The Big Idea

It was our mom’s idea:

to lug the sofa-bed mattress out of the living room, through the kitchen, and out onto the back porch.

The porch was small (before the renovation), so the edges of the mattress curled up against the railing and house, rolling me and my brother to the center like the filling of a burrito.

It was the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring on the East Coast, still cold enough to instigate a protest from 2 little boys.


But she dropped the electric blanket down on us, heavy like the lead vest at the dentist. We immediately cooed, rubbing our legs and feet up and down the mattress and burrowing into our pillows.

Everything felt new, like it was the first time it ever happened. Al (who would soon become Alex with the obnoxious cameo of puberty), didn’t even give me a noogie or a rope burn. Not a single pinch.

Mom sat on the mattress and told tales of Norwegian folklore as the sky turned black, blacker than any room we’d ever been in.


The world going away scared us, but by the end of her second fairy tale, the electric blanket was doing its thing.

We lay on our backs, growing less afraid of the dark and instead focusing on drawing imaginary lines across the 3 constellations we knew – the ones every kid knows by the end of first grade — The Big and Little Dippers (were they brothers too?) and Orion’s belt.

We listened to the crickets and the frogs and then the not-so-obvious things: the wind through the prickers, and, perhaps more holy than that, the neighbors talking underneath the static of running water and clanging silverware. The sounds became ours, the entire universe open and watching, excited to have a couple of rookies peering in.

We alternated between putting our forearms above the covers and below, enjoying the rhythm of the cool air and the warm blanket, seeing who could keep their’s out the longest.

It was somewhere within this frequency of hot and cold that we fell asleep – arms either above or below (I’m not sure which), each of us facing inward, our legs tangled and locked, like roots — Al’s big idea, to thwart any attempt at extraction by mom or dad.

I really really didn’t want to fall asleep. (We vowed we never would!) But the universe requires a heap of energy to create such a perfect moment.

We gave it our best.

I’m not sure who fell asleep first.

I can only hope my last thoughts were about something great, something important, and not filled with the miniature wishes of a boy about to dream.

If nothing else, our curled, prone bodies mimicked the constellations we hadn’t learned about yet. Our contribution, both great and small.

And the stars, pleased with their work, winked goodnight one by one.


Wishing you warmth and renewal in the new year!