In the beginning, it was all about him. First-born, first grandchild, first nephew…his place in our extended family cemented by the simple fact that he was born.
He was a wise old soul in a little-boy body. Adults loved to chat with him, listening to his volumes of memorized dinosaur facts or advice about which types of plastics are recyclable. He spoke clearly and fluently, forming complete sentences before he had a complete set of teeth. He told jokes that made sense and understood sarcasm. My days were so full of questions and observations that at times I felt more like a tour guide than a mom.
Playgroups at the park were a part of our weekly routine, and I craved the time with my mom-girlfriends. I knew that the social interaction with other little ones was very important for my son, but secretly most of us form playgroups for our own adult sanity. It was in these early playgroups that I began to notice what the other little boys did. They were usually quite physical – running, jumping, pushing each other around just a bit to test their wee-manhood. My son preferred to play in the sand, creating an elaborate “recycling center” with the pails and trucks, only to be confused and upset when the other boys didn’t understand his passion. Being an old soul may make you the favorite of preschool teachers and drugstore cashiers, but it creates quite a gap on the playground.
I worked very hard to match him up with potential playmates and buddies, to teach him to be patient on the playground, and to open his eyes to the fact that not every 3-year-old was interested in fossils or the Latin names of birds. He needed another tour guide.
Along came his baby sister.
Being an only child and having a sibling thrust into your limelight isn’t easy. My son was intrigued at first, somewhat perplexed at how she really wasn’t able to do anything. He would correct me when I would say the baby was “talking” and remind me that no, she couldn’t talk yet. He never seemed jealous or spiteful, perhaps just a bit discouraged at her lack of ability to carry on a conversation or play recycling center with him. When her cries interrupted bedtime stories too often, he wondered why she had to cry at all, since she wasn’t hurt.
And then, a slight shift in the relationship. Around the time my daughter was about 18 months, it happened. I left them in the playroom for a bit while I went to load the washing machine or some other daily task. When I returned, I could hear my son talking to his sister about a game he was playing and giving her a role. Peeking quietly around the corner, I saw her huge grin and I knew she sensed it too.
She was in.
Over the years their games changed and evolved, but they would play for hours together, lost in their pretend world. My role as tour guide had been taken over by a pint-sized, energetic little girl who was eager for the challenge. Having someone who loves you no-matter-what and who will tolerate your thoughts and opinions is an incredible gift. My daughter had provided my son with a different way to view the world, something I had not been able to do on my own.
It was magic.
Both are now teenagers. My son, in his third year of college, and my daughter a sophomore in high school. Role-playing games have been replaced by wise cracks, sarcasm and text messages, or maybe a ride to soccer practice or the mall. I love listening to them talking and teasing each other, analyzing the ins and outs of high school life, pop culture and anything else that seems funny or might embarrass mom. She has finally become the equal he wanted her to be.
And he is her tour guide now.
This piece originally ran on Moonfrye