I sit here, on the sofa, listening to Sam and L having a disco in the other room, feeling an increasing sense of nervous anticipation. In less than half an hour I shall be heading out into the rain; I have my winter boots on in readiness. I’ve re-waterproofed my no longer-waterproof-and-breathable coat. The washing up is done. All I need to do is wait.
A is coming home.
He hasn’t been away for long. It’s not like he’s been on the other side of the world. He’s been away for four nights and five days with his youth group and the hole where the boy should be is gaping, hungrily waiting his return.
L has missed him. It took Sam a couple of mealtimes to realise he was gone. It’s been quiet without our little chatterbox. Minecraft has been played, but there has been no blow-by-blow account at the tea table. There have been no railways, no lights on late into the night as he devours my books, no neighbourhood boys knocking on the door, asking him out to play. Children have jumped almost instantly into their coats and shoes. There has been no shouting. No fighting. In some ways it’s been rather nice.
This is not to say that he is the family trouble maker. Not by any means. We’ve got three of those, each one equally good at running amok, creating a hurricane, if they so wish. It’s just that there is this strange effect we have noticed over the years, when one of the children is missing.
It doesn’t matter how many children you have, take one of them out of the equation, and life is suddenly in a different plane. Everything is suddenly easier.
The rule is the same for any number of children, from one upwards.
People often assume that it is Sam, or rather the Down Syndrome, that makes our life a challenging and lively one, and they are often surprised when I, more gently these days than in the past, explain that this couldn’t be any further from the truth. This last week is a prime example. Once you get over the initial strangeness of having one less plate to set at the table, one less person’s whereabouts to check (it feels a bit like there is a limb missing), the family settles into a new rhythm, it marches to a different drum.
I think it has something to do with time. There’s something about children, and having numbers of them living in your home, that fills up all available time, but not equally. It’s as if the time they take, the energy they suck out of you, is multiplied in some sort of cosmic exponential manner, with each child that arrives, squalling, into your life, your home. And, when they are not there, you are suddenly aware of its presence. I’m sitting here typing this, for a start.
And all that extra time means there is a load of parental attention going free too. And, get this: nobody has to fight for it. Instead of shoving each other out of the way, doing what they can to make sure you know they are there, they are calm. Without anybody having to say a word, they know the rules.
And I am watching my biggest and my littlest (well, I’m listening, I’m watching the computer screen and checking for spelling mistakes and making sure I haven’t repeated myself unintentionally) develop a new relationship, one that gets squeezed out of the way when the middle brother is here. As a way of making sure that neither of them were knocking around the house, bored during the holidays, I signed them up on an arts, drama, film and dance course. The pair of them are having the Best Time Ever; the shared experience is a bringer togetherer that they haven’t had before, thanks to the five years between them.
We noticed the same effect last month when the baby of the family was away at Brownie Camp. If she’d been away longer I’m pretty sure we would have seen more healing in a relationship between brothers that is stretched by the overtaking of the older one by the younger; challenged by circumstances they don’t fully understand. With no-one else to play with, they turned to each other, relaxed. Next month it will be Sam’s turn, and you can bet your bottom dollar we will forget to set the alarms and the lot of us will be late for work and school.
And now I sit, awaiting his bombastic return. Will he have grown? Will he have washed? I hope he cleaned his teeth. I’ve missed him. We’ve missed him.