategized about teacher appreciation day. He has a love/hate relationship with his homeroom teacher. If we can call it love/hate without love. He is trying to figure out how to be honest and appreciative at the same time. He is pretty good at twisting words in his favor so he has lots of idea. I can write “THANK YOU” on the card and then just write Leo inside. Like I am thanking me. Or I could thank her for being a teacher. Not MY teacher, but A teacher because we need teachers. His ideas continue. I tell him about the beginning of my love/hate relationship with thank you notes (assuming it can be love/hate without the love.) It started with the Viorst poem from If I Were In Charge of the World and other Worries.
I wanted small pierced earrings (gold).
You gave me slippers (gray).
My mother said that she would scold unless I wrote to say how much I like them.
The boys love this. Oliver leaves his packing to help us work on alternatives of the poem. The card goes unwritten. I will not insist.
It is morning now and the boys and I are at the counter having breakfast. I am eating cauliflower shepard’s pie (more on that later). Oliver is eating cereal. Leo is eating snot and tears.
A surprise school cancellation on Friday coupled with house guests have left the boys with homework on a Monday morning. Even if I had thought of it I wouldn’t have reminded them about their homework. It is part of my lazy parenting. Yet now, minutes before they head out the door I have decided to “help.” Oliver alternates bites of cereal with neat pencil marks and finishes his work in his typical stoic manner. Leo also has a pencil in hand but no breakfast in sight. He is working through his literacy packet slowly, shuddering with effort that he would never have felt on Thursday evening. If he doesn’t finish this will be the first assignment he misses all year. If this is true it will be a marked change from last year where he went months without handing anything in. Thinking about this I decide to support him and offer some suggestions.
It is ten seconds before he is wailing. “Its too hard. There is too much. I can’t do it.” I have toppled his fragile block tower. Around us he tumbles like his tears. I respond to his cry screams by withdrawing the help he never asked for. “I can’t help you until you stop crying.” In how many houses has this sentence sat in a threesome with tense parent and tender child? It doesn’t go so differently here. “Its not so many pages” says Oliver. “Yeeeeeees it is…I can never do it….” “So don’t do it.” I say supportively. If snapping can be supportive.
To his credit Leo scoops up his stuff and leaves the counter, distancing himself from my judgment and upset. He can’t tell that both of those are levied against myself. In this moment I have changed my parenting and neither of us are better for it.
Fifteen minutes later they are both out of the house with flowers for their teachers, completed homework and even a thank you card from Leo. He has gone further than I expected he would. From tears to togetherness in just a few minutes. He was even able to write something kind to his teacher. Particularly if you interpret the drawing as a smiley face. Its borderline. Just like Oliver’s growing up. Just like my hands-off parenting. Just like Leo’s homework streak. If I tilt my head just so things are entirely new, and if I tilt it back the other way we are just the way we were.
I take a sip of tea and look at Elijah behind me. He is ready for the next step into the woods. And I am ready for Oliver to return from it a little stronger, but still my boy.