Thursday, June 26, 2014

When college breaks up the boys

Drew and Sam : the boys as the boys
 If you have raised boys, and will see one of them off to college in the fall,  you may worry as I did about what the separation will do to their close relationship. 

When Drew left for college, Sam was not yet a teenager. He didn't count the days until his brother's first break.  He kept a chart on the back of his door and crossed off the days. 

It was after Drew had been out of the house for five years that I understood the enduring strength of their brother relationship. 

Below is a post I wrote that year about the closeness that was not lost in the separation, but enriched by the days that came before.

September 6, 2011

From the kitchen window, I’m watching Drew on the lawn, chipping golf balls into the air toward his target which is the outstretched hand of Sam, who leaps from the shallow end of the pool and into the air like a caffeinated retriever. There is heckling and laughing when he misses, and then catches the little ball. Despite the chance that this ad-hoc game could end with a head injury and a trip to the ER, for now, it has my appreciation.

On paper, Drew the golfer, and Sam the baseball player, have four things in common which are their parents and siblings. Drew is organized, pays his bills on time, and runs his life like a business. Sam is spontaneous, has not met a deadline he can’t extend, and handles all his responsibilities on the same day of the week after he is sure that everyone he knows is busy. They are seven years apart, at different stages of life, with a respective circle of friends who wouldn’t necessarily click. On paper, there is no reason they’d want to spend time together, and yet…

It is a week later and a tropical storm has left us without power. Nobody is happy but for Sam and Drew, who have unearthed a twelve-year-old video game called “Backyard Baseball” and are playing it in Sam’s dark room on a battery-charged computer. There is much mocking of the nostalgic, antiquated game that once captivated them. I crack the door and peer inside and they wave at me. It looks like they are sitting in a mitten. Both are wearing baseball hats.

As people, they affect others differently. People talk to Drew who is by trade as well as by nature, a careful listener and talented writer. People listen to Sam who has been a compelling and persuasive speaker for all but six months of his seventeen years. And yet...

After a while the power is back on and the storm has calmed. The boys appear dressed and showered and announce that they are going to check the level of the river. They haven’t a clue what they’re checking, what to compare it to, and I’m sure they may not even know where the river is, they just think it will be fun to be “storm trackers.”

Here is the something.

Fun happens when we're not trying to have it, I think, a feeling more than a thing we actually do. It can make you glad to be alive, glad to be who you are or glad about who you're with. And though I think fun as a feeling is hard to replicate only by recreating an activity, I believe the soul keeps track of our potential to feel it again. 

In the way they related to each other, our boys discovered their appetite for fun. Despite the distance that followed, they never lost it.

One day, Sam and Drew will have spouses and children and schedule issues that make it hard to get together unless the serious one is willing to hop a flight at the last minute or the less-serious one is willing to plan in advance. They will need to remember the feeling of fun to make it work. They will.

Life says, “Here’s my price,” and we decide: we can afford it or we can’t. My belief, as their mother and ride to the ER, is that they will have absorbed each other’s company and counsel enough to remember these days of fun clearly. Enough at least to make a healthy down payment on that asking price.
Sam and Drew at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
September 20, 2013


  1. This is an endearing and heartfelt post, Susan. In a way though, it's a bit sad for me knowing that this bond, this sense of fun experienced with a sibling, is something my son won't ever feel. At least not in the same way. He may have it occasionally with visiting cousins and friends. But as an only child, he just has to find this sort of bond and have fun with others. *sigh*

  2. This is just lovely and really got to me. Especially since I have two boys about the same age difference apart. Thank you!

  3. Joy, thank you for reading and commenting :) And though I've seen it in my boys' relationship, it's the camaraderie between two kids that teaches them about fun that's most important I think.

  4. Kathy, I've read your writing about your family and I can see how special they are to you - to each other as well, I'm sure.

  5. I have two boys too; one 10 and one 6. They too are as different from each other as your boys, but I love how the younger, funny one has taught the older introvert on how not to take things seriously, and how the older one cuddles his brother and then cuffs him, just because!!
    Lovely, sweet post...I hope to write something similar in the not so distant future!!

  6. Oh, Susan. What an elegant and wise piece of writing. There are so many gems in this post.

    As the mother of two boys (21 and 22), this touches me in a very special way. My kids couldn't be more different, yet they generally got along well throughout childhood, and even more so as they moved into the teen years.

    Like you, I was worried when the elder went off to college about his relationship with his brother. He is now out of school, his brother is still in school, and they seem to be closer than ever.

    I love seeing the way they help each other (even with hundreds of miles between them), and go out of their way to hang together if they possibly can (though it takes driving hours).

    For me, as a mother, this is a source of great joy.

  7. True, D.A. It was a joy and is to watch all of my children get along as they do. I never knew this would mean as much as our own adult relationships. And I loved how they were drawn by their differences as much as what they had in common.

  8. What a beautiful post! My older son leaves in several weeks for college and I worry about how that will affect my younger son. They're 2 1/2 years apart and have gotten much closer recently. Thanks for giving me some hope!

  9. This is so lovely. My boys are closer in age, but they have nothing in common. As they've gotten older, they have become best friends, and I wonder how they will do when separated by life. Hopefully they will maintain their friendship - we've certainly encouraged it!

  10. What a touching post. There is something so comforting about our children being close with one another.
    I count my blessings everyday that my grown children live within minutes of one another and their children are as close as they were when they were young.
    This is a lovely post.