Every parent of young children has this “too quiet” realization a time or two each week. Too quiet means your children are probably up to no good. Sure, there’s a chance that they’re quietly entertaining themselves with a puzzle or book or crayons; but that’s a slim chance. Young children are much more likely to be quietly slipping puzzle pieces beneath the bookcase or silently coloring the pages of that favorite children’s book you bought in Switzerland; yeah, the one you thought would be an heirloom keepsake.
Elle and Emme were making no noise at all. I had left them together on the living room carpet, surrounded by the typical sundry selection of things they might find interesting for long enough to enable me to finish unloading the dishwasher – things like puzzle pieces and books and art supplies. But the normal noises of toddler and infant playing together were eerily absent. No banging of wooden puzzle pieces together, no mad scribbling, no recounting storybooks by memory, no entreaties by one to “Just hold still so I can be the doctor” while the other fusses in protest. So I came out of my dish-unloading daze and hastened to see what the lack of commotion was about.
There were my girls, sitting quietly together on the living room rug. One was quietly contemplating on which inch of her sister to affix another sticker. The other was in fierce concentration trying to pick up one of the discarded little pieces of white paper peeled from the back of one of the more than a dozen stickers, which unbeknownst to her were now pasted all across her pajama-ed body.
“What are you doing, Elle?” I asked, smothering a smile. It’s difficult to tell your toddler she shouldn’t do something, if you’re laughing about what she’s just done.
“It’s my art project,” she said, barely glancing up from her masterpiece to answer my question.
“Oh.” I could hide my grin no longer. Elle slapped another lizard on Emme’s bum then reached for a fairy. Emme looked up at me briefly then went back to willing her twiggy fingers to grasp one of the slippery little pieces of paper littered across the rug. Meanwhile, her sister steadily bedecked her pajamas with reptiles and magical creatures.
I never had a sibling close enough in age to enjoy activities such as these; sticking stickers across another one’s body was never a pursuit I was able to engage in, as an only child. Standing at the periphery of Elle and Emme’s joint “art project,” I felt a little part of my chest get gooey. My children will grow up as distinctly different people – this I’ve known since Emme was born six months ago, toting her sister’s physical likeness but little else. They’ll grow up as distinctly different people, with distinctly different interests and agendas and experiences, but they’ll grow up beside one another. This realization kept me from returning to the dishwasher. As I watched my children just be together, I held onto that little glimmer of understanding about how wholly my children’s lives will forevermore be intertwined.
This kind of unconscious togetherness that siblings share is wonderfully unfamiliar to those of us who haven’t always known the solidarity of brother and sisterhood; I’m unaccustomed to it, and now that I’m a parent, am thus awed at the effortless unity that sisters intuitively know; that my daughters, already, intuitively know.
At one time I thought having a sibling would be the greatest gift I could give my firstborn. Now I realize that having a sibling for Elle was really a gift to myself.