We got socked with snow on Friday. After a couple of hours reading Llama Llama books, listening to both kids bang on their toy piano, and trying to prevent Jo Jo from whacking Teddy on the head, I decided everyone could benefit from burning off some energy outdoors. It was a big production. It took about a half hour to bundle both my children into snowsuits: I’d finally get one dressed, only to have the other one pull their ski jacket off or yank a boot off their foot and start screaming.
But once we stepped outside it was worth it. Our front lawn and street had been transformed into a white heaping field of pristine snow. There wasn’t a sound except for the crunching of our feet. Ivry bounded ahead of us, bucking her head into the snow like a little black bull.
Teddy tottered along gamely in the tracks of Ivry’s paw prints, holding onto my hand, but after a few seconds I realized Johanna was struggling to maneuver her legs through the weight of the snow. “No, no no,” she sobbed, and then did her classic rag doll move, her legs going limp. I scooped her up and carried her a few feet, but hauling around a 27 pound toddler while simultaneously navigating another toddler and wading through several inches of snow (not to mention being five months pregnant) was too much. I put her down on the snow for a moment to catch my breath. “Jo Jo, up up like a big girl,” I said, but she sprawled on the white ground, bawling, her blonde hair spilling over her pink ski jacket.
Teddy, who had ventured a few feet ahead, spun around. He was wearing a blue puppy dog ski hat that covered his face so completely all you could see were two big eyes and a bit of nose. “Jo Jo?” he queried, his words muffled through the fleece. He shuffled over to her and peered down at her earnestly. “Jo Jo,” he said solemnly. “Up up.”
My daughter sniffled and stared up at her brother despondently, a thick trail of snot running from her nose.
Teddy stuck a green mittened hand in front of her. “Jo Jo,” he said, grabbing her hand and tugging it. “Up Up,” he said. “Jo Jo up.” She sniffled again and wiped the nose with the back of her hand, then gave it to back to Teddy, who surveyed it earnestly. “Up up,” he said again, tenderly. “Jo Jo up.” I stared at my son as he bent down to the ground, one mittened hand pressed against the snow for support, the little ears on his blue ski hat bobbing back and forth. Jo Jo sighed, then attempted to stand up before sliding back down again. Her face crinkled into a pout but Teddy, literally holding onto her by the thread of her pink mittens, tugged her back up. “Up Jo Jo, up,” he said insistently, and this time she stood, wavering slightly, but standing.
I watched, amazed, as Teddy moved forward into Ivry’s paw tracks, his sister’s mittened hand in his. “Go, go,” he said, gently tugging Jo Jo’s wrist. She took a hesitant step, than another, and then another, all the while clutching Teddy’s hand, until they both stood a few feet in front of me, two snow angels with huge hazel eyes. “Yay!” Teddy said, dropping his hands and clapping. “Yay!” and Jo Jo, now smiling, did the same.
It was a perfect, idyllic moment, and I was debating the wisdom of racing back into the house to grab my camera when Ivry bounded over and with one sweep of her massive tail knocked Teddy off balance. He bumped into Jo Jo, and the next thing I knew both toddlers were lying face down in the snow, screaming, the dog was barking hysterically, and I was struggling back across the yard, an irate, red faced, snotty nosed child on each hip.
Even now, days later, I still tear up when I think about Friday. I could just blame it on pregnancy hormones. But when I think of Teddy, bending down in the snow with his little puppy dog ears, staring at his big sister with such compassion, I cry. I’ve noticed before how protective he seems of Jo Jo, how often he’ll turn to look for her, anxiously asking “Jo Jo?” if he notices she’s not at his side. If she cries, or seems upset, he toddles over to hug her; if he wants more snack, he says “more, more” and then, solemnly, “Jo Jo more snack too.” When I take him out of his crib each morning, her room is the first place he goes.
It may just be that he’s a little kid with a big heart, a toddler who looks up to his older sister and wants to be around her. But I sometimes wonder if even at his young age, he senses something different, that Jo Jo needs more help with the everyday skills such as communicating and feeding and dressing that he seems to be figuring out effortlessly. He doesn’t seem to resent that often she gets more attention, he simply seems to accept it as part of who she is and our overall family dynamic.
Hopefully, he’ll feel the same way as they both get older. I often worry he will resent us for spending more time assisting Jo Jo, just as I often worry he will resent the responsibility of looking after her when Jamie and I are gone. But on Friday, watching him coax Johanna up from the snow, I realized he adores his sister as much as we do. And I can only hope that as he gets older that love brings him to the same realization: that nurturing Jo Jo is a privilege, not a burden.