When my husband and I were getting ready to have our second child, we read everything we could about preparing our three-year-old for his baby sister’s arrival.
We followed the experts’ advice and had him pick out a present for her. We had him select a picture of himself, so we could tape it to the baby’s hospital bassinet. He had his “I’m a Big Brother” t-shirt ready to wear when he met her. We read books about what happened when a new baby joined the family, and if that wasn’t enough, even his favorite TV show, Blue’s Clues, was dealing with the subject. Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper, and Paprika were adding Baby Cinnamon to their family.
We thought we were so prepared.
Of course change, even a great one, is never easy. About a day after my daughter and I came home from the hospital, Tom came over to Joe and me softly crying. He said he couldn’t find his imaginary friend, Blue. “I’ve looked everywhere, but I still can’t find her.”
I expected to be tired from recovering from a C-section, nursing around the clock and taking care of a three-year-old. But losing Blue? This was not in my carefully crafted plan.
After the three of us frantically “looked” in every room and under every piece of furniture we owned, Tom declared that Blue was still lost. I panicked and called a friend of mine who’s a child therapist.
“Tom is saying he can’t find his imaginary friend. Obviously he feels displaced and lost. “We have ruined our child,” I cried out to my very understanding girlfriend.
After she calmed me down and assured me that this was very normal and that we did not ruin him, I got off the phone to find my husband and son smiling and playing. Apparently Blue was now home and happy once again.
In the next weeks and months, we learned to adjust to going from a family of three to four. Before we knew it, we couldn’t remember what life was like without our Lizzy.
I thought of this story the other day when our youngest child, Peter, got off the school bus and asked me if it was going to be a “Tom-less” or “Tom-full” night. He thought he was pretty clever a few weeks ago when he came up with this designation to signify whether or not his brother would be home for dinner.
He wasn’t at all happy to learn it was a“Tom-less” night again.
For the last month or so our oldest child, now 18 and a senior in high school, has been working on his final film project for school and has preferred the quiet of my parents’ house to the steady roar of our home. This has meant that it’s been just Lizzy, Peter, and me for dinner most nights because my husband has a long commute for work and isn’t home until about 8:00 or 9:00 pm.
“Mom, I really miss my brother. I can’t believe I’m stuck with just you and Lizzy again.”
I laughed. “Thanks. That makes us feel great.”
“I’m sorry. I just love him, and it’s hard when he’s not here.”
“I know honey. I miss him, too. But I guess we should start to get used to it because next year, he will be even busier and home much, much less.”’
Tom will be attending a local college next year, and though technically living at home, there will be many nights when he’ll be studying at the library, working on a film project, or even staying over at my parents’ house. We are going to see less and less of him as he continues to carve out his own life. One without us at the center.
Our family is changing again. Instead, this time, we’re not expanding, we’re contracting.
We are all feeling the loss. But we have also been gaining something with this new family dynamic.
On Tom-less days, Peter and I talk a lot more because there is no big brother to monopolize the conversation. I’ve learned about which classmate got in trouble, who he considers a real friend, and who he thinks is just an acquaintance.
Because our daughter has significant special needs and has difficulty communicating, she can be pretty quiet when trying to compete with the boys. But now she is doing her best to chime in every now and then. We learned this week that she’s not happy that her teacher had a baby boy. She wanted her to have a girl, or at the very least, a baby panda.
Peter and I walked into the house, and he started to unpack his things.
“Mom, what are we having for dinner?”
“Well, since Tom isn’t going to be home, I’m making ravioli.”
“You are? That’s great. I guess it’s not that bad he won’t be home, then.”
He started to walk away but then added, “I do really miss him though.”
I do, too, Peter. I do, too.
On May 6th, I, along with 12 other amazing writers will be in the New York City cast of Listen to Your Mother. If you live nearby or will be visiting the area I would love to see you in the audience. You can get your tickets here.