My lads have been inseparable since the moment the youngest was born. The oldest, Tom, would help change his little brother Sam’s nappy. When he moved from breast to bottle, he’d cradle him in his arms and encourage him to take the teat. When Sam was upset, Tom would lie by his cot and Sshush him to sleep.
There are three years between them, but you would never know it. They play together, laugh together, compete on Moshi Monsters computer games together. They share a room, and sometimes even a bed, when the youngest has a bad dream.
If Tom gets up earlier than Sam, Sam’s first question is always: ‘Where’s Tom?’
When Sam started Reception class last September, his seven year-old brother introduced him to all his mates and made sure he didn’t get picked on.
They remind me of the Rolf Harris song, Two Little Boys.
But in our case, one little boy is starting to outgrow the other – and it’s breaking my heart.
It happened yesterday. Both boys had been invited by one of Tom’s friends for their weekly playdate. Tom’s friend loves Sam almost as if he were his own brother. The age-gap doesn’t matter.
But yesterday, when both Tom and Sam were invited round to this other boy’s house, my eldest went into a bit of a sulk.
‘What’s up, Tom?’ I asked.
After a while, he eventually told me: ‘I’d like to see XX on my own.’
‘But why?’ I asked.
I could feel the hackles rising on the back of my neck, a paternal response out of protectiveness for the youngest of the litter.
‘He’s just a baby,’ Tom said.
I felt the blood rush into my head.
‘He’s not a baby,’ I scolded. ‘He’s your little brother. He always goes on your playdates with you.’
‘I know,’ Tom replied. ‘But I’d like to have my own friends without Sam there.’
I felt my heart break on Sam’s behalf, but what could I do? He had a point. A seven year-old boy is very different to a four year-old, more agile, louder, faster, stronger. Tom was growing up, asserting his independence.
At school pick-up, I watched as Tom’s friend’s mum collected her boy and my eldest. Then I waited until they’d gone before I went into Sam’s Reception class to fetch him.
‘Where’s Tom?’ he said.
It is always the first thing he says. Always.
‘He’s gone on a playdate with XX,’ I confessed.
‘Am I going on a playdate?’ Sam said. ‘Can I see XX?’
‘Not tonight, son. Maybe next week. Let’s go and buy an ice cream. We can have a playdate together, just me and you.’
‘Can we get one for Tom, too?’ he said.
So here, my boys, for you to look at in the future, is the way you are, and the way I hope you will continue to be…