As any mother of boys (plural) understands, there are moments of heart-warming camaraderie and moments of hair-raising hellishness. And they often happen back to back. Within minutes they can be playing nicely and then threatening to rip each other's heads off. Laughing and joking around and then hissing through gritted teeth. Smiling and then screaming.
And it's like this a lot of the time - this back and forth, schizophrenic relationship that hangs on the verge of love and trouble. As the mediator, care-taker, whatever you want to label me - it's utterly exhausting - this watching, soothing, intervening, reassuring, reuniting. And repeat. More exhausting for me, apparently, than them. Because they're skipping off to the next thing, the last altercation a distant memory, while I'm sitting down with a cup of tea to try to collect and revive myself.
But if there's one thing I can rely on, it's that aside from the bickering and the up-down turbulent friendship, they'll put all their differences aside to stand up for one another.
I've witnessed it a few times now.
It warms my cockles like no other cockle-warmer.
I had taken my sons to a gymnasium for drop-in play time. It's a fantastic way to burn off energy and I watched as they leaped from one trampoline to another, moving so sprightly and energetically that I wished I was four years old again.
Then a little girl who was also playing at the gym brushed past Oliver. I'm not even sure what happened next, or why he did what he did, but Oliver walked up to the girl and wrapped his arms around her. I watched, confused. The little girl was horrified. She wriggled free from his embrace and backed away several steps. Then she stuck out her tongue at him and pulled the meanest face she could muster.
Oliver was visibly upset by the little girl's display of hostility. But Matthew? Oh he was just mad. I watched his face turn red with anger and then he took a step forward, toward the girl.
"Don't do that to MY BROTHER." He spat.
The girl stood firm, maintaining her spiteful face.
"It's okay." I barged in. I explained to the boys what had happened and they went on with their jumping and leaping and swinging. But I could tell that to my son, the reasons didn't matter - just that the girl had behaved unkindly to his little brother.
Aside from feeling a little bad for the girl (her sisters came to rescue her), I felt a great big gush of pride for the way my son had stood up for his brother so vehemently. It's times like these I realize that despite all the bickering they really are there for each other. It's comforting - especially to a mother - to know that her children, no matter what, will always have each other.
And maybe one day the ratio of getting along / bickering will switch from 50% / 50% to 90% / 10% (some bickering is healthy).