After Miss E was born, my husband and I were shocked by the almost primal instincts we had to protect her. She was so vulnerable, so defenseless; she literally relied on us for her survival. My husband even made a joke, half in seriousness, about turning that manic urge on a mosquito who dared to buzz near her. If we were bears, we’d have roared. That’s how fiercely we felt.
It’s the same with Little Sister, but about a billion times more complicated because we’re not just protecting her from rogue insects and strangers and well-intentioned, unvaccinated relations. We’re protecting her from her big sister.
Last week while I was nursing Little Sister on the couch, Miss E launched herself over my nursing pillow and latched on to both of Little Sister’s arms, trying to pull her off of me while simultaneously crushing her, cackling wildly the whole time. I know she didn’t mean to be malicious – she really loves her, and is in general over-eager to give her kisses and hugs. She cries when I don’t allow her to do so repeatedly. But she’s also used to rough housing with everyone else she loves, and when she hasn’t had a nap or she gets worked up or she’s just in a mood, as toddlers too often can be, she does stuff like this.
My husband was cooking dinner in the other room, and he couldn’t respond quickly enough to my shouts for help. As I tried to pry Miss E off of Little Sister without hurting either of them, Miss E toppled to the floor, the thud as her head hit the carpet joining Little Sister’s wails. And then she was crying. And I was crying, too.
But not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t because of what she’d done, not directly, anyway, or because Little Sister had chomped down in an effort to keep her dinner from being interrupted. It was because of how I felt, because of that surge of animal rage that filled me at the thought of Little Sister being hurt in some way. That feeling was directed at Miss E, my sweet girl, my first baby, my universe. Only now I’ve got two universes, and too often in these first tender weeks they’re colliding.
Nobody warned me about this. Nothing I read about preparing my first child for a sibling offered suggestions for preparing myself for the world-shattering guilt and confusion and anger that comes with finding a balance, not just in your home, but in your heart.
Miss E is two. What happened wasn’t her fault, and I want to believe it wasn’t mine, either. She was fine in two seconds, of course, but I agonized over what happened the whole night (and because I’m writing this, I’m obviously still not over it). So I’ve been going out of my way lately to baby her more than I usually would, rubbing her back at bedtime, carrying her when I can, trying to make her feel so special, because she is. While Little Sister was napping earlier this week I filled the sink with soap and bubbles and we bathed her little dolls, taking our time, enjoying each other’s company, just the two of us.
When I was reading up on methods for helping Miss E to adjust to no longer being an only child, I’d assumed that taking time to be with just her was just about her. Now I know I really need those moments, too.