I used to dance around my living room to Elton John’s “You’ll be Blessed” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIYsjIm3zqU so loud the walls would shake. I would be singing and crying and begging all at the same time, shouting the line, “You’re a child in my head.” I wanted a baby back in my arms and at my breast so desperately that I was in this chronic place of yearning. There were obstacles so this was no simple plea. I was 45 and had recently lost my beloved two-year old son to drowning. I had three living, grieving children. And most of all, I was a complete and utter train wreck in every way. But, I was clear on this, crystal clear, “I wanted another child.”
I did in fact give birth to full term, healthy robust twin sons just over three years after our devastating loss! It was a complete and utter miracle (with help of the science of fertility treatments). As I endured the humility of my first and only C-section, I cried out the name of my son as I felt him make way for these two new sons. And when they were both placed in my arms I remember feeling overcome with fear, love, joy, and complete and utter mystery as to what this lifetime story was really about.
After a three-month struggle to produce enough breastmilk for two babies, I conquered breastfeeding and spent most of my life on the couch sequestered by the Double Blessings twin nursing pillow and my two hungry babes. Hours passed this way. Church friends came with dinners, but even more cherished were the lunches and water as I remained hungry and thirsty, trapped in my pillow prison. I often felt that these women passing through from La Leche League, church and my neighborhood were modern day saints and lifesavers.
My darling boys grew and became beyond adorable, hilariously funny and smart as whips. They were obsessed with construction and so the interstate being constructed right through our backyard was a real gift to them (as opposed to the horror for everyone else in the neighborhood.) Each night they would toddle down with their dad to “sweep up” after the workmen and climb on the heavy equipment. It was far better than any playground imaginable. Sometimes, they would don their construction worker vests, shovels, brooms, and buckets and head out the side door saying to me, “Bye wife. Take care of the kids. We’re going to work now.” I would just laugh and laugh feeling beyond blessed for that moment, thinking, “you are each the child of my dreams.”
I homeschooled them with a small group of other moms through preschool and then brought them to Montessori Children’s School for kindergarten, aka “Children’s House” in Montessori lingo. It was a sweet and creative place for them and their first experience of separation. They had their moments where they really felt they needed each other and their kind teachers accommodated. Will’s favorite activity was “baby washing.” Sam preferred climbing outdoors or being tutored in reading by his peer five-year old friend! Interestingly, Sam became a voracious reader.
They “chose their work” through the next six years of Montessori until financial aid ran out and we were forced to move on to public school for fifth grade. (I had begun to notice that neither one of them ever chose anything related to math.) It would only be one year and then middle school. By now they were expert hand shakers, eye contact makers, and typically well-rounded small humans that Montessori produces. But as is typical of this educational system, their math skills were poor and this would stay with them for years to come. This was noticed by their fifth grade teachers and interventions began, but I cannot be sure anything has ever really worked. It’s as if they missed the math developmental open window and once it shut, it has barely cracked open.
My sweet twins adjusted well to their single year of inner city public school with one of them being the only white boy in his class. I loved this since lack of diversity had been missing in their private school. Because they always had each other, going on a school bus, a cafeteria, a big school was not daunting but adventuresome and they coped well. They were also mesmerized and smitten by junk food culture. This was new for them and of course, very enticing. I put money in their “lunch account” at school in case of emergency or if they forgot to bring lunch. Oddly, the account kept diminishing and I would get billed for unpaid meals. I couldn’t figure this out since I knew they were eating the healthy lunches I sent each day. One day I called the “cafeteria boss” and asked. “Oh,” she said, “They’ve been coming in for breakfast every morning right after they get off the bus. They love their Lucky Charms cereal, French toast, sausage, biscuits and gravy, ham and all.” “Those sneaky rascals.” I thought, poisoned now by artificial maple syrup and marshmallows in their cereal not to mention who-knows-what in so called sausage. Has anyone seen Jamie Oliver lately?
Then came middle school. Oh Lord. Who doesn’t struggle with middle school? I always envy my friends with daughters because despite the angst over clothes and hair it seems manageable to me, and a whole lot less scary. I may be wrong and I would gladly stand corrected, but this is how it looks to me. Moreover, I am so much more comfortable with lots of talking as in girls then I am in entering the “silent age” as in boys. In fact, it drives me crazy and when I say, “But how does that make you feel?” I am met with a look of complete disbelief and thoughts of carting me away to institutional life. “Feel” is the real “F” word. And by the way, I dislke being called, “Dude.”
Now to illustrate the son as opposed to daughter arena, I’m talking fear factor events like the time they rappelled from the attic window down the side of the house. Or, the time I looked up in the sky for signs of a storm coming and instead noticed a Haitian hammock up in the tree tops some 100 feet or more. How did it get there and who has been in it?? The anxiety I would feel heading into the “back garage” finding entire electrical systems set up for “man caves” or tanks filled with filthy water, sand and tadpoles of some sort that had been there who-knows-how long. Then there was the time that an electrician came and climbed under the house only to report that there was a caverness hole under the house at least 12 feet wide. “They were digging an underground fort aiming for a place to live under our house” they said, which only competed with a similar size hole in the woods between my house and my neighbor’s purported to be the “new neighborhood swimming pool.” She fell into that hole once and never used that path again. Can’t blame her. And by the way, she was the deacon at our church and the sweetest, brightest, most spiritual person I knew. The twins found her picture in the church directory, made copies of it and then pinned “WANTED” posters all over our street and hers, with her image on it. She thought it was hilarious until they insisted they would be putting her on trial! She had a “Desmond Tutu doll” in her living room so it was decided that he would be the judge. That was their “detective phase.”
Sam and Will went to a new innovative, downtown, very cool, hippie-ish, charter school for sixth through eighth grades. I mean this was a really amazing school as in walking all over downtown for libraries, museums, etc going to the farmers market to buy their produce together, spending hours tracking turtles in swamps, dancing with seniors in their residences, arranging and giving used and free furniture for those who had none, presenting research in county legislative meetings, and even going to Outward Bound for a week!
At the insistence of one of Sam’s teachers I took him to a Civil Air Patrol (CAP) meeting once five years ago. This math teacher kept saying to me, “I think this would be perfect for Sam.” My repeated response was, “Thanks but we don’t do military.” She was 100% right. I was 100% wrong. Both twins have been dedicated members raising in rank every step of the way, learning to fly, becoming certified in “Search and Rescue” and in Emergency Medical training. They sport shaved heads, uniforms and boots most of the time and are respectful and capable in every way, including “Yes ma’am or sir.” If your car is stuck in snow, if your loved one is lost or if you cut yourself badly, they can help in impressive and professional ways.
Getting them through middle school was torture for me. They were completely focused on CAP. They rarely turned in their assignments and getting their “portfolio” done at the end of each year was such an impossible and frustrating experience for me that it is hard to describe without me breaking out in hives all over again. Suffice to say that I still have the emails from the teachers complaining that “it is not done, no one can move up to next grade without completing it, etc” to the point where I drove downtown like a maniac one day, found my boys and one by one pinned them up to the wall in front of their friends promising to kill them if not completed! Everyone stared for sure. I was a heartbeat away from a stroke. They still did not complete the portfolio. In the end, with one hour before graduation, there I sat with Sam and his teacher as he presented his portfolio to his teacher and to me. Oddly, I saw not one quiver of remorse in his eyes, which made me wonder as he walked at graduation acting as if not a thing had been remiss. And by the way, he still could not do math.
I yelled. I screamed. I begged. I rocked and hugged and looked into their eyes asking, “Why, why, why?” I nearly exploded when one of the teachers in a group we met with to discuss our challenges said, “You need to come up with a rewards and punishment system.” I looked at her with murderous eyes and replied, “WHAT? Do you think a mother who is raising five sons has not done this? WHAT? Do you really think this brilliant idea of yours works? It does not. Not even one single bit. There is no reward worth doing one’s homework. NOTHING. Please do not say this to me again.” I wanted the teachers (kind, caring and brilliant as they were) to STOP sending me the emails because I remained powerless. The emails kept coming.
And so, I had great hopes for high school. You know the delusionary thinking of “Well, they must be mature now.” Do I not know better after all these sons? Do I forget that they are at least 30 years old before any glimmer of maturity shows? Did I not hear these boys actually say, “There is no difference between an A and a D. They are both passing. “ And so, freshman year at one school and then sophomore year at a different school (we moved) remained years of me yelling, screaming and begging, much as I yelled, screamed and begged my own self to shut up and let them bear the consequences of their own journeys. Much as I prayed and prayed and recited the Serenity Prayer with an obsessive chant, I could not seem to let it all go and let them fail on their own account.
And then, the gaming — lets’ talk about the blight on our society or this generation and the one before them — video games, game systems, social network with their component of complete and utter obsession. With my older boys I felt I had some control over this, or perhaps I deluded myself into thinking so. I did not allow ownership of any video game system (they probably went to friends’ houses to indulge!). They did read. They did play incessant basketball in the driveway. They did skateboard. They did ride their bikes. But this staring at screens generation is impossible to break. I have tried in every way but have had little or no success as it seems to worsen all the time. I refuse to converse with them while they are looking at a screen, so what happens is– no conversing! “You cannot take your electronics to bed with you,” and yet, neither of these boys ever get to sleep at any reasonable hour which results in sleeping in class. This is shocking and outragesously wrong to me and of course is what results in failing grades. I am convinced that they believe that if they leave their screens/phones/laptops for even one minute they will be forever behind in the world of chatter and unimportant drivel. But, this IS a belief system and I am unable to break this code. I try every single night to coerce them into a reasonable bedtime but so far have lost the battle.
They are incredible young men. I love them more than I can ever describe. They bought their first car yesterday. And I know that I will not remember all of the angst nearly as much as I will remember all of the unbridled joy I see when I even conjure up the image of their faces in my mind, let alone see them in the flesh. Twins—imagine that God felt he needed to do something so drastic and dramatic to yank us all out of the darkness we were in! Well, it sure did work and I am forever grateful and humble. Sometimes, I stare at them in disbelief, actually. Their strong backs, hairy legs, acne and bearded faces are all a mystery to me, as in how and when did this happen? They are so beautiful and healthy and kind with a knowing that is in fact beyond their years and yet, the risky and immature behavior coexists.
And I know in my heart, I really do know that all will be well. In just two years, they will once again walk across the stage in cap and gown, (a sight that always brings me to tears) and I will beam with pride and joy in the fact that they pulled through despite never being big fans of school. Not everyone is. I wasn’t either but was so intimidated by the teachers’ power and control that I performed with dedication every single day so as not to disappoint or insult anyone! Plus, quite honestly, I was scared to death. I wanted those teachers to like me way more than my mother did, because in fact, she didn’t! My boys will be hugely successful once they get to do what they like and rise into their passions.
As they drive off today in their new/used Honda Accord and they no longer drive my minivan with “BRESFEED” license plate, I will have tears in my eyes once again, knowing Mr. Elton John, that in fact “I promised you that you’ll be blessed,” but it is I who has been blessed a million times over.