Sibling Lovelry

When my son, AKA Beagle, was four years old, husband and I announced that baby number three was on the way.  “I want a brother,” Beagle announced with conviction, as if his wanting was enough to manifest a baby boy.  He already had an older sister so…..we broke the news gently.

“We do know what the baby is,” I admitted.  His face lit up with anticipation.  “It’s a girl.”  Instantaneously, Beagle’s head dropped with a thud onto the table in despair.  With face buried in forearm, he lay silent.  While older sister, AKA Principessa, danced in celebration, I attempted to explain to the top of Beagle’s head that we didn’t get to choose.

Silence.

I added sugar-coating like the fact that he would always have his own room as the as the only boy.

Silence.

I assured him that he’d be a great big brother.

Silence.

Then Beagle raised a single hand in the air, head still down, and solemnly replied, “I’ll be okay.”

Beagle was more than okay.  This is a picture of him when Peach arrived.  Could he be any more smitten?

As it turned out, Beagle and Peach formed a close bond.  He adored his little sister and she him.  Eventually though, the novelty wore off and he went his merry boy way.  I feared that their lack of common interests would prohibit a close relationship between them.  But when Peach turned six and couldn’t ride a bike without training wheels, Beagle stepped in.

It was a casual summer day when Beagle marched in the kitchen and accused me of negligence.  “I can’t believe you haven’t taught Peach how to ride on two wheels yet.  She can’t start First Grade on training wheels!  Leave it to me.  I know what I’m doing.”

Staunchly determined, Beagle grabbed a fistful of lollipops for reinforcement and headed outside.  Honoring my promise not to interfere, I watched from the window.

Like a pro, doting older brother ran up and down the driveway holding the back of Peach’s bike while shouting out instructions and encouragement.  Within the hour, Peach was riding solo with big brother running alongside and cheering.

Beagle strutted back into the house, chest puffed up, and declared, “Mission accomplished.”

I was reminded of that favorite story today, three years later, when I sat poolside watching Beagle teach Peach how to dive.  With characteristic patience and sensitivity, big brother devoted his afternoon to imparting this new skill.  All the while he exchanged secret smiles with me, each of us enjoying the process.

These are the kinds of moments that make my mother heart swell with joy.  These are the shreds of hope that restrain me when I want to choke the next child who fights with a sibling.  I need these reminders from time to time to balance the sometimes excruciating task of establishing family harmony. Like, for instance, several weeks into summer vacation.

Today I decide that I can rest peacefully, knowing that no matter how much my little ones bicker and compete, they do love each other.  When the rubber meets the road, they travel together.

I suspect that when I’m old and gray, and my children are grown, they will continue to have their differences.  They may even try to involve me for peacekeeping.  And I will sit back in my rocking chair smiling at their sibling lovelry.

Habits Are Hard to Break

Habits are hard to break.  Especially the destructive ones.  If only they weren’t so satisfying.  Like thumb-sucking for example.  “It feels so good!  It’s so HARD to stop” explains a certain nine year old.  Yes, nine.

I distinctly remember how proud I was that Peach found her thumb, a way to self-soothe, at the advanced age of two weeks old.  I may have even danced a jig at the thought of dispensing with the customary ball and chain, AKA binky.  Thumbs are always there for you.  They can’t get lost or dropped on the floor of a public restroom or forgotten at home.  Smart baby girl.  Love a thumb-sucker.

That is, until she sucks her way into orthodontic danger zone.  Kindly orthodontist informed us that this habit, if continued long enough, could result in irreversible structural deviations.  In no uncertain terms he explained to Peach the dire need for her cooperation in the matter.

Peach has heard a similar spiel from concerned family members and has not been impressed.  But this time, as we exit the orthodontist office, she solemnly admits, “He was pretty convincing.”

We strike while the iron is hot.  Out come the star charts and verbal agreements and socks to cover sleeping hands.  Hard times ahead for Peach.  She’s tried jumping this hurdle before and managed only to fall over it.  Bravely, with renewed resolve, she agrees to try again.  Her forlorn eyes tell a sad story.  Her best friend, her ‘thumbly,’ must never enter her mouth again.  Laying her head on her pillow, she raises her mitts and wonders aloud, ‘What if….’

“Don’t go there.” I advise.  “Take it one step at a time.”  I remind little Braveheart of the many skills she possesses and the challenges she’s overcome.  “There is a muscle inside of you, the inner strength muscle, that has the power you need.  The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.  The stronger it gets, the easier it is to resist a habit.”

I offer my full support.  But the fact remains, there is only one girl who can close this deal.  After arming her with all the strategies I can think of, I kiss Peach goodnight and exit the room with fingers crossed.

At the crack of dawn, elated nine-year old runs out of her room waving sock-covered hands proudly above her head.  “I did it!  Look, I left the socks on ALL night!”  With new-found confidence, she launches into a triumphant monologue that resembles an acceptance speech.

Peach prematurely tells her admiring audience how she conquered the demon thumb-sucking habit.  I listen with a ridiculous smile plastered on my face and enthusiastically join in daughter’s celebration.  She is flexing that inner strength muscle with conviction.  I’d swear she’s grown overnight.  She stands tall and proud and ready to take on the world.

“You know,” she observes, “Not sucking my thumb wasn’t that hard.  Once I put my mind to it, I was all set.”

Bingo, Baby!  Mind over matter.  (Now if Peach could set her mind to cleaning her room and flex the ‘I can do it’ attitude in the organization department, we’d really have cause to celebrate.)

It’s a bittersweet end to an era.  My baby is growing up.  She is crossing bridges under her own steam.  She’ll need me less now – now that she’s a habit-breaking champion.

I believe the theory that says a parent’s job is to put herself out of a job.  I’m all about teaching self-sufficiency and raising self-esteem.  Yet still, my heart tears a bit each time I surrender a piece of the best job I’ve ever had.  So I turn my advice on myself and flex my own inner strength muscle in order to summon the courage it takes to let my little bird fly a little farther away.

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