words before Basil, thank you Nikaela
A friend of mine uses the acronym DTR (Define The Relationship) as a noun that refers to intimate conversations in which you reestablish what you mean to each other. Originally reserved for the early stages of romantic relationships (“want to go steady?”), she uses it more widely to mean any meeting between people that clarifies for either party, the length or depth or type of friendship they’re in. It is when we see how we see each other. I’ve taken to thinking about moments with and between my kids in terms of DTRs. On the one hand, our individual dynamics are so consistent that they defy redefining (we are deeply bound, we deeply love). On the other hand, they are changing so fast and I, along with them, am swept up in so much new learning that our relationships could have a new definition every day.
One afternoon my five year old spent hours “studying animals”. This entailed some stealthy walking around the house, cautiously rounding corners and peering into cupboards followed by five or so minutes of sitting in a chair silently staring at his open hands, palms facing up as if holding something precious. He was quiet and serious and concentrating hard. Despite this exertion, I felt envious of the lack of effort he seemed to need to believe in his imaginings. What easy faith. After the chair-sitting he would come and report to me the size, speed and diet of the animal he had just observed. His brother woke from his nap during this activity and wanted to join in. This was impossible however because “biologists study alone and in silence!” The younger one sobbed. He felt the rejection deeply. I was envious again. It has been a long time, I think, since I have wanted something or someone so badly that my heart breaks on a dime at their dismissal of me.
Still with uneven tearful breath and rosy post-nap cheeks the little boy went into the kitchen and pulled two tin bowls from the cupboard and brought and offered one to his brother. The older boy paused, initially irritated at the interruption.
“Shhhhh. Go away! You can’t – Wait! Are these for studying animals!? Do we put the insects we find in them?!”
The younger boy’s face brightened. Relieved and surprised, he cautiously nodded: was yes the right answer? It was. The offering was accepted and older one shifted over in his chair to let his brother next to him.
They shared the chair then – two straight backs and cocked heads and laps containing tin bowls, four feet not quite touching the floor. They weren’t aware of me watching them. The older boy was saying “Shhhh shhhhh.” Copying his brother, the younger boy held the tin bowl and stared into it, looking up every once and a while out of the corner of his eye to see if that was still the task at hand.
Then the five-year-old got up and came to me to report that “the parrot anaconda is six meters long and moves two to nine miles a minute and eats only mice.“ The three year old yelled overtop of him and in-between: “And and and the the the seal is seven and and and Mum??! the SEAL is big and it is seven and um um um meters and it eats birds and mum?” quickly turning on his heels to follow his brother out of the room to resume the sneaky walking and chair-sitting. What drama here: within the form of the fantasy, the reality of their relationship. The insects might not be real but the emotional responses are. There is desire and hurt and courage and acceptance and forgiveness. All within five minutes of each other on an ordinary dining room chair. They ignore and admire and lead and follow and it is as dramatic as the Old Testament. Relationship defined. Brothers.
All words and images by Nikaela