"What's happening?!" they trade off shouting, dissolving into giggles as they slap each other over and over again, imitating a character from one of their favorite books. They're drenched from freezing hose water and their rash guards and tiny swimsuits are plastered to their bodies. And they are supremely happy.
Just a week or two ago, down with fevers and ear infections and endless 20 degree days, these same boys were scratching each other's metaphorical eyes out in unrelenting Lego squabbles and disagreements over whose turn it was to open the garage door with the special remote. And to be fair, they'll probably be fighting again in 15 minutes.
But for now they are deeply content and completely engrossed in one another, their 19-month age difference barely a blip on their consciousness except, of course, when Joey feels the need to assert his chronological superiority with every checkout guy, barista, and random stranger in the library.
Then there will be a reckoning of birth order, a rattling off of personal information and an unbidden recitation of names.
One is bossy, loud, impatient, slow to see the needs of others; the other more gentle, more reflective, more willing to console and to share. But I see the way they rub against each other's temperaments, one emboldened by the fierce desire to keep up with an adored big brother, the other occasionally gentled by a younger one's needs.
It's amazing the way they were clearly designed to be together. And I'm amazed at how very little I had to do with it. I mean yes, I produced them both, but I couldn't have planned the ways they complete each other, the ways they compete with each other, the ways they force generosity and coax cooperation and unselfishness out of day to day situations.
I have no doubt they'd learn these things eventually, be it in school or the workplace. But I'd rather they learned them here, now, sooner...so they have as much time as possible to sink deep in, becoming woven into the fabric of developing personalities.
Their baby sister is beloved by them both, but not fully of their world yet. She's been grudgingly allowed into the bathtub after dinner time, and I'm seeing increased efforts to include her in playtime (or at least throw toys in her path to prevent screaming fits), but she hasn't breached their shared imaginary world.
Maybe as she grows she'll be welcomed into the club, or maybe the next sibling, growing now beneath my beleaguered ribcage, will be her match.
But he or she will be so much more than that, too. More than just another playmate or a contrasting personality to add to the crew; a unique and wholly unknown other to enter into the intimate world my kids share only with each other. Sometimes while I watch them play my heart constricts fiercely at the thought that my time with them is limited by the difference in our ages. I might get 50 years with them if I'm lucky. Their siblings might get 80.
They'll grow old together because they're growing up together. I know it's true, because every week on Wednesday or Thursday night I slip out of the house after bedtime duties and drive a few miles to a predetermined spot to meet two of my sisters and, occasionally, our brother who live nearby. We have drinks and sometimes dinner, too, and we laugh about stuff only people who survived life with the same crazy parents (hi, mom and dad!) under the same roof can.
And now that babies have come and jobs have demanded relocations and friends have dispersed across the globe, we've become, just as mom and dad endlessly reminded us we would, each other's best grown up friends.
I can't wait to see that for my boys. Even though I probably won't be privy to the inner workings of it. Even though I'm already being left behind, imperceptibly, day by day as they grow and change and need less of me, but arguabley more of each other.
I hope when they're sharing beers together one day 30 years from now they can forgive a whole host of my failures and shortcomings as a parent for the simple fact that I gave them each their best friend. And I hope they encourage each other to strive tirelessly to improve their aim, because their bathroom smells exactly the way you might imagine a small space shared by two masculine preschoolers would.
Love you, boys. And I love your love for each other. Don't ever let it grow cold.