The noise of the shower was punctured by Max, bursting into the bathroom.
"Mom!" He wailed, frustrated and angry. "MOM! Tre is IN HIS ROOM. AGAIN."
I peered around the shower curtain. Max was standing there, in his cape, remnants of breakfast still on his cheeks, his hair a tangled mass. And his face radiating despair.
"Well, Max, Tre is...um...allowed to be in his room."
"Make him come out and PLAY WITH US."
I sent Max out to let me finish my shower. When I was done and dried and dressed, I went out and found him, curled up in the soft blue chair, a tense little knot of sorrow. See, I'm not the only one feeling the effects of Tre's adolescence. The boys have always been homeschooled, and so they've had the chance to be not only squabbling brothers, but squabbling playmates. I have this evil plot I use to get them to scamper off and have unstructured playtime. When breakfast is done, I tell them they can play for a little before school, as long as they don't fight. For years and years, this has meant that much of their mornings were spent in long, winding games of make believe. Forts were built, marbles rolled down ramps, cars sent skittering across the floor, and a whole host of characters were play acted, complete with costumes and accents.
But lately Tre doesn't have much patience for the old games. They're stupid, and boring, and he'd rather read. Max and Raphael stand outside his door and throw things at him, but go figure, that doesn't make him want to join them either.
I don't know what to do about this new dynamic. I'm equally torn between leave him alone, he deserves his own space and for the love of pete, Tre, give your little brothers a break.
I think they're both true, my impulse to let him withdraw and my desire to remind him he can be his own great big growing boy and still find some way to interact with his little brothers. But no compromise is going to answer this hurt, felt most acutely by stuck-in-the-middle-Max.
I scooped him up and sat, his great lanky arms and legs trying to fold into the space of my arms. The simple truth is that he feels like he's losing his brother because he is. The era Max wants back is over, and they just won't ever both be kids, playing Bionicle on the carpet again.
I ran my fingers through his mop of hair, dislodging tangles. "Max, honey, I know you're sad that Tre doesn't want to play as much as he used to. I'm sorry..." I paused, and tried to think of what to say. I listened to the tinny sound of music filtering up from Tre's room. The morning sun poured in through the window, illuminating dust motes so that for just a moment they looked like flecks of gold. Max made a small squeak, trying to hold back the tears that finally spilled down to dot the arms crossed tight over his chest.
"I'm just sorry," I finished, lamely but true.