Thursday morning I walked into the kitchen to a strange sight: every cabinet was flung open, every drawer was pulled out, and there in the middle of the room was Jay, waiting for my reaction to his handiwork.
It was a first-time event around here and just the kind of thing Caroline and I have been on the lookout for in the eleven days since Leo was born. Jay and Wally would have a hard time telling us directly how they feel about such a big change in their lives, though they’re furnishing plenty of signs.
Wally’s motor always runs fast, but it’s churning extra-hard lately. On Tuesday evening he spent the twenty minutes before bed hopping off of two feet and making a vibrating noise with his lips. When we finally herded him to his covers, he sat up in bed and announced, “I’m nocturnal. Nocturnal animals don’t sleep when it’s night time.”
Not every aberration has been so charming. Under clearer skies, Jay and Wally will play together in the morning for half-an-hour or more before a squabble prompts me and Caroline out of bed. For the last few days, though, they’ve had a hard time going more than a few seconds without running off the rails. Jay’s needling has a little extra needle in it, and Wally is always a hair’s breadth from screaming. This morning they went back and forth for several minutes over a small plastic flashlight, not larger than an inchworm, at which point I rolled out of bed and asked if they might consider playing in separate rooms.
Yesterday afternoon Jay and I played soccer in the backyard, as we do many days after school. He scored on his first shot, light and happy. I blocked his next kick, and he fell apart. He screamed and cried, tossed the goal angrily, kicked the ball against the fence over and over again. “We can do whatever you want, Jay,” I told him. “I want me to have a thousand and you to have zero,” he snarled. Later, we kicked the ball back and forth through dry fallen leaves. When the ball came back to him, Jay paused and said, “I want you to tell Mom that I cried.”
Caroline’s mom has been here since just before Leo’s birth. She’s heard the early morning fights, seen the sharp mood turns. “These boys are suffering,” she said recently, “and they don’t even know it.”
We’re trying to show Jay and Wally that important things about their lives haven’t changed, and that those things that have changed, have changed for the better. Caroline and Leo still don’t make it down for breakfast most mornings, but they’re there at night: Caroline reading the boys their books and singing them their songs, just like she used to, Leo taking turns on his brothers’ laps.
It was on one such evening a few days ago, that Jay finally put words to his feelings. The lights were off, the boys were in bed, and Caroline told them it was time for them to ask their last questions of the day. Usually these concern dinosaurs, or things that burn in the sun, but that night Jay had something else on his mind: “Why do you spend so much time with the baby, and not with us?”