Dealing with the usurper

2010-09-13 00:00

“IS he going away again?” three-year-old Anna asked, as she pointed to the cute, new baby lying in my arms.

“No Annie,” I replied, “he is here to stay.”

“Oh,” she spent a few moments easing herself back onto her pillow and then continued, “Is he your son?”

“Yes, he is,” I replied.

Alone in her bed, in the new and strange position of suddenly being a big sister, Anna looked very small and very tired.

It had been a long day. In one fell swoop she had moved from being the sweetest and littlest member of our family, to being the second sweetest and littlest member of our family. Her position on my hip, her special niche of comfort in distress, had been taken. Not only had her new brother booked her out, he had booked himself in — Anna’s older sister, older brother and dad were all elbowing each other out of the way for a piece of him. How would she react?

She lay back down on her pillow, rested her weary little head on her weary little arms, closed her eyes and said: “He’s cute.”

In the days and weeks that followed, Anna’s stoic commitment to loving her new brother, no matter how much he had stolen from her, continued. At church, the hordes of children who would rush to the car to carry her in, now rushed to the car to carry him in, while she trudged the lonely metres alone. At our family’s house, the cousins who usually passed her from hip to hip, now fought over who could cuddle her new brother, while she sat and watched. Yet still her position remained unwavering: he was family and so he must be cute.

“How is Annie going to cope?” a concerned friend asked, when our new son’s arrival was imminent. “She is such a softie, the real baby of the family.”

But here she was coping — not out of ignorance, or a lack of feeling, but out of pure commitment: family sticks together, family can learn to love. Over the next few days Anna went from calling our new son, “That baby,” to “That brother,” to “Jedi” — kiss on the forehead — “Harry” — kiss on the cheek — “Groves.”

“This,” she explained to a car guard, “is Jedi Harry Groves.” And then she beamed: “He is gorgeous.”

Would there be no recompense, I wondered. How could one person be so strong? An adult could never be ousted from first place and take it so bravely. Surely she was going to crack, surely her sense of justice would kick in soon.

“Please may I carry him,” she said at the end of week one.

“I think he’s too heavy for you, Annie.”

“Please, please, please.”

“He’s big Annie, you won’t manage.”

“I won’t drop him, I promise, please please, please.”

“Okay,” I said, and gently passed him over.

Anna dropped him immediately, on his back, on the floor, and said: “Sorry, he really was too heavy,” and then went out to play.

“Well there you have it, Jedi,” I thought, as I picked him up. It had been a carpeted fall, with no harm done. “She’s a brave sister, she’s given up her world for your sake, but before she could move on for good, she just wanted you to know how it feels.”

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