Fonticulus Fides

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Mommy & the middle child…

When I found out I was expecting Laurel, my first concern was for Edyn. She was only 11 months old – still a baby herself. And Laurel was destined to come during that 18-month stage when kids often become needy again for a season. I didn’t know how I was going to give Edyn the mothering she needed during that tender stage while I had a new baby to care for, too.

Zooey was almost 3 when Edyn was born, and that was pretty much a piece of cake. He’d figured out that boys and girls were different and had been aligning himself more and more with my husband. Edyn arrived in all her girlish splendor and Zooey was comfortable with the "girls" being over there doing the feeding & diapering and what not, and the "boys" heading out to mow the lawn or something. He was feeling like he needed me less, and Edyn’s arrival gave me enough to do that he didn’t feel bad about separating from me a little more.

But Edyn…oh, gosh, I remember crying about what this was going to do to Edyn. If I was busy with the baby and Dad was doing something with Zooey that was beyond a toddler’s ability, where would Edyn go? How could I make it safe for her to exert her independence when she would be routinely stuck being independent, whether she liked it or not? How could I keep building an attachment to Edyn when taking care of a baby consumed so much of my time and energy?

I knew what to expect. After all, I was a middle kid, too.

I kept praying that Laurel would be overdue. I wanted as much time with Edyn as possible. But Laurel came early instead. I braced myself for anger, withdrawal, regression, all that stuff you read about in books.

In the beginning, Edyn delighted us with her joy in the new baby. She seemed to want to gaze on this little miracle for hours at a time. I even worried about how many kisses Edyn insisted on bestowing on her sister. And something about Laurel made Edyn realize how big of a girl she was. Once virtually mute, she suddenly started using all kinds of new words. Once content to be carried, she wanted to walk. Once happy to watch, she showed interest in doing everything Zooey did, including brushing teeth, carrying dishes to the sink, reading books and putting toys away.

It was nice while it lasted.

Oh, I was never foolish enough to think that this was the All-New Independent Edyn forever and ever. I knew she’d hit the wall sooner or later and want to be the baby again. And it didn’t take long. Her first three-word sentence, spoken at 20 months of age, was, "Put Laurel down." More than once, I’ve had both girls in my arms sobbing their little hearts out while I tried to figure out which one would be less pained by waiting for me to take care of her sister first.

I’ve said a whole lot of extra prayers to get through this time. I am not kidding when I say I’ve found myself stopping Edyn from: picking Laurel up (by the ears, same way she slings her Cabbage Patch® dolls around) AND attempting to feed Laurel some banana AND throwing a toy at Laurel’s head, while retrieving Laurel’s socks in the trash can where Edyn put them AND rescuing the dog from Edyn’s "affections" AND comforting Zooey because Edyn just tore his latest masterpiece in half – all in the space of five minutes. She’s a little dynamo, zipping from one form of mischief to another at the speed of light.

That’s what parenting a toddler is like. Zooey did a lot of that stuff, too. Only he didn’t have an older sibling to offend and a younger sibling in harm’s way. That’s what complicates it for me.

When Zooey colored on the walls, I had the time to explain that crayons were supposed to be used only on paper. I had the time to show him how to help me remove the scribbles, time to help him practice apologizing. I had time to watch him carefully over the next few weeks and keep reinforcing the lesson over and over whenever he reached for the crayon box.

Edyn colored on the walls and got the explanation, but not the follow-through. The baby needed something, or dinner was almost ready, or any number of other things got in the way of me taking her all the way through the lesson. Consequently, she’s colored on the walls several times more, whenever she manages to get her hands on any sort of writing instrument. (She’s got one spot in the dining room that my husband calls her Magnus Opus.) I’ve been working at preventing the graffiti by hiding all the pens, pencils, highlighters, markers and crayons, but every once in a while, she finds one and heads to her spot for a nice, expressive scribble.

After a particularly difficult week or so with Edyn, I realized yesterday that I had forgotten how we got Zooey through this stage: we kept him busy. Of course, I had the luxury of keeping him busy with kid stuff, like puzzles and coloring books shared with Mommy the Supervisor. Rare is the time I can do that sort of thing with Edyn. My list of responsibilities is long. But it’s silly to expect a child not yet two years old to entertain herself appropriately.

Last evening while my husband was home to keep an eye on the other two children, I tried a little experiment. When I started a household task, I took Edyn’s hand and brought her along with me. She helped me sort laundry. She "helped" carry it down the stairs. (She tugged the basket a couple inches, then let me pick it up and followed me down saying "Care-fill, Mom. Care-fill.") In the basement, she studied the various stacks of boxes and storage containers while I threw the laundry in the washer. Then she took my hand an accompanied me upstairs. I handed her the kids’ broom as I grabbed the real one and she swept alongside me as I did the stairs and hall.

Okay, so she stirred up more much dust and dog hair than I would have liked. It only took an extra minute or two to remedy that.

But we were a team, Edyn and I, working together for the family. She was happy as a lark, singing along while she "worked." She wasn’t getting in Zooey’s way or handling Laurel too roughly. And she wasn’t coloring on the walls.

After a few chores, it was bath time with Daddy. As I finished feeding the baby, Edyn came toddling down in her jammies, smelling sweet and thoroughly relaxed. I propped Laurel on my lap in a seated position, so the girls were eye to eye, and Laurel broke out in a big grin when she saw her big sister. "She likes you," I told Edyn. "See how she smiles at you?"

Edyn beamed up at me, then back to the baby. "Hi, Baby," she said, patting her gently on the head. Gently! Without a reminder from me! My husband dished up bedtime snacks for the two older kids, but Edyn just raced over for a bite, then ran back to share smiles with Laurel again.

She has such a cute way of saying her sister’s name – like Astro the dog on The Jetsons. "Hi, Roar-rell!" she exclaimed over an over again. It was the happiest and most peaceful night we’ve had in weeks.

If we can just keep Edyn busy – and keep praying – I think we’re going to be okay.



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