At weddings I like to watch the groom’s face when the bride first walks in. I remember my friend Charles looking eager and nervous, and my friend Arthur broad-faced and beaming. I like that moment because it’s one of the few semi-private moments at a wedding. All the guests are standing and looking to the rear of the church. No one’s looking at the groom and the groom probably isn’t thinking about himself either. You can tell a lot about a person by the expression on his face when he thinks no one is watching.
Which brings me to Jay. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out how he feels about Wally. There’s a good amount of evidence, direct and circumstantial, that he might not care for him.
To begin with, dozens of times a day Jay goes out of his way to make Wally’s life harder. He takes his toys and knocks him over. His favorite move is to block Wally’s way by standing in front of him and moving side to side as Wally tries to get around.
Beyond that, it’s not hard to come up with reasons why Jay might not like Wally. Caroline and I try to hold Jay responsible for how he behaves. We correct him. Sometimes we yell at him. At the same time, we never yell at Wally. This is how it should be, of course, given the boys’ different ages. But sometimes I imagine that in Jay’s eyes it seems like we’re always getting on his case while giving his brother a free pass. Whenever Caroline or I hear Wally cry, our first response is always, accusingly, “Jay, why is your brother crying?”
In terms of our affection, I could understand why Jay might feel edged out by Wally. Last week both boys were sick and miserable and as a result, clingy and needy. Often they were both whining and both wanted to be picked up. In those cases the tie always went to Wally. I knew I could explain to Jay- or at least try to- why he needed to wait and go sit on the couch, whereas with Wally, there was no other way to get him to stop crying besides giving him the affection he wanted.
About a week ago the four of us were at home eating dinner. It was towards the end of the meal and Wally was getting silly as he often does once he’s decided he doesn’t want to eat anymore. He was making this funny “voooo” sound by putting his lower lip behind his top front teeth and then blowing out a v-sound. “Vvvvvooooo!” Wally’s parents were pretty charmed by it. Caroline and I started making the sound back to him, and giving him mischievous glances, and all three of us were laughing a lot.
We’d been doing this for a minute when I started to wonder about Jay. He was sitting quietly at the other end of the table from Wally. I was curious to know what he was making of the scene- our attention concentrated fully on his adorable younger brother while Jay sat off to the side.
What I found was reassuring. Jay was fully engaged in the moment, even if he wasn’t saying anything. He was kind of leaning forward in his seat, he had a broad smile on his face, and he was looking at Wally with unabashed affection. I thought I even detected a note of pride in his expression: Look at what my little brother can do.
Since that night I’ve made a point of trying to catch Jay in these off-camera moments. I always expect to see him looking bored or disinterested or aggrieved, but his expression is always the same. He seems charmed by Wally and happy and secure in his role in the family even when he’s not the center of attention.
I like to think that it’s these moments- more than when Jay’s elbowing Wally out of the way or pinning him on the living room floor, that show how he really feels about his brother.
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