Even though I always hoped I would have two kids, I spent the majority of my pregnancy with Silas, my second, wondering why we were so hell-bent on ruining Henry’s life.
Henry, who was two when Silas was born, is generally a placid little guy.
He’s the kind of kid who could spend an entire play date fixated on one really cool toy and ignore any chaos—kid or otherwise—around him. He’s an introvert. In fact, just the other day he made me promise we would go an entire week without any social plans because he “just thought it would be nice to stay home and play with our toys for a week.”
One of the things I most enjoyed about Henry was his ability to not want to be the center of attention or want to be included in EVERYTHING all the time. I, a lifelong extrovert, admired his self-sufficiency.
And I knew enough to know that introducing a second kid into our lives would upend it. It didn’t matter what kind of baby number two ended up being. Whether he was fussy or spirited or introverted or a limelight hog, one thing was certain: he would take many of the resources Jeff and I funneled into Henry.
Unlike my first pregnancy, when I monitored each new stage and brightly anticipated meeting the creature growing inside me, I spent a lot of Silas’s pregnancy pretending nothing was going to change.
That denial was impossible to sustain as soon as my spirited little redhead sprung forth from my body.
Silas’s big personality manifested in many ways. At birth, he fussed unless he was held. Once he could sit he was placated for a day, and then he was pissed he couldn’t do more. Crawling followed, and then walking at 10 months, and then came a terrifying year where he had absolute mobility and zero common sense. I was terrified he would topple to his death, choke on anything he found on the floor, or somehow wrap a cord around his neck and hang himself. The vigilance required to keep Silas out of harm’s way definitely meant less oversight for Henry.
It would have been easy to rope Henry into helping me watch over Silas, but I really didn’t want to do that. I’m not quite sure when I made a conscious decision to actually dissuade Henry from feeling any responsibility for his little brother’s immediate safety, but I made the decision nonetheless.
When Henry bellowed out that Silas was walking along the windowsill (inside, but still) I reminded Henry that he was responsible for himself and to let me take care of his brother. (Who’s the boss of Silas? I ask a million times a day. Silas and you or Daddy, is the answer that we drilled into Henry.)
This is not to say I don’t employ Henry’s help. When Silas was brand new, Henry would lean in as the baby nursed and ask if he could help feed his little brother (alas, no, but still. Sweet to ask.)
These days, if Silas is heaving in a tantrum on the floor, Henry will ask him very specific reasons about why he is sad. When we’re at the playground, Henry will offer his hand to Silas to hold. And when Silas responds in the affirmative, Henry beams.
Watching them reminds me that what most of us truly want is to mean something to someone else. And, it doesn’t hurt to have someone to care about.
The other night, Silas was a royal terror at bedtime. First, I had the indignity to change his wet diaper. Then I had the temerity to take off his clothes (which were coated in ketchup) and don pajamas. The breaking point came when I insisted on brushing teeth.
As Silas wriggled out of my arms and screamed as loud as he could down the hallway, Henry sidled into the bathroom, fetched his toothbrush and got to work. When he was done, he turned to me and said, “Poor Silas, I think he’s really tired. A good night sleep will be just the thing he needs.”
I’d love to take credit for Henry’s maturity, but I know enough by this point to realize that would be dishonest. He’s just a naturally sweet guy.
What he reminded me of tonight was that having a brother thrust into his life did not ruin anything for Henry.
After I sang the boys songs and shut the door to their shared room, I heard them talking to one another. Silas was asking for me. And then for a tissue. And then for a mobile crane. And then for a popsicle.
Henry considered each request and answered it seriously.
“Our mommy said, ‘night night, so she won’t come back until we really need her.’” Or “I’ll fetch you a tissue.” Or “Silas, do babies have mobile cranes in their cribs?” (He stole that last one from me.)
I was poised outside their door, ready to spring into the room and administer whatever the moment called for (martial law? One more hug?) But before my hand even made it to the doorknob, I realized I wouldn’t be needed.
“Silas, do you want me to sing you a song?” Henry asked.
And Henry proceeded to sing four renditions of Baa, baa black sheep, his voice growing sleepier with each round until they both were silent. When I went in to check, they were both sound asleep, their sweet heavy breaths huffing in unison. Brothers keeping company.