There they were, heads bent together, shoulders nearly touching. Daniel’s voice was low and reassuring. I tried to see without looking so I wouldn’t spoil the moment. It looked like Q’s shoulders relaxed.
The scene tonight reminded me of an old photo we have of the boys when they were maybe two and four. They were stretched out on their bellies in the living room watching something, knees bent and feet in the air. I hadn’t noticed it at first, someone pointed it out later, but Qaiden’s little toe was just brushing the side of his brother’s leg as if to say, “OK, just making sure you’re still there.”
When I walked in tonight the tension was palpable. Three surly males barely grunted in response to my greetings. Somewhere between carrying in school bags and putting laundry away I discovered what was ailing each of them.
Gradually, ever so carefully, I dug for the calmest, most knowledgeable teacher-self hiding in the shadows after a long Monday. And I reached for all that I knew about each of my boys.
Daniel’s first source of contention was smoothed into a rough plan within a few minutes. (It sounds like an oxymoron–because it is. That particular source of angst will return every night that there’s homework.) The second, girl-related, I left for a quieter time.
I noticed Qaiden working on math, but hadn’t he just said the only homework he had was to read? Puzzled, I put a pin in that one and had a conversation with my husband.
Soon enough those pieces, too, fell into place. Friday, Q was invited to join the math team at school. My hockey and lacrosse playing, so-close-to-an-A+-explaining, perfectionist was invited to do something he’s good at, but that feels hard.
A little background might help here. When Qaiden was three, he came home from preschool and made a shaky letter Q that they’d practiced for the first time during the day.
“Ugh!” his gravelly little voice exclaimed, fists thrust in the air above him, “It’s not even round!”
In third grade, he sobbed in my arms for over an hour the only time his weekly spelling PRE-test was a 70%.
“I won’t even get into college!” he wailed.
As his mother, there must be some way that I’ve contributed to his world view and self-image. But I swear, when he brought home the 70 I celebrated that, “Finally, we have new words you can learn! That will be great.” And when he bemoaned the crooked Q, I cheered him on. “I knew just what letter you were making!”
Our mantra for him became, “patience and perseverance.” Unlike with my first child, I praised the effort rather than the outcomes. (Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?!) But somehow he has always, from three years old, had it in his mind that when it comes to anything in a school building he should know it before a teacher has to say it.
I think he was proud to be invited to the math team. But more than anything, I bet he was terrified. Because to him if it’s hard it means he’s not smart–and his whole self is built around being smart.
Tonight it wasn’t math homework he was working on. It was a set of practice problems from the first math team meeting this afternoon. Apparently there are three members of the team so far…and he’s “the worst.”
Now, there are times when my boys get along. Usually when they’re working cooperatively on some wild project. But just as often–or more–they’re giving each other a hard time. In jest. In earnest. In flat out anger. Rivals in anything that can remotely be construed as competitive.
But not tonight.
Tonight Daniel stood shoulder to shoulder and leaned in close. He studied the questions. He “Hmmm”d and “Ohhhh”d.
“Well, these two you’ll probably learn later this year or in 8th grade. That one down there we just did a few weeks ago [in Algebra II]. The rest of them, I bet you can figure out on your own.”
There they were, heads bent together, shoulders nearly touching. Daniel’s voice was low and reassuring. It looked like Q’s shoulders relaxed.
And that was better than Mom coming to the rescue. With just a few words and a minute of his time, his big brother had made him feel competent again. They stayed like that for half a moment longer before Daniel’s gentle self-deprecation turned livelier as Q volleyed.
But for a moment…brothers.