By Allison Gibson:
For three years, I was it: the predominant presence in my first child’s life. From my son’s newborn stint in the NICU to the dog days of early infanthood at home, we spent nearly all of our time together while my husband went off to work. Soon we upgraded to neighborhood walks and then to museum adventures in the city and playdates at the beach. Even after my son began going to preschool twice a week, and as I began growing his baby sister inside of me, the majority of our waking weekday hours were still spent together, just the two of us. It was a privilege to have the option to log this time as a pair, I know, and also not the right arrangement for every family who even has the option. It was what worked for us. And yet, it still came as a surprise to me that being my son’s most common companion, and by virtue of that his primary teacher, would feel so right—that I would enjoy my child’s company so much, that I would feel worthy of having so much influence over his experience with the world.
Before my daughter was born, almost exactly three years after my son, I thought a lot about how this dynamic would change. While pregnant, I began to quietly mourn not only the end of our era as a duo but also the fact that I would never have the same intimate experience with my second-born child. Because the fact of the matter (which was also the overwhelming blessing of the matter) was that we would soon be a family of four. And during the majority of the week, our two would become three.
What ended up happening once again surprised me and became a great delight of my life. It went like this: 2 + 1 = 2.
Early on, with the assistance of extended preschool hours and the gift of generous grandparents, my daughter and I had a surplus of time alone. We lay together in the grass watching the leaves of the backyard avocado tree flutter in the breeze, the same way that her brother and I had done years before. We walked along the shore and shared booth seats at breakfast diners. I chatted to her about the things we saw, having a better sense this time around of how my blabbering would someday lead to her saying those very same things back to me. We were two.
And then—and this is the real answer to the equation, the true sum of my heart—they were two.
It happened sooner than I could have ever imagined. It happened better too. They are six and three now. They are, in a boost to both my bewilderment and pride, very best friends.
Where once I was the voice whose words helped form first impressions and the figure whose actions set the tone, now my son leads by his own (joyful, silly, adventurous) example and teaches his little sister by reading to her and drawing for her and talking talking talking to her about the things that make his heart race and his smile spread. Wild animals and race cars and so very much Pokemon. And she leads him too. She has widened his world of interests and has pushed him to be brave when, if he were going it alone, he might never have taken the plunge.
As I write this, we are over three months into a period of largely at-home isolation in the midst of a global pandemic. Both of their schools closed their campuses months ago, and as such the two of them have spent more concentrated time together than ever before in their lives. And still, every morning they sit as closely as two people can on the couch with their cereal and cartoons. Sometimes at night they request to have a sleepover in one another’s bedrooms. They build sand castles together during low tides and point out birds of prey circling over our yard. They laugh about things I don’t understand and team up against me when I suggest that maybe we don’t need to eat popsicles four days in a row. I am able to type these words in the middle of the day because they’ve been playing together without interruption for so many hours that they’ve forgotten to ask for afternoon snacks.
They’re not perfect, because no two people ever are or should be, either as individuals or in a relationship. But they came together perfectly as their very own two.