Often it happens that I don’t quite know how to categorize myself. I can’t quite call myself a pessimist (even though I always consider the worst-case scenario) because I largely hope and work for the best-case scenario. I am romantic about many things, but also consider myself a pragmatist when it comes down to the actual details of my life. I am cynical, I suppose, because I always assume something else lurks beneath what I’m seeing – intentions, motivations, etc. Yes, I am paranoid. There’s that too.
I think that’s why I was skeptical about Madison’s claims that she would undoubtedly kill it as a big sister. I know Madison. She’s willful – sour, even – if she doesn’t get her way. Until a week ago, she’s existed solely as an only child, and this more than anything else made me wary of trusting her Big Sister boasts. Over the last two years, Madison and I have had countless talks about how she’s got to be more mindful of what’s going on around her, the thoughts and feelings of other people, and the effects her words and actions can have on others. She’s making progress, but at times it feels like a glacial kind of progress. Yet here we are. There’s still a chance that the novelty will wear off (cynical, remember), but so far, Madison has been exactly what she promised she would be: attentive, helpful, and incredibly, the best Big Sister Lynnette and I could have hoped for.
As she promised, Madison has been willing to help in every possible way with the lone exception of changing diapers. The closest she gets is standing next to the changing station when Lynnette or I am doing it. I can’t blame her, obviously. But, she holds the twins, feeds them, hustles to get diapers, burp cloths, wipes, and everything else when we ask her to. She talks to them all the time, tells them stories, informs them about our family, and drops all kind of knowledge that a second-grader has accumulated over the course of her life. She tells them she loves them repeatedly over the course of a day. I was worried, of course, that she would view the twins as detrimental to the attention she gets. I feared that she would be too self-centered. By and large, though, that hasn’t been the case at all.
A few days ago, Lynnette was feeding Cole on the couch. Avery was asleep in her rocker. Madison was posted alongside Lynnette, watching the feeding intently. Lynnette pulled the bottle from Cole’s mouth and he smiled, I guess. What happened next has been the best interaction between all of us so far:
Madison: Cole has a chubby smile.
Phil: Oh yeah? What’s a chubby smile?
Lynnette (instantaneously): Your smile.
Phil: … I quit already!
Lynnette and Madison: (maniacal laughter)
Madison: He looks like you, dad, because he has a big belly!
When we were still in the hospital and Madison was holding one of the twins, I leaned into Lynnette and whispered that Madison had never looked older than in that exact moment. Lynnette agreed. It reminded me of a truth that I forget sometimes. Madison is 7 and we all have so much more to go through together. Sometimes when we’re in Macy’s or Sports Authority, she’ll see a bra and remark that she should like to have one. My heart cries a little each time. But still. I am 35 and I have mostly made peace with the things I’ve gotten to and those I probably will never get around to. I’m a coach now, not so much a player – if that makes sense. Every singe time Lynnette and I place a challenge in front of Madison, she eventually rises up to meet it. This is the greatest source of happiness in my life.