I have a younger brother and an older sister. I am a middle child. I don’t often sit back and reflect on my life as a middle child. I don’t feel as though I need to. All that happened went, I believe, as it should have for better or worse. I’m still here, so clearly it was for better. Once in a while I am struck by a flash of a memory. I am pleased to report that the byproduct of these experiences is usually a wistful smile. I am content in the knowledge that having a brother and a sister was a huge part of making me who I am today. I like who I am today. Mostly and often.
This will be true for Jack as well as for Charlie. They will, no matter what happens, be integral to each other’s life and development. They will laugh together and fight and cry together. They will team up against me and their mother. They will choose affection for one of us over the other and switch it on a dime. They will be Jack and Charlie. Let the world tremble at the mention of the Brothers Ricciardella, just as it did in generations past.
For now, though, only one of them seems to be enjoying the arrangement.
Jack’s relationship with Charlie could be described, mostly, as ornamental. He stops, on occasion, and lavishes praise over his little brother. This usually takes the shape of him parroting something that he has heard others day about his sibling. An array of “look at those cheeks” or “you are so cute” in sing-song voices. For a little while this was the only attention that Jack was giving to Charlie, which was a welcome change from the negative attention he was seeking at the onset of their relationship. For the most part Charlie seems to exist as a tiny jester for Jack. Jack, the king, commanding the six months old to “Smile!” or “Laugh!” because Jack likes the sight of it or takes comfort in the knowledge that his brother is happy.
It’s those select actions that I’d like to become the intuition that I come to rely upon. Those times are few and far between, where I feel as though I’ve actually bridged a connection between father and son that leaves us both changed. Though, funny enough, they seem to be happening more and more lately. I suppose part of the new vigilance that comes with having an infant in the house again is a heightened perception of when you are affecting change. Whether it be in the mundane, such as moving a table that once occupied a dangerous position or the profound, such as acknowledging to you four year old son that his feelings matter to you.
Then there are moments that I wish I could freeze in time. Jack has taken to acting the clown for his brother. The moment he realized that Charlies is capable of the thing Jack loves to do the most, laughing, the curtain on Night At The Improv may have well have been raised. Jack has been endlessly perfecting his silly voices, his pratfalls and his Knock Knock Jokes in order to get even the tiniest giggles out of Charlie. Then there are those times that I don’t think Jack necessarily wants me to notice, but I do. When his curiousity about this tiny human gets the better of him and he must investigate. I’ve seen Jack holding Charlie’s feet up to his own to check the size. I’ve spotted him looking deeply into his little brother’s nose. As I stated before, my relationship with my brother and sister changed me. It will surely do the same for Jack.
I see it already. I’ve been witness to a new compassion in Jack. He recognizes the fragility of Charlie and shows a concern for him I’ve never seen him show anyone. This is the kid that laughed hysterically when I cracked my head on the corner of an open cabinet. It’s more than just an acknowledgement that “Charlie is hungry” when he cries. More than “I think he’s scared” if he is wailing in the car on a drive at night. There is a genuine recognition for the well-being of his brother. One night while Jack was going to bed he could hear Charlie crying in the other room. Jack’s lips began to pout and he just said “I think Charlie’s crying.” He wasn’t making light of it. He wasn’t stating the obvious. He was telling me that it bothered him in the only language that he could. I have him a hug and we went to go see what was wrong together.
Which brings us to Charlie. My second son has all the brilliance and purity of ignorance. Charlie is barely six months old and the world is little more than a warm set of pajamas to him. The smile on his face makes my heart feel like a full balloon, as I wish it was possible to attain that innocence among the cynicism and ego of a 36 year old man. I’m closer than I once was, but still a long way off. Charlies looks at Jack and all I can sense is an utter, loving admiration. A totality of desire to be where this other person is. It’s probably akin to how I used to view Superman flying through the air as a kid. Charlie looks up at Jack and seems to say “God, I wish I could do that” with nothing but a toothy, silent grin.
I am a sibling. It wasn’t always smiles and sunshine. I fought with them both. I was jealous of them both. I had years where I could not stand my sister. I recall her throwing Ice Tea on me in front of all her older friends once, embarrassing me to tears. I know that, at one point, my “little” brother knocked me unconscious and left the house. At times, I claimed to hate them both. That said, I wouldn’t change anything about how I grew up and who I grew up with for all the tea in China. I love the hell out of my sister. I love the hell out of my brother. They have, quite simply, saved my life. I’m not sure which word it was or which phone call. I’m not exactly certain what loving action it was and whether it was in adolescence, childhood or adulthood but I know that I am here because of their love and guidance whether they knew it or not at the time.
I can only pray that I can instill a fraction of that experience into my sons and that I then get to bear witness as they walk the path of sibling rivalry and joy together. I certainly have one of the best seats in the house.
Thanks for listening and be well.