I knew what she was asking: transition. “Actually,” I said, “it hasn’t been a big deal this time, as far as the kids go. Everybody’s handling it really well.” But even as she spoke, I recognized something I hadn’t processed until that moment: Nicholas’s increasing behavior problems. Maybe this has just been the grace period, I thought.
As if determined to prove that point, Nicholas spiraled downward into clinginess, acting out, bossiness and refusal to do any “big boy” stuff…overnight. The child who had been proud of his ability to dress himself, wash himself, and brush his teeth suddenly needed everything done for him. He took to repeating sentences and observations over and over…and over…and over. He began demanding to sit on my lap and snuggle, regardless of what else was going on–i.e., even if the baby was nursing. He started dropping whatever he was doing and screeching “I want that!” if someone picked up a toy he’d abandoned. (Or hadn’t noticed until they picked it up.) And he started wetting himself again.
The interesting thing about all this is that it is completely unrelated to his feelings for the baby. Everyone in this house adores Baby Michael unreservedly. The kids even think it’s funny when he cries, and when I come home from grocery shopping or meetings, Nicholas comes running and shrieks, “Da baby is home! Da baby is home!” Not Mommy–the baby. The trouble is not resentment, but insecurity.
Recognizing that his place in the world has been usurped, I have tried to be patient with him, to give him that physical and mental reassurance as much as I can. I vaguely remember Alex going through a similar process when Julianna came along. Not so much with Julianna when Nicholas came along, but then, raising Julianna is another ball game entirely, with entirely different problems to solve.
So I take time to draw him onto my lap and hold him at the computer or on the couch, or whenever he asks…if I can. The problem is, I have to make the boundaries clear. One day we had a pitched battle over the rocking chair in the basement. Michael was freaking out, demanding to nurse while I was trying to teach a voice lesson, so I’d put my student on the “away” side and was working with her on Italian pronunciation while I used the rocker as a footstool to help position Michael for nursing. As soon as Nicholas saw I was splitting my attention between two people, neither of them him, he just had to have the rocker.
Later that afternoon, another friend and mother of four advised that I find something that really means something to him–like a big boy glass–and tie that privilege to him doing what he’s supposed to be doing. At first, I didn’t think it would work, but then he unexpectedly developed an affinity for using the same plates and glass glasses that Alex gets to use. So we’ve been using that lately, and following through on “big boy glass” vs. “little boy glass.” And I tell him he’s the chewiest of my children…which is the truth; his proportion of soft skin to baby fat is absolutely perfect. And I can only pray for patience while he searches for his new stride as a middle child instead of the baby of the family.
(Note: any lack of clarity in this post, I must add, is due to Nicholas putting a hand on my shoulder and speaking loudly into my ear while I write. Just to illustrate the point.)