[Photo: Mayim’s new kitty, Addy]
What did we do?” I whispered frantically to Mike the day our second son was born.
My firstborn, Miles, was 2 when I got pregnant and he was 2 years and 10 months when his younger brother Fred was born. I never allowed people to prod him to answer the question most often asked of a toddler who is getting a sibling: “Are you excited about the baby!?” Because no toddler is excited. You may think they are, but that’s only because you have told them to be.
No toddler votes to share their parents with a small, shriveled, whiny newborn who poops and pees round the clock and holds the prized position at mom’s breast. You can teach a toddler to say “I’m excited!” just like you can teach them to recite the ABCs, but it doesn’t mean they are excited.
Miles definitely understood that my belly was growing a baby. But we didn’t talk much about it, intentionally. We let him have his life. We did prepare him for the fact that I was having a home birth, since he would need to know the process if he witnessed it (and he did: from his highchair in our living room while eating granola….true story.)
Labor was swift and Fred was content as newborns go. Miles had recently weaned but didn’t seem to want anything to do with the baby anyway, which was fine. But he didn’t act out. He didn’t tantrum. He was even-tempered (he gets that from his father).
But what he did do was wait by the front door for weeks. As I nursed and struggled with breastfeeding and readjusted to sleeping in two-hour shifts, he waited by the screen door waiting for someone. We were very present parents. His dad and I were home most of the time, and we played with him constantly. We had been his only caregivers – for almost three years, it had been just the three of us – but now this tiny intruder had disrupted it all. So when I saw him waiting by the door, I saw it as his waiting for someone who had not betrayed him to play with.
My “what did we do?” was not really a question for Mike; it was my guilty parent’s declaration hiding in a question. We ruined our FirstBorn. We messed it all up. We took something perfect for him and made it imperfect for him.
I have adopted a special needs kitten, who needs a big heart and a safe place to live. I already have an 8-year-old cat at home and two eight-month old kittens who love me so much. They love our life. Everything is swell. The 8-year-old isn’t so nuts about two rambunctious kittens running circles around her, but they have adjusted well in the time since they joined our house after the loss of our beloved hairless wonder, Esau. But by adopting this kitten – who we have named Adamantium and will be calling “Addy” – we are saving her life. The two kittens are social and love playing, so they will be fine with the new addition. And the 8 year old will be grumpy and then she will avoid it and then she will smell it and it will all be fine. At least for the cats.
But I worry that I won’t be fine, that I am carrying the guilt of having a second child, “ruining” my first child’s perfect existence, into my life as a cat mom. This issue has been stuck inside of me, and now the universe is giving me the chance to resolve it and to understand it better.
What are my sons like now? Exceptionally close. Miles guards Fred with a tenderness like no other I’ve never seen in my life. Fred strokes Miles’ arms to fall asleep, and they do not fight or do more than bicker a bit here and there. They are both unbelievably reasonable and loving with each other and their father and I worked incredibly hard to try and foster that. Genetics plays a huge part (mostly my ex’s, since I am not known to be reasonable or even-tempered!).
But there are times when Miles gets overwhelmed. Or annoyed. Or feels responsible for the actions of his little brother. And he is frustrated. And he half jokes that maybe being an only child wouldn’t have been so bad.
It wasn’t his intention, but this hurts me so much. I cry inside but I don’t tell him that. He doesn’t have to fix those feelings for me. His feelings are valid. I don’t need him to know how hard my relationship was with my brother or how much Mike and I want them to value this and treasure it every second because – God help us – sometimes we don’t always get more time together. Your brother is everything. Trust us.
I have to welcome all fears, all doubts, and all conflict. I can’t push it away the way I wanted to when Miles wanted someone to play with him. It would have been so easy to say, “We are right here playing with you. Cut it out. Stop crying.”
Instead, we let him cry and we held him. And we returned to him again and again – and we still do: with patience, with love and with the ability to hold his difficult feelings as well as his easier ones. I don’t tell him he is lucky to have a brother. He may not feel that. I don’t tell him to be grateful. Because he may not be ready for that.
I tell him we love him. And that our love is infinite. And that it grows to fill the hearts of both of our sons; it cannot be contained.
And when it is dark and Fred is snoring and Miles and I can’t sleep because of his snoring and we share a giggle about how glad we are we don’t snore like Dada and Fred, I hold Miles close and I remind him that it will always be “us,” even when it’s also “more than us.”
And on the nights when my sons sleep at their dad’s and I am alone, I will be given the chance to resolve this issue, with creatures who cannot speak or complain or giggle. But they do feel. And they do cuddle. And they do need me. And they do give me the opportunity to show that indeed, my love is infinite -filling the hearts of any who are open to receiving it – and without end.