We recently spent a day together, just you and me. I had forgotten what a great pal you are. We had so much fun exploring a museum of armor together, oohing and aahing over the displays of knights, swords, and shields.
Watching you make your own shield was a treat for me. You were so deliberate picking out all the emblems for your coat of arms, wanting to know what they all meant, and if they suited you. In the end, you picked a falcon, an arrow, a moon, and a star. I helped you cut and paste, but you designed the whole thing yourself.
We used to hang out like this all the time, during the four years of your life before your sister was born. Being with you, just you, for a whole day made me remember that I miss those days. Oh, I miss them sorely, son.
Bringing your sister into the family has changed things; this is a fact I cannot deny.
I see you struggle in your role as a big brother. I want you to know I understand; I was a big sister myself and didn’t always like the responsibility of having to set a good example. I see the awkward tension when people ask you in that chipper tone about being a big brother, how you try to be polite and say it’s okay, while you really resent the hell out of her.
You never asked for a little sister, or even showed any interest in babies. Maybe I expected too much of you.
You have always been bright and verbal, and we have taken your intelligence for granted. Many times, we forgot your tender age and were frustrated with your behavior. I want you to know this was unfair of us, and I am sorry.
It was unrealistic for me to think I could simply bring Emily home and everything would be cool. It was not right for me to think you would give up your cherished position as our only child without a fight. I can’t imagine how estranged from me you must have felt, watching me struggle with nursing your sister, being too tired to play, and then going back to work and abandoning you anew.
Recalling the times I’ve told you to go play by yourself, act your age, or be quiet because the baby is napping break my heart. It is also painful to think of the times I didn’t want you to hug me or sit on my lap because I was completely touched out and stretched so thin that even your fingers would snap me apart.
There is no way you could have possibly understood my burdens, but I should have understood yours.
Your sister is nearly two, and yet I am only just coming to grips with how difficult it has been for you, for all of us.
While I will never regret having your little sister, I do regret putting you in a position that has made you unhappy, anxious, and angry. I miss the three-year-old cherub with whom I’d chat about pirates and seeds. It grieves me to feel like I missed most of your fourth year on the planet because I was in such a haze of sleep-deprivation and stress.
There is a picture of the two of us on the fridge. It was taken when you were three and I was newly pregnant with your sister. Our faces are nuzzled together and we look completely content with one another. I often forget how it feels to be at ease with you, but then a few hours alone together brings it all back to me.
My favorite moments of our outing might have been in the car when we were both quiet, silently occupying the same space in an almost meditative peace. You like to be quiet in the car. Just to be. You are so much like me.
I doubt you will ever understand the psychic space you occupy in me. I worry incessantly that I have somehow ruined your life by bringing this new beauty out of my body. But I can’t put her back in, Jack, so we are going to have to make our peace and move steadily forward.
I worry we won’t find our equilibrium again, that you and I will drift apart from one another in the rocky terrain of mutual frustration.
I fear that you won’t trust or feel close with me again, as once you did, and that I will lose patience and hope.
You and your sister are my whole heart, the rhythm of my world, the loves of my life. There is something about your sister which draws me to her in such a simple manner, and makes her easy for me to understand. You seem more complex and mysterious to me, but you were and always will be my first baby love. You and only you are the person who transformed me from maiden to mother.
It is my heart’s desire, dearest little son, that you will grow to love and even to like your sweet sister. The age gap between you will grow smaller each year. I hope that the two of you will come to depend on one another, share secrets, and lend supportive shoulders when needed.
Remember when we all went out for the day to the farm? On the long drive home, I gave you a packet of Cheetos to share with Emily. You handed her one at a time, and I relished the sound of both of you munching happily in the back seat. I turned around to find you both covered in that orange, powdered cheese, content. This little moment of companionship between you and your sister warmed my heart, filled me with pride, and gave me hope.
We will get there, little sonny boy. Until then, I will carry the hope for the both of us.