Last week my oldest son David left the house to be measured for his high school graduation cap and gown. I can’t believe he’s almost 18. He looked so strong and handsome and sure of himself as he walked out the door with his sweatshirt slung over his shoulder and his keys jingling in his hands.
What happened to the little boy I brought home from the hospital in the white ducky snow suit that was two sizes too big?
The same week my son was measured for his graduation gown, my youngest daughter Angela started sitting up and eating solid food. She’s already five months old. She’s been in this family for her entire lifetime, but that’s only a semester in my older son’s world. It really was almost yesterday when we brought her home in her delicate pink gown on a warm evening.
These two kids are a generation apart. Angela is entering this family’s daily life, and in a way, David is exiting. She’s just getting to know our faces and voices and personalities. He’s ready to leave ours soon for new ones. What kind of relationship, one may ask, can these two have as siblings, so many years and worlds apart?
It’s just past 7:00PM. Football practice ended a half hour ago, and soon David and his brother Michael will be walking through the door, with hearty appetites and mountains of homework. I hear the door squeak and the thump of equipment hitting the floor. Next I hear David’s husky voice cooing, “Come on, baby” to his little sister, whom he has rescued from the swing in the front room.
I peek around the corner to see that she responds by grabbing his face and wiggling towards him. “Shh… shh… shh…” he says as he cradles her in his arms and bounces her gently back and forth, holding her securely against his chest. Back and forth. Back and forth. They are engaged in a dance, two unlikely companions frozen in a single moment. For a short time they will be under the same roof, in the same world. Then suddenly, their lives will diverge into strikingly separate paths hers of blocks and A, B, C’s and babyhood, his of college term papers, interviews and adulthood. But for now, they are in the same plane. She is learning, from his strong arms, to trust. He is learning, from her vulnerability, to give. He is a father of tomorrow, in an internship, of sorts, learning gentleness and devotion, all from this little bundle called Sister.
In a minute, David sets Angela down and turns to the refrigerator to look for pizza or apples, or leftover dinner, and resumes his teenage cares. Will he remember this moment? Probably not. Will she? Even less likely. But the bonds that have been forged run deep, even if the individual moment is forgotten. Link by link the family chain lengthens and strengthens. Angela will be closer in age to David’s children than to her own brother. Most likely she will play with her nieces and her nephews as if they were her siblings. And David and Angela are really too far apart in age to experience typical sibling squabbles. By the time Angela wants time to primp in the bathroom, David will be long gone, with his own bathroom in his own apartment or home.
So what do these siblings offer to the other’s life? David gives Angela security, protection, and unconditional love. And Angela gives David an opportunity to give and to learn that gentleness is strength. Because of David, Angela has more than just her father to provide a reference in her mind for understanding a gentle, all-loving and protective God. And David doesn’t need a teacher in catechism class to tell him that there is value and beauty in every stage of life. He already knows that, because he lived with Angela.
Theresa A. Thomas, wife of David, is a homeschooling mother of nine children, as well as a freelance writer and newspaper columnist for Today’s Catholic. Look for her contribution in Amazing Grace: Stories for Fathers due out from Ascension Press later this year. This article originally appeared in Today’s Catholic.