Last week, I posted on Facebook a picture of my kids that melted my heart. After we arrived at preschool for drop off and I unbuckled them from their car seats, they hopped out of the car and put their sweatshirts on.
Mattix quickly zipped his up, but Moll was stuck. She asked for help. He pushed his lunchbox at me and said, “Here, hold this, Mom,” and took care of his baby sister like the best kind of big brother there is.
Often, when I take their picture on my iPhone, they know I’m taking it. They smile all cheesy - albeit cute – and look adorable for the camera. But this picture is the type that is fewer and further between. It’s of my kids, just doing what they do.
And what they were doing was sweet.
Mattix is an incredible big brother. He has been from the day he first saw Molley’s referral picture on my laptop. He wasn’t even 2 years old yet. I told him he was looking at his new baby sister. He leaned over and gave her a kiss.
He has treated her with the same amount of love since that day. They squabble here and there and they sometimes even brawl a bit – they’re brother and sister who are 18 months apart and spend a whole lot of time together – but they are best friends.
And the amount of love in Matty’s heart for his sissy is staggering.
I just went back to an old blog post and grabbed a large portion of it – pictures, mostly.
He tried his best to help take care of her (April 2009, a week after Molley came home)
He gave her kisses (May 2009)
He got better at helping to take care of her (May 2009)
Molley began to get the hang of things. I think they even started conspiring (early June 2009)
Mattix hugged her a lot in his barely-2-year-old way (June 2009)
Naturally, as Molley got older and more mobile, she also became a bit of an annoyance. Because that’s what little sisters do.
But he still took care of her. When Molley cried because she finished all of her ice cream, Mattix fed her his. (August 2009, pic from Crackberry)
Honestly, he fed her all. the. time. (Late August 2009)
Molley learned from Mattix how to care and share and love. And they became buddies. (Halloween 2009)
We officially moved from Arizona to California in October 2009 after living in both states for five months. By then, they were close siblings and friends. (November 2009)
They care (August 2010)
They have a lot of fun playing (October 2010)
This photo captures their relationship well and it’s over one-and-a-half years old. It was taken on my Droid, so the quality isn’t the best, but it’s natural and un-posed. I asked them to smile at the camera and Matty reached over and put his arm around Molley. She leaned in. After I took it, they hugged. (November 2010)
In the year and a half since that last photo, Mattix has perfected the art of being the world’s best big brother. And Moll has settled into the role of an adoring little sister.
And so I often see him doing those small things for his sister, like zipping up her hoodie. Sometimes she legitimately needs the help and others, she wants to feel special. And special to her is having her big brother dote on her.
So it caught me off guard when I posted that first picture of Mattix zipping up Moll’s hoodie and among all of the comments about how sweet it was, someone wrote, “Teach that girlie girl some life skills.”
Beside it breaking the cardinal rule of Facebook – thou shall not make comments on other people’s parenting – never in a million years would I have looked at my 5-year-old helping my 3.5-year-old zip up a sweatshirt and thought, “Wow, my child is severely lacking in life skills.”
Now, I’m not all bent out of shape over the comment. My mom was a typical grammy and was quick to respond. And offending commenter was quick to continually insist that Moll would be much better off if she were more independent. At some point, after I had enough, I explained that a 3.5 year old needing help zipping a hoodie doesn’t really correlate with a lack of life skills or independence, then I blocked offending commenter. (Facebook is my happy place – I block and/or hide anyone who is excessively negative.)
But that aside, it left me to reflect on exactly how much independence we expect of our children.
I’m rolled my eyes and ignored all of the hoopla about how the French do it better. Sure, they do some things better. And we do others better. Blah, blah, blah.
I consider myself rather far to the right of the independence continuum. I am a highly, highly independent person. It’s one of my greatest strengths… and one of my greatest faults.
It is one of the qualities that Ed, my husband, admires the most about me… and one of the qualities that can frustrate him the most.
Independence can give a person pretty serious survival and life skills. I have both.
And independence can isolate someone like nothing else. I have experienced it.
As for Molley, Ed and I have always treated her as though she’s older than she is. And that is what I consider one of my greater parenting failures. Molley is far smarter than her age. She always has been. In the beginning, her abilities and intelligence were positively fascinating. As time went, on, they became our norm and so we began treating her as though she was years older than her chronological age.
In some ways, it has worked. In others, it’s unfair.
My children are classic Montessori kids. They make their own decisions, have the ability to act very responsibly and have an extreme amount of self confidence. It’s interesting to watch them around some of their peers. At a birthday party recently, 20 kids sat at tables and ate cake and drank juice. When they were all done, 18 kids hopped up and ran off. Mattix and Molley collected their crumb-filled napkins, shoved them in the paper cups, and carried that, along with their plates and forks, to the trash.
They’re fun to take out. They’ve been able to sit at a nice restaurant table since they were babies. They’ll try just about any food. My son has the coolest taste of any 5-year-old I know. My daughter has eaten sushi since before I should have allowed her to consume it.
They’re independent. They’re smart. They’re capable.
And yet they are my kids. My preschoolers. How much independence is too much? Should I make my daughter go upstairs and get her own “comfy clothes” when she insists on changing into them after school? Or should I get them for her? Because she’s 3 and she wants to be taken care of?
Should I tell my son to get up from the dinner table and fill his own glass of water? Or should I do it for him sometimes? After all, he sets the table and both kids have cleared their own plates for over a year. Shouldn’t I just be a mom and get the glass of water?
How much independence is enough for kids? How much is too much?
I don’t have the answer. I question it every day.
But what I do know is that allowing my 5 year old to be a big brother to his sister who is 18 months younger than him – who he adores and loves and takes care of – isn’t going to deprive her of life skills.
Because when you’re 3 years old and used to being treated as though you’re a few years older, it’s nice to know that your big brother will always offer to put your shoes on for you.