I sat on the stairs where they couldn’t see me. It’s their dad’s birthday, and they insisted on baking him a cake. I told them to work on it together, letting them think I’d be upstairs working. Instead I snuck down and listened.
I didn’t need to leave my little corner from where I work upstairs to hear them. Their voices were loud and agitated, one accusing the other of not doing something right or of looking at the other funny or of breathing too loud or of looking in the wrong direction. The girl growled at the boy and the boy yelled at the girl, and I thought how ironic it was that they fought more as they baked that cake than their dad and I ever did in ten years of marriage.
I closed my eyes and tried to just listen, holding myself back from getting up and walking in and breaking them up. Instead I let their voices drift in and out of my mind; his deeper than I noticed before, measured and almost kind as he responded to her growls. Hers lower, meaner. More intense than when she’s being sweet and angling for an extra piece of cake or a trip for frozen yogurt. Both seemed to belong to people I might know one day but not really to my babies as I see them in my mind; but that’s the way these years go, isn’t it? One minute I’m the center of their world and know everything about their days and their friends and what makes their hearts go pitter patter; the next they can’t wait to conquer their own world, someplace far away from these stairs and the comforts of home.
So I let them fight. I smiled to myself as they accused each other of not greasing the pans correctly and rolled my eyes as the fought about whether the cake should be checked before the timer buzzes, just in case it cooks too fast. I thought about how learning how to handle conflict—even if it’s with your little sister or your big brother—is a something I could use a few lessons in and how unequipped I am to teach those skills to my children.
But mostly, I thought about the gift of this one little moment, and I was thankful for my warm home and the smell of chocolate cake in the air and the sounds of those I love most, so close for a little longer.