Chapter Fifteen: I’m Still Tiny

Leila seems to be having a bit of a delayed reaction to the arrival of her baby brother, or maybe it’s a timely reaction to the new, louder, more awake version of her baby brother, who takes up more of my time and attention.

Her discombobulation manifests itself in an added dose of threenager fierceness, and in an uncharacteristic clinginess to me. ‘I need you’ she says, ‘I want to be WITH you, be WITH me mummy’. And, this morning, as she clutched me so tightly, it’s like she wanted to be inside my skin again: ‘I’m still tiny. I’m still so small’.

It also manifests itself in the classic Leila (the original early bird) stunt of waking up before dawn, and bouncing in and out of her bedroom like a jack-in-the-box. Though she did have the courtesy to knock insistently on our door at 6am this morning, instead of appearing ghost-like by our bed breathing ‘Daddy’ into the darkness in alarming fashion, as she has done before.

So come 1pm today we knew, even if she didn’t agree, that she needed a nap. Leila’s afternoon nap has been undergoing a slow and tortured demise, like a fish on land that keeps flapping into life before giving up completely. Some days she will, many she won’t, some days she actually asks for one. Today she was not asking, and she was not napping. I bundled Asher into his pram in the porch and left him to squawk his way into sleep (poor second child) and went to relieve G who had been trying to get Leila to nap for longer than is good for anyone’s sanity.

Overcome with tiredness myself- before Asher, I had all but forgotten the crushing, bruising fatigue that comes with having a young baby- I did something that Leila and I have never done. I lay down with her for a nap. Unlike her brother, she has never been one for co-sleeping, even when we’ve tried it in desperation during dodgy sleep patches (one memorable night sticks out, near Christmas 2011, of Leila aged nearly two chirrupping ‘ingle bells, ingle bells’ at 1am, sitting bolt upright between us in bed). But today I squashed myself onto her toddler bed, and put my arms around her. I tried to emulate a relaxation session such as you do at the end of a yoga class or similar, as I know G has used this technique to help her nap before.

‘Feel your eyes get heavy…’, I murmured, feeling my eyes get heavy. ‘Let your face relax’, as I dribbled onto her forehead. At first she thrashed about and made irritating kissy sounds with her mouth. Then she turned onto her side facing me and said quietly ‘no talking, while we have our nap’ and within seconds she was asleep, my lips pressed to her head, her breath in warm gusts on my neck.

It was unfamiliar and lovely, to have my little livewire sleeping in my arms. Her face in repose looked just as it did when she was a baby. I started to drift off myself, but toddler beds are a bit cramped for grown-up legs, plus I am a terrible napper- worse than Leila- so after a while I started to extricate myself as silently as possible: unsmooshing my face from her forehead, gently lifting my arm from her body, unfolding myself from around her. It brought to mind those baby days with her, when after shushing her to sleep in her cot, I’d curse the pop of a kneecap as I stood up, or the deafening swish of denim as I crept from the room.

As I tried to lift my head from the pillow, something kept me there. As well as the sweet, grassy Leila-smell of her head, it was something more physical: her fingers curled into my hair, grasping. Just like her brother does. Just as she did as a baby. I couldn’t bear to uncurl her fingers just yet, so I watched her sleeping a little longer.

She’s still tiny. She’s still so small.

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She loves him really

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Chapter Fourteen: My Big Little Sister

I text my sister A three words- ‘Can you call?’- and the phone rings within seconds. It’s 11am and my day is unfolding into that of what A and I call, in a simpering American accent (I’ve no idea why the accent) a ‘Busy Mom’. As in, the cliche of a frazzled woman bookended by squalling small people, possibly not dressed at noon, fending off tantrums and bodily fluids at every turn. On this Busy Mom day I have abandoned an(other) anti-nit crusade on Leila, to tend to Asher who is bawling in the porch. I had a shit night’s sleep and yes, I’m in pyjamas. These are the- piffling, really- problems of my day, yet I’m in tears. And it’s my sister I call on, to speak soothing words and tell me I’m doing well even if, really, I’m making a big drama out of nothing at all.

She’s currently staying for a couple of days, and Leila voiced my feelings too when she leapt onto A’s lap today and enthused ‘I LOVE being with you!’. A visit from Auntie A is as good as a spa break for me. Not just because she thrills Leila by taking her for a babycino (‘just the two of us!’), and understands her on a deeply instinctive level, what with Leila being eerily similar to A as a child. Not just because she is delighted to hold the baby, and does kick-ass amazing things like book me in for a salon blow dry. But also because she’s kind and fun and loyal and great company, and saves my sanity on a weekly basis.

One of the many sad things about losing our youngest sister Helen is that A no longer gets to be a big sister. She was the best big sister ever (myself included). But that’s just a technicality, really. There’s no ‘was’ about it. Despite being four years my junior, and being one of the top little sisters ever to exist, she’s also, time after time, the best big sister to me.