Tonight, I was sitting in the family room having a cozy moment with all three kids. Geoffrey was intently putting coins into his toy piggy bank, Jo Jo was prancing around the room singing and waving two drum sticks, and I was helping Teddy dress Jo Jo’s magnetic paper dolls. I was trying to convince my eldest son to outfit the dolls in something other than what he usually insists they wear—a mustard yellow shirt and brown pants—when I heard squealing. I looked up to see Geoffrey wailing as Jo Jo banged him on the head.

“No, Jo Jo, no no!” I said sternly, and put her on the stairs for a time out.

She immediately started sobbing, these gut-wrenching cries that always tug at my heart strings, but I steeled myself. We’ve been really, really strict about correcting her misbehaviors. “Three minutes,” I told her, and walked back into the playroom.

“Here, Geoffrey,” I said, giving him back his pink pig.

He dropped it, completely uninterested. He had stopped bawling and was instead staring intensely at the stairs, his forehead furrowed. “Jo Jo?” he asked curiously, and suddenly he picked up the drumsticks she’d been holding and toddled over to her.

“Here,” he said in his little baby voice, cocking his head. She ignored him, flapping her arms and hysterically mewling, but he persisted. “Jo Jo,” he repeated, more forcefully, and presented the sticks to her again. This time she snuffled and took them, and he chortled with delight. “Mwah,” he said, leaning forward to give her a kiss, and she acquiesced, throwing her arms around him. “Mwah,” he said again, and then toddled away, back to his piggy bank.

I watched him, stunned. It brought back memories of a similar incident that happened with Teddy when he was pretty much the same age as Geoffrey, I’d always assumed the love and compassion my middle child had for his older sister couldn’t be replicated, that my youngest wouldn’t ever be able to match that.

Today, Geoffrey proved me wrong, so wrong.  Sure, he’s taken a protective interest in her before—bringing her her pink glasses when she throws them off, finding one of her shoes and proudly presenting it to her. But today, the fact that he was sensitive enough to pick up on her distress and actively reassure her—that was truly something else. He’d ironically had his annual Birth to Three assessment that morning, where his team went through a whole checklist to make sure he was developmentally where he needed to be. We were going through interpersonal skills, checking off one skill after another that he’d already mastered, when the coordinator asked “tries to comfort others in distress.”

I thought for a moment. “Not really,” I admitted.

She laughed. “That’s totally fine—that’s actually a 24 month skill,” she showed me. “He’s way ahead of the curve as is.”

But watching him, as he fiddled with the coins in his piggy bank while anxiously stealing looks at Jo Jo, I realized I had set my expectations way too low.

“Geoffie, come here,” I said, and he happily ambled over. I buried my face in his little cap of white gold hair and cried. I thought all my tears had dried out after the last few weeks; I thought I was numb, pretty much wiped out of any emotion, but again, another aspect of my life where I was just so wrong.

All I know is that my father would be proud, so proud of his almost 17 month old grandson. And as much as I still miss my father, as much as it hurts to wake up in the morning to realize he’s no longer around, or to want to call him on the phone to tell him something and then realize with a sharp, searing pang that he’s no longer there, I get so much comfort in the fact that part of him will always be with me, in my two little boys.

I am certain that they will both grow up to be as compassionate, as gentle, and as kind as their Pop Pop was. And like him, they will strive to make the world a better place.