My baby is growing (to my resigned heartbreak) into a little child. My five year old seems to expand proportionately in jealousy to the baby’s advancing height; her dislike is blossoming from vague irritation to existential threat.
But my five year old has been quite ill this week, and has therefore been home, with the baby she eyes with suspicion and the mother she can’t get enough of. Somehow, my worried and sustained attendance to her fevered little body has made her, for the time being, more tolerant of the tiny creature toddling in her wake.
They have actually been playing. It’s as if my five year old is a soldier, and she can relax on Christmas holiday.
I have even caught glimpses of the elder child teaching the younger, sharing with her, instead of stealing away her toys, which is her usual habit.
The baby acts as a short shadow and large mirror to her big sister: everything the older child does, her little sister imitates, and, despite our best intentions as parents, receives higher accolades than her sister rightly deems fair. A baby sorting shapes is a miraculous discovery of mental development; a five year old sorting shapes is a five year old sorting shapes. Such are the injustices – there are so many – of childhood.
But for the last few days there has existed a beautiful peace between the two girls, a peace I hope beyond hope they can both touch and depend upon their entire lives. They are about four years apart in age; I was also about four years separated from my sister. When we were children we fought horribly and violently, but I cling to the many moments we had as creators of outrageous domestic disorder, as keepers of secrets, as collaborators against our parents, as friends… as sisters. When she died and I became an only child I lost my main competitor; I also lost my shadow and my mirror.
I can only hope my girls, as they grow together, treasure and honor every bit of their union, whether it be one of conflict (“MY TOY!”) or tenderness (the softer, wordless moments in between the fights). Wonderful it would be if the Christmas detente were to plant a seed, a seed of contentment, acceptance and understanding of the feminine link that binds the girls together.
No, far too grand a hope: let them be friends, not adversaries. On occasion. A few moments here, a few there. And that is enough, I think, to plant the seed.