My second son, Gus, has had an eventful first year of life: a terrifying multi-day stay in the emergency room and NICU for meningitis; a bout with hand, foot and mouth disease; croup; a bacterial skin infection; a large tumble that prompted frantic calls to our pediatrician office’s on-call doctor; random full-body tackles by his toddler brother; an unfortunate tendency to have four teeth come in at once as opposed to the usual one or two; and, currently, a brutal double ear infection.
Whereas adults often find good sport in complaining about simple aches and pains, Gus has never been fazed by the world’s attempts to wipe the perpetual smile off his face. He is, by all accounts, an incredibly, almost inexplicably happy baby.
His joyful hardiness at times conspires against him. For instance, he had only been mildly fussy in the days before a routine doctor checkup revealed that his ears were about to explode. His reaction hadn’t been proportional to the terror residing inside his head. He, mostly, smiled through it. Otherwise, we would have taken him in earlier.
The doctor appointment came a day after his birthday, which means he had been enduring that big pain in his tiny ears throughout our family celebration. Maybe coating his entire head in cupcake frosting was a cry for help. More likely it was a motor-skill deficiency. In any case, for a parent, it’s heartbreaking to know.
Gus’ first birthday, on Sept. 26, came a month and a half after Fisher’s third. Fisher is immensely proud of his “big brother” status but is still learning the best ways to show it. Even hugs raise the distinct possibility of bodily harm, and he doesn’t fully understand why his non-bipedal sibling can’t accompany him on every exploratory neighborhood adventure.
But it’s endearing that Fisher wants to include Gus. I’ve already caught glimpses of the future: Fisher hauling Gus around in his Power Wheels, with the top down and looking for trouble. We had to install makeshift seat belts with NRS raft straps, but we know safety measures will be more complicated when they’re teenagers.
For now, I relish watching them grow together. The distance between 1 and 3 years old can’t be expressed through math, and while they exist on wildly different planes of development, their mutual love has its own language in the absence of verbal communication. It is expressed through hugs, kisses, giggles and a daily accumulation of subtle moments, fueled by a primordial genetic kinship that doesn’t require words. I’m an only child, so this phenomenon is as foreign as it is magical to me. By the time Gus learns to speak, it seems, Fisher will be able to finish his sentences.
When mired in adult stresses, I take cues from Gus’ infectious enthusiasm, although I can’t mimic all his behaviors — a grown man who randomly claps and shrieks in public places is liable to end up in an institution. This is a boy who takes unending pleasure in leaves rustling on trees. He reminds me to slow down and enjoy the breeze, too. Inevitably, Fisher will barge into this quiet scene to make a loud flatulence noise with his mouth and giggle maniacally, which, of course, is wonderful in its own way.
Gus puts the “happy” in happy birthday. It was at times a rough road to 1 year old, but the leaves are changing colors, shimmering gold and crimson in the wind, and Gus is jubilantly watching them out the window, absorbing the world. And his big brother is right by his side.
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