When babies are born, people are compelled to offer advice. Whether or not its sought, or even welcome, it comes to new parents at lightening speed.
If she falls asleep too early, wake her up or you’ll both be up all night!
No matter what, you never, ever, ever wake a sleeping baby.
Don’t ever deny a cry for hunger! Feed on demand.
It’s so important to maintain a schedule. Feed her every hour and a half without deviation.
After a while, we become numb to the advice and start to tune it out, realizing that we have to find our own paths with our own children. But every once in while, something sticks.
When Brooke was born, I was thrilled. I desperately wanted a second child for so many reasons, not least of which was that I’d grown up an only child yearning for a sibling. But I was also nervous. Katie and I were inseparable. I worried that she would feel slighted by the diversion of my attention.
I don’t remember who said it. The words floated in on the sleepless haze of Brooke’s infancy. But they came back to me time and again.
Katie will be jealous of the baby. Especially given how close you are. And she’ll be hearing a lot of, “Not right now,” and, “Hold on, honey, the baby needs me.” So when the baby is settled and Katie is in earshot, say to the baby, “I’m sorry, honey, but Katie needs me right now. You’ll have to wait.”
It seemed like an absurd ploy. Until I realized just how much I was saying, “Not right now,” and “Hold on, honey, the baby needs me.” Suddenly it didn’t feel so absurd anymore. And so I did it. I took advantage of the times when I knew that Brooke was happy and calm (and sometimes sleeping) and I said for no one’s benefit but her sister’s, “You’re going to have to wait, sweet pea; I’m playing with Katie right now.”
Perhaps it was the talk of babying Brooke that reminded me of all of this. Perhaps it brought back the memories from when she really was a baby, and just how different things were then. And how, in some ways, they’re not so different at all.
We have twisted and turned and contorted ourselves over the years to make Katie feel special. To show her how much she means to all of us. We’ve celebrated Katie Days and gone to great lengths to carve out time just for her. But it’s not enough. Or maybe it is enough, but not of the right thing.
She has told me that she loves our time together. She has told us time and again how much it means to her. But she also tells me that she feels like WHEN WE ARE ALL TOGETHER, she always comes second. And although the former is nice, it doesn’t help to change the latter. She still feels like when the sh-t hits the fan, we’re scampering off to help Brooke and she’s on her own to fend for herself.
So after nine and half years, I’m back to where I started.
The other day, Katie and I were talking. Brooke wanted my attention. She didn’t NEED it; she WANTED it. She was not in distress. Nothing was wrong. She simply had a question.
Brooke’s questions tend to get answered quickly. Over the years, it appears, we made a subconscious decision to address them with a sense of urgency. We knew that if we didn’t hear and acknowledge her quickly enough, she’d get anxious. And her anxiety level can – and does – dramatically affect the entire family. So over time, we decided to let her interrupt us. We taught her to do it politely, which she does. Sometimes.
It was the path of least resistance. It felt safer than risking the alternative. It may also have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Either way, her sister noticed. Brooke’s needs, even the smallest of them, were addressed before her own.
The other day, I decided to make a point. “Brooke,” I said, “I hear you, honey, but you’re going to need to wait. I’m talking with Katie right now. When we’re finished, I’ll answer your question.”
She asked four more times in the two and a half minutes that passed before Katie and I finished talking. Each and every time, Katie looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to answer her sister. And each and every time, I said the exact same thing. “Remember, Brooke, FIRST I’m finishing my conversation with Katie, THEN I’ll answer your question.”
It took more work – and in the end, more time out of our conversation (and yes, more attention) – not to answer her question immediately than it would have to just answer it and move on. But I think it mattered. There are so many times when we simply don’t have a choice but to stop everything and cater to her. But it’s time to pause and think before assuming that they are all those times. They’re not.
As we walked out of the den, Katie silently mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
Yes, it took more work – and in the end, more attention – not to answer her question immediately than it would have to just answer it and move on.
But now I know it mattered.
A HUGE thank you to our veterans today and every day. We are so grateful for your service to our nation, to us.