I was 2.5 years old when my younger brother--and only sibling--was born. I was less than impressed with him. After he had been home a week or two I marched up to my parents and announced, "You can take him back now." When I found out I wasn't going to get my way and he was here to stay, to say I was upset would be an understatement. I fiercely resented him. I would pinch his nose to make him cry. I took the baby doll I received as a "big sister" gift, cut off her hair and scribbled all over her with a red marker. (In a circle of life sort of way, Puppy now plays with that very doll in the bath.) My parents were afraid to leave me alone in a room with him. I bet to my little two-year old self, this baby brother was the worst thing that had ever happened and I was going make sure everyone else know that.
I grew up hearing these stories and always felt guilty. I imagined my parents were fed up with the stubborn daughter who couldn't get with the program and love her innocent little brother. He really was an agreeable, cute baby; it was easy to picture the three of them banded together against me. I felt bad that my toddler self hadn't pulled it together, even though I knew it was a fairly understandable response for a two-year old eldest child whose world had been turned upside down.
Shortly before Firefly was born my mom and I were talking about sibling dynamics and my reaction to becoming a sister. "You must have been so frustrated with me," I said to her.
"Oh, no," she answered. "We had already bonded with you, not Justin. We kept asking ourselves, 'What have we done? We've ruined everything.'" She remembers it as a time of questioning their parenting and their choices. My lifelong assumption that everyone blamed me was turned on its head.
I felt like I was ready for just about anything when Firefly joined us. With no way of predicting whether Puppy would love her or hate her, I figured we'd go with the flow and give him space to work through all the changes. Really I was bracing for the worst, though. Because there's a part of me that can't shake the idea that the whole of my parenting experience is karmic retribution for everything I did as a kid.
I guess I did some good things in my childhood, too, because Puppy has surprised me with how easily he seems to have adjusted. He's moved from mildly curious indifference toward her at the beginning to toddler-style affection (physical, sincere and intermittent). I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but so far--knock on wood--it hasn't. There have definitely been some bumps as we learn how to balance the needs of two young children. But he's generally been good about telling us what he needs. "Put Firefly in her bouncer seat," he'll say. "Please pick me up."
That's not to say his behavior is perfect. He thinks it's hilarious to wake her up, especially when I'm desperate for a little break. His playing with and loving on her are done with the reckless abandon of a toddler. He just might love her to death one of these days. I spend a good portion of my time saying, "Gentle, Puppy. Gentle!"
There's a way I've been holding my breath for the past three months, waiting for this to all fall apart. I finally understand why my mom took all the blame on herself thirty years ago. Every time I can't help Puppy because I'm feeding Firefly, every time she's set down crying so I can attend to a pressing Puppy need, I feel the weight of our decision to expand our family now instead of later. It's changed the practical part of my parenting and not necessarily in ways I like. I'm less present in the moment than I was before because it seems like I'm always being split between the two of them.
There are other moments, though. Each time I walk into his babysitter's house with Firefly in her car seat, the kids gather round to look at her but keep their distance. Puppy walks up right next to her, flaunting his access. "She's my Firefly," he tells them as he leans in for a hug. Earlier this week the three of us snuggled together on the couch to read a book, Firefly cooing as she listened. And the other morning he crawled up on our bed and knelt down next to her. "This is my sister, Mama. She's my friend." In moments like that it feels like this will all be okay.