Waiting to Exhale


Thing2 – Cheese, as he wants to be called these days when he doesn’t want to be called SuperDude or SpiderMan – is six.  He’s been six for all of two weeks, but he seems to understand that, as his birthday approached, we were crossing a divide – at least when it came to our bedtime routine.

Cheese co-slept with us while he was nursing, and, when he transitioned to his own bunk in the room he now shares with Thing1, his 12-year-old brother, I adopted the practice of lying down with him at bed time.  I did this with Thing1 for a short time, and it seemed to smooth out the rough spots as he became more independent.  With Cheese, however, at least one of my reasons for this routine was selfish.

Thing1 is already taller than I am, and, while he still needs hugs and comforting when he’s down, I still marvel at how quickly he went from my arms to my lap and then to the world at large.  I know it is going even more quickly with Cheese, and when he embraces his independence, this special time will be gone forever.  The next epoch will be just as special, but our quiet time at night gives me the chance to be mindful of this one – of his arms around my neck and of the melting of a smiling imp into a serene slumbering angel.

As his birthday approached, however, our routine became more and more brief – he doesn’t need help getting ready for bed.  Increasingly the routine consists of Thing1 and Cheese giggling as they brush and wash and bustle into their bunks.  They whisper their secrets in the dark and then, more often than not, snoring replaces the giggles before I have a chance to sit down for a snuggle.

This is as it should be, but five is not six, and even six still needs a snuggle some nights.  As we move closer to the divide, however, even our snuggle time has changed.  The giggling does not stop merely because Mom is there.  Often I spend as much time shushing as snuggling, and it is always at bedtime that I get to hear the newest phrase Thing1 has acquired ‘on the playground’ before dutifully passing it on to his brother.

It was when the first phrase of the evening emanated from the top bunk last night that I realized that I was about to be relegated to a role on the sidelines of the bedtime routine.  Thing1 was already giggling when I kissed him goodnight, and the grin on Cheese’s face should have been a clear sign that my presence could only amplify the silliness.  I had just wrapped Cheese in a hug as the first classic line floated down from the top bed:

“Beans, Beans, the magical fru -”

“That’s enough,” I interrupted before Cheese could learn any new poetry.  But Thing1 began again, and I could feel Cheese beginning to quake.

I shushed.  They giggled.  I shushed again, and quiet reigned.  But not for long.  This time, the line was a whisper, and I found myself working not to chuckle.  Cheese held his hand over his mouth, and I knew even the hint of a giggle from me would send them both over the edge.  So I held my breath.

Thing1 knew it was time to quit, and for a few minutes I only heard an occasional squeak as he suppressed a laugh.  Cheese quickly lost his fight with sleep, and I was finally able to breathe without a giggle and without contributing to more chaos.

I stood up and gave Thing1 another kiss on the head before heading back to the living room for grown-up time.  But as I walked out to the bright kitchen, I exhaled again and my smile faded.  I knew that the boys had begun adopting their own routine, without my help.

There will be more silliness and snickering from the bunk room, and we’ll chuckle as we listen to their whispering. They will become more independent in this routine, just as they have become during the day.  They are both a long way from true independence, but we are at the end of an era, and I think I am already missing it.


As my son stands in the doorway of our cluttered mudroom, his clothes soaked to the skin from an afternoon of tubing down the Battenkill and jumping in ponds, it occurs to me that we have become hillbillies.

To be sure, we have created the right atmosphere. There’s the perennial appearance of our thirty-year-old mercedes on blocks; the woodshed built for strength but impermanence for the benefit of the tax assessors; the garden that sometimes looks like a weed sanctuary and an ever-evolving parade of animals streaming through a mudroom littered with shoes and skates and garden implements.

And, in spite of our diminishing efforts to stay connected to trends and the city, life and location have conspired to turn us and our kids into hicks .We have learned the difference between hay and straw. Our kids picky about when their peas are picked. They have developed an affinity for dirt and allergies to soap (so they claim). They have never slept a day on a set of matching sheets or worn a color-coordinated outfit to school.

Living on a mountain far from many friends has taught us to find enjoyment close to home and our kids to find fun in the forest. Bills and a sparse employment landscape have taught us all the value of financial security but also that people without it still have value. We have learned to make do and to be happy doing without. Watching neighbors share food,money, and labor has taught us all to do for others and when to lean .

As Thing 1 and I debate whether he should leave the wet clothes (made filthy by a day of cheap, low-tech fun) outside or in the mudroom, I come to the conclusion that being a hillbilly is a pretty good thing.