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May 4, 2003 - Sunday
I admit that this really isn't much of a picture. Jeremy's face is hidden behind Rodo, Harry's eyes are closed, and you can't really see mommy's face. And, maybe it doesn't add anything to this story to put it here because it was really the moments preceding this picture that were so moving. Maybe a more timely photo could have told a better story, but this wasn't really as much about one instant as it was about a few moments in time that, if captured somehow, could be put up on a poster for the priceless joy of parenting. But, even that wouldn't do because moments like this draw meaning from the countless other moments, both good and bad, when you wish and hope that the children will turn into good people and from all those times that you worry and try to teach these little people, self-centered by instinct, to be kind hearted and gracious and from all those times when simple sibling rifts and tiffs raise the specter of years of possible rivalry. So, from all those other moments, here is our moment...

Jeremy woke up from his nap today in some sort of bad state. He was crying desperately like something was the matter, only his crying lacked any focus to a specific problem. He might have been hungry, he might have been teething, but mostly, I think, he just woke up too early from his nap; still half asleep with his body telling him he should sleep more, but with his head telling him that there were toys to play with and a world to understand. His baby-sitter, Mary, has told of this happening a few times recently - that he's woken up virtually and very uncharacteristically inconsolable - so I wasn't all that concerned about something being as dreadfully wrong. His mother offered him food and drink. She sat with him on the sofa. She held him and walked with him like when he was a baby. Then, we agreed that maybe she should take him back upstairs and sit with him in his room and she tried that. She tried putting him back in his crib to rest and leaving the room. Jeremy remained consistently loud and not restful. His mother went back up to sit with him.

Jeremy's crying had, some 10-15 minutes earlier, awoken Harry from his afternoon nap and Harry was now downstairs playing with his trains while I tried to finish some writing that I had started on the downstairs computer during the kids' naps. All of a sudden Harry got up and ran over to the stairs and started up. That isn't so uncommon now and usually means Harry has realized that he needs to use the potty. He's actually become remarkably good about that, almost always jumping up this way on his own initiative to go to his bathroom, for either #1 or #2. His mother or I will follow up a moment or two later to help him wrap up in whatever way is necessary, although he can usually pull down and pull back up his pants and underwear without assistance.

So, it was with this idea that I finished a sentence or two more, then put down the keyboard to go upstairs. I did that a little faster than I might have because I hadn't heard Harry's footsteps reach all the way to the bathroom. Jeremy's room is at the top of the stairs, one door before the bathroom, and I realized that maybe having Harry interrupt his mother's trials with Jeremy to request bathroom assistance or just simple what-about-me attention wouldn't really be all that helpful at the giving moment. I hustled up the stairs and, sure enough, Harry had made the turn into Jeremy's room and was standing in front of the chair where mommy was holding and trying to comfort and console his brother.

Yesterday afternoon Jeremy had also been crying down in the kitchen. I think it was right before dinner or something and he was either hungry or wanting his mother to pick him up or both. At that time, Harry had gotten down on the floor and, unless I missed something, without saying anything slowly got closer and closer to Jeremy's face until their two faces almost touched. Jeremy, pouting more than actually crying, stopped and giggled and Harry pulled back and boasted "I made Jeremy laugh." Sure enough, he had and it was very cute. Harry was proud and while Jeremy tried to go back to pouting, his mood had indeed been changed by his brother's little stunt and things went much smoother after that.

So, here I am standing in the doorway thinking that while Harry was cute yesterday and ultimately quite helpful, but what happened yesterday was really a much less volatile situation than today and perhaps yesterday it was just a game to Harry or something he was trying out. Sure, he was consciously trying to make Jeremy laugh, but his self-centered pride afterward suggested that maybe it was just a three-year-old's experiment as much as anything else.

Do I ask Harry to leave Jeremy and his mother alone? Do I get him away from this bad situation? I didn't really have time to decide, because Harry said something, I really can't remember what, that suggested he was there to help as he did yesterday. Maybe it was something sincere and typical for his age like "why is Jeremy upset?", but I don't think so. Needing to answer that question would be just the reason to keep him away. I think it was something simpler like "Jeremy?" said with a concerned tone. So while I never decided what to do, it did occur to me at that moment that Jeremy's mother and I hadn't had much success yet and maybe Harry couldn't hurt things any more than they already were.

Harry went over to get close to Jeremy, but Jeremy was sitting in his mother's lap and maybe Harry realized that his face was never going to be able to get close enough to make Jeremy laugh again as he had done yesterday. He spun around and dashed over to Jeremy's crib, saying "maybe Jeremy needs a cloth." Nunnies are an extremely common comfort measure for Jeremy that we, as adults, seem to forget in these types on situations a surprising amount of the time. Harry got one out of the crib and ran it back over and gave it to Jeremy. He hardly waited for a reaction. Jeremy often has several nunnies in his crib at any given time and Harry had certainly seen at least one more. He raced back and grabbed another and as he handed that one to Jeremy, then the third, and then the fourth nunny with each successive trip, Jeremy's mood begrudging begun to turn. His crying stopped and he couldn't help but giggle a little as Harry piled on the nunnies.

That would have been enough to make his mother and I very proud of Harry. He had, for the second time in two days, helped Jeremy to feel better in a very real and sincere way. But, today, unlike yesterday, Harry did not step back and boast at any three-year-old sense of accomplishment. He did step back for a moment, but only to think of what to do next. There were no nunnies left in the crib, so Harry spun around saying "maybe he needs a bear." After all, there was a teddy bear, a lion, a raccoon, and a panda in Jeremy's crib, too. But, it was not those "friends" that Harry thought would be best under the circumstances. Even though Jeremy had stopped crying and his mother had praised Harry already for his generous behavior, Harry decided there was more he could do.

"I'll get Rodo," he said, racing out of the room. A moment later Harry returned with his own biggest, most special "friend" - the only one of Harry's friends that has real name - and gave it to his still slightly troubled brother. He went and got another bear, "Little Teddy," from his room, too. Then finally Harry adeptly retrieved Jeremy's water-filled sippy cup from his crib and brought that to Jeremy for a drink.

Harry never bragged about any of this today. Sure, he knew what he had done and he was grinning a big, proud grin. But that seemed to be enough (he acknowledged it later with just a simple "yeah" and a smile when I told him at bedtime how nice he had been). At the time his mother had tried to say a few more times how generous and thoughtful he had been to give Jeremy the nunnies and Rodo and the drink of water, but she really couldn't. The picture above isn't close enough to show mommy's eyes, but there are tears there and a lump in her throat. And, maybe the picture isn't so good because there are tears in my eyes, too.

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