Once upon a time, not that long ago, two of our boys could barely stand to be in the same room with each other. Oh how they fought. One boy couldn’t breathe without driving the other boy nuts. Let’s not talk about crimes of chewing or telling dumb jokes. It was painful and all consuming and the worst part? The boys were ages seven and nine.
The way I saw things, the next ten to twelve years were going to be very depressing indeed.
Around that time, when life with these two seemed to be a long string of “you need to apologize,” and “we don’t treat each other that way,” Paul and I took our four boys to The Citadel with our friend Fr. Tim. He was close to a family whose son was graduating that weekend and he knew our boys would love the scene.
He was right. There were canons and military men and a whole bunch of other highlights that I don’t remember but that my menfolk loved. We came home on a high from all the glory of that experience. And while you might think the moral of this story is we saw the light and left the boys there for the henceforth future, that is not where this story is going.
What I remember from that trip, my highlight of the weekend, is a conversation I had with the mom of the boy graduating. She has four boys, which is what we had at the time. She also had a baby girl at the end (which I never saw coming for us). Over that weekend there were a few moments when I was so frustrated with my boys’ behavior, so worn out by the constant bickering and tit-for-tat, that I probably didn’t hide it too well. Oh it gets old so fast.
“Two of our boys were just like that,” she said at one point, “and today they are best friends.”
What was my reaction to that possibility with my sons? Pure joy. And tears. A few were shed.
This was all so long ago and it amazes me to realize just how right that woman was. Those two little boys are now the best of friends. I am amazed sometimes to think just how badly they used to behave towards one another, it is such a distant memory.
Tonight, I was smiling to myself as I cleaned up from dinner. I stood at the sink and listened to the sounds of rain turning to hail, and the sounds of two brothers coming in from the basketball court. Brothers laughing and having fun and being for each other.
These two brothers are not the same boys from the first story, but they easily could be. As with the first two, we have endured a season of heightened agitation and do-no-right attitude, of being on each other’s radars in a very bad way. And thank you God, these two brothers are, it seems, starting to come out of a tough season of driving each other nuts. Two different boys with the same brotherly love. That complicated mix of “I will be there for you,” and “the only person who is allowed to mess with you is ME. Don’t tempt me.”
This time around it’s not quite as exhausting. But it still gets old. It’s hard work training our kids to love each other. I don’t think it ever comes easy.
But my goodness it is worth our efforts.
When my boys fight, they have to work it out. Is that over-the-top? I don’t think so. Family life should not be a combat zone where anything goes. Honesty is welcome, but always couched in courtesy and respect. Brothers for life, so don’t let any baggage weigh you down. Get it worked out, or be willing to forget. Those are your choices.
One of the best gifts my parents gave me was my siblings. Oh how I love those people! But beyond just giving us each other, my mom and dad trained us how to work out our differences. We learned to correct wrongdoing, we learned how to forgive and ask for forgiveness. But mostly, we learned how to love each other and to enjoy our fellow comrades in life. The truth is I just straight up love hanging out with my siblings. We have fun. They remind me I’m not crazy, or not any crazier than they are. That’s a nice feeling.
That glimmer of hope on the court tonight, the realization that these happy moments are not as rare as they used to be — it was an important reminder to fight the good fight. Good choices are indeed up to our children, but it’s up to us to train them how to maneuver the tough times.
We can’t force our children to make the right decisions, but we can give them every opportunity to love, forgive and enjoy these people who, Lord willing, will be there for them for the rest of their days.