It’s been a couple years since I attended my company’s annual summer picnic. In 2012 I opted out because I was still a mess over A’s death. Last year I had planned on going but fortuitously Dragon got sick that week. This year Dragon and I went. Fortunately I had the nap excuse; by the time she woke up and we got there, there was only an hour or so of obligatory niceties left.
The picnic is a time for the families of the all the staff to gather. I have to admit it’s insightful to meet my coworkers’ and bosses’ spouses, children and significant others. There were some “big kids” [read: school aged] and Dragon was entertained by their running and wrestling antics. But she naturally migrated toward the only other toddler-sized person at the picnic – my coworker’s son who was born 5 months after A. She pursued this little boy until his shyness abated and they happily played together tossing a ball back and forth. He was very sweet to her. Toward the end of the picnic all of the coolers had been emptied and Dragon made a beeline to the giant piles of dumped ice cubes and water. The next thing I know she’s got a dirt-covered ice cube in her mouth and the little boy comes running up saying, “No! Don’t eat that. Yucky! No!” and swats it out of her hand.
For the most part I was able to swallow the lump in my throat and make small talk with the little boy’s mom and dad. But that ice cube encounter was a dagger to my soul. It was such a kind, brotherly gesture that I just about lost it right then and there.
Our neighbors and good friends also have a son who is roughly A’s age (he was born 4 months before A). We see them often and while his behavior toward Dragon can be doting, he is, for the most part, pretty mean to her. He hates to share, snatches things away from her, hoards toys and has pushed her more times than I can count. Hopefully this is just a phase that he’ll outgrow as he learns better social skills, but I also recognize it as natural 3-year-old behavior.
I try to avoid children who are A’s age (he’d be three in October) and I try even harder to avoid situations where children who are A’s age get to play with Dragon. It is a mirror to the life we ought to have. It is a glimpse into what it might be like to watch my two children interact, both the good and the bad. I am not deluded to think that if A were alive our lives would be rosy and my kids would get along 100% of the time Flanders style. When I fantasize about how things would be with a living A, I can clearly see a possessive older brother and a tantruming little sister; a big brother who takes advantage of his age and size to trick her out of snacks or other coveted things.
It also makes me wonder how different Dragon would be with the influence of her elder sibling instead of the attention-filled daydream of her current existence. My friend Julie sums it up well when she recently wrote, “Bode’s personality is in part shaped by being the only living child in our home, by our grief and paranoia about his safety, by our desperate love. He would certainly not be the same boy if his older brother, 17 months his senior, was growing up alongside of him.” Click here to see her entire post.
Ever since she could register facial expressions, it’s been obvious that Dragon loves to be around other children. She especially loves to be with ‘big kids’ and will watch, enthralled, as they ride scooters, play ball, jump waves or simply run amok. I’ll never know what the dynamic between my two children would have been, but I know that they’re both cheated by not having each other.