By Galit Breen
“One more,” he says, sleep still wrapped around his eyes, his cheeks, his voice.
“Okay,” I say, never being one to resist a child asking to read another book. I glide my thumb along the bottom edge and slip the book open. It creases in a way that is satisfying to this former teacher.
I used to sit in front of my classrooms of students in this exact same way. Thumb beneath page, smile lifting cheeks, eyes searching for one answer: Will they dive into this story?
Ten years ago I traded in my teacher voice for my mothering one. I’ve been told they’re eerily similar. And I’ve never—truly, not ever—regretted this decision. I do, however, have an undeniable soft spot for school projects and chapter books, hand written stories and the chubby fingers wrapped around the sharpened pencils that write them.
Brody has his first school homework assignment due this week; it’s an “All About Me” poster. And like many teachers before me, I’m a horrid student and we’ve left it until (almost) the last minute. So brushing his too-long golden locks out of his hazel eyes that match mine, I add, “And then we’ll do your poster.” He smiles. This makes me almost giddy.
We settle into the story sitting on the yellow couch, our heads tilting toward each other, his elbow on my knee. Our puggle, Louie, is curled on my toes. These two are my, very comfortable, bookends.
My mind quickly checks the next hour off of our list. Brody and I will work on his project while his sisters, Kayli and Chloe, play outside. I’ll ask him the questions and help him list his favorite and his not-so-favorite things. We’ll share the pen, I’ll watch him print.
I used to love this stage as a teacher, when children are on the cusp of making sense of letters and sounds and the magic that turns their words and into stories. With something that can only be described as a pang, I suddenly realize this is my last child that I’ll watch learn how to write, that I’ll teach how to curve tiny fingers fingertip-to-fingertip and stretch each sound out until it becomes so very clear to them.
I brush those locks away one more time as we close the book. “My poster!” He breathes. I smile and nod his way. He runs to the table and unrolls the poster that’s almost as big as him. It curls back up and he laughs from the deepest part of his belly. I pause to memorize this giggle, tuck it away for a cooler time.
Just as we begin carving out a new place made just for two, the girls come back inside. Their voices fill the space from one room to the other. They have stories to tell, adventures to share. Their cheeks and their noses and even their foreheads are pink tinged. They look like they’ve been kissed with childhood.
Their words braid over each other in a loud, magnetic way. Brody is stilled at the table. He’s sitting barefoot, knees tucked beneath him, tiny toes peeking out from behind. His eyes are wide; he’s taking them in. I’m awed by their sibling-ness.
When he can’t possibly hold his news in any longer, “We’re doing my poster!” escapes between his thin lips.
The girls’ eyes scan the table. The magazines piled high to his side, the pencils, the crayons, the tiny scissors and the full bottles of glue scattered in front of him, and that poster that refuses to stay flat.
Their cheeks raise and their eyes light in the exact same way mine always did at the prospect of a project, at the idea of teaching.
And with a speed that I can’t imagine ever owning as my own, they slip out of their jackets and sneakers and into the two spots by his sides. I lean against the counter behind them, arms crossed at my chest and watch as he looks to them with—once again—wide eyes.
“What’s your favorite color?” One asks. He answers and they help him write, placing their fingertips together, showing him how to stretch his words, listen for the sounds, write the letters that he already knows.
What I feel in this moment is a little bit hard to place my own fingertips on.
That small pang of last child is still there. And at second blush, if I’m being honest, so is the feeling of this is my moment to share in.
But all of this is, of course, painted over with the brightest strokes, by the real magic in the room. The way he turns to them and the way they want him to, the way they teach him and the way he learns from them.
I remember being told how very magical a sibling relationship can be. Being an only child, I had no idea what to expect, what to look for, what to teach. But as it turns out, all I really needed to do was stand back and watch this—all of this—unfold.
The girls help Brody finish his entire poster. They flip through magazine pages together and find his likes—balloons, tootsie rolls, puppies—and his dislikes—asparagus, fires, brushing his teeth. They bite their lips and don’t say a word when he writes his B backwards or his name in the wrong spot.
And when his poster is complete, they stand in front of me and practice sharing it; my uneven HeartStaircase. Brody stands between his sisters, his own comfortable bookends, with a wide smile and lit eyes.
This moment didn’t go the way that I planned it to, but it worked out exactly as it should have, didn’t it? It was a truly perfect way for my third child’s “All About Me” story to unfold.
Galit Breen is a Minnesota writer. Galit is a contributing writer to Soleil Moon Frye’s Moonfrye, the Huffington Post, SheKnows’s, allParenting, EverydayFamily, and Mamalode Magazine. Galit blogs at These Little Waves and may or may not work for dark chocolate.