For more than a year, Caroline has been singing the boys the same bedtime songs: Lay Down Your Weary Tune, Forever Young (the original), Swing Low Sweet Chariot, and Sweet Baby James. A week ago, though, Wally made a new demand. If Caroline was going to sing Sweet Baby James, she needed to sing Sweet Baby Wally, too.
Wally’s request is in keeping with his new determination to get his fair share in life. If there was a turning point, it was the first weekend in August, on a ferry back from Nantucket. The boys had made an opportunistic friendship with a younger boy who had a lot of trains. The three of them played well together for a while, but then Jay and Wally grabbed for the same tank engine and Jay prevailed.
Usually we can defuse those kinds of situations quickly enough. This time, Wally wouldn’t let it go. He grabbed back, he yelled at Jay, he swept a pile of train tracks from the table. Eventually I pulled him away, up a staircase to the open top deck, where his cries about the injustice of it all were lost in the strong Atlantic wind.
Since then he’s been on fire. After the ferry ride we spent a week with Caroline’s parents. On the first day we moved one car seat into their car so the boys could have more time with their aunt and grandparents. For the rest of the visit, whenever there was even the hint of a car trip afoot, Wally would quickly say, “It’s my turn to ride in Grammy and Opa’s car,” and start angling towards the driveway. It’s not hard to imagine he’s going to be a killer when it comes to calling “shotgun.”
Wally has never been a shrinking violet, but his older brother is a force; it must have clicked for him, that to get what he wants in life, he’s going to have to stake his own claim.
For me and Caroline, this intensified assertiveness is a welcome wake-up call. In our hearts and minds we want equal things for our equal boys, but I know in practice it doesn’t always shake out that way. We’re used to thinking of Jay as the older boy who can do more. When I want some help trimming the hedges or a companion for a walk to the store, I habitually turn to Jay, even though Wally’s not so young anymore, and now can do those things, too.
All told, it takes a more conscious effort than I realized to make sure we give Jay and Wally what they each deserve—especially in all the little micro interactions they have each day.
Caroline and I have become more aware of the many times each day when both boys are talking at once. In the wild, Jay’s voice tends to win out because he’s louder and gets to the point a little quicker. So, Caroline and I have been more deliberate recently about refereeing family conversations, in order to make sure Wally has his say.
This plays out in other ways, too. Yesterday afternoon, Jay, Wally, and I made peanut noodles together. When it came time to mix the sauce, the boys vied to be the one to turn the food processor on. I didn’t know who, in fairness, should have gotten to push the button first, so I let Wally have the honor.
For now, at least, I think the tie should go to him—and if we make what seems like a bad call, I’m glad he’s going to let us know about it.