When the Husband and I first learned the happy news of my second pregnancy, the first person we shared the news with was La Niña. It was only fair, considering that her life and routines would be most affected by the new arrival.
To our immense relief, she took it well, giving in to the romantic imagery in which I had packaged the news. Small Baby, I told her, would play with her, would wait eagerly and impatiently for her to return from school, and generally think the world of her.
The three trimesters passed off well. I occasionally showed her babycenter.com pictures to give her an idea of what Small Baby looked like at the close of x number of weeks. She would stroke the computer screen to indicate her affection for her sibling.
As the weeks passed, the mood at our home continued to be upbeat. The thought that La Niña was so excited about her sibling gave us a good feeling and we basked in its warmth.
It was only when I had to be rushed to hospital nearly a month before my due date, that La Nina realised that Small Baby’s arrival had the capacity to turn her life upside down. For as far back as she could remember, Mamma had sung to her and hugged her to sleep, but now that was not to be. She had thought that Small Baby would let her revel in her big-sisterhood. It was with a shock that she realised that Small Baby was here to usurp her position in Mamma’s heart.
When El Niño was born, and she came to the hospital with her grandparents to see me and her new brother, she wouldn’t meet my eyes. It must have seemed like a great betrayal to her. I was torn. My own little daughter behaving like this. My father-in-law said that she had lost her appetite and had given up playing with her toys. She would just sit quietly by herself. It was unnerving to think of a three-year-old doing that. I decided then I would make special attempts to reassure her.
When we returned home from the hospital, however, I was so busy feeding and changing the newborn that I had no time for her. The first ten weeks were especially trying. Sleep deprivation had already taken its toll on me. Some medical complications incurred during the C-sec added to my misery. With La Niña, I had taken great pride in being a hands-on mom, breastfeeding on demand and answering her cries immediately, the way teens today answer their phones. But now La Niña deeply resented the newborn and the hold he had taken on my life in so short a time.
If the baby were sleeping, she would enter the room and talk loudly. If I shushed her angrily, a mass of frowns on my forehead, Keep Quiet Or I’ll Whack You, she would shout louder. El Niño would wake up and bawl, and I would glare Medusa-like at La Niña, and get back to the task of soothing the baby. Sometimes she would come into the room and gently pinch his feet or shake his stomach or cover his face with a sheet. No matter what she did, there was a consistent reaction from me. I would shout and lunge at her and scream for help, Someone Take Her Away Please. She would rush out of my reach in the nick of time. It didn’t help that when I spoke about her behaviour with concern, I was informed by people that their children had never behaved like that. Why was La Nina acting up, I wondered.
One evening, matters came to a head. I don’t recall exactly what she did. Either she shouted right into his ear or landed her stuffed doll Chintu with a thud on his stomach. I lost my temper and slapped her hard. Her face registered shock for one moment, and then, sobbing bitterly, she ran out of the room.
I stood there shaking, my fury not yet abated. The phone rang, saving both me and her. My cousin, listening to my distress, put me on the right path. She told me that while it was my duty to feed and clean El Niño, I should spend all his sleeping time with La Niña. “She needs reassurance. She is acting up because she wants attention from you. She needs to know that you still love her. Her trouble is that she is missing the bond you shared,” she told me.
The conversation ended. El Niño was fast asleep. I sat there, angry with myself. What had I turned into? Momzilla? I couldn’t bring myself to face her. But I had to.
She was sitting with her Aaji, watching her favourite show, Taarak Mehta ka Oolta Chashma, with unseeing eyes, the plate of food barely touched. She looked at me out of the corner of her eyes. I approached hesitantly, knowing that I had to recover lost ground. “Precious,” I said. She thawed perceptibly. It was the first time in nearly two months that I had addressed her by one of the 20-and-still-counting nicknames I had kept for her. “Can I feed you?” Her smile washed over my guilt. I remember crying and hugging her tightly as if I’d never let her go.
Things got better after that. Mamma didn’t forget her lesson.
We sat and talked. “Dollu,” I said, “little babies need special care. Mamma took special care of you when you were a baby. Small Baby will grow up very soon, and then he’ll follow you around, like Mary’s little lamb.” The thought pleased her.
When I knew La Niña was within earshot, I told El Niño, “Grow up quickly, baby. If you sleep, you’ll miss all the fun. Don’t you want to play with the most wonderful, beautiful big sister in the whole world?” She came in with a big grin on her face, eager to touch her little brother. Clapping her hands, she began, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”
I taught her the right way to play with a baby. Watching me, La Niña began to sing and talk to him. I held her hand and gently touched El Niño with it. He smiled in his sleep and she laughed delightedly. “See, he loves you,” I said, and she nodded. Happy.
When he was awake, I invited her to join us. I let her help me. She would sprinkle Johnson’s baby powder on him and fold his clothes and nappies. I complimented and thanked her for her thoughtfulness and support.
She began to squeeze her little finger into his palm and take delight in the way he closed his fist tight and dozed off, unwilling to let go of her finger.
I learned to outsource nappy-changing, cleaning and general entertainment duties to the Husband, while I fed her or read to her. We made plans for things to do while El Niño slept. I resumed her bedtime ritual of praying together, singing and hugging her to sleep. I consciously said, I love you, more often.
It paid richly. Before long, El Niño was responding to us with joy. He would laugh his toothless laugh, and gurgle enthusiastically in response to our monkey faces and other antics. Our best efforts to entertain him, however, would suddenly draw a blank the moment La Niña walked into the room. Then he had eyes only for her.
One day, a family friend dropped in and offered to take Small Baby away. “No,” she replied firmly, a protective arm upon him. “He’s my brother. He’s staying here.”
I am grateful to my cousin for helping me to amend my ways, and enjoy both my kids. Today I have the best of both worlds, and the assurance of a loving bond between them both.
Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar loves being mamma to 4-year-old La Niña and 18-month-old El Niño. A working mother, she enjoys writing short stories and poems and looks forward to being published someday. She blogs at http://cynthology.blogspot.in and tweets @Cynth_Rodrigues.