She was a gangly 10-year-old sporting low pigtails and a hip new outfit from Justice. He was a squeezable 7-year-old with the last bit of baby fat still clinging to his cheeks. They slung their backpacks over slender shoulders and climbed into the minivan, and I drove to the back entrance of the elementary school. My fifth and second graders walked into school side by side with no acknowledgment of the fact that this was their last first day together for the next six years.
She is 17 now, with the wisdom, naiveté and arrogance unique to older teenagers. He is 14, a boy-man trying on new freedom and responsibility. The pigtails and baby fat are gone, as is the minivan. My twelfth and ninth graders drive to school together, but I am not behind the wheel. She is in the driver’s seat, and I am standing at the window watching my babies leave.
They are together again at last. They will rarely see one another in the maze of hallways, but knowing that they are in the same building makes me ridiculously happy.
Almost 15 years ago, I sat in the waiting room, my second baby pressing uncomfortably on my full bladder. Ten minutes later, I knew this one was a boy. A boy! One of each. My joy was tinged with a guilty sliver of grief for the sister my daughter would never have. When I admitted this to a girlfriend, she reminded me of how close she and her brother were and of how many sisters did not share the close relationship that my sister and I did. I hold onto those reminders as my children grow, watching for evidence of this deep bond.
There is no concrete evidence, of course, but there are moments that become memories of a childhood shared: Big sister painting her brother’s tiny toddler fingernails a bright red. Screaming side by side on a roller coaster. Little brother teaching his sister how to play FIFA soccer on the Xbox. Walking the dog together, even though that was a demand and not a choice.
I once asked my daughter what she and her brother talked about during the 20-minute walks. “I’m not telling you, Mom,” she said. “Some things are just between siblings.”
For a few seconds, I was disappointed, until I realized that this was exactly what I wanted for my daughter and son—that bond between siblings, regardless of gender. Only one other person in the world shares the experience of growing up in our household. They may talk about Mom and Dad on those walks and commiserate about the suffering they must endure as the children of such dorky and annoying parents. Or they may share wishes, troubles or secrets crushes. Although I want to know, I really don’t. Some conversations are just between brother and sister.
The kids received their schedules in the mail today. As my daughter examined the papers side by side, she noticed that she and her brother are on the same floor for each period of the day. Perhaps that is not so unusual in a two-story school, but I am comforted by their physical proximity to each other. Too soon they will be in separate schools, separate homes and, possibly, separate states. But for one last year, they are together again.