“It will all work out,” I said.
Marty, Dan, Rob: It was a trifecta. And by summer it was a tribe.
For some reason, summer catapulted our older boys back into frat-house mode. Red Solo cups bloomed among the hydrangeas, and 17-year-old Francie, whose bedroom is downstairs, complained of loud Dexter marathons while she tried to sleep before her final exams. A cheap TV set for the boys’ room solved that, but I went ballistic over the beer cups with their friends’ bloated cigarette butts swimming in them. This wasn’t a flophouse! The guys told me to back off: They were old enough to do what they wanted. But a gentle reminder that adolescent girls didn’t need to see grown men parading in from the outside shower in boxers was all it took to inaugurate the brotherhood of the traveling robe. We bickered about meals cooked outside our bedroom door at 2 am but also about politics, music and books, which was fun. I was actually meeting “the brothers” as adults for the first time, and in a unique fashion.
In my generation, moving out was for good; I never really lived at home again after I left for college at 16. People got married in their early twenties and had kids. For new college grads, even an entry-level salary was enough to pay half the rent on a pretty nice apartment. Those grads dreamed of saving up $20,000 to make a down payment on a house, not to pay off student loans. Parents saw their adult children when they went to work beside them in the factory or the family business, or when they moved in down the block or visited from town.
In our sons’ generation, all but a few graduate from college older and deeper in debt. In real dollars, that first job pays for just about as much as, or less than, my first newspaper job did in 1980. The rent on my first apartment was $300 a month. The rent Dan paid for the place he shared in Vail was $1,500 a month and considered a steal. No wonder this generation also marries later.
So I rotated like a top bumping off emotions—frustration, satisfaction and pure, hopeless sympathy for their plight. On good days, having the older boys around felt like a privilege. How easily Dan whipped up breakfast crêpes; how effortlessly Rob fixed the computer; and with what skill Marty taught Francie to play “Clair de Lune,” my favorite song, on our old piano.
Then came the boys’ first fight.
Jokingly at first, Dan called Marty “fat ass.” Marty responded that he, Marty, was home because of his injuries, but Dan was just a slacker. There was a shove, then a harder shove. Rob joined the fray. Of course, our sons had been fighting all their lives—scuffling, tussling, wrestling—and now here they were again, careening into couches, with vases swaying and the littlest siblings caught between fascination and terror. At the end, the hole in the wall matched the one they’d made when they were 12, 14 and 17.
Contrition and plastering followed, but Atticus, seven, said tearfully, “They’re too big to fight.”
Not long after, Francie slapped Marty for double dipping a spoon in the chili she was making, and in return he hit her with a wooden spoon across the shoulders.
“She’s a kid, Marty,” I reminded him.
“She’s a jerk,” he told me.
Tears sprang to my eyes as I remembered the seven-year-old Marty cradling his infant sister. “She was your heart,” I said.
Marty turned to me, his own eyes awash in misery. “I know! Why did you let her grow up to be an entitled brat?”
Who was entitled? It was Marty who was driving my car. Only a few weeks later, Dan asked me if I could move the kids’ computer out of the boiler room: “It’s annoying enough to have people walking through to do laundry without the little kids coming in to play Club Penguin.”
I was too dumbfounded to answer. Finally, I said, “This isn’t set up for you. This is their home, where they have to be. If you don’t like it, move!”
One morning, a note turned up on the bathroom mirror pointing out that we were out of frozen pizza.
Chris asked, “What are you going to do about this?”
I shrugged. “Get some frozen pizza.”