Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Survival of the Littlest

The world’s population is nearing seven billion, so clearly, the human race doesn’t have a problem with reproduction. But I still have to wonder how younger siblings survive.

I was the oldest of three in my family, and I always considered myself a pretty nice big sister (okay, benevolent dictator if we’re being honest). I never did anything to purposefully hurt my younger sisters, but accidents happened nonetheless. For instance, when I read that vinegar was a natural hair conditioner, I had to immediately try it out on my two-year-old sister, not anticipating that she would scrunch over and get the vinegar in her eyes. Oops. Several years later, that same sister asked my friend and me to boost her onto a jungle gym bar, and unaware of our own strength, we shot her over the bar completely, causing her to land facedown in the sand, breaking both wrists. (She got one pink and one red cast—it was the saddest thing)! 

Now that I am a parent of two, I know all too well the dangers and mishaps of the older sibling, especially those in the two to four-year-old age range. And while it’s pretty common sense that you can’t leave a toddler alone with a newborn, let’s face it—sometimes you have to go to the bathroom, or turn down the flame on the spaghetti sauce, or answer the door expecting UPS, only to find your semi-lucid elderly neighbor bearing magazine clippings from the 90s. These things happen. 

It’s not that toddlers and preschoolers are malicious and want to hurt the baby. It’s just that their mission is to experiment, experience, explore. So for instance, when he pinches his baby brother with all he’s got, your older son’s thought process is not, “I’m gonna get this little bastard for cutting into my story time.” It’s more like, “Hmm, what will happen if I do this? Will he cry? Will Mommy freak out? Will she send me to timeout or just sigh and lock herself in the bathroom until Daddy gets home?” He’s just being a tiny scientist.

In fact, preschoolers really want to be helpful and please you. This is why your daughter is surprised at times to find you frantically undoing her hard work instead of praising her with a loving “thank you.” (After all, baby sister looked cold, especially in the head region, so the natural thing to do was cover her with ten to twenty blankets).   

Of course, despite their good intentions, children of this age cannot be trusted. When you ask, “Uh-oh. Did you bonk your baby brother?” your toddler frowns as though in deep thought and responds, “No, Spiderman did it.” Again, he’s not trying to be bad; heck, he might not even be lying. (For all you know, he was Spiderman in that moment). And though this age group is not known for its rationality (understatement of the year), fibbing is pretty logical. If I tell Mommy I did it, she might get mad, and I don’t want to make Mommy mad. I love Mommy! I will repeatedly sing Little Bunny Foo Foo at full volume to cheer her up. 

The problem with this is that when baby starts crying and you rush in to see your three-year-old standing over her with a sweet little grin, there’s a good chance that you will never really know what went down. And you have to accept that. 

In addition to protecting your infant from bodily harm, you also have to do all the regular baby stuff—like making sure she gets enough sleep. It’s no secret that the baby-sleep equation can be tricky to work out, but when you throw a big sister into the mix, it can be downright impossible. This was a recent exchange at our house: 

Me: [whispering] Look, baby N fell asleep on the car ride home! That means you and I can do something special together. What should we do?
Big sister S: [hovering over the car seat] I want to give N a hug.
Me: [with hand on S’s shoulder] And you can, just as soon as she wakes up. But let’s let her sleep for now. Come have a cookie! [Subtext = Please, child, step away from the car seat. I repeat, step away from the car seat.]
S: [dejected] Okay.
[Pregnant pause as S backs away] 
S: [suddenly jumping] HELLO, BABY! HELLO!
S: [happy] Look, Mommy, she’s awake. Probably because I screamed.
Me: [resigned to the fact that this is my life]. Yep, that’’ll do it.
Baby N: Wahhhhhh!

There are benefits to this madness, though. You will find yourself coming up with creative solutions to everyday challenges and multitasking like nobody’s business (i.e. nursing the baby to sleep while typing an email while counting to 100 in a game of hide-and-seek). You will also discover that you are fast. I may be a white chick, but you could have mistaken me for a Jamaican sprinter the day I heard S call from the other room, “Mommy, I think baby N is hungry for a penny.”

Your younger children are bound to be resilient, adaptive little scrappers. (Just look at Steven Tyler making a comeback).

And yet I still worry. Since I’m not prepared to outfit baby N with a tiny helmet and bubble wrap, I guess I just have to bite my lip and hope for the best. But if there are any veteran moms of two or more out there, please feel free to share your tips and survival stories—I suspect we’re going to need all the help we can get.


  1. This is the best post yet!!! I was laughing hysterically imagining you sprinting like a Jamaican. You have a great way of putting motherhood in perspective and making it funny and relatable. I look forward to all your posts!! - A

  2. I was laughing so hard reading this that I started crying. Exactly what this mother of two under two needed this morning! It relieves me to no end knowing that I am not the only person going through this never ending struggle of "protecting" our newborn from her almost 2 year old brother. I love when my son tells me "nice" when he wants to "pet" his baby sister only for it to be two nice pats and one hard slap to the head. Then off he runs to the timeout chair knowing what is next. Although, I thought I would explode in the early weeks from my toddlers actions, we are now going weeks with only minimal incidents to our now 3mth old baby sister.....I just can hope we keep going in this direction! Hey and at least we know at some point she will fight back!Thanks for your wonderfully funny words and reminding us all that this is just part of growing up in a family!

  3. Yay, thanks for reading and for the kind words!

  4. Can't wait to read more! And being the two-year old you happened to pour vinegar on...I think I turned out all right and still love you the same!

  5. Ha, ha! Glad you forgive me for that one =)

  6. Sara, your blog is hilarious!

    I love reading about baby N and S. It sounds like a busy household.

    It is amazing the things we did as kids and as siblings (lol) and we are still alive to tell the tale!

    Love you much!


  7. Reading this, I thought of all the times I have tried to use the bathroom alone since having my second 10 months ago. I've come back upon a 30 month old holding a newborn standing next to the couch "look mom! She woke up and I picked her up!" Then the 30 month old seeing the horror on my face as I tried to think of the best way to get the baby back. And. Throwing. Her. Sister. On. The. Couch. o.0 Luckily the baby survived. Then there was the time I checked my email with them next to me. I looked away, at my iPad, for two minutes. Two minutes too long. I found big sister holding a comforter on the baby's face saying "where'd the baby go?" I said "OH MY GOSH LET GO!!!!!" and picked the baby up close and explained why we can't suffocate people during routine games of peek a boo.

    Despite these types of incidents, my girls are great friends and enjoying one another greatly now that the little one is mobile and playing. She has learned to pinch, bite, and pull hair in order to keep big sis at bay. And big sis just takes her hair back or moves away and it works out. It's definitely an adventure when you add another child to the equation, but a very grand one with so much joy.

  8. Oh my gosh, Meg, your little one sounds like a trooper! Glad to know I'm not alone in having to protect my baby from her sibling every day! =)

  9. Hahaha I love this. The carseat thing, those are my kids exactly.
    I don't blame her, though. Babies look SOOO huggable and kissable the second they fall asleep <3