The drama of brothers’ separation

Posted June 13, 2010, at 9:48 p.m.

Seven and a half years ago, we brought home a newborn baby, Owen, and moved Ford, then just two days past his second birthday, out of his crib and into a toddler bed. Our house was small, so the crib and the toddler bed were in the same room, a mere six feet apart. I worried that Ford might unwittingly harm his new brother while trying to help (placing a blanket over him, throwing a hard plastic Superman into him, etc.), so I bought a netted tent and attached it to the top of Owen’s crib. There was a zipper on the side, and that’s how we got Owen in and out for naps and bedtime.

Several years later, we bought a second, matching toddler bed for Owen and placed it parallel to Ford’s. Owen’s quilt had zoo animal prints on it; Ford’s was plaid. When Ford started kindergarten, we bought two twin beds (matching, of course) to replace the toddler ones. I got identical sports-themed quilts and sheets for them. The boys shared a dresser, a closet and a bookshelf. They never complained. They never argued. Indeed, they begged us not to ever separate them.

Once, when Ford had learned to read and Owen still had not, we heard the boys talking in their room past bedtime.

“Turn out your lights and get to bed,” I yelled from the living room.

“But Ford hasn’t finished reading the Bible to me,” Owen answered back.

“Oh. Well. Carry on, then.”

Owen, who suffered for years from night terrors, often woke with a start in the middle of the night. Through the baby monitor, we sometimes could hear Ford saying, “It’s OK, Owen. I’m here. It’s me, Ford.”

To say that the boys had become codependent is an understatement. They were in a rhythm all their own. Ford’s constant humming was background noise for Owen, and Ford learned to sleep with the lights on when Owen was afraid of the dark. Owen picked up Ford’s dirty clothes and put them in the hamper; Ford taught Owen how to wear a necktie.

Last Christmas, I bought the boys separate piggy banks because they had always shared one. Ford asked me to return it. “I do all our finances,” he said. “So we only need one bank.” It was true. Ford counted and stored their respective money, and sometimes, when Owen was short a few dollars for a new toy at the store, Ford would give him extra from his own share.

All of this comes to an end next week. For reasons I don’t yet fully understand, I decided that it is time for Ford to have his own room and to move our youngest son, Lindell, 3, into the room with Owen. Ford, who will be 10 years old in November, is (outwardly) thrilled at the opportunity. Owen isn’t taking it so well.

Remember how I told you in a previous column that spouses argue before a deployment because it is easier to say goodbye to someone who annoys you? Well, it appears as if Ford and Owen are going through a version of this. For the first time in 7½ years, they are fighting over keeping the lights and the fan on or off overnight. They are bickering about money. And suddenly, Ford’s untidy tendencies have begun to grate on Owen’s nerves.

Yet, Owen cried himself to sleep one night because of the coming separation. Ford, for all his expressed excitement over having a new room, has mentioned feeling sad about leaving behind his old bed, sheets, quilt and dresser — metaphors, I am sure, for his relationship with Owen.

We counted their money the other day and split it evenly between them. I bought Owen his own bank with a secret combination lock. We’ve also sorted through and divided their books, neckties and dress socks. The last step before the big switch is to divvy up the “Star Wars” action figures, which have always shared a plastic storage bin underneath the beds. I expect this to be the most difficult part of the divorce, if you will, and won’t be surprised if it goes to mediation.

It is the end of an era, and each of the boys is dealing with it in his own, personal way. Much like pre-deployment, Owen is mustering the independence he will need to foster a new, younger roommate (Lindell) in Ford’s absence. Now Owen will take care of the finances, and he can read the Bible to Lindell.

I’ve done my share of crying over the transition, too. It has never not been “Ford and Owen’s room.” But I’m excited for Lindell and his opportunity to create new, special memories with Owen. And I am comforted by the fact that the bond Ford and Owen built in these past 7½ years can withstand any distance, whether it be a hallway, different schools or homes of their own hundreds of miles apart.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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