I am becoming increasingly convinced that my son Gabriel is sneaking out of bed at night to read from the Child Development textbook on our bookshelf. Ever since his baby sister was born 5 months ago, he has demonstrated with suspiciously keen accuracy all the trademark signs of sibling rivalry. He was the youngest for four years until this little usurper came along, and his jealously surfaces in all the most obvious ways: he acts up in an effort to get our attention, he is less than sweet to his little sister, and he wants to compete directly with her by pretending to be a baby. I was changing Nora’s diaper the other day and Gabriel asked me if he could start wearing diapers under his underwear. See what I mean? A classic case.
In fact, forget the “reading the textbook” theory, I think he is writing his own. Someday soon, I expect to find the following manuscript under his bed, just waiting for a publisher…
How to Be a Big Brother in 7 Easy Lessons
Lesson One: Tell her you love her.
Babies love it when you get right up in their face to talk to them. Don’t be afraid to let her know how you really feel. Squint your eyes and say, through gritted teeth, “I just LOVE my baby SISSSSTERRRR.”
Lesson Two: Show her affection.
Hug her. Kiss her. Pet her. Lick her nose. Never underestimate the power of the love-poke. Give her pokes often to show you care. Poke her when she’s nursing to help her concentrate. Poke her when she’s all by herself in a room so she doesn’t get lonely. Poke her when she’s sleeping to make sure she’s really sleeping and not just pretending.
Lesson Three: Expand her vocabulary.
It is good for babies to learn new words. And by new words I mean words you just invented. When your mother tells you to stop poking the baby, say “I’m not poking her, I’m schplaking her.” If mom says “Don’t spray water in her face,” tell her “It’s not water…its plemtah.” Hey it worked for that Shakespeare dude and people think he’s a genius.
Lesson Four: Sing to your baby.
When applying this lesson, don’t forget that babies are still developing their senses and are practically deaf for the first year so you have to sing very LOUDLY. Made-up songs are best. Here’s one of mine: “Oh Nora you are the cutest bahhhbeee in the world. You are cuterrrr than a rock. Whyyyyy do you fart so much?”
Lesson Five: Train her right.
No one wants a spoiled baby. It is your job to prevent this by noticing when she is getting all the attention and forcing her to share. Target whoever is holding her and insist that they hold you too. Adult laps are always made for at least 2 passengers – even if one is a fairly heavy preschooler. If the baby shifts to another adult, your life now depends upon sitting in that person’s lap. You gotta stay on your toes to make this work. Babies get passed around a lot.
Lesson Six: Teach her logic.
Practice the following dialogue. It’s especially useful in those times when you are helping your baby sister develop good reflexes by jumping back and forth over her head.
Mom: Gabriel! Do not jump over your sister’s head like that, you could have seriously hurt her!
Me: But I didn’t.
Mom: But you could have.
Me: But I didn’t.
…repeat for as long as necessary…
Lesson Seven: Become a human shadow
Never forget that your parents need extra attention in this difficult time. Be sure to get up earlier than usual to cuddle with them and stay up late into the evening just in case they need you.
I think Gabriel's book will sell well. Maybe we can use the proceeds to pay for his therapy.
For the painting of the day, I chose another example of siblings who follow the textbook – this time the part about how birth order affects personality. The girls in the portrait are actually the painter Degas’ cousins. The older one is on the left in front of her mother and the younger is seated - with one leg tucked under her - in the center. See if you think they fit the description.
First born children believe they must gain superiority over other children. They are controlling, high achievers and natural leaders. They strive to please and earn their parents’ attention through conformity. They frequently live with a sense of entitlement and superiority. As a rule, first-borns are picky, precise people - they pay attention to detail - tend to be punctual, organized, and competent.
Second born children never have their parents’ undivided attention. They are sometimes compared with the older child and feel that they are in a race to compete. Second children look for other ways to get their parents attention. If the first child is “good,” the second may become “bad.” The second child is often a rebel and tends to be more creative. They also never get as much written in their baby books. (OK, so I added that one, but it’s true, isn’t it?)
Tags: parenting, art, birth order, sibling rivalry, Degas