I am dreading Tuesday morning, when Sophia and I will have to put my sister, Jennifer and her son, Kevin, back on a plane to Florida.
It had been two years since we had seen them. Before they arrived Sophia confessed, “I don’t remember what Aunt Jenny looks like.” By the way she burrowed into my leg as they approached us in the airport, I could tell they were essentially strangers to her.
How did we let so much time go by? We had tried to visit in the past, but we had such different lives, such different schedules it would have required a lot of bending that neither one of us was terribly willing to do.
Jennifer was the first to bend when she suggested coming here instead. It was a step towards me, and am a firm believer that when someone takes a step towards you, you move forward to meet her halfway.
We both pulled our kids out of school. We both took time off from work. We both invested financially and emotionally in coming together again.
After greeting me, Jennifer bent down to say hello to Sophie, who refused to face her.
“She has to warm up and get to know me,” Jennifer acknowledged, pulling back, not disappointed.
But it took Sophie no time to warm up to Kevin. Within seconds she was chasing him around baggage claim. The two of them shrieking.
Come Tuesday, I will be sad. But, Sophia will be heartbroken.
In no time, Jennifer and Kevin became integrated into our lives. We found a rhythm—or maybe it was a rediscovered rhythm—something revived from our childhood. Waking together, dining together, playing together. Oh, it hasn’t been without its bumps—the same bumps that have always been there, but even the bumps are terribly familiar.
Sophia and Kevin found a rhythm too, not unlike ours. He has extracted giggles from so deep inside her belly, that listening, I am aware that she is experiencing a new dimension of joy.
They have developed private jokes. The words “guacamole” and “room service” send them into hysterics. He has played endless games of tic-tac-toe with her on his DS, though he’d much rather be playing skeeball. And when he has beckoned for her to come sit next to him, the child who will touch no one climbs right into his lap, puts her arms about his neck, and hangs on his every word.
He is the big brother she will never have.
He has taken up this mantle. As an only child, Kevin knows what it is like to be alone, siblingless, living in the world of adults. There is a tacit agreement: you be mine and I will be yours.
I am aware of my own sibling privilege—the taking for granted I did. I do. Paying little attention to my sister because she was there to pay little attention to. Fighting with her because I experienced her as a rival, not an ally. Letting years go before we saw each other again because she is, has been, will always be there.
Through Sophia and Kevin, I see us more clearly. Kevin’s generosity with Sophia—so much younger, hardly a peer—makes me wonder whether I had been too stingy with my own affections.
We were at our best when we were at play: writing songs (e.g., “I feel so sad because hay is for horses, not for children.”) and performing disco dances to them; pretending to be two ladies, Joonyurn and Joanyurn who lived in a hotel on the 44th floor (rooms 4444 and 4443—four was my favorite number); celebrating Barbie’s birthday on a daily basis, wrapping unwanted and broken toys to give back and forth to each other.
Now, we are still at best when we are at play: crawling into an earthquake tunnel together at the Franklin Institute; teasing each other mercilessly as we vie for the worst score while bowling with the kids; singing pop songs to Sophie as she raises the roof.
It can be easy to forget this, locking horns over our differences. Judging or being judged. Feeling hurt. Becoming indignant.
I have Kevin and Sophia to thank for reminding me of the gifts of having a sibling.