The boys turn 9 next week and they’re starting to go separate ways. Not entirely. Twins are pretty much stuck with each other. That can be wearing. They get on each other’s nerves and take swipes, verbal and physical. Sometimes they need to be separated. Other times they’re inseparable.

Life also has a way of separating them. Separate classes in third grade. And sports. Tyler likes baseball, Bryce likes soccer. There are times when one is at practice and the other is with me.

Interesting phenomenon. Call it individuation. They’re different alone than they are together. Less competitive, less fractious, more relaxed. More who they really are, I suspect, which gets overlooked in the constant back-and-forth of twinness.

I’ve had Bryce alone lately more than Tyler because Tyler is in a fall baseball league that practices on my night with them. We drop him off at the field and Bryce and I head over to the library for a couple of hours. Alone, Bryce is calmer, less annoying because he doesn’t have Tyler to annoy, and be annoyed by, and he knows I have less tolerance for annoyance.

A nicer side emerges. More thoughtful, more conversational. I see the intelligence and creativity come to the forefront. The library has crafts and building sets in the Children’s section, and it’s not crowded at this hour, so he plugs into activities and I keep him company. He likes challenges — up to a point. He has low frustration tolerance, so sometimes I have to help him. He was interested in origami for a short time, but that’s pretty detailed and the instructions, often the case, are not the best, so in very short order, his head explodes.

Crafts and Legos and other interconnected blocks require patience and concentration. Not all 9-year-olds are good at that. We try one of those “find the 10 differences in two almost identical pictures.” He finds five and then he’s done. I find the other five and give him hints. It’s OK to solve things together. My hope is he extends that lesson to working with his brother.

As the sun sets, it’s time to pick up Tyler. It’s fall weather so by the time we get there, it’s chilly. Tyler forgot to bring his sweatshirt, and he’s been standing in right field where there isn’t much action, so he’s cold.

I say, unhelpfully, “Tyler, didn’t you bring your sweatshirt?” Grandparents sometimes have a way of rubbing it in, on the theory it will ingrain the lesson.

He responds, “No … should’ve.”

Tyler is becoming an adept practitioner of the succinct stoic reply. Earlier in the car, Bryce launched into a litany of aches, pains, cramps and wheezings resulting from “Knights on the Run,” the fundraising event earlier that day where they had to tally as many laps as possible for donations. When Bryce finally came to the end of his long list of complaints, Tyler’s rejoinder was, “Same.”

But my frigid right-fielder doesn’t dwell on his physical discomfort for long. After I give him my pullover, which is gigantic, and roll the sleeves way up his arms, Bryce calls out for help on the “dig site” he has discovered up the trail leading to the sledding hill nearby. Tyler’s off like a shot to locate a proper stick or rock for digging up the usual things one expects to find just below the surface of the topsoil: prehistoric fossils, ancient stone tools, dinosaur bones, buildings from early civilizations. Their expectations are nothing if not exorbitant.

Since this is my night for stating the obvious, I say, “You guys are real archeologists, aren’t you?” Bryce says, “No, I’m a scientist. Tyler is an archeologist.” I’m not sure archeologists would appreciate that distinction. He means Tyler is the digger and he’s the one who “studies” the results, laid out neatly on a nearby picnic table, each excavated paleolithic artifact sitting atop a scrounged tree leaf.

I notice the beautiful fingernail moon overhead sailing into the sunset’s afterglow, so we walk to the top of the sledding hill to look at it. I also point out brilliant Jupiter, rising in the southeast sky through the trees.

My job is to expand their universe whenever an opportunity presents itself — though they seem to do pretty well on their own. Somehow they’ve figured out that a remarkable array of mysterious treasures are buried in the earth beneath their feet.

As we gaze at the moon, I say, “It looks so close.”

“But it’s not,” replies Tyler, succinct as ever. In spite of the chill, he suggests we celebrate this excellent evening with ice cream. If nothing else, it gets him into a warm car. We stop at one of the two downtown artisanal ice cream shops, whose flavor of the month is “Trick-or-Treat,” and since their birthday is imminent and they’re already in the full flower of Halloween fever, it’s hard to say no.

A comfortable quiet settles in on the drive back home — except for the contented smacking, slurping and crunching sounds from the back seat.

It isn’t always, but it can be good teetering on the brink of 9 years old.

Very good indeed. 

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