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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

From Real Siblings to Imagined Grandchildren

In the midst of our fifteen-hour drive from New Jersey back to the midwest a couple weeks ago, I heard the following conversation quietly conducted in the back seat between Roo and O.:

Roo: O., you are a nice brother. I love you so, so, so much.
O.: Yeah, Roo. You're a nice sister. I love you so much, too.

My heart swelled with almost unbearable joy at hearing this. And though I grabbed my planner to write it down, I didn't say a word, not wanting to kill the moment by letting them know I'd heard them. Nothing makes me so happy as my kids being sweet to each other. When Roo willingly shares a treat she's gotten from a neighbor with her brother. When O. patiently teaches her how to play a game. These ordinary scenes are what I hoped for when we decided to have a second kid. And the rare but intensely adorable moments when they spontaneously express their love for each other with words go far beyond anything I ever imagined.

Lest you think my kids' relationship is all roses and rainbows, however, the very next day Roo accidentally broke the lego front-end loader that O. had recently put together, and he berated her 'til she cried. Then he called her a "crybaby" in a very mean voice, which is the worst thing he can do to her. I held her as she sobbed inconsolably for ten full minutes, my own heart heavy with sadness at her little heart breaking. It seems that no one can hurt her feelings like her brother, and it kills me when he yields that power against her.

I feel very lucky that O. and Roo get along well most of the time. Despite their more than four-year age difference, they play together a lot, and often go for hours busily working on some pretend scenario they've cooked up together. Right now, it's mostly positive, and the squabbling and hurt feelings are only occasional. But I wonder how their sibling relationship will change as they grow older. I've already seen the conflict increase bit by bit as Roo gets older and her will gets stronger, which makes the old pattern of O. as the planner and leader and Roo as the follower less and less the default mode. I have a feeling that they'll always retain that basic connection they've had since she was a baby, though, even if there are also more rough spots and moody moments. I hope I'm right.

Right now, O. and his dad are gone with my stepdad on a five-day river rafting trip in Idaho, while Roo and I hang with my mom. It's been interesting to see Roo's reaction to being the only kid. Last year, when they went on a similar trip, she was a little droopy and complained a lot of missing O. This year, although I can tell she misses having him to play with, she's pretty damned perky. She's really soaking up all the attention from me and my mom, chattering constantly and excitedly making plans for the three of us.

She's also been taking over a role that O. usually plays: bedtime talker and question-asker. Usually, when I say goodnight to O. and Roo, it's O. who takes the opportunity to get in five minutes of eight-year-old philosophizing or hypothetical-question-asking, while Roo just listens. Since O. has been gone, Roo has been asking me some tricky questions in that mellow pre-sleep time together.

Last night she hit me with this one: "Mama, how do women get babies?" I gave her a simplified answer that involved more heteronormativity and less complexity than I'd usually be satisfied with (but she is three, so it's not an easy question to field). Somewhere in there I mentioned finding a man who you would want to be your baby's daddy. After I was done, she told me "I don't want to find a daddy." Okay, I said. There are ways for women to have babies without finding a man. But I noted that it is nice to have someone to help you take care of the baby. Roo thought for a moment, then said "Maybe you could help me take care of my baby."

Whoa. This was getting deep. And, of course, I was hoping she’d be asleep by now.

I have only recently begun even contemplating the reality that some day my children might themselves have children. At this point, I'm not at all invested in the idea of grandchildren. I just want to get the kids raised up without losing too many of my marbles. But I guess if Roo decides somewhere down the line to have a baby on her own, I would be willing to help out.

So we made a deal: I will help her with her baby if she promises to wait to have a baby until she's at least twenty. She balked at this. Twenty seems a long time away for her. But I assured her that she'll want to wait that long, and probably longer. ("Remember, honey, I was thirty-four when I had my first baby," I said. "That's fourteen years older than twenty." After we established that most people live well past thirty-four, this seemed to give her some reassurance that it's not extreme to wait 'til you've got a couple of decades under your belt to begin reproducing.)

When I told my mom about this conversation, she wondered that I didn't establish an older minimum age. I don't know why I said twenty. It was spontaneous, of course. I guess I could have said "'til you finish college." But I'm not sure I regret picking a slightly earlier minimum age than I would truly prefer. Because I want to be realistic, and I also want to remain aware that the way I did things is not the only way or necessarily the best way. It's one way that works. There are other ways. Maybe I picked twenty because my own mom was just shy of twenty when she had me, and I've never regretted that timing.

In any case, now I've made the deal. Roo just better keep her end of it.


Blogger Amanda said...

I'm so glad O and Roo are such sweet siblings. She really loves her big brother and I'm sure she misses him while he's away, but it's great that you get to have some girl time. I rarely got "only child" time growing up.

Wow! What a deep, deep question from little Roo! Such a tough one to answer. It will be interesting to see if this conversation gets brought up anymore. I'm not ready to think about her having kids yet either! Me first, then 20 or 30 years later, she can have one :)

I would love to hear this whole conversation...especially your explanation of how we get babies and then onto discussing a good age for her to have one.

Priceless! Thanks for sharing this. It brought a smile to my face!
:) Amanda

5:08 PM  
Anonymous DoctorMama said...

Well, duh. You said 20 becausem you don't want to have to help with said baby when you're 80.

7:45 PM  
Blogger E. said...

Good point, DM. I clearly should have set an expiration point as well. Next time this comes up, I'll make it between 20 and 35. If she waits 'til she's in her mid 30s to have a baby like I did, then decides to have a second baby, she may need to find another assistant for her younger one.

1:34 PM  

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