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All the Blue Legos

We've Got a Lot of Kids

Our family is like a full-sized symphony orchestra, made of only trumpets.

Around the supper table our four kids compete with one another for air space, attention and the seats closest to Mom. While they joust in the same spectrum, each kid has their own strategies, verbal and physical weapons, defenses, charisma values.

And rather than passively wait for the predictable conclusion, the usual, inevitable uneasy truce, one night we could simply assign appropriate ability scores and play our four dragons with an eight-sided die and a pad and pencil, my wife Maria and I pulling shifts as Dungeon Master.

One of the swell things about being in a large-ish family like ours is that if one or two of us are off doing something other than yelling at each other across the living room, the shape and texture of the family changes dramatically. It’s like we have several families rolled into one; like one of those multi-tools with the pliers and screwdrivers and socket drivers: the kind that I didn’t get for Christmas.

For example, if our oldest has gone to basketball practice for the evening, leaving his three younger siblings at home, then those younger kids, closest in age and for the moment majority female, play reasonably quiet games involving semi-complex motor skills, strategy, roleplay, teamwork. I’m The Mom, a perennial favorite.

Rather than shouted insults and the ever-popular pummeling of one another, they rely on subtle snubs and polite reprimands to sway opinion. Maria and I, not having to shout over the usual and customary din, have a tendency to read more, to discuss issues in greater depth, to chuckle.

On another night both of our girls might be away at a giddy and perhaps ill-advised all-girl slumber party, leaving both of our boys at home together. They’ll haul out all twenty-four-hundred pounds of unsorted Legos in garbage barrels upended on the living room floor, sounding like an entire greenhouse of shattering window glass, and paw through the drifts of Legos looking for the matching Star Wars battle glove, or every single square blue brick for a Tower to the Ceiling for the hamster.

Our younger boy carefully avoids his older brother’s hair-trigger trip wires that will send a ready punch singing through the air, and conversely his older brother avoids any violation of the rules of fair play that could send his younger brother tattling to Mom, agonized sobs turning to indignant shrieks echoing down the hall. My wife Maria and I often sit happily with the boys on the rug, assembling our own towers, racing to be the first with the tallest, teasing the boys, tousling their hair. I’ve got all the blue Legos.

In the afternoons, when the twins, our youngest, were enrolled in morning kindergarten, they would settle into familiar and easy amusements, play that they’d been perfecting since they were small: less than a hundred cells apiece. They would play Store, with a fake cash register and plastic coins, or Waitress with a pencil and a pad of paper. Our youngest girl would provide chirpy play-by-play and cheerful instructions for her twin brother, who would grunt monosyllabic replies, the strong and silent type.

When all the other kids are on play-dates or at ballet, and it’s just Maria and I with our oldest boy, I’m filled with nostalgia for old times, like it was when we were three in our damp beach house on the north end, making it up, before his younger sister and the twins arrived and set us firmly and irrevocably on the course we travel today. It’s like a visit from some rarely seen nephew, on break from boarding school.

It’s an equally rare occurrence when we have no kids whatsoever in our charge. The absence of bickering and fidgeting and all those brain waves and personalities in conflict leaves a crushing vacuum. The silence is startling and vast. We’re free to study one another’s faces with our fingertips, although I don’t think Maria would be interested in letting me do that; we can watch grownup entertainment and eat spicy Indian food; but Maria doesn’t like spicy Indian food. It’s just that we could.

We avoid discussing kids or the finer points of car repair. We’re reminded that our love for one another made this whole thing go. As we crawl into bed, I feel something sharp and angular lodged under my butt. Apparently I didn’t get all the blue Legos.