A three-year-old’s musings on the birth of a sibling.
I had quite forgotten how devastatingly logical children can be – so wonderfully free of the greyness of adult thinking. It took the reactions of my three-year-old grandson to the impending arrival of a new brother or sister to remind me of the beautiful simplicity of his youthful world.
We first learned about our new grandchild when my son and his wife visited us a few months ago. Justin, their first child, was happily playing on the floor when his mother asked him, “Why don’t you take your sweater off, honey? It’s warm in here.” Reluctantly, since he was occupied with his beloved toy cars, he briefly stood and allowed his sweater to be pulled over his head before swiftly returning to the floor. But a glimpse of the wording on Justin’s briefly revealed T-shirt front was all the confirmation my wife needed. To her, a logo that declared Justin ‘Official Big Brother’ in large red letters could have only one meaning.
When we finished congratulating each other, I noticed Justin had remained on the floor, totally engrossed in his latest auto acquisition and completely oblivious to the hoopla going on over his head. Since then, he has gradually worked out what this might all mean for him, and has become steadily more vocal on the subject.
Justin remained quite detached until his mother started to show and he was driven to ask, “Why are you getting fat, Mommy?” This was followed by queries about why the baby was in Mommy’s tummy (“Mommy’s keeping the baby safe while he grows.”), how it got there (“Mommy and Daddy put it there.”), and how the baby will actually get into this world (“When he’s ready, he’ll come out of Mommy’s tummy.”). His biggest concern, however, is why it’s taking so long to get a playmate.Every time he stays with us, he makes a point of asking, ever more impatiently, “Has Mommy gone to take the baby out?” as if this might just be the occasion when he goes home to his new little pal.
Since Justin is still so young, I didn’t think he’d have a preference for a brother or a sister. After all, there’s an even mix of boys and girls at his daycare and he has always been happy to play with any of his little friends, regardless of gender. But I was wrong. I happened to ask him one day whether he wanted a brother or sister. “Oh, a brother, Grandpa,” was his immediate and definitive response. “He’ll be able to play cars with me.”
The ultrasound showed that Justin is indeed going to get his baby brother. But Justin found the indistinct ultrasound photos frustrating because he couldn’t really relate any of the anatomical landmarks to himself. To try and help, his mother found some photos of babies in the womb on the internet. Unfortunately, Justin assumed the photos were of his actual brother! It has taken the longest time to explain to him that his brother is not going to be permanently bald and closed-eyed while sitting with arms and legs bent, trailing an umbilical cord.
One thing Justin is really having a hard time grasping is just how fragile and inactive his new brother’s going to be at first. He has a picture in his head of a slightly smaller version of himself coming home from the hospital ready and able to get down on the floor and play with him immediately. His mom tried explaining that the new baby wouldn’t even be able to stand for the longest time. Justin’s response: “That’s okay; you need to lie down to play cars properly!”
For three-and-a-half years, Justin has been an only child and very much the centre of attention. All the toys have been his. His particular favourite is, of course, his collection of cars which his grandmother and I regularly add to when we take him to the store. To try and prepare Justin for the new arrival, we’ve all been taking opportunities, as they arise, to reinforce the concept of sharing. We thought we were making good progress until Justin announced a few days ago, “My brother and me will now both have to get cars and trucks from the store because my collection’s mine. It’s not for babies.”
If only adult decisions were so straightforward.