Last weekend, the kids went to a fair. And came home with balloons, which is always a recipe for disaster. I was making dinner when I heard squeals, a loud th-wack, and then hysterical screams coming from the playroom. I raced over to find Johanna on the ground, cradling her head, sobbing, an upturned chair next to her. Geoffrey was standing above her, legs wide apart like a crazed Viking, his balloon rising up from his arm (we’d tied it onto his wrist earlier, so it wouldn’t fly off) like a Raven banner.
“Jo Jo tried to take my baa-oon,” he said when he saw me, by way of explanation.
I knelt down and gathered my daughter into my arms.
“Did you hit Jo Jo?” I asked. She snuffled. She seemed okay; more scared than anything else.
“Did you throw this chair at her?”
He nodded again.
“Geoffrey,” I said sternly. “You DO not throw a chair at your sister. You DO not hit your sister. You could have seriously hurt her.”
“She took my baa-oon,” he said somberly.
“I don’t care,” I said. “When something like this happens, you tell mommy and let mommy deal with it. You don’t yell at Jo Jo and you don’t hit her and you certainly don’t throw chairs at her.”
His lower lip trembled. “I told her, ‘Jo Jo give it back,’” he said.
I grabbed his arms. “Listen to me,” I said. “You cannot hit your sister. You cannot hurt her.” I was beside myself and had no idea what to say. Teddy would never have done that to Jo Jo. Even before he took his first steps he was protective of her and here was Geoffrey, thumping his chest and throwing furniture at her in some form of preschool vigilante justice.
“Time out,” I said.
He went and sat on the steps obediently.
I walked over to him and took a good sniff. He’d loaded his pants again. At almost 3 ½, Geoffrey was still showing no desire to start potty training.
I knelt down. “You need to be kind to your sister,” I said. “The world can be an unkind place to her and it’s up to us to protect her. We don’t treat her with disrespect and anger. We treat her with love.” I paused. I hadn’t meant to say all that and I wondered if that was too intense to say to a 3 year old.
He just looked at me.
I sighed and went into the kitchen to order more diapers from diapers.com.
A couple minutes later I smelled something. I looked down. Geoffrey was standing silently in front of me, holding his balloon. Obviously he’d decided to take himself out of time out
“I want to give Jo Jo my ba-oon,” he said.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, nodding his head.
I started to sniffle a little. “Geoffie, that’s really lovely of you,” I said.
“I know,” he said modestly, and then, “take it off,” extending his wrist.
I slid it off and he proudly walked over to Jo Jo, extending the balloon like a peace offering.
“Thank you,” she said simply.
“You’re my sister, Jo Jo,” he said. “I love you.” And then, “Mwah,” pressing his lips against her cheek in an open mouthed kiss.
They both stood there, beaming at each other. It would have been a beautiful moment if there hadn’t been that stench. I ran to get the diaper wipes.
I thought about it all during dinner and while I gave Jo Jo her bath. Geoffrey and Jo Jo have a wary relationship. Geoffrey plays more with her now than Teddy does, but they also fight more. A lot more. Somehow even when Teddy was younger he never got upset that Jo Jo took his toy and bonked him with a board game or refused to follow his orders during dress up. But Geoffrey plays hard and fights harder. The two of them can go from a peaceful playroom coexistence to an all out battle involving hair pulling, scratches and even a strategic bite or two, all within 30 seconds.
But on the other hand, there were a few times when Geoffrey had shown a protective streak. Last spring, my nanny, Ingrid came home from the park stunned. Another child had been bothering Jo Jo. It hadn’t seem to have sprung from cruelty—it was pretty clear the kid had his own sensory and/or developmental issues. He’d been following Jo Jo around, banging into her and otherwise invading her personal space, much to her annoyance. Then he’d pushed her, hard.
Ingrid didn’t even have time to react before Geoffrey flew onto the scene, landing on the boy—who was twice his age and twice his size--with a flying leap and pummeling him with his little fists.
It was pandemonium. Ingrid pulled him off. Geoffrey was wide eyed and shaking and screaming “no one messes with my sister!” until she finally calmed him down by plying him with cheddar bunnies and a juice box.
It was the talk of the playground—how this toddler in diapers had leapt to his sister’s defense. But I wasn’t sure if it was protectiveness or just possessiveness: ie, no one else could mess with his own personal punching bag.
I hoped it was the former. I really did. But while I was helping Teddy with his bath I heard screaming coming from Jo Jo’s room. I ran in to see Geoffrey on her bed, trying to wrestle his balloon from his sister’s grasp. It seems it had only been on temporary loan and he’d decided it was time to get it back.
I jumped on the bed to intervene. There was a lot of shouting and hair pulling and dog barking as I pulled them apart and then suddenly a large POP! We all stared at the remains of the balloon as it floated down onto Jo Jo’s pink Laura Ashley duvet.
“My ba-oon!” Geoffrey wailed and then suddenly they were in each other’s arms, consoling each other.
Teddy raced in, dripping wet from his bath. “What happened?” he said worriedly.
“Geoffrey tried to take the balloon from her and they got into a fight and the balloon popped,” I told him.
He stared at them. Jo Jo was sobbing, her eyes squeezed shut and little round tears sliding down her cheeks. Geoffrey was hugging her, giving her those same open mouthed kisses. “Don’t cry Jo Jo,” he said, and then, “we can go back to the fair and get another ba—oon tomorrow.”
“It’s okay, Mommy,” Teddy told me. “Geoffie’s taking care of her.”
I looked at my oldest daughter and my youngest son. They had calmed down and were lying on the bed together. Geoffrey had one arm casually thrown around her shoulder, stroking her hair while the other hand clutched his blankie. Their heads were touching and they both seemed at peace. At least for the next 60 seconds.
“Yes,” I said. “He is.”