Soon after we brought our newborn daughter Caroline home from the hospital, her five-year-old brother Michael wanted us to take her back. I know that because that’s exactly what Michael told me and his mother.
My wife said, “OK.” And then she started to wheel Caroline in her stroller out of our apartment.
“Where are you going?” Michael asked.
“I’m taking your sister back to the hospital, just as you said you wanted,” she said. “But then I’ll have to stay there with her.”
Michael looked at his mother with a confused expression on his face. “You’ll have to stay with her?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” my wife said. “Of course I will. She’s too little to take care of herself.”
We could see Michael giving this whole idea some really deep thought.
“Oh, OK,” Michael declared. “She can stay.”
And that was that. And so Caroline stayed.
Since then, Michael has changed his tune. In fact, he’s always looked out for Caroline. Early on, he would stand alongside her crib, his hands on the railing. Look, he seemed to be thinking, I have a little sister. One time, at a nearby McDonald’s, Caroline, then about five, crawled into one of those long tube slides and disappeared from sight. We waited for her to come out, and then we waited some more, until we started to wonder if she had somehow gotten trapped. Finally, without being asked, Michael climbed into the tube, saw that she was just hanging out in there, and coaxed her out.
Another time, while Caroline was still little, she kicked Michael in the legs—for no apparent reason. Her brother could easily have kicked her back, and probably kicked her harder than she could kick him, but he refused to do that. Caroline got the message, and never kicked him again.
And so it went with our son and daughter. They would be in a restaurant with us, and Michael would curl his right arm around her shoulder to bring her close to him, as Caroline pressed her forehead against his cheek. And we have photos that show much the same. Michael and his one-year-old sister floating in a bathtub foamy with bubbles, happy just to be together. Michael during a summer vacation, holding her from behind, his left arm around her waist, as Caroline smiles broadly, looking as if she feels protected from the water in his embrace.
That’s how it is in photo after photo all through the years, because that’s how it goes with Michael and Caroline. Jump ahead five years, then 10 years, and the story stays the same. Michael’s always ready to watch over her and keep her safe. And Caroline would do no less for him.
I’ve done the math here. First Michael came along. Then Caroline joined us. And now they’ve created something else. I can see how much they mean to each other, how much they belong together. In the end, it’s really as if one plus one somehow equals three.
Bob Brody, a New York City executive, essayist and father of two, is the author of the memoir Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.