Ben Sower has two sons, eleven and seven. Soon they will be going to different schools. And Benjamin knows the potential consequences of leaving a younger brother behind.
They needed each other’s assistance, like a company who, crossing a mountain stream, are compelled to cling close together, lest the current should be too powerful for any who are not thus supported. –Sir Walter Scott
In their friendship they were like two of a litter that can never play together without leaving traces of tooth and claw, wounding each other in the most sensitive places. –Colette
Leaving is like tearing off skin. —Larry McMurtry
Eleven. Seven. Four years separate my boys, but one can tell only that they are the best of friends. Mr. Seven leans heavily on his older brother, a fairly common characteristic of young brothers. However, they truly are best friends and would rather hang out together than with anyone else. Life tossed some heavy things at them the past few years. Also, school has been tough on Seven, and he has made it through largely because of his brother. He must fly soon, though.
As their parent, I sometimes succumb to the force of imminent doom, perceived doom, perhaps; but as their parent, that is all it takes. Fourteen months from now, Mr. Eleven will prepare to move to the junior high school. For the first time, Mr. Seven will go through his school days without his rock. Oh sure, when Mr. Eleven entered first grade, Mr. Seven stayed home. There are other rocks there: security, no pressure, familiarity, just a need to occupy the time until Eleven got home. Things change. It’s a lesson that tends violently to be learned at times. Seven’s heart is vulnerable. I hurt vicariously.
What tramples this analytical soul to a worn-bare dog-path is what is sure to accompany Eleven’s academic progression: a new comrade; perceived maturity that distorts the importance of Seven and shoulders him aside; new interests; girls. Understand that I am not a pessimist. I love, though. Some may argue that there is no difference. Come, walk with me. There is beauty in the challenge.
I know that constructive, positive development requires independence. I also understand that such independence comes both by choice and by circumstance. While I may worry at times, I am excited about the challenges ahead. The journey of my sons is my journey, too.
As their parent, I accept as my duty the role of teacher, referee, counselor, and provider. I am thrilled with the job as much as I am overwhelmed by it. The impending change in my sons’ dynamic is just another step in my education, my on-the-job training. I have been here before, back when I was the trellis for another. I suppose I can be forgiven because I was a child, merely an older brother with angst of my own; but I moved hard and fast into my new, older, “cooler” world and left my brother behind. I did not look back until, seven years later, he was beyond reach. He faced incarceration but got out of that by entering the armed forces. The gravity of the perceived rejection delineates our relationship to this day. I hope I am a better teacher for it.
I have contemplated my purpose, legacy, and roots. What I know for now is that I live to provide water. I want my sons to recognize in one another the nourishment of life. I want nothing to be thicker than the blood they share. I want them rooted in the understanding that their connection, their bond, never needs to be sacrificed on the pyre of their individual independence. I seek daily the wisdom to bring them to this place. It is my job. I long to be the third pea in the pod. It is the golden parachute that follows the job of parenthood. One day we will sit in the pod and laugh at the shenanigans they concocted when they were eleven and seven.
Photo courtesy of author.