Every day now, for the past two weeks, Scott has been dropping L. off on campus on his way to work. I meet the van in the parking lot by the college chapel, and L. springs out, happy, and usually ready to start telling me about his latest idea/obsession/book he read. We walk the path to my office, and he waits in there, surfing the internet, or reading, while I make photocopies and do odds and ends to get ready for the next morning's classes.
T. finishes school this week, and the juggling act that we've been doing these past two weeks will vanish, just as quickly as it began. Scott and I both have one more week of summer school left, and then we can finally settle into a summer routine. Some days it's hard to have L. there with me, in my office, while I'm trying to do a million and one things. But mostly it's good. I think he remembers, as I do, all the moments he spent in my office as a small child and going back there makes him feel he hasn't lost all that, after all.
On Thursday, walking back to the car after I was done with my work, L. uncharacteristically slipped his hand into mine.
"I love it when it's just me and you," he said.
"I love it, too," I said.
"Mama," he paused. "Sometimes I wish it was still just you and me."
"I know you do, buddy," I told him. "I know you do."
Last weekend we took both kids to a birthday party for one of T.'s school friends. It was at a local park and playground, and it seemed a perfect opportunity to let L. run around and get some exercise. By and by I got to talking with another mom. She has two boys, only 16 months apart.
"Do your two kids get along?" she asked me.
I thought about all the possible answers. But I had to tell her "no", that they don't get along too well, really. One's a boy, the other is a girl. They are opposites, the two of them. And while they love each other, L. just seems unable to move past the feeling of displacement that took over his life when T. appeared; T. can't help but fall into that younger sibling's role of vying for attention and approval. Together, parenting them can be a real juggling feat, one that requires a tremendous amount of patience, combined with think-on-your-feet refereeing skills and a solid background in early childhood development, and psychological theory; but apart, when we spend time with them one-on-one, they become almost angel-kids: compliant, easygoing, and wholly themselves.
I agonized about sibling dynamics so much when I was pregnant with T. What if L. never got over having a sibling? What about that sibling rivalry, that I knew anecdotally could be so fierce and brutal? How would we deal with it? Would L. be able to get over the rift that opened up in his little world, the world he kept so tightly controlled, the one we were able, 24/7 to help him control. Because when you have one child, and a child who needs everything just so, it's so easy to make sure the world fits them. Introduce another child into the mix, and life explodes.
Oh kids deal with this all the time, people told me. Kids get used to having a sibling, they get used to sharing everything. It's an important life lesson!
He'll be fine.
I'm not sure, though. I'm not sure if L. will ever get over having a sister, and having L. as a brother is no walk in the park for T., either. She has to put up with an awful lot. Sometimes things can get unbearably awful around here; other times they're okay. It's a roller coaster life, that's for sure, and luckily T. is an adaptable, positive, and patient being, through and through.
As we gear up for summer, I realize that in the middle of juggling all that we do, and finding the space for the work time and the family time and the me time and the us time that we need to make sure we're always carving out space for the me and you time. We need to spend more time this summer doing things with each child one-on-one, so they each have the chance to be those angel-kids, wholly themselves, each one the center of their parent's world, even if just for a little while.
On Saturday morning I took T. out with me to run some errands. Scott and L. were busy in the garage, working on the project to end all projects (more on that later). T. wanted to help, but. L. boycotted the project until his sister was removed from the garage.
So I took T. shopping. We went to the toy store, and then to the farmer's market, and walked around in the early morning summer heat. The vendors shouted their wares, and the air was filled with the smell of crushed herbs, summer tomatoes, and fresh earth. As we walked, hand-in-hand, she skipped along next to me.
"Mama?" she said to me, when we stopped to try a taste of strawberry. "Mama, I LOVE spending time with you, just ME and YOU."
"I know you do, T." I said. "And I do, too."