Our four year old, Eudora, was a fairly hands-on big sister while I was pregnant with our most recent addition. She practiced for her sister’s arrival by singing Happy Birthday Tummy and You Are My Sunshine to my bulging abdomen on a daily basis. I was the recipient of numerous belly rubs, belly pats, belly raspberries, and even some elaborate belly painting. Eudora excitedly participated in our visits with the midwife. We prepared her for our homebirth by reading books on the subject, showing her age-appropriate videos and photos of births and newborn babies, and having frank discussions about her concerns for my well-being. I allowed her to relax in the birthing pool with me at night before bed. We also did our best to prepare her for our Fifteen Day Babymoon— baby and I planned to remain in the room where I had given birth for 15 days in order to ease her transition into the world and to facilitate my recovery. What we hadn’t prepared for was Eudora’s reaction to the shift in priorities once our new baby was here.
Eudora helped her Daddy cut the cord after Mathilda was born, and she said a few memorable and clever things as she gave the new baby a once over. She seemed to be doing well with the whole thing. Over the next few days, she enthusiastically ran up and down stairs to provide me with fresh nappies, with clean blankets, or with refills on my ice water. She snuggled up with me and read books to the baby after pre-school each day. My husband and I patted ourselves on the back for having done such a terrific job preparing her and making time for her.
However, when Mathilda was a week old, Eudora came home from Montessori with this drawing:
That’s me in the orange. I’m the one with the all-the-better-to-eat-you-with-eyes, and the Where the Wild Things Are monster hands. Her Daddy and Big Brother are the tall ones in the background with tiny (powerless?) hands and weak smiles. Notice how she took the time to make sure it was obvious that I was in front of her Dad and Brother. Her Big Sister—who is a very important person in her daily life—isn’t even in the picture. A happy (and naked) Baby Mathilda is nearest to her Daddy. The sad little girl without a face is Eudora. She is nearest to me with her hand reaching out in my direction. But it is clear that she feels like I don’t see her and won’t connect with her.
The pregnancy, the appointments with the midwives, the homebirth, the babymoon were really all about me, no matter how much we tried to include her, Eudora had seen it as it really was. Instead of spending time doing things on her terms, we were insisting that she conveniently fit into our new agenda–sharing story time with baby, getting things for the baby, helping us take care of the baby. The family had re-prioritized and no one took the time to send Eudora the memo. We had made one of our most vulnerable members feel out of balance and unwelcome. This picture broke my heart and made me resolve to put our family back in balance.
We started by committing to re-establish her bedtime routines, even if we were bone weary. We enlisted the help of family and friends to do special things with Eudora. My husband made sure he took some extra time with her doing “big kids” stuff that babies weren’t able to do yet, like going on nature hikes. And most importantly, by the third week postpartum, I made a heroic effort to get myself dressed and ready despite having a new baby (and an uncooperative post-baby body). After our family breakfast, I was able to drive her to school and spend special time—just the two of us—in the car where we could sing silly songs together at the top of our lungs, and have poignant four-year-old discussions about volcanos, bugs, space travel and super-hero kittens. The best part of these mommy-daughter rides was all the time I got to spend stealing glances at her bright little face in the rear view mirror.
This is the picture that Eudora brought home just the other day:
She is wearing her baby sister in a sling. I am by her side and we both are holding flowers freshly picked from our yard. Our cat, Marjorie, sits at Eudora’s feet wearing a flower tucked behind her ear. At first this picture concerned me because we were robots. I was worried that she felt emotionless or indifferent. But Eudora explained that we were friendly robots like when she dressed up as “Robota” for Halloween. She also explained that she was holding my leg, instead of my hand since my hand had a flower in it. However, we are holding the flowers out and away from our bodies. This could be because we are generously giving them to someone we love or because we are holding them at arms distance to keep them–like Eudora’s emotions– from getting hurt again.
It’s only been six weeks, so we don’t expect her to be the world’s most well adjusted big sister quite yet, but at least we know that she appreciates our efforts to include her in ways that matter to her, not just ways that are helpful to us.
We just broke the news to her that one of her favorite people—her former nanny—is having a baby in December. We are already planning activities for the two of them to do together so that Eudora won’t feel abandoned or left out. I’m so grateful that I feel tuned in enough to listen to Eudora—even when her words are too complicated for her to express. Her pictures tell me everything I need to hear.