Having T. and his younger brother in the same room is like touching the wrong cable to your car battery. I believe Advocate Mom saw this coming and gently warned me a few weeks ago, explaining that her boys tend recreate the drama of their early life together. Yes, exactly.
Things did calm down since my last post. Birth mama drama died down. Younger brother played video games with Tim and T. came and curled up behind me on the sofa like a cat and fell asleep with his feet in my armpit. Later we went to the movies (we took the boys to separate movies, T. to the teen requisite Eclipse and younger brother to Toy Story), and T. and I snuck off to Macy's for a few minutes to buy jeans. It's craven, I know, but hey, I have been known to distract myself from difficulty by going shopping so why shouldn't he?
Their conflict remained at a simmer rather than a boil. We came home and had cake and opened gifts. T. came into the room briefly, just long enough to hear his brother softly exclaim "This is my best birthday ever." (I swear, it's the little offhand tragedies that will kill you.) Satisfied or else plagued by horrible guilt (probably both), T. retreated to his computer and we sat and ate cake and helped younger brother load up his new iPod Shuffle with music.
I understand a few things better now. First, I have long wondered about T. where the pain is hiding. He's very strong and very private and generally doesn't bring things up for discussion until he's already resolved his feelings on the matter internally. This weekend his pain and frustration were on full technicolor display. I don't fear that kind of pain and I was grateful to see it.
Second, I have often wondered if he gets lonely here, because he's the only child and we don't know a lot of people with kids. I'm not worried about that anymore. I see that we are a built-in ever ready audience of two and the exclusivity of our attention combined with the general orderliness of our home (meals are served regularly, people behave predictably, if we say we're going to pick you up we arrive on time) is a respite for him.
Third, I have always loved his gentle touch with younger kids but it has dimension I didn't appreciate before. He volunteers at the hospital, where he plays with little kids who've just had surgery. He soothes and plays with my baby nephew like an experienced nanny. He is generous and gentle with his friends' younger siblings, letting them come over and borrow his things. I always assumed that this nurturing streak must reflect the way he cared for his brother. But I see now that it has a quality of atonement. He isn't capable of expressing that gentle side with his own brother: a deep, cutting irony. My guess is that he feels he failed when they were young and bad things happened. At the same time, he believes that, had his younger brother been a different, better child, things wouldn't have been so hard.
I often think with T. that nothing is all good and nothing is all bad. There is pain and anger in his good behavior: if I'm perfect, then people will see that and finally love me. There is honesty and resourcefulness in his bad behavior: see, this is who I really am and this is how I get by - how ya like me now? He intended for this weekend to be about the first part of that dichotomy, to impress himself and his birth mom with his generosity. It turned out to be about the second part, about showing us who he really is and where he comes from.
All weekend, he's been checking my eyes. While he's on the phone with his birth mom, while he's haranguing his brother, or threatening to punch him out, or twitching with frustration as if he's got a bad case of emotional hives, he keeps checking my face. His expression, a half-smile with a wince, is hard to describe. It's part claustrophobia, part desperation, part humor, part shame. Most of all it's a very intense question mark. "What's happening to me?" I spent a lot of the weekend just looking back at him with an expression that I recall. It's the way my mom used to look at us when we had the stomach flu. It means: Nothing is wrong. I'm here and it's okay. This moment will pass.