In preparation for a teaching assignment this summer I was reading an article about Jane Goodall’s work with chimpanzees. Pretty interesting stuff, but not the sort of thing I expected to find myself crying about.
Goodall reported a great deal on the social lives of chimpanzees, and one of the parts of the article focused on the mother-child bond. Her research showed that young chimpanzees remain dependent on their mother for a lot longer than many other animals, and that the bond is as much an emotional one as it is a physical necessity. Chimpanzees don’t travel apart from their mothers until they are 9-years-old, and even then it’s only for a short periods of time.
Also, according to Goodall’s long-term observations, most chimpanzees have somewhere in the neighborhood of five years between their children, and the older child doesn’t always readily adjust to the presence of their new sibling. Goodall “observed many young chimps traumatized by weaning or the birth of a sibling. They showed their displeasure through tantrums. Some even withdrew into self-imposed isolation for long periods, sitting huddled and depressed.”
Cue the tears. Heap on the guilt.
I know that there’s nothing I can do to prepare Miss E for the world-shattering reality that will be having a little brother or sister. But I’ve been trying. I bought her a baby doll and made sweet little felt diapers she can take on and off in between bouts of wheeling baby up and down the hallway in a candy-pink stroller (the only color they make them in unless you’re willing to fork over more than 10 bucks, which I’m not). We talk about how we are gentle with babies. We read stories in my ever-less-roomy lap about being a big sister. But I know she doesn’t really get it. And the idea that I’ve done something that is going to cause her to feel like I love her even one iota less than I do breaks my heart. That she might cry about something real, versus just being told she can’t have crackers right now, is sometimes too much to bear.
But what I also know is that I can’t imagine my life without my brother. Every memory of my childhood is a memory with him in it, our adventures, our complimentary Halloween costumes, our epic fights. Even before I realized that my mom and dad really had my back I already knew my brother did. He was the one who sat squashed right next to me on the couch, after all, both of us shivering in terror while we watched Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Doctor Who. He was my sidekick, always. He was my first best friend.
And that’s what I’m giving Miss E. And as hard as it’s going to be for all of us for a little while, I know someday she’ll know that a sibling’s the greatest thing I could ever give her.