The Gingerbread boy walks into the kitchen. "I really want to go upstairs to brush my teeth, but I'm too scared," he says.
Gingerbread Boy #2 leaves his bowl of unnaturally colored cereal without a word and accompanies his older brother up the stairs.
She watches them go, astounded at their brief truce.
Here in a simple moment, compassion triumphs over cold cereal. Fear seeks out friend, and the fighting ends for a brief time, all for the want of clean teeth. The power of two.
She watches them pad up the steps, and with each step, she sees them turning into gangly boys, then teenagers, then young men; by the time they reach the second floor, they're tax-paying adults. Before long, she thinks, her two will seek out two of their own: two new families, and her family of four will be down to two again.
She remembers the night when she and he became we. When a welcome hug gave away a hidden ring box in a pocket, and she couldn't stop smiling. The day she joined ranks with the anonymous Johnsons.
One and one equals two.
Before long the chiasmus will begin. Four will become three, then two, then one.
And then the cheese stands alone.
But she doesn't want to think about that now. There is work to be done before then. Time is so short, she thinks. There is so much left for them to learn before they're ready to fly out of the nest. There is so much left for her to teach them. How to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch. How to iron a shirt. How to ask a girl on a date. How to floss properly. How to build a fire. One never knows when one will need to build a fire. Long division. How to match colors. How to balance a checkbook. Negotiation. How to handle heartbreak. How to go upstairs to brush your teeth without being scared. The list seems endless. The list seems overwhelming.
She hears them whispering and giggling upstairs. Come back down the stairs, boys! Be six for a little while. Let me hold you on my lap. Let me hug you still before you push me away. The lessons can wait until tomorrow.
She'll start with chocolate chip cookies first.