Wrestling season is quickly coming to an end. We pack up our car, and head to the state tournament this weekend. As I reflect over the season, looking through the photos and talking about the matches of the season, one image is constant. As my golden boy is toughing it out on the mat, there is always a little blonde sitting on the bleachers only feet away cheering for him. A girl who has swapped schedules with a coworker to be there, cancelled social plans, or studied late into the night so that she would be able to spare the time the next day. “Mom, is it weird that I go to all of Jackson’s matches? All the other siblings are little, sitting on the floor with coloring books, there because their parents forced them to be.” I always just smile, and thank her for being there.
About a week ago she declared that she wasn’t going to the next tournament. “I think I’m going to stop going to the tournaments. I’m the only big sister there, and I don’t even think Jackson cares whether I’m there or not.” “Why don’t you talk to him before you make a decision? See what he says. I’m not even sure he cares whether or not your dad and I are there!”
Jackson strolls in from practice, and Paige shouts from the kitchen, “Go shower and get dressed. We’re going to dinner, just you and me. Mom’s paying.” She smiles over at me, shrugs and says, “You told me we should talk. He talks better when he isn’t hungry.” I sighed, rolled my eyes, and handed over my debit card. “It’s for a good cause Mom. We’re bonding!” Jackson runs down the stairs with a wet head and fresh clothes. I holler after them to eat clean because Jackson is still in season, knowing full well that the odds are good they will eat junk despite my recommendations.
After an hour or so they returned with full bellies and smiles on their faces. I tentatively asked Paige how it went, bracing myself for the possibility of hurt feelings. (Jackson is 16, loves himself, and sometimes he fails in the sensitivity department.) “It went really well. I told him I was thinking about sitting out a few tournaments because I wasn’t even sure he wanted me there. I explained that none of the other boys had older siblings that attended the matches. He told me we weren’t like other siblings, and he wants me to keep coming.” She casually popped a cookie in her mouth like it was no big deal, shrugged, and began loading the dishwasher.
I couldn’t help but smile. “You guys aren’t like other siblings. You know that.” “I know, Mom, but why? Why do I love him so much it literally hurts?” I love and hate these conversations. I KNOW why these two are so connected. Paige knows too. Sometimes I think Jackson doesn’t really understand why he feels the way he does, he just knows something is different. I start to pick at the kitchen towel in front of me, looking for anything I can look at other than her big blue eyes. “I know you don’t remember it, but after your dad died, you couldn’t leave a room without your brother following you. He didn’t understand what was happening, but he was so scared that if he let you out of his sight, you might not come back. I remember shopping for a couch because I just couldn’t sit on the one your dad had taken naps on. It hurt too much. So I am surrounded by fabric swatches, and you tap me on the shoulder and ask if you can run to the bathroom. I could see the bathroom from where I was sitting. I told you to go, and off you went. Your brother was sitting on my lap, and he started crying and screaming. He kept reaching his arms out for you, and squirming in my arms. I let him go because I honestly didn’t know what to do. You had stopped in the middle of the sales floor, just watching, a little perplexed by why your toddler brother was acting so crazy. He came running to you. He reached out his chubby little hand, and you took it. Just like that he stopped crying. He couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing you, even for a second. So no, you guys aren’t like other siblings. And you never will be.” She pushed her hair back out of her face, and quickly changed the subject, knowing that if we continued one of us would end up crying.
So Paige, I’m not looking you in the eye now, so I think it’s safe to finish our conversation. Your brother is sometimes an egotistical jerk. It comes with being 16. You remind me often that you too were like that when you were that age. But I promise you that he not only knows you are there, he WANTS you there. He never wants you too far from his sight. That hasn’t changed. He wants to hear your voice, louder than the others, cheering his name, continuing to be his safe place. You are the first hug he gives. I watch as he swings you up and around, secretly a little jealous that he wants your approval first. But it’s ok. I understand. When he jumps out of the car at a college campus in a year or so…Stand still. He will look back one last time to make sure you’re still in sight. You will always be your brother’s lighthouse, the safe place in his storm. He may not say it, but he will look for you on Saturday, and have a secret smile because once again you are there cheering him on.