Pack Animals

My kids often remind me of the hyenas in “The Lion King.” The maniacal laughter, the irreverence, the bad jokes, the drooling, the food scavenging, the mange. One minute, they’re in sync and united to take down their common enemy (usually Chris or me), and the next, they’ve turned on each other, teeth bared, hackles up, ready to fight to the death.

I’ve always told them they’re going to wholeheartedly love and appreciate each other someday. “We gave you siblings so you’d always have an ally,” I say. “Someday, you’ll understand,” I say.


When Mary Claire was little, she was George’s self-appointed caretaker. Just 22 months older, she did everything for — and to — him. That baby was constantly spackled with Disney Princess Band-Aids and treated with ice packs, whether he needed them or not. We called him Georgie when he was young. And in Mary Claire’s infection-riddled and semi-damaged ears, she heard “Juju.” So, Juju he became. “Baby Juju needs his boppy. Baby Juju sad. Baby Juju cry. Baby Juju spit.” She had her pudgy little finger on the pulse of his very existence.

Now, however, the story is a bit different. It goes more like this, “George, you are SO annoying! George, would you STOP playing your violin for TWO SECONDS? George, your shoes STINK! George, just STOP TALKING!” Dramatic huffs are exhaled, doors are slammed, “Never Shout Never” is turned up full volume.

The pack has turned on itself.

But yesterday, I saw a glimmer of what is to come. The sweet, caretaking Mary Claire of yore made an appearance as I dropped the kids at school on a freeze-your-eyeballs-cold morning. George was toting his backpack, his violin, his saxophone, and a Stephen King book as big as his watermelon head. The morning drop-off always stresses him out. It’s fast-paced, high-intensity, and the line monitor is reminiscent of the Soup Nazi: “Don’t stop! No loitering! Move quickly!” Her arms signal wildly for movement, movement, movement!

We always hold up the line.

“It’s okay, George,” I assure him. “The world will not stop spinning if we’re two car lengths behind. Take your time. Don’t forget your stuff.” (It’s imperative that he not forget his stuff because — clad in my pajamas, fleece sleep socks, and pool slides — I am unable to run it into the office for him.)

But the morning drop-off routine still makes my slow-and-steady boy’s blood pressure rise.

Yesterday morning, he was moving all of his school essentials from the Lincoln to the sidewalk. He was flustered, cold, dropping things, breaking out into a sweat under his layers. Mary Claire — who normally would have been heads-down and fast-striding out of the elements — stopped. She picked up his saxophone case, held his Stephen King tome, smiled at and encouraged him.

They walked into the junior high together, laughing and talking.

And for a frozen, fleeting moment, all was right with the world.

Hakuna Matata.

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