From This Elder Child to My Elder Child

Dear Matthew,

You will always be the light of my life, and my No. 1 true love, and if you must know, that will never change even though some days, you are quite the different brother than who you once were.

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    The First Kiss

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    The First Hello

Not too long ago, you welcomed Emma into our lives like it was the most natural thing to do. You kissed my tummy when it was all Emma. You kissed her when you were first introduced to her when she was just half a day old. You let her into the sacred space of our bedroom that was up till then, reserved only for you with Daddy and Mummy. You accepted her nighttime cries from the very first get-go.

This momma had been worried that her nighttime wakings and feedings would irritate or annoy you but not once did you complain. I have these amazingly wonderful memories of you in those first few nights when Emma and I came home from the hospital: we would be all asleep in our bedroom, with you on your mattress right besides ours, and Emma in the cot that you had generously let her have… soon enough as the night firmly set in, Emma would cry for one of two reasons – to be nursed, or to have her diapers changed. Sometimes, both. I would hurriedly get up, throw on my lovely, royal-purple robe (the one I had purchased just before you were born, and which I used almost entirely through both you and Emma’s early breastfeeding nights), and as quietly as possible, make my way to her cot. I would bring her back to my spot on the bed and nurse her as I dozed, and after that, turn on the night light and again, as quietly as possible, see to that unenviable task of changing a sleeping baby’s diaper in the middle of the night with a snoring husband and a stirring two-year-old in their respective beds.

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More often than not, you would awake. And sit up quietly on your mattress, sucking on your pacifier and cradling your Mr Cow (the oxymoron…) before you call out, “Mummy?” I would look at you and say, “Hi baby… give me a moment…”, finish up my task and then head over to you. “Did Mummy wake you? Come, lie down, go to sleep…” I would say and kiss you again and again, with the hope that I could love you more with each kiss I planted on you. You would hug and kiss me, and settle back in bed. You would be pretty much tired during those times, but you never once complained, or cried for my attention, or kicked a fuss. You let me go, to Emma.

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    One for you, too.

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    The Generous Brother

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    The Gentleman

Those days, you tolerated it when she needed me, accepted it when I couldn’t be with you, and generally, always, always made it a point to include her: by pasting a sticker on her, or placing a toy on her… You happily sang to her when we were putting her to bed, and you laughed with her when she was able to reach out to grab your pacifier. You hugged her and kissed her often, and never ended a day without saying, “Goodnight Emma. I love you, Emma.”

Maybe those were the days when Emma was a little grub who didn’t do much.

These days, I miss those days a lot.

I can understand how frustrating it is to have a wandering baby in the house chase down your cars all the time… or to have her clumsily smash your perfectly set up blocks… or watch your carefully pieced together puzzle get broken up… or see her grab your toys (they’re yours, not hers, I know…)

I can understand how you wouldn’t want to give in to her just because she’s younger, or just because you’re older. I understand how it is unfair to expect you to be okay about her seemingly rude and unreasonable behaviour, and to have to be gallant and generous about it. I even understand why you need not be okay with any of that, and that you need to vent as well as fend for yourself and your belongings. I understand that it can be hurtful to want you to play nice with someone who doesn’t seem to be nice… and that it is just absolutely, totally, most definitely unjust to ask you to let her be. I really do understand.

Because your mummy is the eldest child and I remember how I did not understand why I got punished when my younger brother cried because I didn’t want him to give him my toy. I remember feeling that it was totally unfair and that it made no sense whatsoever… and worse, that I was probably loved less.

Which is why I don’t ask you to give in to Emma. And I make Emma “ask” you for permission before taking your things, or to apologise when she has ruined something of yours… I really do try my best to buffer what I can, but you know, there are many times when I do ask you to share… because I have to.

But my dear firstborn, I really do understand, and I’m sorry if despite all my efforts, there are still times when I slip up and not act as I should. There have been many times in the beginning when I had made you cry because you probably felt less loved, like I once did. I am learning everyday to handle this conflict better, and I am learning to manage the two of you better too.

These days, you swing between “I love you, Emma.” to “I don’t love Emma; I don’t want Emma.” On good days, I recognise that you don’t mean it, but you’re merely expressing your frustration that way. On bad days like when you throw things at her and shove her away, or try to trip her as she comes toddling along, I wish I knew what to do.

I know this is just a phase and that you really do love Emma because I know you, and I also see how tender you are with her. I hear you when you miss her when she’s not with us for some reason or other, and your daddy and I laugh every time you say to her, “Emma, I love you. Don’t worry.” just to reassure her that she’s still a part of this family.

So as much as I miss those days, I want to also say this: You’re amazing, little boy. I hope someday you will understand that in whatever way you might have felt left out, your mummy and daddy did not once fail to pay attention to how you try to be a loving brother despite your tender age and lack of comprehension.

So as much as I miss those days when it was all simpler and easier, these days, it’s all real. And you are wonderfully loving, simply because you are even when you don’t wish to be.

You’re amazing.

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