Before I gave birth to my first child several years and many stretch marks ago, my vision of motherhood was one of my happy little brood sitting each evening around a hand-carved kitchen table, playing board games. Afterward, we'd snuggle and read bedtime stories. My darlings would finally drop off into a peaceful slumber, cuddled together with their tiny arms entwined.
I'd adore my perfect children, they'd adore me and of course, they would adore each other.
To further ensure our offspring became Best Friends Forever, their father and I elected to space them closely together. Surely, stair-step siblings would share the same interests and friends, similar traumas and triumphs and an unfaltering love for each other.
My two sons were born exactly two years apart. So, how did my perfect plans work out, you ask? If you ever want to make God laugh, just tell Him you have a plan.
My dreams of evenings spent playing Battleship and reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie soon made way for nights of drawing battle lines and screaming, "If you gave your brother a concussion...!"
By the time they were in grade school, it became clear my dreams were just delusions. The only two things these boys shared was a gene pool and an innate desire to irritate the hell out of each other. Son #1 and Son #2 possessed different interests, different personalities and different world views altogether.
Blood may be thicker than water, but it clearly doesn't dictate that two siblings must like each other. Blood, in our house, was simply thick enough to make the light gray carpet impossible to clean. And water was just something to squirt menacingly into a brother's face through a giant Super Soaker.
Our extended family get-togethers proved to be particularly horrific. At holiday dinners, I wanted to crawl inside the oven with the Thanksgiving turkey every time my two monsters launched into one of their battles. When my mother and my sisters' families began heading to Florida for Easter each year, they claimed they needed an early spring escape to the beach.
I knew what they truly hoped to escape. If I had the choice, I would have left my two demon children behind and hopped on a plane myself.
But I was left at home, struggling with the onslaught of verbal barbs and blotting the blood from the carpet.
Babysitters, for the occasional night out, were paid most generously. I was willing to take out a second mortgage to hire someone for a Saturday night out at dinner and the movies. If only we could coerce one of the sitters to return, or perhaps be able to find a new one. It's funny how the word gets out, though. The teenagers in our neighborhood avoided my eyes whenever I walked the dog.
Some nights, I knew the shouting in our house carried well beyond those four walls. The local police began patrolling our little cul-de-sac. I peeked between the window blinds and hoped this was a coincidence. I wasn't so sure.
My pre-parenthood dreams became nightmares, especially as the two boys grew into teenagers. As much as I struggled to cope with their daily antagonizing and bickering, the physical fights rendered me most hapless. Growing up as the youngest of three girls, I had little experience with testosterone-fueled brawls.
The fighting loomed more frightening after my husband and I split up. If their physical encounters in a single-parent home got out of hand, I questioned if I could intervene between these two boys, who were now bigger and stronger than me.
"Hate" is indeed a strong word. Yet for most of the years my sons lived in the same house, I was afraid no other word could describe their feelings for each other. Sibling rivalry was a normal scenario. I feared we'd moved irreversibly beyond normal.
I can't pinpoint exactly when they finally called a truce. The transition in their relationship was nearly imperceptible, and the signs were bewildering.
Somewhere around the time my oldest son graduated from high school and the youngest turned 16, they began talking casually about sports and music. They started exchanging political views (similar ones, and my own, thankfully). They began asking each other, "How's school going?" And, "Yeah, that's a great band. Do you want me to burn you a CD?"
They started shaking hands instead of making fists. The carpet remained nearly spotless. My family started coming to dinner again.
Now, as my two boys are both in their mid-twenties, I realize they not only have become close siblings but have grown into friends.
As their war-torn mother, I've been warmed and heartened by this unexpected turn of events. It's hard to forget those days when they hated and fought and hated some more. Some days I wasn't sure I would survive. Sometimes a single day seemed like it would never, ever end.
But the years? The years rushed by so quickly.
I sold our family home last year and moved into a condo. My house is quiet most days. My oldest son has an apartment in a neighboring suburb, and my younger son lives five hours away. On his last trip home, my two boys -- my two bearded young men--headed out to a nearby sports bar to watch a football game. I wasn't invited, yet I was far from disappointed. I knew they wanted to hang out together, just the two of them.
Sure, part of me wishes they were both here tonight, still little boys, with the three of us cuddled on a twin bed. I'd stroke their damp hair, and I'd read them a bedtime story, maybe If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
That story always made me smile. I'm a sucker for a happy ending.
Sometimes you get one when you least expect it.