At some point, as a parent, you come to realize in a non-abstract manner that your multiple children are, in fact, siblings to each other. This seems obvious. If you and your partner have two sons, then those sons are brothers. This is how it works, right? But there comes a moment when you watch the children you bore and love interacting with each other, and you realize… they are BROTHERS. What a fraught, laden word that is. How powerful. How overlaid with history, legend, tradition, meaning and poetry.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
Shakespeare – Henry V
My sons are both old enough now, at 7 and 4, to be real people, and to have real personalities and real relationships. Perhaps the most remarkable of those relationships is the one they have with each other. Thane, at four, is still little enough to sort of take things as they come. Grey is a fixture in his life: the unfairly-good trader of Legos, the master of comic-drawings, the owner of the right-hand-seat in the car, the bossy one. Grey is the person who is always in his day and in his life, and without whom life would not be complete. Thane has never gone so much as a day without his brother. But you don’t think too much about that, if you are four. Grey is a fixture, an assumption in Thane’s life.
Grey, on the other hand, sees his brother clearly, and understands what it is to be a brother. The other day Grey was over the heat-vent in the kitchen working on his homework, I was at the dining room table and Thane was in the living room playing with Legos. Grey, oh so old, raised his head from his 1st grade papers and said to me, “I love listening to Thane play. He’s so cute. He has a great imagination.”
Grey has, this year, discovered the truth about Santa Claus. I watched him as he listened to his brother talking about Santa, and what he hoped Santa would do this year. And I saw, writ plain on my son’s face, his sudden determination that nothing should take the mythos of Santa away from his brother. That night, he prayed that Santa would bring Thane all the things he wanted. Since then, he’s been an (over) zealous guardian – shooting me dagger-like glances and not-so-whispered rebukes for any remark that might lead to the unveiling of the mystery.
My eldest son loves and needs his younger brother greatly. Grey hates, HATES to be alone. Despises it. It was always the worst punishment I could unleash upon him – to send him from the crowd into a quiet room by himself. Thane provides his brother a tremendous service by being another person. Grey is wily about talking his brother into coming upstairs with him when he needs to go up. Grey wakes Thane up in the morning to come down to breakfast with him. Thane prevents Grey from experiencing the horrors of solitude.
For a few months now, Grey’s been waking up in the middle of the night, scared. For months, I’ve woken up with him sleeping at the side of our bed – having snuck in at some point over the night. But the other day I went to kiss Grey good night and found his door wide open and his music blasting. He was entirely missing from his bed. He wasn’t in my room. I couldn’t find him. I went in to see where he was, and found him cuddled next to Thane. (Grey has the side next to the wall and away from the door. He assured me later that it wasn’t so that monsters would eat Thane first. Really mom!) And for the last few weeks, this has been how they have been. Grey goes to sleep much easier when he’s not by himself, with his imagination in his room. There’s no nightlight. There’s no finding him falling asleep on his Calvin and Hobbes. And the boys look so happy together.
God willing, these two boys will have each other for the rest of their lives. In the order of the world, they will fight, slip information to each other, back each other up, stand up for each other at weddings, godparent each other’s children, complain about us at Thanksgivings, and finally stand next to each other – again – at our funerals, recounting their funny memories of their crazy parents. I hope they always have this friendship.