Each morning my nine year old son is awakened either by his alarm, or on his own — depending on how late he went to bed the night before. Some mornings he is chipper and excited for the day, while others he gets a slow, more irritable start. Either way, each day starts the same. He wakes up, gets out of bed, and heads straight down the hall. He opens the door and his face lights up like a Christmas tree, as if he is seeing his favorite gift for the very first time. In a kind, happy, high-pitched voice he wishes her a good morning.
She jumps for joy at the sight of him, her mutual adoration for him seen in every inch of her face. He unzips her sleepsack and takes her out of her crib, showering her with daily affirmations and silly one-liners. They march out of her room, him lagging just inches behind usually with a hand on her back guiding her out. Every day they start together. It is the most special relationship I have ever seen — my oldest son and his nineteenth-month old baby sister — and I feel so lucky to be along for their ride.
Their bond started early. At seven months pregnant with our fourth baby, a girl, my husband and I had narrowed our name choice down to two. We carefully kept all debates and conversations away from our other three kids, knowing full well they would spill the tea if they found out. Then at dinner one night my oldest announced proudly, “I thought of a great name for the baby. Goldie.” My eyes became as wide as the sea as I looked over at my husband in disbelief. It was one of our two names. And my son didn’t flinch. He didn’t laugh, or get silly, which he definitely would have had he known this was a name we were contemplating, because he can never keep a straight face with anything sneaky. Instead he just smiled and kept eating, changing the subject to some other current family happening. He knew her name before any of us — a connection so true and deep that it showed itself before she was even here.
My other kids were unable to visit the hospital once she arrived. I Facetimed my mom, who was watching them, and my then seven year old immediately grabbed the phone. As I flipped the camera around, unveiling her brand new, vernix covered face I watched as tears streamed down his face. Unable to even catch his breath, and completely overcome with emotion, he sobbed. I tried several times to flip the camera, feeling far away and attempting to have a mom moment with him, but he demanded that he keep his eyes on his brand new little sister.
We arrived home from the hospital two days later and had him dismissed early from school. He requested that he be the first sibling to meet her, and he really wanted it to be alone. My husband picked him up and brought him home where we were nestled on the couch. As he turned the corner entering the living room and saw her, he sobbed. “Can I just take a second?” he asked. He made his way over to a nearby chair where he sat staring at her from across the room, sobbing. It was one of the most magical moments I have ever witnessed. It was as if he was meeting his soulmate for the first time — completely in awe, and overcome with emotion. After a few minutes he gathered himself and held her. He sang her songs and told her stories. He calmed her down, made her feel comfortable, and held her hand. And he has been doing it ever since.
During her first year, he wore her in the BABYBJÖRN for walks around the block and rocked her to sleep at night. He played peek-a-boo and crawled on the floor until his knees hurt. Today he buckles her swim bubble and takes her in the deep end, pulls her in the wagon, and pushes her on the swings. He has friends over and instead of playing video games, they often choose hide and seek, one of them being ushered around by her little hand. And while his seven and four year old siblings often drive him crazy, she can do no wrong. He draws her pictures and saves his money to buy her toys. He always requests to sit next to her in the car so he can count her toes and read her books. And at nine, when his willingness for family affection feels minimal, he showers her with hugs, tickles, and kisses. She very simply is his favorite.
Maybe this is the perfect age gap? I say this because I, too, have a sibling seven years my junior who has lit up my life in the most special way since the moment he arrived. Maybe this specific gap allows for the perfect mix of responsibility, love, and friendship — lacking competition, and jealousy. And I wish on all the stars that my two stay this connected and close through every life phase. I guess we will wait and see.
Samm D. is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot.