During one of the last meetings in my last year at M.O.P.S, Mothers of Pre-Schoolers, I sat juggling my five year old daughter’s crying fit over not being included in a game while fumbling to find and fix my one year old daughter’s Velcro hair ribbons when a mother leaned over and whispered, “Aren’t boy’s so much easier than girls?”
It was that exact moment when I realized I’d forgotten my son. Amanda, my oldest, was constantly at my side demanding attention and our new baby, Samantha, had yet to ever leave my arms. My three year old son, Brandin, had somewhere along the way become independently self-sufficient. With Samantha in my arms and Amanda clinging to my shirt behind me, I rush to the room for three and four year olds to find my son standing in the doorway, patiently waiting for me with a smile on his face as he explained to the daycare worker how it was he made his special artwork.
At the mini-van in the parking lot I argued with Amanda over why she was not old enough to sit in the front seat while I strapped Samantha into her car-seat, and still upset with myself over forgetting my son I notice him climb into the middle seat with a grin all to himself as he straps the belts over him.
And I wonder if it’s not that boys are easier, but more adaptable. My only son, and the middle child between two sisters, had early on settled into a routine of finding his own world inside the chaos. He was my, “Yes Mommy” little boy who cried so little in infancy that I could not remember him ever having cried at all. While Amanda ran at me always with, “Look at me, look what I can do!” Brandin was the child I had to approach with, “What is that you’re doing?” I knew my eldest daughter’s quirks, and my time most went to her when I wasn’t feeding or changing or taking care of the baby. I had no idea who my little boy really was other than he was a good little boy.
Early one morning, before the girls woke and the sun rose, I quietly snuck into my son’s bedroom and gently kissed him awake. Gathering him up in his 101 Dalmatians blanket, I told him I was going to tell him a secret that no one else could know. Rubbing his beautiful brown eyes, he smiled through the words, “Mommy, I’m tired.” I took him outside, on our back deck, and hoisted him up onto our roof. I nearly laughed to see his face, as I knew he wanted to tell me that he was not allowed to do this, but made his own decision to keep quiet. We perched together, side by side, and in the dark of a new morning, we waited. I’d been on our roof countless times to watch the sun rise, after brewing coffee and getting my journal, I’d discovered this place not as an escape, but as an opportunity to embrace the gift that a new day could bring. I wanted to share it with my son, if but just to give him something all his own that his sisters did not have.
As the sun began to climb and spill glorious reds and orange’s across the plains, the mountain’s cast shadows deep down into the earth and Brandin smiled at me. “Do you hear the secret?” I asked him. He simply nodded next to me, and laid his head onto my shoulder as we watched.
Later that year, I was cleaning out our mini-van and discovered, in the seat back pocket of the driver’s seat, which was directly in front of where Brandin always sat, a multitude of strange items. Kitchen spoons, an old tv remote control, a colored drawing on crumpled paper of what looked like a map, and other oddities I couldn’t figure out. I left them as they were, thinking I would ask him about it later.
It wasn’t until we were headed to the store one day, with all kids in tow, that I discovered his secret. From the rear view mirror I happened to notice Brandin seemingly talking to himself while holding the old remote and looking like he was checking his belt, and tapping on the window. So, I asked him, “Whatcha doin’ Brandin?”
His eyes went wide, as if he was going to be in trouble, and he grew quiet. I asked him again, and he barely whispered, “Finding Menonita.” Curious, I asked him what Menonita was, to which he responded, “I haven’t found it yet, but I have a space ship so I can.” I suddenly understood what the strange items were and that his behavior was simply him being a Captain of the ship that was our mini-van. Laughing I let out, “Co-captain to Captain, are all systems in check for take-off?”
His face lit up so bright it nearly brought tears to my eyes as he reached into the back seat pocket, grabbed the spoon and maneuvered it back and forth, “Check Co-Captain! Cleared for take-off!”
Brandin and I spent that year in search of Menonita nearly every time we travelled in the mini-van. Amanda would often pout that she didn’t get to be Captain, and Samantha would sometimes cry in objection over the whole thing, but Menonita belonged to Brandin and what I discovered as the months passed was that Menonita was also for me. Brandin had taught me, and in ways enlightened me, that life was all about the journey.
The following year, Amanda had become interested in Paleontology and my days and weeks were occupied with her obsession to the point of booking her speaking engagements with area elementary schools. Her birthday came and our entire backyard was dug up so that all of her guests could go on an “actual dig” for all of the bones I’d buried in the dirt. It was a wonderful year for her, and when I was asked to volunteer for National Read-Outloud week at their school, I joyfully accepted.
The morning that I began preparing what I might read in school that week, Brandin seemed sad and removed. Putting my writing aside I asked if everything was okay. His shoulders dropped and with disappointed eyes he said, “I wish you would come to my class too, but I know you’re busy with sissy.”
I’d done it again. It’s an easy thing to do as a mother with three children when two of the three are high energy and have larger than life personalities. Without realizing it, they easily take my attention and fill my time, leaving my middle son to his toys in his room without complaining about it at all. So I did the only thing I knew to do … and I pretended I hadn’t forgotten.
“Actually Brandin, I was going to talk to you about that today,” I fib.
His shoulders perk up, “You were?”
Smiling I reach for him and pull him to me, “Yes. I was wondering if you’d like to write a poem with me, about anything you want, and maybe YOU could read it during Read Outloud week, and I will come and hear it.”
As we sat and talked about the things he could write, my little boy grew distracted and asked, “Can I get a snack now?” Telling him he could have anything he wanted from the pantry, off he went while I pondered how I could re-direct him and spur on his sense of creativity. He returned with a bag of Oreo cookies, and offered me one with a sharing smile. “Thank you Bubba!” I say, and take one as we both twist each cookie to reveal the white cream on the inside. He giggles, “I just like the good stuff in the middle.” And it hits me. That’s the poem. My little boy is my “good stuff in the middle.”
I begin talking to him about what it’s like to be the only boy with two sisters and that he’s in the middle and doesn’t get to be the “baby” or the “biggest” sibling – and before I know it I’m scratching out his words on paper while he’s stuffing his face with cookie, and filling the story with heart. When we’re done talking, I show him my notes.
He peers at them strangely then says, “Those are my words.”
I nodd with pride, “Yes, you wrote a poem! What do you think, shall we call it “Oreo?””
He smiles so big I see all of the black cookie stuck in his tiny teeth as he agrees, “Yes, I like that!”
I helped finish the poem, cleaned it up, and printed it out for him. On our way to school the day he was going to read it, we stopped at the grocery store and bought several bags of Oreo cookies to hand out after the poem was read. Brandin did a wonderful job that day at school, and I saw the joy on his face when all of the other children were telling him how “cool” he was. Later on that evening at home while I cooked dinner in the kitchen I overheard Brandin telling his two sisters, “I wrote a poem and mom helped me and it’s called Oreo.” Amanda pipes in, “You wrote a poem about Oreo’s?”
Brandin laughs at her as if she’s not as smart as he is and replies, “You wouldn’t understand.”
It was shortly there-after, when Brandin was in the third grade, I discovered his having difficulty with reading. As an avid reader and lover of literature, I was determined to instill this in my own children and had, since they were born, read aloud to them nearly every night. It was only when I asked my son to read to me late one evening, from one of the children’s books we’d had for years, that his stumbling on words and sentences became evident. Frustrated he shut the book halfway through and sadly said, “I don’t want to read this book anyway.”
I asked him why and he responded, “All our books are girl books.” While I knew this was not the real reason because Dr. Suess was rarely gender specific and I had hundreds of books with boy characters, I allowed this to be his reason and told him, “Wait here, I’ll be right back.” I left him lying in the bottom bunk of his bed in his room and went to scavenge for our old box of classic literature handed down from his father’s mother.
Finding what I was looking for, I snuggled back into bed beside Brandin, and held the book out for him to see. The book was about fifty years old, and didn’t have a cover picture – in fact, the entire thing was hard backed and all blue with just the title imprinted in silver tin along the spine. I smiled, and nearly whispered, “THIS is NOT a girl book …” and went on to tell him a little background on who Robinson Crusoe was. Opening the old book to allow the breath of a hundred years seep into our space, I took it all in, “Mom, what are you doing?” He asked, perplexed.
I inhaled again, “I’m smelling the story.” He laughed at me, “You can’t smell a story!” I then held the book over his face and sifted the pages slowly, “Take a deep breath,” I told him. He did as I told and then wriggled up his nose, “It smells old.” It was then that I got to tell my own son the same secret my father had shared with me when I was just a little girl, the first time he read classic literature to me from the ancient pages of a book handed down to him from his Great-grandfather, “When words are written from the heart, they become eternal and forever have the power to change lives. They tell us stories that even hundreds of years later are about us. Our stories. Your story.” Brandin ponders this for a moment and then says, “I still think it just smells old.”
Laughing I open to the first page and hand him the book. His eyes squint at the small print, and before even attempting to read he says, “These words are too big, I don’t know them.” Moving onto my side so that I can face him I say, “You don’t have to know them honey, let’s just sound them out one at a time.”
Every night for a month Brandin and I lay side by side in his bottom bunk cuddled up in this 101 Dalmation blanket against the soft light of a nearby lamp discovering the adventure of Robinson Crusoe. As we finished the last page, Brandin didn’t even realize that over time, he had learned to read and, to read very well, in fact. He had become lost in the story and by his desire to know what was going to happen after each page, had begun to know the words because of the way the author wrote, and not because he knew what each one meant alone. He was reading with an articulation even I had been stunned to hear after several weeks, and barely even able to believe it myself, my son discovered that not only could he read, but he wanted too.
I received a phone call from his third grade teacher one afternoon, and she informed me that Brandin had been telling other students that he had read Robinson Crusoe. She wanted me to “have a talk” with Brandin about telling the truth, and that while she encouraged a healthy imagination, she wanted me to know about the tall tale’s he was spilling. Especially the one about how an author from hundreds of years ago had written a whole novel just about him. Tears were spilling from my eyes, and I couldn’t begin to imagine that I would ever be so proud of my son but also be so deeply connected to him. I laughed into the phone and responded, “He did read Robinson Crusoe. I’ll send the book to school with him tomorrow and you can ask him to share his favorite excerpt. He’s quite the reader, if you should want to find out.”
Another few years passed and brought with them the gift of a train ride across country with my growing young boy, our favorite adventure together. Then, he became busy with sports and school activities and before I knew it our days were filled with attending one thing after the next. Then, with three growing children and a slowly collapsing economy, I hung up my stay at home mom apron and went back to work full time. The children were all successful at nearly everything they did, and in between basketball and football games, band concerts, and fundraiser’s I worked and also went back to school to get my degree.
Where once they were discovering how to make purple from red and blue crayons, now they were taking their driving test and looking at colleges. One evening, as I watched my son receive his National Honor Society award on stage at the high school, another mother whose son was also receiving the award and who also had two daughters leaned over and whispered, “Aren’t boys so much easier?”
I smiled there in the dark of the theater and spoke with a tearful grin, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” Because the truth is, my son was the mirror of my heart and had exposed through all the years of my raising him, who I was as a mother. He had become my sunrise, my Menonita, and my eternal story written by the ink of his unconditional love.
Trying not to be emotional as we took photos of the seven students with their awards later that evening, I held his large hand in my own and asked, “Are you going to hang out with your friends or do you need a ride home?”
He smiled, and towering over me, wrapped his arms around me gently as he laughed, “Mom, I have my own car.” I suppose I’d forgotten, for a moment, once again. Yet, driving from the parking lot in our white mini-van, I caught his new Dodge Ram truck in my rear-view mirror as he laughed into the wind from the open window. Perhaps we found Menonita, after all.