“She’s our favorite,” I said to the mom standing next to me at the playground, kissing the top of Tess’s head.
Both our gazes fell over to Nate and Sam a few yards away as they scourged the wet earth with sticks and flinging dark chunks of mud into the air and laughing maniacally. I glanced down to my armpit, where Tess nuzzled her head, fluttered her tiny eyelids and returned to sleep.
“Yep, definitely my favorite,” I repeated.
And she is our favorite at the moment. She hangs out with Tighe and me on the sofa long after Nate and Sam surrender to sleep every evening. We watch Netflix and sometimes basketball or baseball while we drown our sorrows in dark chocolate ice cream and I try to remember absurd arguments I had with Nate and Sam that day.
With Sam, it’s usually about pooping or what constitutes “dessert.” With Nate, we negotiate changing the date of his half-birthday, whether or not it’s worth it to FINALLY learn to swim this summer (it is), and whether it’s appropriate for me to text his friend’s mom and request that her son’s birthday party be held at a splash park instead of at their house (it’s not).
So, sure Tess is our third wheel in the evening, but we like her. At this point we’re used to our private marital time being interrupted, so if she wants to sit there and smirk at us and cheer for Lebron with Tighe, so be it! Aside from my nipple, she makes no demands. Not like Sam, who would surely request his own bowl of ice cream. Or Nate, who would monopolize my laptop, browsing Amazon and talking non-stop about which Lego set he wants to order next until he ultimately passes out from exhaustion. He wakes up that way and he falls asleep that way.
But last weekend, I think Tess finally got an inkling that she’s actually one of…them.
Because we left her. Overnight. For the first time.
Tighe and I traveled to Chicago for a friend’s wedding—one that we absolutely could not miss—and left all three kids with Wally. And a very competent, trustworthy babysitter.
It was glorious. We ate, we drank, we danced, we slept.
But when I thought about poor Tess, left with Nate and Sam, watching after our car as we pulled out of the driveway in the direction of the airport, wondering how we could possibly forget her, I got sad.
I mean, that’s a tough lesson for any kid to learn. She knew she was one-third of The Three Amigos, but she didn’t realize who made up the other two-thirds.
Sorry, kid, it’s not us. It’s…them!
When we returned home late on Monday afternoon, our joints stiff from sitting on the plane and in the car, she glared at us from the arms of the babysitter.
Ok, she glared at me. And by that, I mean she stared at my chest. At my boobs, her food source. It’s pretty much the only trait she shares with teenage boys. Or “questioning” teenage girls.
After I peed—in the toilet—I took her and hugged her and covered her real-life bobble head with kisses. I bounced her on my knee and told her all about the wedding and other nonsensical details about the weekend.
“Deep dish pizza, Tess! Deep dish! You’ll love it!”
Like any disinterested daughter listening to her mom’s boring account of her weekend, she smirked and tried her best to hold eye contact.
Until Nate popped up out of nowhere. Startled at first by his sudden movement, she immediately laughed at his stupid poop joke, bubbly drool sliding out of her mouth—more traits she shares with teenage boys.
Sam climbed up and sat on my other side. Resting his head on my shoulder, he grabbed Tess’s hand with aggression not usually used on babies.
“Aww, Tessie baby! You’re a little cutie pie, baby!”
And she returned his forceful affections with a smile.
She knows, I thought to myself. She gets it. She formed an unmistakable and hopefully unbreakable bond with her peers this weekend. The Three Amigos.
Here’s my best advice to you, Tess: Nate and Sam are your people. Your allies. Your best friends and your most worthy adversaries. Protect your toys. Stand up for yourself. Don’t get caught messing with their stuff. And don’t tattle. Protect their secrets, listen to their complaints about Tighe and me, and lie for them when you need to. We’ll love you no matter what and so will they.
Some day soon she’ll be terrorizing us, too, with her bodily functions, her illogical reasoning, her sticky messes, her snarky comments, and her public meltdowns. Probably all in one day.
And as we drag her to time-out, exasperated and bitter, we’ll wonder where our sweet, innocent, blue-eyed baby went—a rite of passage as she inches closer and closer to independence.
And in eighteen years, when we’re moving her out of the house—empty nest, here we come!—she’ll find solace in the guidance and encouragement of her older brothers. Because that’s what siblings are for.