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 Three: Big Sister

The moment they met
The moment they met

One of the main things parents worry about before the birth of a second child is how their precious first born will react to sharing the stage with an imposter. As I like to adopt any and all neuroses available to me as a parent, I threw myself into this one with vigour.

Shortly before Asher was born, Leila (2 years 9 months at the time) was acting up terribly, waking in the night, tantrumming like a world class diva, and seemed generally miserable. I was torn apart with guilt at her obvious distress at the impending new arrival.

Turns out she had worms.

With the parasites banished just days before Asher’s birth, she cheered up completely. And since then her transition to big sister has been largely smooth sailing. With some moments of angst, like the time when she sharply knocked his head backwards when he was feeding, barking ‘I want him OFF your nipple’ (nipples AND worms in the space of two paragraphs? I am really spoiling you!).

In fact, our only issue is that she is so entranced and intrigued by her little brother, that her affection borders on aggressive. She will advance towards him with her jaw clenched, making a strange little primitive kissy sound and saying through her gritted teeth ‘ohhhh my little Budge! My little budgie budgie budgie’ (Leila’s nickname for Asher, which she coined herself, is Budge *mama faints from the cuteness*), and some nonsense words she seems to have come up with as her ‘I’m about to terrorise my brother with love’ language. ‘Oh shimmy shoomy’, she will chirp, ‘sheemy sheemy, Budgie’. And then she will grip his cheeks so hard that he yells, or poke her finger into his eye sockets, or, her favourite manoevre, simply place her entire body weight on top of him and press her face into his.

Once I thought it would be fine to run- literally run- upstairs to get a nappy, leaving Budge on the floor. When I hurried downstairs, madame was sitting on her brother, singing merrily ‘this is the way I sit on my brother, sit on my brother, sit on my brother’ and bouncing lightly up and down.

We seem to spend half our lives saying ‘gentle, gentle Leila… LEILA, GENTLE!’ or physically holding her back from throwing herself on him (though her recent response to this has been to fall dramatically on the floor and bellow ‘you HURT me!’, which is patently not true and yet might not stop someone calling the social). It seems rough on her, when everyone else gets to hold and squish and (pretend to) eat him. So now I work on the basis that, if he’s not crying, it’s fine.

He’s just started to watch her and smile at her antics, which is lovely. Though I’m not sure he appreciates it when, just as he’s waking up in the morning and feeling rather grumpy about it (takes after his Mum), Leila- who has already been up for a good hour- careers into the side of his moses basket shouting ‘don’t worry I’m here I’m here I’m here! Your big sister is here to look after you!’ and perhaps eases him into the morning by pressing her fingers into his forehead or playing her xylophone very loudly next to his head.

I have also heard her reprimand someone who made a jokey comment about him crying (‘oh, naughty baby’ or something inane like that)- ‘he is NOT BAD. He is just cries because he doesn’t know how to talk yet’.

I suppose having someone to defend and adore you, even if that adoration is a little fierce, is worth a few pokes in the eye and some full-body squashing.