Friday, March 7, 2014

Boys will be boys, and not for long enough

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.

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The squabbling began a few minutes after 6:30, when my kids woke up for school. I can’t remember their topic of debate, but I’m sure it had the heft of other recent arguments over the rules of air hockey, the color of toothbrushes and who got the most sugary crumbles from the bottom of the box of Life Cereal.

I sometimes feel like my sons are fast-forwarding through childhood. But as we walked to school and the bickering continued, I was reminded that they’re only 6, 8 and 11 years old. They love each other, they hate each other and everything is ridiculously competitive. The possibility that one could get more ice cream than another is nearly apocalyptic.

My brother and I were the same way. Maybe even worse, because our combustible relationship featured the incendiary device of a shared room. We often had angry wrestling matches that didn’t end until one of us frantically said “I can’t breathe!”

My parents eventually gave us boxing gloves. We were told not to punch each other in the head, but I think they wanted us to knock some sense into each other. That never happened, but my brother and I did manage to dent a wall in our bedroom. We also had several epic bouts ended with claims of “I can’t breathe!”

* * *

My kids will not be getting boxing gloves, but as we made the 10-minute walk to school, the verbal jabs continued. Some days the boys are like three amigos smiling and laughing. But that day they were like the three stooges, with 6-year-old Nathan swinging his backpack at 8-year-old Cooper and 11-year-old Ryan yelling at both of them. We were like the four stooges, really, as I tried to control a dog that gets three walks per day but still pulls on the leash like he’s been in a cage for a week.

Few people walk to school in our neighborhood, and on that chilly morning, cars streamed by. The line of cars backed up at the crosswalk, allowing a nice view of our stooge parade. My turnaround point is by the crossing guard, who has a loud, effective whistle that can stop cars but not the insignificant squabbles of my sons, who can even argue about which side of the street to walk on.

I usually feel a tiny pang of sadness as I watch the boys cross the street, knowing that I can no longer protect them, including from each other. But on that day, I was kind of relieved. I gave them each a hug, which for now they still allow publicly, and I turned back home with MacDougal, the behaviorally challenged West Highland Terrier.

After we turned the corner, a car braked next to us and a woman rolled down the window. I didn’t recognize her, but apparently she had caught a glimpse of our walk to school.

“I just had to tell you that I love watching your boys walk to school,” she said. “How the little one follows the others. I have two boys, and it gives me hope.”

I was caught off guard, obviously. Hope for what? Nathan wasn’t following his brothers, he was chasing them. He would’ve been swinging a plastic light saber if he could bring it to school.

But I told her thanks, and as she drove away, I laughed to myself. I wondered what she saw of the boys. I wondered if her eyesight was safe for driving.

* * *

It was really strange. But I’m happy that someone found a Norman Rockwell moment in a morning that felt more like a messy finger painting. It was a nice reminder, as my kids’ fast-forward childhood continues, that I should appreciate all the moments of the present.

It all goes by too fast. I think we can all agree on that.

Well, except for my kids. I’m sure they will argue about it at some point.

*** 
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