What follows is a letter to my six-year-old son, P.J., and my twin two-year-old daughters, Alex and Sam.
Dear P.J., Alex and Sam,
I don't know what kind of people you will become. In fact, you don't always let me in on what kind of people you are now. If I ask you how your day was, you say "good" and offer no more elaboration. Or you look at me blankly as though I've asked you to explain the particle theory of matter ... in another language.
I watched you this morning, though, and I saw you being kind to each other. I saw P.J. smile when Alex made a joke. I saw Alex kiss Sam's head gently and say, "I love you" -- before politely but insistently demanding that Sam say "I love you" back. When P.J. got upset, Sam patted his back and said, "It's otay, P.J. It'll be otay." (Sam, I don't know how much longer you'll talk like Buckwheat, but I'll be sad when you stop.) For the first time in my life as an only child, I felt like maybe I'd missed out on something special.
The moment one of you kids left the room, the other two would start looking around searchingly. You weren't always co-operating or even doing things together. But you sensed it as soon as one of your siblings wasn't nearby. Once you had the scoop ("P.J.'s upstairs brushing his teeth," "Sam went to get lambie," "Alex is in the rocking chair she won't let the rest of us use"), then you were at peace.
You do not always get along. Sam told me approximately 44 times this morning that P.J. popped her green balloon. P.J. sometimes resorts to creating Mega-bloks jail cells to contain Sam; to stop her from destroying his Lego creations. Alex pulls Sam's hair when she's angry. Sam pulls back. You fight over each other's Christmas and Hanukkah presents. I know all that. I also know that you get more pure joy from each other than you get from water balloons, McDonald's fries and the iPad combined. Which is saying a lot.
Dad: Alex, what happened? Why were you crying in the middle of the night last night?
Alex: I woke up. And it was dark for my eyes; I was scared.
Dad: And you wanted mama?
Alex: I wanted to talk to Sam!
Dad: You wanted to talk to Sam because you were scared?
Alex: It was dark and I wanted Sam. But she was sleeping.
Dad: She didn't talk to you because she was sleeping?
Alex: She wouldn't talk. So I cried for mama.
I'll be honest, Alex. There is a part of me that was insulted to learn that you considered the 20 minutes I spent rocking you tenderly at one in the morning a consolation prize. Took some of the shine off my secret mommy pride in having special soothing powers. And I also would like to know Sam's secret for sleeping through high-volume shrieking, because it doesn't seem to be an inherited trait.
But another part of me was delighted to realize what you kids have got. When you're feeling unsure or overwhelmed or scared, you know there is a sister or brother to lean on. You try them even before you try me or dad because you know they will understand. (Unless it's a matter of a popped balloon or a destroyed Mega-bloks tower or an egregious case of hair-pulling. But that's only to be expected.)
When I was pregnant with Alex and Sam, we worried about how all three of you would get along together. We suspected that one or more of you would feel displaced by one or more of the others, depending on your personalities and demands. Thank you for proving us wrong.
As you grow and annoy each other and find different interests and paths, I hope you will remember these times. Remember when the first person you called out to in the middle of a scary night was your sibling. And remember when you so casually and easily mattered more to each other than to anyone else in the world.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: