Change is hard.
Who’d want to be Co-center of the Universe?
Our 4-year-old son climbed into bed with my husband and me one morning a few months ago and sat looking morosely at us.
"What’s up?" I asked, still mostly asleep.
"Mommy," he sighed heavily. "I don’t really want to be a big brother."
Oh dear. Oh no.
"I think you’ll be a really good big brother, though," I said. "I think the baby is really going to love you a lot."
Jack sighed again and shoved his little feet under the blankets between us, put his head on a corner of my pillow. He didn’t say anything else, but he didn’t have to. I’m on notice: This is not going to be easy.
Jack will be a few months from turning 5 when his little brother or sister arrives. That’s a long time to be the Center of the Universe, only to have the title jerked away and replaced with something as lame as Co-center of the Universe. I can’t blame him for feeling a little betrayed.
My response to all this is probably based on my own experience as the oldest child. I was not quite 3 when they brought my brother home, and I was not happy.
In the photo album I have from my childhood, the front pages are filled with pictures of cherubic little me smiling and soaking up the undivided attention of my parents. About a third of the way in, though, is the first picture of me with my brother.
He is lying on the couch, a lump of a baby boy with a shock of carrot-orange hair. I am standing next to him. I am no longer cherubic and smiling. I am grim and glowering. In fact, in every picture after that I am glowering at my brother. Except for the one where my father ordered me in a tone I knew better than to disobey to put my arm around my brother and smile. What I’m doing in that picture qualifies as smiling, I guess. My teeth are showing, anyway.
So I felt a little guilty when our firstborn moped into our room that morning and announced he didn’t want to be a big brother. Some part of me was thinking, Yeah, kid, I know what you mean. It’s a real drag.
My husband is coming at this from a completely different point of view. He was the third in a family of four boys. They’re the Four Fabulous Flying Fortunes. They grew up friends and stayed that way. I guess with that many siblings, you get along or get pounded.
"I can’t imagine my life without my brothers," Jim said one day as we discussed our baby-on-the-way and its reluctant big brother.
I rolled my eyes, big-sister style. "Of course you can’t imagine your life without your brothers," I said. "Most of them were already there when you arrived. You never had a life without your brothers."
Sheesh. Little brothers just don’t get it.
I really hope Jack is a better older sibling than I was. My little brother was annoying, but I was just plain mean to him right up until he got bigger than me. I remember the moment clearly. I was 17, he was 14, and I walked by the couch and swatted him on the head. He launched himself at me, and I remember thinking Wow, he’s a lot bigger than I remember. When did that happen?
I got away before he could do any real damage and abandoned my habit of swatting him. He is now over 6 feet tall and about 200 pounds of little brother. We get along these days — mostly because he lives several states away, and we don’t talk much.
Also because, despite temperamental differences that effectively doomed any hope of close friendship, he’s my brother. When our mother’s cancer was diagnosed, he’s who I wanted to talk to. He said all the wrong things, of course, but it didn’t really matter. I just needed to talk to my brother.
I probably can’t make my 4-year-old understand any of this.
A few days after the moping-in-our-bed incident, Jack came to me and said he thought maybe he’d like to have a sister. I was elated. I thought he was warming up to the idea of the baby.
"Well, you might get a little sister — or maybe it will be a little brother. I bet it will be fun either way," I said.
Jack looked at me. He has this way of looking at me that makes it clear he thinks I’m a little bit dense.
"Mommy," he said evenly, "I want a big sister, not a little sister."
Oh dear. Oh no.
"Take it from me, Jack," I said. "You don’t want a big sister. Big sisters are a pain."