Friday, May 04, 2007


Inspired by this really great post, I thought I'd share a little about my kids and their relationship. I tend to write about one of them or the other, but rarely do I write about them as a unit.

Because they often function as a unit. This wouldn't be so surprising to me if they were twins, or both girls or both boys, but they're not. Susie is 22 months older than Alex.

Even though she was only 13 months old when I got pregnant with Alex, we decided to talk to her about the upcoming arrival. I'm sure she had no clue what we were talking about, but we kept on talking about it throughout the pregnancy. When we decided what his name would be, she pronounced it as best she could, and from then on, her version of his name became the name for my belly. It also became our son's nickname (still is).

I need to scan some pictures for something I'm planning to do for Susie's birthday, and many of those pictures would be perfect illustrations of this post.

The day Alex was born, my mom was taking care of Susie, and she and Susie came to the hospital to greet the new baby. They were both in the room when I was wheeled in, on the gurney. The baby was wheeled in separately in an isolette. Susie immediately wanted to be with me on my bed, and she patted my belly ("Gently!") and said her brother's name. I looked into her sweet, nearly-two-year-old face and said, "Not anymore. Here he is." And we put the baby on the bed too. The expression on her face told me that she understood. This was her baby brother, and she must love him and protect him and help to raise him. (A big responsibility for a toddler, but I firmly believe she was up to the task, and she's never proven me wrong.) We got their first kiss on video and on film. It's one of my favorite pictures.

Over the next few months, Susie demonstrated an amazing aptitude for big sistering. Whenever "her" baby cried, she ran to me, telling me, "Baby is crying. Nurse baby! Nurse baby!" She seemed to understand when I was busy tending to the baby and couldn't hold her or play with her at the moment. She loved to touch him and kiss him and talk to him.

And here's the moment. The moment that defines the two of them as brother and sister, a unit of two, not mediated or moderated by Craig or me. It's July 4 weekend. Baby is three months old. Susie is 25 months old. He's still in a rear-facing car seat, buckled in the middle of the back seat. She's in a forward-facing car seat, which means they're facing each other and their faces are around two feet apart (maybe even less). So he's looking at her, she's looking at him, and she's making her favorite joke, which consists of saying "PBJ Otter" over and over (it was her favorite TV show at the time). She's cracking up, and then we hear this strange sound from the baby. It sounds like he's choking. Wheezing. I turn around to check him and see him doing something he's never done. He's laughing. He's laughing so very hard, with his whole body. Laughing at his sister's joke.

Their next couple of years were at home (Craig and I worked different shifts, so one of us was always home), and are well-documented. They dressed up, they made forts out of the dining room chairs, they ran around the house naked, they made beds for themselves with towels. They invented bizarre games that made no sense to our adult minds. They sang songs and watched the same television programs.

And school didn't make a dent in that growing relationship. When Susie began preschool, two days a week, Alex was a little annoyed at first. He missed her. She went to school on the days I worked, so Craig and he had five hours together those days. Fortunately Craig is a great dad and created adventures for them. But when I brought her back from school, she got the hug before I did most days. When he started preschool the next year, he was always so excited if he ran into his sister in the hall.

Years later, and they're still each other's biggest fan. But we're having some growing pains, and it shows me that everything is so fleeting. The beginnings of adolescence are causing Susie to crave more privacy and more time to herself. Her friends, too, are less tolerant of a little brother hanging around and tagging along. He's not there yet, so it's hard for him to understand how his life's companion would suddenly not want to spend every waking minute with him.

They had a hard night a few nights ago. He wanted more time together, and she didn't. I sat in his room and talked to him (Gently, gently!) about how hard it was that his sister wanted to be by herself. He was so deeply sad. So hurt. And it would have been easy for me to cajole her into spending just a bit more time with him.

But that wouldn't be fair to her. I went to her room next and spoke with her (Gently, gently!). I reminded her that her brother is not going through the same changes she is, and that he really doesn't understand her need for privacy and solitude. I asked her to be gentle and patient with him while they worked out their relationship. I also requested that she try to spend a little more time with him in the afternoons so he didn't feel excluded. She understood, but protested a bit: "I already do spend a lot of time with him. Too much time!"

And they're both right. They're just in different places, developmentally. He'll catch up in a few years, and the balance will be restored. And I bet I'm right when I predict they'll be best friends again.


Lizard Eater said...

Loved this post and those pictures, OMG! I see your two being like my siblings ... it's still a family story, the time that my then-16 year old brother went and spent a weekend at college with our then-20 year old sister.

Pam said...

This is SO SWEET!! LOVE the pics and the stories about them.

My two are 20 months a part and both girls, and although they fight quite a bit, they are very close.

My older one wants me to have another baby now. Uh uh - no way!! ;-)

slouching mom said...

That last picture is so unbelievably perfect.

They sound like the nicest kids.

Kudos to you, mom.

Dan G said...

That is sweet, although I only have the one so I don't know the dynamics. You are lucky that they love each other so much and are as smart as they are. Like we said before we would love to take Alex anytime. Hopefully he and my boy can be good friends.