As a mom, I dreamt of giving my daughter a sibling. I imagined the mischievous little giggles as they plotted against me, the duets echoing from the backseat of the car, the snuggles, hand holding, and even the bickering.
I just never imagined it happening this way.
I did give my daughter a sibling. They are madly in love with each other. They are as cute as two sisters could be. But they are eight years apart, and the products of two different marriages.
After weathering a divorce with a toddler, I learned that life doesn't always pan out the way you originally envision it. I still struggle on a regular basis with some intricacies of my family dynamic and do my best as a mom and do-over wife to navigate the messiness and chaos.
When I was pregnant with my second child, I was ELATED to tell my oldest, my first love, my sidekick. And she was equally thrilled, having asked me for a sibling for years. I made a point to involve her in every step of the preparations, from helping me register for her sister's layette, to setting up her room and showering her with "big sister" swag along the way. But deep down inside, I would get this feeling. The closest thing I can equate it to is that icky feeling you get when you are homesick.
What was wrong with me? I have a beautiful daughter, an incredible husband, and was about to bring another little girl into the fold. I would have a mini internal freak-out, wondering how this would change my family. I worried that my older daughter would be upset when she wasn't with me for the weekend and her sister was. I stressed over the fuss that everyone makes over a baby and how it might take a toll on my firstborn. Bottom line: I had a MAJOR case of mom guilt. Major.
Then she got here, and my family was complete. A little tricky logistically, but complete. I thought that guilt would melt away immediately, but it didn't. I became supersensitive to all of the attention my newborn was getting, even though I totally got it, and would immediately look at my older daughter to read the expression on her face to make sure she was OK.
The first few days home from the hospital were brutal. Sure, I had the typical sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn, but I also had an 8-year-old who looked a little sad that first night. And when I asked what was wrong, I got the answer I feared.
"I just feel like you love her more because you are doing so much for her and are in her room a lot giving her so much attention."
It was like a knife to my heart. I actually called my best friend in tears (partially because of the raging hormones, no doubt) and said, "Did I just f*ck up my family?!"
I know these feelings are normal. I get that siblings can experience jealousy. We were just in such a groove for so long, and now I struggled with feelings of being thrilled to add another little human to our pack and also the fact that our family was in for some serious change. I didn't even feel equipped to reconcile them. All I could do was validate her and tell her I understood it seemed a little unfair, but that she was brand new and just like SHE needed me to help her as a baby, now I had to do the same for her sister. I hugged her so hard that night and didn't want to let go.
The reality is that this was a delicate situation. For eight years, it was just us. No siblings. No diverted attention. She got all of it for so long and now had to share it. From her perspective, I can imagine how that sucks.
I felt the need to constantly reassure her that my love for her was stronger than ever. We even had dedicated time every weekend she was with me. My husband would take care of the baby and do the whole bonding thing, and she and I had one-on-one time to get manicures, or ice cream, or lunch. Just us, like the old days.
And then one night we were at dinner, ALL of us. We were celebrating my mom's birthday and it started to happen, like it always does.
"Oh my god! What a cute baby? What's her name? How old is she?"
The baby talk was flowing. The 70-something woman next to us was eating her up, and I was simultaneously gushing and uncomfortable. Then, without skipping a beat, her friend chimes in with: "I'm more into the big sister! Look how beautiful you are! What's your name? How old are you?"
In that moment, I was grateful. Grateful for a stranger who knew exactly what she was doing. A stranger who saw an opportunity to stroke the ego of an 8-year-old who might appreciate a little extra attention.
It's those moments, when people are insightful enough to make such an effort, that make my heart swell. Because let's be honest: the baby has no idea what people are saying to her or the fuss they are making. The 8-year-old, however, is completely tuned in.
So thank you to the stranger to made my older daughter feel the love. Thank you to those who come to visit and take a little extra time asking her about school and dance classes instead of just cooing at the baby. Thank you to those who shine a little light on her efforts as the best big sister ever (which she totally is). Thank you to those who are sensitive to our complicated dynamic. Thank you to my village, which that lady from the restaurant doesn't even know she's now a part of.