The new small things

This morning my throat is a bit raw from the screaming I did last night.

During our post-dinner playtime, without warning or reason, Serafina shoved her baby sister for the second time that day. Rowan toppled backwards and, for the second time, bashed her head with a powerful thud. She wailed. And Darry and I exploded in a protective, confused rage at our 3 year-old. I demanded she go upstairs to her room. She pleaded for her lovey, which had fallen out of her hand, and I told her I didn’t care.

Serafina sat in her room crying. Rowie sat in Darry’s lap crying. Mairead stood perplexed. Darry and I caught our breath. Thirty seconds later, I went upstairs to apologize to my toddler (again) and try to explain why it is scary and unacceptable when she does this to the twins. She just whimpered again for Giraffsie.

It was a spectacular failure.

Kids do this to their younger siblings. Someday the twins may do this to Serafina. Three year-olds don’t have the empathy yet to understand what they are doing. Babies are resilient. I know. I know. I know. I know. And yet why am I hearing from _everyone we know_ with more than one young child that their older kiddo is so simply in love with their baby brother or sister? Such a caretaker! So gentle! Obsessed!

The Good Kind Patient parents (and experts on parenting) will tell you the Right Thing to do here is model calmness, hug your offending child and tell them you understand they’re upset. They say you must *never* admonish or send a child away for such behavior. Instead you just offer a loving “I won’t let you hit her” statement and it magically repels any future attacks. They tell you take out some crayons and paper and encourage your kid to draw how angry they are.

These parents obviously do not work for a living. They are well rested and have children who have always slept through the night. They have no financial worries, job stress, extended family drama or awareness of the world outside their home. They were raised by wealthy, well-adjusted parents who were able to take the time, like their parents before them, to carefully coach them through every difficult moment in life. They are not us.

I get it. Having two babies arrive when you are still a baby — and a particularly sensitive, attached and dependent one at that — is a raw deal that we handed our dear Serafina. We look at photos now of her when the twins arrived and are baffled by how young she was, a few weeks shy of her second birthday. Which means we decided to make another baby when she was just past her first birthday. This is also baffling in retrospect. But we were hanging on to the efficiencies we perceived in that, to the hope of our kids being close in age and therefore necessary close to each other.

Twins disrupted that dream a little, shifted the dynamic both for us and for our child who has wanted full attention from both of us for so long and has only gotten attention from half of one of us since her sisters arrived. Twins have also redefined that dream into a bigger, more beautiful albeit messier dynamic.

Today when we were trying to leave for school, Serafina requested her vitamins, part of her routine each day. Darry (mommy) offered to get them and she threw her signature “mama only” fit — demanding only I was able to procure the vitamins and place them in her little hand. Mommy was not an acceptable substitute and she was resolute about this. I threw my signature “I want to die” fit because, really, we were one tiny step away from finally getting out the door and now we had to negotiate this. It seems these rejections of mommy come in response to times when Darry is particularly preoccupied by the babies. It’s a form of punishment for Darry, which, in turn, also punishes me. I know the real sadness here is that Serafina is suffering. But is she really? She still has two loving parents and now two sisters who adore her. None of us is suffering. We are just trying to work this out.

I want so much to understand the right course here and I know, at the same time, there is no right course. We have some bright spots, where the girls play happily together for a few seconds, or when Serafina seems excited to care for the girls. The other night we trimmed Mairead’s bangs and she offered a brave hand, “Don’t worry, your big sister is here to help you. Don’t be afraid.” These glimmers are unbelievably sweet, but they are still few. Much of the time Serafina moves through her time at home indifferent to her sisters; the rest of the time is split between outright rejection or not wanting to share anything with them and then the small moments of engaging with them happily. I cling to those. I pray there are so many more to come.

But the truth is we have no visibility on the future — who are kids will grow up to be, how they will grow (or not) to know each other, separate from us, and as the individuals they are destined to be. I want to demand they be kind to each other and take care of each other above everyone else. But I know there’s no demanding that and hardly any effective modeling for that when they are all still so small. The only course to just face this unknown with an open heart and to be OK when we face it instead with shouting and crying.