She had only agreed to take them outside this afternoon because they had been so loud all morning, so full of energy that the seams of their voices had felt jagged and sharp against her ears. After breakfast, her oldest had thrown one of his trucks so hard against the playroom wall that it left a hole the size of a small fist in the drywall. He had looked so shocked afterward. His face had gone pale, his eyes wide as he waited for her reaction. She had sighed and moved their play tent in front of the hole in an attempt to erase it from her mind, one more thing to add to the list that had grown so long that she had torn it up and washed the pieces down the sink.
She sat and watched the two of them run around, throwing bits of sticks at each other and laughing when the other one sputtered and spit out dirt. She knew she should stop them, but no one was crying or hitting or calling her, so she let it go and watched them duck and weave through the swingset. The youngest was at a disadvantage. His run was more of a waddle, sippy cup clutched in his right hand. The older one circled him, smashed a handful of dirt into his hair. She waited for his lips to bunch and tears to gather in his eyes, but instead, he laughed and ran off.
Her stomach dropped as she watched her oldest go headfirst down the big slide, his hands out in front like he was flying. He was usually the more cautious of the two, but he was also stubborn. She had seen him watching an older boy doing tricks on the slide since they had arrived. His mouth had been set with determination as he studied the boy, took note of his technique.
He was her serious one who thrived on routine and dependability. He would probably never forgive her for bringing his younger brother home -- a wild card who loved to stir up trouble. Two years later, the two of them were still getting used to one another, always testing and pushing, attempting to figure the other one out. She loved to watch them from around corners, peeking in as they established rules and hierarchy within their relationship. It was fascinating. And tiring. By the end of the day, all she wanted to do was to retreat to her bedroom and sit in complete silence, willing her muscles to release the tension they held from the day. It had been her husband’s idea to put their older one in preschool a few days a week. She had protested at first, felt an enormous amount of guilt about abandoning him, but in the end, it had been good for everyone. Now, however, it was summer, and the days stretched out before them like cross country track meets, each one ending with the three of them dripping in sweat and exhausted, hands on their knees and gulping for air.
Most nights, after the books, and songs, and tears, she would find herself unable to remember how they had gotten through it all. The day behind her would become nothing more than a bad taste in her mouth as the silence of the house wrapped around her. Sometimes she would even go to bed missing the two of them: their small fingers pulling on her shorts, the constant imitation of car noises, their screams of delight as they crawled across the couch cushions that they had piled up on the floor like mountains. Then, the next morning they would be there, jumping across her as she lay in bed, the solid weight of them landing on her stomach or knees and she would find herself wishing for the day to be over already, the delicate spell of the night before gone.