Last weekend, I came home exhausted after a holiday shopping trip. 3-year-old R brought me something that he considered important, namely a little tray of letters. To explain: the tray was the sort of Tupperware-like lid that was part of some box of God-knows-what purchased as a toy for the boys. The letters were meant as part of an easel – you know the kind. R has already been using these letters to spell all his family members’ names and a lot of other words besides, so for him to present me a tray of four random ones was a little…well, I hate to use the word regression, but parents understand that some days their kids seem interested in something advanced, some days they don’t. I thanked him for his thoughtful gift, and prepared to unload sundries.

“But, Daddy, you have to show it to Dar.”

I didn’t get it. He wanted Dar to see his tray of letters? What was the point of that? But I complied; we’re so grateful to have any kind of neuro-typical communication, we pretty much accede to all of R’s demands. I stop Dar from his usual tee-tee-teeing and put the tray in his face. He touches them perfunctorily. I’m about to tell R “is this what you wanted?” when I have a revelation: yes. This is exactly what he wanted.

“Dar? Can you point to the M?” Dar does.

“Dar? Can you point to the S?” Dar points to the X instead. That’s reasonable, X instead of S. Maybe R made this one a little too difficult. Or maybe R wanted that level of difficulty, to push Dar a little bit.

At that moment, though, I’m yelling for my wife to join us tout suite. We’re both proud that Dar can get about 75% of the fields right, sure, assuming the letters are all right-side-up and none have been positioned at odd angles. (R had made sure of that.) But we’re thunderstruck that R had thought of this game.

We’re consistently amazed at things that 3-year-old R remembers. We may visit a park in Oakland for the first time in six months, and R knows exactly where things are supposed to be. Every day he says something we never heard him say before. For wifey and me it’s just a constant process of amazement, particularly relative to the years with his brother. So this is why people actually enjoy parenthood, I sometimes think, not proudly.

The last time R had seen us do “Field of 4” work with Dar was perhaps a month before. That was when we learned that we couldn’t really do it with R around, because he would insist on playing, insist on getting the letters right. “I want to play too!” he announced the minute he saw us start up with Dar, and so we learned, when doing those exercises with Dar, to withdraw to a private room.

Last weekend, though, R showed admirable restraint. He waited for us to finish quizzing Dar on the one field of 4, and then he came to take the tray away and replace it with four new letters.

Wifey and I would have had the same looks on our faces if we’d have discovered a cure for cancer. We praised R to high heaven, until Dar squealed his familiar grunt of jealousy. R smiled ear to ear, his large eyes squeezed tight with happiness. Dar continued to do the Field of 4 work (or FO4 in the graph data that we regularly monitor) with his usual slumped-shouldered reluctance.

Perhaps more often than we should, wifey and I think about what’s going to happen to Dar after we’re dead. We want to make it as easy on R as we can. After all, we gave birth to R late in our lives; we want to minimize the amount of his life he must spend caretaking, or in hospitals. Perhaps Dar will eventually live in the in-law unit of our house, perhaps Dar will live in a Cuckoo’s Nest-like facility. Either way, R will have to check on him, and dispense the funds appropriately. What’s to stop R from cutting off his brother entirely?

Love, we hope. We want R to love his brother Dar. We want to encourage that. We don’t always know how. We hope that perhaps R can emulate us, but then, we don’t always show such unalloyed love for Dar. Recently R said “he can’t talk, he can only tee-tee-tee,” reminding me of me. When R does talk to Dar, it’s usually to say “No, Darwin! Don’t do that! No!”

Ugh. I really don’t know where the future is going. But last weekend, the present felt wonderful. I’ll take it.