Sisterly Love: Sylvia muses on her sib-to-be

04.02.2007: Week 13


Listening to Sylvia, you'd think she already had a brother. And (or?) a sister. And that his/her/their name is "Drey-drey." Or "cuhhhhhchchchhuh." Or "tse-tse." Also, you'd learn from her that her belly is getting bigger. And that she has her friend Max's brother in her tummy. And that he's swaddled in her arms like a "rito." (That's "burrito.") And when you look in the blanket to find Max's brother, you might instead see a SuperMax flashlight. But don't let that alarm you.

While we still haven't had the magic conversation with Sylvia, she seems to be catching on. Last night, for instance, she lifted up my shirt and said, "Mama! Your belly getting bigger." And she patted it, approvingly.

I looked up to make eye contact with Aron--imagine me both bug-eyed with silent excitement and keeping my cool at the same time. It was all I could do to stop myself from forcing the conversation further. ("Why do you think it's getting bigger?" is the thing I was going to say, subtle genius that I am.)

The art of diplomacy

We're avoiding a Big Conversation About the Baby for a couple of reasons. One: Sylvia does not respond well to Big Conversations. By which I mean she does not respond at all. Ask this girl a direct question (especially a probing one about a topic you're really intent on learning about--say, "What was for lunch at daycare today?" or "What did your teacher say after Jack put sand in your ear?") and you are guaranteed silence. She's very good at detecting unusual levels of interest, and those are the ones she wants to avoid. Sometimes I'll hear her say something, but not quite catch the whole thing. "What was that, Syl?" I'll ask, innocently. "Say more." And she gets this look, one that I can so relate to, that's part "Oh dear. You were listening? Did I say that out loud?" and part "If you want to know, I should probably be embarrassed right now." She'll say "Awww," break into a huge, embarrassed grin, and if I'm close enough, bury her head in my chest, my legs, wherever she can reach.

Another reason is that we want to avoid making a big deal about something that is such a big deal it almost isn't worth discussing. This new baby is going to have a life-altering impact; things will definitely not be the same. And although this sounds strange, coming from someone as anxiety-prone as myself about the future, this time it's kind of simple for me to see that our bringing it up as a Big Discussion will only serve to freak her out.

The last thing I want to do is set Sylvia up for an emotional let down, or for the idea like she should feel one way or another about the new baby. I have a bunch of friends who report that their first kids mostly ignore the second kids' existences. That's fine with me. I don't need Sylvia to coo over the new baby--I just don't want her to hurt him or her. Detente seems like a good state for siblings, until they can get to know each other.

Setting the stage

I like the way it's going now--Sylvia doesn't feel on alert about the pregnancy, and so she's free to say random things about babies and bellies, without fear of our reaction. It's as if she's discovering the idea of her new sibling on her own, rather than us presenting and managing her experience of it.

I try not to fantasize too much what our kids will be like together--if they'll play or fight, ignore each other or giggle at the dinner table, milk snorting out of their noses. I also try not to worry about what will happen when Sylvia, who doesn't even like me to talk to Aron in the car, is no longer the sole focus of my maternal attention. I am sure, in my gut, that being a sibling will be a good experience for her in the long run; it's the short run I'm more concerned about.

These thoughts were preoccupying me when I was driving with Sylvia this afternoon. After a rousing rendition of Dan Zanes' "Pay Me My Money Down," Sylvia got quiet. "Mama?" she said. "Your belly's getting bigger."

"Oh yeah?" I said. And then it just came out. "How come, do you think?"

"Cuz um..." she said. "You're like Nina's mama."

"Oh," I said, smiling. "Okay."

Join writer Emily Bloch each week as she chronicles her pregnancy.

Next week: Emily thinks she feels the baby move.