Recently overheard on a farm next to a bike trail in Pennsylvania:
Big brother: “Come on, cows. We need to squeeze some milk out of you.”
Little brother giggles.
Big brother (quietly to this brother): “Shh. Don’t laugh. They’ll know we’re not farmers.”
Big brother (louder to the cows): “Come on, cows. We’re farmers.”
Little brother: “Yeah, we’re farmers.”
Both boys laugh hysterically and run back to their bikes.
It’s one of a thousand memories I hope to hold on to for a very long time—long after we get the vaccine, long after my boys return to daycare and school, long after every day stops being bring-your-child-to-work day for my husband and me.
The four of us have spent most of our waking hours together for the better part of the last year.
If someone had told me in mid-March 2020 that my kids weren’t just going to be home for the next two weeks but instead for the next year, I likely would have quit my job. There’s just no way, I would have said.
And maybe I should have quit. It’s been hard—some days almost unbearably so. Two parents working from home full-time while also attempting to adequately care for a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old is not something I would recommend. The math doesn’t work—the hours just don’t add up without something (or several things) suffering.
It has stressed our marriage. It has hindered my work productivity. It has increased the boys’ screen time exponentially (and conversely, decreased my worry about arbitrary limits on it). It has depleted my patience and drained my energy in ways I probably could have predicted but would not have fully understood until I was living it. My body has suffered. Sleep has dwindled. My hair is no longer regularly cut or colored. And my sporadic adult acne is enjoying a prolonged run that rivals the one that lasted the majority of my second pregnancy.
BUT . . . Recently I’ve started seeing a silver lining.
I’ve witnessed my boys go from big brother and little brother to genuine best friends, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything, not even three peaceful, kid-free hours at the salon.
Our boys went from seeing each other a few times a day at daycare to being each other’s everything–playmates, classmates, teammates, and meal buddies. Together, they’ve been superheroes, scientists, builders, artists, bakers, bike riders, hide and seekers, farmers (ha!), and even Rocky and his trainer Mickey for Halloween.
They run, they jump, they wrestle. They get loud. And sometimes when I yell at them to quiet down, the response from my oldest is, “But we’re having so much FUN.” And they truly are. So I shake my head with a smile and relent a bit, “Just a little quieter, OK?”
They learn from one another. A side effect of our 5-year-old’s ultra-competitive nature is that he LOVES to know things other people do not, making him a natural teacher. When his little brother doesn’t know something or doesn’t do something all that well, Big Brother’s initial impatience fades as soon as he recognizes the opportunity to be the one who knows. He has helped with everything from potty training, “The next step is . . .” to coloring, “I hold it like this and try to stay in the lines,” to cutting down the Christmas tree, “The saw is to cut it down, and you kneel on the mat. You were here last year, but you probably don’t remember because you were a baby.”
Our youngest is more laid back, affable, and by far the better sharer of the two. His nearly ever-present grin, snuggly hugs, and raised-eyebrow reminders that “sharing is caring” sometimes help his big brother to be a bit less rigid about some things—just don’t expect him to forgive you for unpausing the iPad while he’s in the bathroom.
And no, they don’t always get along. They fight over what to watch, who wanted to play with that toy first, and whose turn it is to help make breakfast. They yell at each other. They occasionally push, hit, and kick. There’s probably been a bite or two. (I may have failed to mention—the little one is laid back until he is NOT.)
But it’s usually no more than five minutes before they are back to being BFFs, and I believe that the ability to fight and make up will serve them as well as the lessons in friendship they are gaining.
Assuming all goes as planned, our oldest will start kindergarten in the fall, and our little guy will return to daycare. That day will be so bittersweet that I already tear up thinking about it.
We’ll all gain a bit of our freedom back, but after so long together, that freedom won’t come without some loss.
My hope is that this period leaves a lasting impression on my boys in the best way possible. I hope it’s the foundation for an amazing friendship–one that ends up a bit stronger than it would have been without this bizarre quarantine adventure. I hope the closeness they feel now gets imprinted on their hearts and they carry it there forever just as I will carry the memories of watching their bond grow during these hard yet beautiful days.