It’s Sunday morning. The dark clouds have been looming overhead for days and the cold spring rain is keeping us all indoors. My youngest sons, “the little boys”, as we affectionately refer to my second set of twins, have their foreheads pressed against the glass windowpane, eyes raised towards the sky, watching as the water pours down in sheets. The puddles collecting in the gravel driveway are becoming so deep that each passing minute seems to threaten to carry away a little more of the land underneath in the newly formed, big bubbling pools. The flooding is steadily rising and is creeping ever closer to the house. We’ve never seen this much rain at one time before. I stand up and make my way over to the window to join my six-year-old sons. For a few minutes, we peer out the window together in silence, just watching the rain fall.
With a dramatic sigh, one of my sons turns away from the window and sprawls across the living room couch, “I’m bored,” he says.
“Nice to meet you Bored, I’m Dad,” I reply, grinning at him, proud of my classic ‘Dad joke’.
He sighs again, a little more animatedly this time. “No, Dad! I’m REEEEEEAAAAALLY bored,” he repeats, drawing out the ‘really’ so that I know just how serious he is.
“Me too!” pipes up his brother, the younger of the two by only a few minutes. He turns and joins his sibling on the couch. These two, always stuck together like glue, can never seem to stay more than a few feet away from each other.
“Okay,” I say. “What do you feel like doing?” I ask.
The older of the two, as he so often does, takes the opportunity to speak for both of them, “We want to go outside.” His brother nods his head up and down, clearly agreeing with this statement. They both turn to look at me, their soulful brown eyes pleading with me to agree and let them go out.
“It’s raining cats and dogs out there,” I say to them and I point to the window with a brief bob of my chin. “Want to play a game instead?” I ask, turning and walking towards the basket of art supplies left on the floor beside the couch by their older sister.
They scramble to their feet to follow me. I help myself to a sheet of white paper and a pen. I move to the middle of the living room floor and lower myself gently down. The little boys are watching me with rapt attention.
“Sit down,” I tell them, pointing towards the empty space in front of me. I shift my body so that I move from a seated position to lay on my belly. They do the same. Like a lopsided, three-pointed starfish, we are gathered around the paper which is placed in the center between us all. Each of our legs is sprawling out behind us and we practically fill the room with our stretched out bodies.
I look at each of my boys, the carbon copies of each other. I see so many similarities, but I also see their uniqueness. The older of the two wears glasses. The younger has a slightly more slender face. Their eyes are identical, brown, just like their mother’s, but their noses and smiles are definitely all mine. They still choose to dress alike most days; not something that we’ve ever encouraged, just a personal preference of theirs. They love to try and trick people into thinking that they are each other in reverse. My youngest cried the day his brother got glasses because they didn’t look as much alike anymore. I love this special bond they share. In an uncontrollable world, it comforts me to know that no matter what, at least they will have each other.
“What are we playing?” the younger boy asks me. His chin is perched on his palms, elbows resting on the floor. From the corner of my eye, I see his brother copy this exact position, whether on purpose or by some coincidence of genetic predisposition I don’t know, but I find it amusing anyway.
“Hangman,” I tell them. “Do you know how to play?”
“SPELLING!” the younger gasps, horrified. My sons are in the first grade, they are just learning to read and write. While my wife and I encourage academics, it’s clear the little boys are much more interested in sports and being outdoors. Both boys are wriggling on the floor in abject horror at the suggestion that I might make them practice these skills in the disguise of a game.
“Come on, it’ll be fun,” I coax. I start to draw the gallows on the sheet of paper. Beneath the stick platform, I carefully measure out four words. The little boys are still learning, so I keep the statement short and simple. “Okay, you first,” I say to the younger boy. He pauses, clearly thinking.
“T,” he says.
“Nope,” my reply and he frowns as I draw the head. “Okay, you’re next Cowboy,” I point to the older twin and like the ‘Quick Draw McGraw’ that begot him the nickname Cowboy, he fires off his chosen letter.
“A!” he shouts, loud and clear, shooting his arm straight up, punching at the air.
“Good one,” I reply enthusiastically and fill in the blank placeholder where the A belongs. I look back to his brother. “Okay Bug, your turn”. I can see he is sulking slightly, his feelings a bit sore because his brother got a letter and he didn’t. He reminds me so much of myself in this moment. I was never a good ‘loser’ of games at his age either. “Think hard,” I tell him. He looks thoughtfully at the paper.
“O,” he says tentatively and looks at me, waiting for my response.
“Great guess!” I tell him and his smile lights up, sore feelings forgotten. I fill in the two blank places set aside for O’s.
“I got two!” he says gleefully and perhaps a little gloatingly. His brother rolls his eyes. I love watching the relationship between them. I can’t help myself from laughing out loud mirthfully. We continue our game, each taking turns guessing letters, some right, some not. I am impressed at how much they have learned this school year. It is clear to me that while they would much prefer to be kicking a ball around, they are turning out to be pretty smart cookies. I am proud. Our game is coming to an end with only three blank spaces left to be filled. Cowboy leans over and whispers something in Bug’s ear, Bug nods his head wildly up and down.
“We know what it is,” Cowboy says a little hesitantly.
I smile at each of them. “Okay, what’s your guess?” I ask.
Cowboy nudges Bug with his elbow. “You say it,” he urges his brother.
“We think it says ‘Daddy loves his boys'”, Bug says and looks at his brother for confirmation. Cowboy nods his head.
I take a deep breath in, sigh, and hang my head towards the paper on the floor. I can see their half-smiles turn to doubt. “Looks like I lost boys,” I say after a few seconds. I reach the pen forward and scratch in the three missing D’s. It takes a moment for the boys to realize they are correct and they erupt into a chorus of whooping and cheering.
Placing my palms flat on the floor, I push myself up and jump into a standing position. My body aches from laying so long on the floor and my ‘stuntman standup’ didn’t help any, but I don’t want them to see the grimace of pain on my face. This would ruin the good fun that we’ve been having. They are still on their bellies on the floor. I step towards the couch in one fluid movement and gather up all the pillows and cushions. I turn my body quickly and begin to pelt the boys on the floor with my arsenal of pillow bombs. They squeal and scream and burst into fits of laughter, rolling on the floor to try and avoid being hit with a barrage of bomb debris. The noise attracts their siblings who have been playing quietly upstairs. One by one they each come racing down the stairs to see what’s going on. With no more pillows in hand our game is fizzling out and the boys are left panting and catching their breaths on the floor.
I look around me. I’m surrounded by my six kids. They are all looking at me like I’ve lost my mind. I shrug and grin, thinking to myself, “I may as well go with it”.
“Get your coats on,” I tell them. They all pause. “Go on, quick, quick,” I emphasize again. They spring into action, running towards the front door.
“What are we doing Daddy?” Cowboy asks me, hanging back from the rest of the group who are frantically sorting through boots and coats at the front door. He comes up to me and presses his body against my side. He rests his head on my chest. It’s not lost on me that his ear is pressed into my ribs; parallel to the growing tumor in my lung beneath. For a brief moment, when his body connects with mine, it feels like life is triumphing over death. His face looking up at me is almost a reflection of my own. In him, I see a continuance of myself. When I am gone, he will live on in my own image. I am comforted and proud to be represented by such a fine boy. I reach up and put my hands on his head, feeling his soft dark hair beneath my touch. I smile at him and he smiles back.
“I thought we’d go out and get wet, son,” I tell him.
He sends a WHOOP out into the air and streaks away to join the others. I join the group, pick up my own coat and put it on. I lean down to grab my shoes from the melee of kids and clothes at the front door, as I do, I hear Cowboy telling Bug, “Dad’s letting us go outside to play with the cats and dogs.” I pause briefly at his statement before it dawns on me what he means, he has confused my phrase from earlier about how it was raining cats and dogs. I laugh to myself, I love this kid. I love all these kids. They are my legacy, and they are good ones at that!