Returning to work, one of the first questions people ask is, “How is [Sprout] doing?” And my answer is consistently, “He really loves his brother. But he’s a bit aggressively affectionate.” While I’m grateful that he adores his brother, sometimes the ways he shows it aren’t very appropriate. Oddly, even though we’re freaking out, Little Bird hardly ever seems to mind.
Here are a few of the things he does that are sometimes adorable, sometimes a Very Bad Idea and most often, both.
Trying to touch his brother while he’s eating: I’m not a super-touchy person, so I find breastfeeding a little weird to begin with. It gets exponentially more awkward when a three year old tries to climb on your lap and looms over the baby. It’s even worse when he tries to touch his brother’s head, often going right for one of his soft spots. We’ve convinced him to just kiss Little Bird on the head, but he sometimes forgets (or “forgets”). I want to tell him much of the time, “Back off, kid!”
Wanting to give Little Bird a pacifier – even when he already has one: Sprout thinks stopping the baby’s crying is a superpower. While I agree with him, he tends to over-emphasize how he can “help” the baby. Giving the baby a pacifier is good, so isn’t giving it to him over and over even better? Not when it involves taking the pacifier out of his mouth.
Rocking the baby in his car seat: Little Bird doesn’t like being in his car seat unless it’s moving. So when we strap him in while we’re still in the house, he usually starts to cry. Sprout knows that rocking the seat calms him down. Unfortunately, he does it with the same force he reserves for slamming doors. I thought he understood the meaning of “gentle,” but that seems to have fled his brain in the last few months.
Touching the baby’s hands and face: Sprout desperately wants to interact with Little Bird, but thinks of him a bit like a doll. Imitating Chris gently moving Little Bird’s fingers, he grabs his hands and twists. Knowing that Little Bird likes to suck on things, he’s stuck his germ-laden fingers in his mouth. Once Sprout even tried to close Little Bird’s eyes like on the baby doll! Thankfully, we’ve always stopped him before any damage is done.
Encouraging him during tummy time: Sprout wants to play with his brother, often declaring “He’s awake! And not eating!” So he loves tummy time, when Little Bird is supposed to practice being on his stomach. Unfortunately, he crawls incredibly close to the baby and is often a hair’s breadth away from squishing him with a misplaced hand or foot. He also looms, making me nervous that he’s going to smack the baby with his giant toddler head.
Shaking toys at him: Sprout likes to shake toys at the baby. Except instead of a gentle wiggle, he has a full-blown convulsion. He never does it that close, but I wince at the idea of even a soft toy whacking him at that velocity.
Singing to him when he’s crying: Little Bird loves music. While his usual choice is turning the on music built into the swing, sometimes Sprout will break into song himself. He especially likes Rockie-Rockie Baby and our revised version of Rock-a-bye Baby. This actually isn’t annoying at all – it’s heartwarmingly adorable. But I wanted to brag on him a little.
For more reflections on raising a toddler and infant together, check out Visiting the Park with a Toddler and Newborn: A Short Play in Three Acts and This Too Shall Pass.