(Note: Sometimes I find writing I started but never finished … writing I intended to share on another platform, for a different audience. But when I found this tonight, I decided it to finish it and hit publish here. Because even in its essay format, the words belongs here on my blog — as a page in this chapter of my motherhood journey).
I guess you could say I expected a bit more of an initial reaction when my daughter met her brother for the first time. While I dreamed of fireworks and an instant connection, I anticipated the worst: tears, a fit of rage … But what I got was something even more surprising.
After months of build-up, excitement, anxiety … we got sheer indifference.
* * *
My husband and I made sure he was in the bassinet for their first meeting – deliberately not in my arms – when she walked in the room so she could sit with me and we could snuggle on my bed.
She walked past the crib and stared at me, at the crib, and at me. Then her mouth opened wide. “He’s out of your belly already?”
Already?! Oy. He was in there kicking away for nine loooong months, honey … but time means little to a nearly 3-year old.
She didn’t ask to see him or hold him – and we didn’t push it. “On her own terms,” my dad advised gently at the hospital. And how right he was.
When she finally eased her way over to the crib—staring at our snugly-swaddled bundle of newborn delight, we took him out and let her see him. “Can I touch his piggies?” she asked. “How about his head?”
She sat next to him, touching him but not saying much.
During a diaper change later that day, he peed on my husband and she dissolved into giggles. “He peed on Daddy! Did you see, Gamama?!” she asked my mom, who had indeed seen.
At that point, I knew it might be slow going, but that we’d be OK.
* * *
Her big gray eyes watch me nurse my infant son from the doorway of his darkened nursery. Curious eyes — darting from his spiky tufts of brown newborn hair, to his busy mouth, to his chubby hands, which twist and twirl my hair.
This scene has replayed countless times for two months now. She inches towards us, and pats the top of his head, a little harder than she should. “Gentle,” I whisper harsher than I intended to, cringing inside as the words come out.
“I know, Mommy. I know,” through practically gritted teeth.
My heart sinks, and I can see her little wheels turning, her mind filled with all the new things she has had to be cognizant of now that Baby Brother has arrived: running around, making too much noise, being gentle enough, sharing Mommy and Daddy … and I sense her 3-year old frustration and empathize with her.
Sleep-deprived and exhausted myself … I feel it, too. Ben is a game-changer for our little trio. And though she doesn’t understand this yet, she’ll always be my first baby. Mommy’s heart just doubled in size with the arrival of her brother.
Though there’s some natural jealousy, as her mom, it’s my job to make her feel loved and adored as she was before her brother was born.
So we go on dates. A mommy-daughter date at Yopa, a local frozen yogurt place, or a solo trip with Daddy to Sam’s Club to pick up wipes and grab a hot dog. A special present from the Target dollar bin, or a walk to the park, just the two of us. The little ways we can show her she is still the center of our worlds help her feel secure, even though her world has changed immeasurably.
* * *
“Benny’s cold. He needs a blanket.”
“Here, Benny. Have this bear, not the monkey. The monkey is too big for him.”
“Benny doesn’t like that book, Daddy. Read this one.”
“Rocco, don’t step on Benny!” she yells at our 125-lb Lab, Rocco.
He’s four months old and still not doing much besides kicking and flapping his arms, but her nurturing side has kicked in and he’s “her” baby. She loves to take care of him and help me take care of him.
She’s highly in tune with our schedule and she’s my little helper: bringing me diapers or a change of clothes … and wishing me a “good pump” before bed, which always makes me crack a smile.
The jealousy is waning. The older he gets, the more he engages with her and the less she seems to care that the 100% of our attention she received is now cut in half.
Plus, she’s pretty demanding and realizes he is someone she can eventually boss around – he just doesn’t know it yet.
* * *
He’s nine months old and she’s three and a half. They’re buddies now. Besties, though she talks more than seems humanly possible and all he can do is squawk and babble in response.
Yet somehow, they’ve developed a secret language and the mere sight of her entering the room makes him flap his arms in delight. She throws a toy, and he collapses into giggles. She shrieks, he shrieks, and basically Mom and Dad are second fiddle.
* * *
“Maya, do you want to come with Mommy to Target?” She’s four, he’s 18 months.
“Can Benny come, too?” she asks, looking up from the city they were building with colored wood blocks.
I alternate between bursting with pride that she didn’t want to leave her brother out, and wanting that special Mommy-and-Me time with my Big Girl.
We compromise. “Let’s you and I go to Target and then we’ll pick Benny and Daddy up to ride the carousel at the mall.”
In the car, she tells me – unprompted — “I visited Benny at snack today at school. He was SO happy to see me!”
From the backseat, she can’t see the happy tears pricking the corner of my eyes.
* * *
They’re inseparable now. She’s five, he’s two. They play dress-up, color, read, snuggle, fight, love, fight.
They chase each other through the house on imaginary journeys (thanks, Little Einsteins!) on the daily – bookbags bigger than their heads strapped to their backs jostling as they race from laundry basket “rockets” and “trains” to closets and back again. Squeals, shrieks. Someone trips, falls, gets mad, and the game has come to a halt. Momentarily.
“Shhhhhhhh, Mommy is coming! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
It’s supposed to be almost bedtime, but I hear the pitter patter of little feet overhead followed by the closet door slam shut. I tiptoe into her room, and when I peek into the closet, they’re sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the dark, giggling, reading a book with Maya’s Leap Reader pen.
Like her, he never stops talking. On less-harried weekend mornings I stand and listen from the doorway each morning as they chat, smiling at the sweetness of it all and wishing time could stand still.
“Maya do you like my orange socks?”
“Yea, Benny, they are so, so cute! Look at mine! They match!”
“Yea, they do! See my bear over here? I’m tucking him into his bed!”
“Nice job, buddy! Good work!”
This time is so fleeting, and so very precious.
Next year she will go to kindergarten, and they won’t be in the same school. They won’t be able to spend as much time together, and this season of their childhood will change.
But for now? For now, I’m soaking in every second. In that hospital room on day one, I never knew the kind of bond they’d have.
And I couldn’t have written it better if I’d tried.
Tonight–their first sibling sleepover.