When I became pregnant with my second child, nearly overriding the joy and excitement was a spark of fear that sat in the pit of my gut: How would my son react? I knew it would tear me apart to know my son was jealous, to know he felt unloved or unwanted when his sister was born. I wanted them to be close.
I told him what an important job a big brother had. Even at age 2, he understood. He could read to his sister, sing to her, hold her, kiss her, hug her, love her.
He took those words to heart. From those early days, I could trust him alone while his newborn sister lay on the floor beside him. I’d stand outside his room and watch through the cracked door as he talked to her, read to her, stroked her foot. She gripped his finger. Their eyes met. She searched his face. I could nearly see the strength of their bond forming. I knew then it was something separate from me, an understanding between the two of them that would always be loving, hard, easy, complicated, like a delicate web constantly weaving itself back and forth every time they play, fight, laugh, and cry.
They have always been close and connected. He induced her first laugh. My husband was goofing off and then my son imitated him. My daughter kept a stone cold face as my husband leaped around the room, but when her brother did it, she let out a giant belly laugh. To this day, he can still bring forth that same laugh from her in a way no one else can.
Through the years, he has helped her get dressed, read her books, wiped her rear, and played countless hours with her. They snuggle together to watch TV when an entire couch extends to either side. They await Santa’s arrival under the same warm cover and whisper about the bounty they’ll find the next day.
As we walk through a park, they hold each other’s hands. At ages nine and seven, their days flow with routine and their seasons hold traditions. They have a system.
When one child doesn’t want to play, the other ends up in tears. The rejection stings like a scraped knee. She woke up ready to face the day with him. Most days they play, taking time to set up plastic figures just right and hours to play. Then they move on to the next thing. She’ll play Star Wars and he’ll play house.
They have taught each other to compromise and share, about self-control, and that sometimes the people you love hurt you. And they have taught each other about forgiveness.
They have learned to sympathize and empathize. They are still learning to stand up for themselves and pick their battles. They teach each other about the human spirit and kindness and giving up and giving in for someone you love. It’s the little things, like throwing a game so your sibling won’t cry, learning to admit you’re wrong without being told, and never staying angry for long.
They don’t like to admit it aloud, but they love each other. When one goes away for the night, they hug each other, unprompted. That’s what families do.
One day, they will learn that they are best friends too.