Summer’s heat crawls up the hillside where Bo and I watch the boys. A park outing is always special, especially one that allows for a walk down to the lake. We take our time along the wildflowers, point out all the fishing boats. Laugh in the shade over ice water and brownies.

I often see social media sharings from other mothers chronicling their museum outings, concerts, parks, kid yoga, blah blah blah. They assume I can meet them at the parade, or out to eat. Every time, I have to say no, and why.

My sister-in-law keeps pressing us to attend Green Bay’s city-wide celebrations: pumpkin trains, egg hunts, Christmas parades. Every time, Bo says just Blondie will come, and why.

Your boys can’t be THAT bad.

I look at them. I’d love to say: you weren’t there when Biff head-butted me repeatedly in the temple to the point where I could see nothing but stars and barely walk. You weren’t there when Bash had such bad diarrhea in the library that I had to change him by the movies and hiss at Biff to please for the love of GOD do not tip over the book cart, oh GOD he’s going to bring it down on himself Bash no DON’T GET UP stay THERE you STAY no NO NO. You weren’t there that evening, when the librarian called me at my home to explain that my sons’ history of “deeply disturbing other patrons” had gone too far today, and if I could please bring them back when they were “ready” for a library.

This wasn’t even the first library from which they’d been banned.

And yet other mothers think I joke. That my sons can’t be that bad.

Bash holds my hand and walks an even pace with me up the hill, back to the playground. “Mommy, you’re my best friend.” The sun sets off the dark brown in his eyes and the white of his toothy grin. A tiny gap between the top two–may his grown-up teeth never take that from him. “Best friends come true.”

This from the boy I almost let die on the roadside.

We reach the playground, and Biff cries out, “Forks, we gotta get out of here!” He runs round us, growling with those toddler vocal cords. “Look out, I’m Big Mouth!” Turns, points at me, “You’re Scooper. Hi, Scooper.”

I start to say hi but Bash turns on his gravel-voice and says, “Big Mouth, we gotta squash cars!”

Off they go. Bo stands alongside me; my hand reaches for his out of instinct. Our sons climb ladders, bark orders about lifting loads to each other. Their small tanned hands grab mulch–aka, the “squashed cars”–and “dump” the cars down the slide to be scrapped.

The boys ignored each other for years; Bash even thought he was another Biff, so we had to tell him every day that he was someone else. When church members, relatives, or strangers saw the boys they always cooed, “They must have so much fun together!” and I always had to shoot that presumption down.

This past year has seen such a change in them: all of them, together and apart.

Bash’s imagination continues to wow and warm me. He wants to tell stories, so many stories about his trains or trucks. Every now and again I’ll borrow read-aloud stories for listening to in the car; Bash has memorized all these cues and builds on them: “Thomas wheezed weakly, and moved down the line. Suddenly, James arrived with a heavy load. ‘Oh no, the rain is coming!’ he peeped.” Barely 4, and he understands more about dialogue/action balance than I do.

Sometimes the boys tell stories together. Hell, I just thought the playing together without yanking hair or thumbing eyes to be amazing, but their creativity combined always pulls me from my work to their door–out of sight, mind, lest my presence sets their world off-balance. Lightning McQueen got lost in the desert, Dusty and Blade Ranger can save him, woosh! Then a brief argument over who gets Chug, then a concession–a concession! without fists or tears!–then back to the story, because it’s not worth arguing about Chug when Lightning’s in trouble.

When the boys are in no mood for each other, Biff can often be found in his bunk, reading. I mean, READING reading. At that age, Blondie had a helluva memory, and knew many stories, but not how the words she heard connected to print. Biff knows what he sees, and WE know he knows because he’ll pick up new books and bam–read’em. Sometimes I get a shriek of “MOMMY!” which most would presume an oh-my-god-get-to-the-hospital-pain cry, but no: he’s still in his bed, looks down at my panicked face, and asks, “What’s this spell?” After rolling my eyes, because of course it would be this and not a broken leg, we go through the letters and work out the word. If a book has no words of which to speak, such as his picture book of 1,000 vehicles, he makes up conversations and adventures between the wee trucks on the page.

I see my sons, and I see such imaginations that want to grow, and explore. Imaginations that deserve to be better stimulated than with trips to the park, but there is still little I can do with them out of the house and on my own when their tempers are so vicious. Museums and zoos invite nothing but running and tantrums with these guys. Events with loads of people make them nervous, ornery, angry. So we make the best of Bo’s free time with the simple things. And for these two, time on a hillside among wildflowers is far more than simple: it’s an adventure.

Blondie stares out the front window. Tonight’s the night: back-to-school shopping. Doesn’t sound like much, but we’re to go when Bo gets home from work, just her and me. No boys.

“Are you sure they’ll have the BB-8 lunchbox?” she asks for the 3,649th time.

“If they don’t, Daddy will go to Toys’R’Us tomorrow to get one.”

“Okay, and you’ve got the list?” she walks briskly on her toes over to my purse as though we’re by a swimming pool with over-attentive life-guards. “List, wallet. Mommy, your phone!” She packs it, then hands me the purse. “Here, you hold onto this.” I take it, despite washing up dishes and hunting down the boys’ pajamas. She’s been counting down the days for this, time out with just me. When I was small, I positively loathed such trips with my mom. Outings like this promised a dressing room, a pile of stuff we likely wouldn’t get because it wasn’t on sale enough but I had to try them all on anyway, and then I would have to walk around the store in said items because Mom never hung out by the dressing rooms for more than thirty seconds.

Yet my daughter thinks this the greatest thing in the world, because it means she gets me all to herself.

It’s been one of my greatest fears as a parent ever since the doctor chirped, “Oh there’s TWO in there!”: letting Blondie fall to the wayside.

And she has. I’d be a liar to say she didn’t. Everything’s been about what we can do “because of the boys.” Trips to the museum, the zoo, to special places with other relations are always done with Daddy because I need to stay with the boys. Mommy always stays with the boys. The boys, boys, boys…

20160809_204106The first thing upon entering the store: we find the lunchbox. She pays careful attention as we work through her list as well as her brothers’. All things gathered, and a cool new shirt for the first day (“Saturn has headphones on? That’s so weird!” she laughs) we get in line to check out. It’s late for her, but I ask anyway: “Should we get a treat for being so awesome?”

Her eyes go wide beneath her thin blond curls, hands cupped to her mouth, “Can we go to the place with the, the Thomas train flying around, and the Superman, and the submarine, and the train, and the…”

It’s late. It’s already past her bedtime, not to mention mine. But this isn’t about me. This is about a little girl who’s been told “Not now,” “we have to help Biff/Bash with A/B/C/D/E/F/G/H/I/J/K/L/M/N/O/P,” “I’m sorry the boys screamed/ran/fought/ect. Did you still have fun?” day after day after day. And those days are going to continue.

But today doesn’t need to be like that.

So I smile, stifle a yawn. “Sure, Kiddo.”


Ella’s Deli has been around for ages; though the Madison neighborhood has changed, it remains its quirky self, complete with carousel. We get there just in time for a ride before it’s closed for the night.

We order our ice cream inside and wander about.

Blondie laughs at the dancing feet, works the mini-carnival. Scarfs down super-chocolatey ice cream at a table depicting a Lego battle. We talk about what we see, what I remember about my own childhood visits here. I put her favorite Veggie Tales song on repeat for the whole 30-minute ride home as she marvels at the stars, the lights of the city and how they fade in the country. The dark farmland makes her nervous, so I drive one handed, the other squeezing hers behind me. Usually she hollers from her way-back seat: “Mommy, you’re supposed to have both hands on the wheel,” but tonight there are no boys, so she gets to sit by Mommy, and Mommy gets to hold her hand.


One of the great stressors of this life–this writer’s life, mother’s life, wife’s life and all-other’s life–is the the struggle to balance that which keeps me sane with those who need me to keep life liveable. The kids have grown since I wrote “To Create in Bedlam”: no longer placated so easily, far more fearless, emotional. Independent, yet together, too. Yes, together. Sometimes Blondie spends afternoons in the pool with Biff. Sometimes she and Bash go spelunking in his bottom bunk. And then there are those days where all three actually play together. These three: the one whom I nearly left on the road, the one who tried to play with fire, and the one who wanted the others to be returned to the hospital for months: they, together. Never in those first three years did I dare assume this would happen. Childhood told me as much: my elder brother had decided the younger brother should be his friend, so off I drifted to the side, and remained there, as so many home movies show: apart. The runt of the litter.

Now, I watch my own daughter and sons fight one minute and laugh the next. Tickle each other, flee from each other. But they always come together. They always stop when one is hurt, or scared. Hug, and give kisses to make it better.

Today, and I dare presume for always: Best friends do come true.


38 thoughts on “Presumptions

  1. Of course best friends do come true. Such a warming and beautiful post Jean I confess you have made me teary. You are such a wonderful mum as well as everything else and you don’t see it. Your kids are NOT –lol–‘that’ bad. They’re just kids you know. And there’s nothing wrong with the boys. (Hell, we got a grandbaby sounds just like that.) The hell wi the snotty libraries and anyone who says otherwise. It’s just plain tough having 3 young kids at your feet. It must be lovely to have miss or mister perfect child. But you know it’s even better not to and to do the lovely things you do with them. So much more meaning x

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  2. I imagined this being read on BBC Radio 4 in the afternoon in that old, smooth Mid-Atlantic accent I quite like! Still, kids are kids the world over. The fear of ‘what will they do next’, a universal thing you’ll look back and laugh at in years to come. Indeed, your words bring to mind the day my middle son, also aged 4 at the time did the one thing I knew he would, yet prayed (yes, even an old atheist like me did!) that he would neither spot, or make mention of the bloke with two heads who was stood next to us both in the newsagent shop. Of course, the question, spoken at high volume, “Why’s that man got two heads Dad?” ensured my embarrassment was complete! Such is life. You have a fine family there Ms Lee.

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    • Oooooh, yes! There are those moments where you just pray the kid doesn’t peep up, but Blondie’s notorious about that. I took her along to the hospital once for visiting my friend Rachel, who at the time was at the most basic stages of recovery. She had the abilities of an infant: very little control over anything. We passed others at the center, which…well…got some questions: “Why’s that man’s face like that? How come her hand is all turney wrong? That lady’s old. Won’t he break the chair?”
      Yeah, we, um, moved quickly through the halls.
      And I thank you. For all the bruises and headaches, I wouldn’t want any other kids but these. 🙂 xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How you nail the emotions, complexity – come on – “torment” of conflicting deep true loves and desires, time and responsibilities… each time. And I’m still pretty amazed you are able to get THIS MANY words composed – an inspiration on every layer..

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  5. I was stunned after reading this post.

    As I mentioned on my blog, I had no idea about this part of your life. I went back to read the other post you linked to, “The Machete and the Cradle”, andI was stunned even more. You’re doubly amazing for having been through such agony, let alone the other agony of abuse.

    The way in which you write about your experience is so compelling.
    I’m completely drawn in by how you express your struggles, heartbreaks and triumphs in your relationships with your children and your observations of them. This is high praise because I honestly think I have some kind of attention “challenge” (I’m so labeled-out since I have bipolar disorder that I won’t even try to self-diagnose anything else!) and it’s hard for me to concentrate when I read any piece of writing, especially mine, ha ha. However, I was was glued to this piece & ADD went out the window. I could read a whole book 📖 written in this poignant, insightful, original manner about your life. Hint hint.💖

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    • You are so good at making my heart squishy. 🙂
      I don’t like writing about my family too much, partly because (as you’ve read) I so often use writing as a way to be NOT-Mommy for a little while. It’s felt…how to put it…so damn good to be acknowledged for having more than offspring.
      I suppose that sounds awful for those who aspire to have children. I have a few such friends myself. But one of the tests of faith, at least I think, is to know all that God has given us–both gifts and monsters–is for a reason. I want to write about this more in my next post, as I just finished Zoe Zolbrod’s memoir as a victim of sexual abuse.
      But I realized that every now and again it’s important for me to do more than acknowledge my kids. I have to THINK about them, too. Process them, you know? Yes, I’m still the Caretaker, but they want to be listened to. Argued with. They need more than food on the table and clean clothes. They deserve to FEEL love. And when I think of that, think of what they are when they’re not pulling each other’s hair or chucking cars at fragile things, I felt a need to write. 🙂
      You’re not the first to recommend I write more on that time of life. These bits and pieces make me wonder if I truly have the courage to do so. Until then: bits and pieces.
      Thank you so much for your friendship, for the hugs and California welcome. Warmth like yours is very precious, like a campfire on a cold Wisconsin summer night. 🙂 xxxxxxxxx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I read this and I cried for you and I laughed for you. I’m not overly sentimental but how well I remember when my kids were little the pressures I put on myself to do this thing right. You will come through this chapter and the next. And the ones after those. Just love your babies as best you can. That’s the only rule.

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  7. Haven’t been visiting a while. Stayed with my daughter for two months, helped with the kids.
    I love all children – polite or wild, it doesn’t matter. They are humans of the future, all of them. Have to be loved 🙂 My two eldest are as different as day and night, but they play together quite often, and it makes me so happy. They will be close. I am delighted that your kiddies will be close too. I enjoyed looking through your photographs 🙂 Blondie is such a beautiful young lady, and sure she loves your company – two girls out shopping! My daughter is 30+ and she still loves shopping with me 🙂 Life is full of pleasant things we can choose to do. Life is basically very simple. Your twins won’t be making a mess in the library forever. Just wait and then try to bring them over there again. Meanwhile there is a whole world of things you still can do, and after a couple of years an anecdote about the library visits will only make you laugh 🙂 Sending you much love! xxxx

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  11. I have a friend who has two twin boys. Both boys created a reputation for themselves as little… firecrackers. They are now the most charming young adults you could ever, ever want – but not boring; they still have that little twinkle in their eyes, they have a pulse. Gosh, life would be boring if we all ate up our greens, wouldn’t it?
    And they are blessed. They have you. They are going to be just fine. 🙂 x

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