The boys were cleaning their room, as I had asked. I was clearing the dinner dishes. I should have recognized the relative calm as the freakishly low tide just before a tsunami surges in.
I heard G, my firstborn twin, making his awkward way down the stairs, touching both feet on each step before descending. “Mom!” he shouted. “Mom! Phe is yeavin’! He is wunnin’ away!”
Sure enough, there was P on the steps with a bag of play food — two pretend pizzas and a foam orange. His feet were bare. He said he was leaving because I am always so mean. Apparently he’d resented the clean-up more than I’d realized.
I was calm. I told him I hoped he wouldn’t go, and I asked that he at least wait until tomorrow, since it was cold out. I opened the front door for him, and he stuck out his chubby hand. Feeling the northern Ohio chill, he decided he’d wait until tomorrow morning. I congratulated myself on having handled the situation so splendidly, and began hustling the kids up to bed.
Abruptly, P changed his mind. He grabbed his bag of play food and announced he was leaving, and that from now on he could be reached around the corner at his friend Timmy’s house. The other children commenced yelling and wailing. The chaos got the better of me, and I called his bluff.
“Fine. If you’re leaving tonight, it’s time to go,” I said. “Otherwise, you need to get upstairs and put on your jammies.”
“I’m yeavin’ tonight,” he said.
“All right. We’ll miss you,” I said, as I swung open the door.
As we stood on the threshold, 30 degree air flooding into the house, I felt a twinge of regret. I knew he wouldn’t leave, or if he did he wouldn’t go any further in his bare feet than the frigid sandstone sidewalk, but I shouldn’t have painted him into a corner.
“Won’t you please wait until tomorrow, at least?” I asked.
Grateful for an out, he agreed he would, and we headed upstairs where I found G huddled against the wall, wedged between the bed and the nightstand, sobbing. He was inconsolable. He truly believed P was going to leave. His grief was so fierce that I began to feel I might be sick.
While I tried to console G, P sat on his bed quietly wiping tears from his eyes. No babyish sobs or sniffles, just his hand across the bridge of his nose, banishing tears with a swipe of his thumb and forefinger. I whispered in G’s ear that I’d never really let P leave, and even if he left I’d go get him, but G didn’t respond except to continue howling. After a while he sobbed to his brother, “What will you eat? Where will you live?”
And P replied that he now planned to go live with his aunt, and she would take care of him. He wanted to live with her because she is never mean. He said he’d leave in the morning and run to her house.
Again seeing an opportunity to bring this to a close, I suggested that he wait until that weekend and make the four-hour car ride to her house with us. He was agreeable. G sobbed harder. “And den we will YEAVE him dere?”
“No, no,” I whispered in his ear. “No, I would never leave him.”
I started to sense that the twin factor rendered useless all of the preschool runaway strategies employed by my parents.
After a while P backed down and said he wouldn’t really stay at his aunt’s. I showered him with kisses and love, borne of my relief that this ordeal was at an end. I told G the good news, and patted the bed for him to come over and be tucked in.
“No, I’m sleepin’ on the floor because my heart is broken,” he said.
“But he’s going to stay with us,” I cried, desperate for this hour-long standoff to end.
“Half of my heart is healed, but the other half is still broken so I don’t want to sleep in bed with P,” he explained.
P began to cry anew, and once again threatened to leave. G started crying again. “Will you at least stay until I can make us ‘Best Buddies Forever’ goodie bags?” he begged. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces.
I cried through most of this exchange, myself. In G’s begging and in P’s quiet, determined sadness, I felt not only the heartache of today, but the separation they will one day endure, and the heartbreaks that will come when they are too big for me to hold them.
I convinced G to come lay in bed with me and P. I held them both, their heads leaned against each other like when they used to doze off nursing. P put his arm around G, and G rested his head on P’s chest and shoulder. “Are you still gonna yeave?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” P answered.
Jen is the married work-from-home mother of 7-year-old Miss A, 5-year-old boys G and P, and 3-year-old Haney Jane. She also blogs at Diagnosis: Urine.