In the last couple of months most of my bloggy pals have had their second baby. Which of course gives me total uterus envy because my own ‘little baby’ is now an old hag with an opinion on everything. To the extent that when I get angry and I say to her in a low, stern, warning tone “Beanie…don’t do that”… she copies me, points her finger at me and says in an equally menacing tone, “Mamma…don’t get angry. I don’t like it.” This is usually said in warning tones when I am scolding her brother too. He doesn’t even bother to look up because he knows his sister will handle the scene while he gets away with whatever he is doing, for two minutes more.
A couple of readers wrote to ask me about my archives and whether I could open up my posts on sibling rivalry and how I dealt with it, and I had to regretfully refuse. Partly because I am not ready to sort through the mess on the old blog right now and partly because there was no sibling rivalry.
I admit that little credit of this goes to me. The Brat is a gentle, loving child and for all his boisterousness, doesn’t have a vicious bone in his body. So he kissed my scarred swelling belly every day until I had the Bean. And the moment he saw the 2 hour old Bean, my 22 month old fell in love with her. The rest as they say is history.
And here I guess is where I can begin to take a little credit. I just made it very clear from the start that they’re a team and everyone else, including mamma and dada are the outsiders. I might regret this when they’re teenagers but I know I’ll go to my grave in peace if they hold on to that thought even as adults.
Books and experts usually talk about making sure you don’t neglect the elder child. They tell you to let the father handle the younger one for the most part and for you to spend one on one time with the elder one. I’d be lying if I didn’t confess here that the moment the Bean was born, I was smitten. Not in the usual mother-child way, but because my daughter was finally here! I had wanted her so badly that I wasn’t going to send her off with anyone so that I could spend time with the Brat.
And so I began to do what only someone as insane as myself could do. I began to do everything for them together. I’d lie them down for their massage, side by side. I’d bathe them one after the other. The moment the Bean could hold her head steady she was in the tub with the Brat, barely a few weeks old.
Inspite of her eczema, I let him touch her whenever he wanted without the usual instructions of ‘Wash your hands before touching the baby’. It was his baby, I told him, and I didn’t want him to associate the baby with permissions and instructions. I was terrified the first time I did it, but soon I was making them nap together. The Brat did fling an arm or a leg over her and whack her brains out of her skull, but I knew she’d survive it. He’d often want to lie with me when I was breastfeeding her and so I’d be on my side, feeding her, with him balanced on my side, clinging on to me like a baby monkey. It was bad and I’ve probably ruined my back for life by doing something that stupid within days of my second caesarean.
The very same books also tell you to focus on the I a lot. I believe that is where I differed and since they are only 3 and 5 I might realise the error of my ways in later years. The only thing I teach them is to focus on the Us. I guess as the years go by, they will teach me how to shift from the Us to the I, because I sure as hell don’t know how to do it. And I don’t want to, either.
I moved the Bean into the nursery when she turned a year and one night at 2 am I poked my head in for my routine check and the Bean happened to open her eyes and look at me. I groaned inwardly, thinking she was going to ask me to take her to my room when she looked around in the semi darkness, spotted her brother, and reaching out a hand held on to his and went back to sleep. And while I wasn’t ambitious enough to have ever envisioned that, I felt my heart melt as I turned and walked away.
And perhaps that is all the advice I have to offer you – don’t give your first the impression that he has a right to feel neglected. My attitude was – This is what life is like now. You have a sibling who is a permanent part of your life, so deal with it. There will be no special compromises, because this is not a liability. I don’t see why I have to be extra nice to you, because your sibling is not a disadvantage to you. He or she is a gift. You can’t want more special treatment or privileges.
The first year was the hardest I’d say, but once the Bean began interacting, I moved out and let them build their own relationship. From standing at windows and teaching his baby sister to sing “I hear thunder” to wiping her nose when she had a cold, the Brat has done it all. Today the Bean repays the debt by bathing him. Religiously. They sit in the tub playing silly games and she very maternally soaps his eyes and gets the suds in his mouth. But hey, it’s done with so much love that neither he nor I have the heart to prevent her.
People say the age difference was the trick. Well, perhaps. No one told me how big a gap to keep. I just did what I had to. And I guess it works okay because a few days ago we were taking the metro from Gurgaon to Delhi and the Bean was as usual driving us batty. The Brat finally took matters into his own hand and picked her up to look into the ticket counter, and then held her hand and kept her away from the edge of the platform. I think I know what the trick is – even without us wanting or trying, our elder one has taken over the parenting of our younger one. I think we can retire now. Where’s my martini?