family life, personal

“Us Two:” Thoughts On Having, Losing, and Raising Siblings

Disclaimer: I didn’t write this post to say that having two kids is better than having one, or anything else judgmental. Families of all sizes are beautiful. This is just what my family looks like.

For the past two years since my second child was born, I have been asking more experienced parents of siblings, “when does it pay off?” Like most parenting questions, I received a slightly different answer from everyone I asked. While I’d been certain of wanting another child, in the beginning it was hard. Naively, I thought “how could adding another be that difficult when I already have one?” The truth is that some things were easier (more confidence in my parenting abilities, less agonizing over every stage and decision) and other things were harder (our child-related spending increased, it was harder to find little breaks in the day, I went back to work sooner than with my first). Also, I’d placed unfair hope on my first child immediately taking to her baby brother. The truth is that a toddler might not be interested in caring for or entertaining a baby and that’s okay.

Now, as my youngest’s second birthday approaches, life with two has gotten easier and more rewarding. They play together more, invent imaginary worlds together, and everything his sister does, my son wants to do, too, in the sweetest way. As I enjoy this stage of life, I also find comfort for the loss of my own younger brother. This year was the first #siblingday I was able to enjoy on social media without feeling an ache in my stomach. Watching my own children play together has given me fresh insights on the sibling relationship, helping me relive memories of early childhood with my brother. Like my two, Rob and I were always together. He was an agreeable partner in all of my games and inventions. From playing school together to pretending to cross a hot lava pit on our swing set, my brother was my first best friend.

Of course, I viewed our relationship from the perspective of the firstborn, who loved her brother but also wished for a sister and, remembering a time before parental attention and resources had to be split, may have sometimes wanted to be an only child. Now, through my son, I see what it means to be the second-born, whose older sibling occupies a godlike position in the universe. The second child has never known life without his older sister. He has loved her from the beginning and she has always been a role model. He covets her attention as much as that of his parents. Everywhere my daughter goes, my son goes, too. Recently we were walking through the yard and I couldn’t see him behind me. I called his name only to discover he was right behind his sister–of course. Everything she does, he does; everything she has, he says, “I too, I too.” When she disappears from the room he looks around, plaintively calling her name.

I always knew my brother loved me, but now I see it and I am reminded of the A.A. Milne poem, “Us Two:”

Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
Whatever I do, he wants to do,
“Where are you going today?” says Pooh …
“Well, that’s very odd ‘cos I was too.
Let’s go together,” says Pooh, says he.
“Let’s go together,” says Pooh.
“What’s twice eleven?” I said to Pooh,
(“Twice what?” said Pooh to Me.)
“I think it ought to be twenty two.”
“Just what I think myself,” said Pooh.
“It wasn’t an easy sum to do,
But that’s what it is,” said Pooh, said he.
“That’s what it is,” said Pooh.

“Let’s look for dragons,” I said to Pooh.
“Yes, let’s,” said Pooh to Me.
We crossed the river and found a few …
“Yes, those are dragons all right,” said Pooh.
“As soon as I saw their beaks I knew.
That’s what they are,” said Pooh, said he.
“That’s what they are,” said Pooh.

“Let’s frighten the dragons,” I said to Pooh.
“That’s right,” said Pooh to Me.
“I’m not afraid,” I said to Pooh,
And I held his paw and I shouted “Shoo!
Silly old dragons!” … and off they flew.
“I wasn’t afraid,” said Pooh, said he,
“I’m never afraid with you.”

So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
“What would I do?” I said to Pooh,
“If it wasn’t for you,” and Pooh said … “True,
It isn’t much fun for One, but Two
Can stick together,” says Pooh, says he.
“That’s how it is,” says Pooh.

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