Saturday, August 10, 2013

The sister dilemma

Practicing sisterhood with her friend Felix
Now that the cat's out of the bag on the whole fertility thing, we can talk about the "sister" problem. As I'm sure many children of a certain age are, Ella is wondering why she hasn't become a sister yet. Because she is three, many of her classmates have become big sisters over the past year, and she's started thinking that this is a natural part of getting older. You become a big girl; you become a big sister. Here's how many of our conversations go:

Ella: When am I going to be a big sister?
Me: When Mommy and Daddy have another baby.
Ella: Can you have a baby right now?
Me: Well, we're trying buddy, but we have to wait until the baby is ready to come.
Ella: Tomorrow?
Me: No, definitely not tomorrow. Babies take a long time to make.
Ella: Can we make one when we get home?

And so on, and so on. As if this wasn't bad enough, she's actually started lying to people. She told a girlfriend of mine and a teacher at her school that her mommy, "has a baby in her belly." They approached me all excited to hear the good news, and I had to sit Ella down and talk to her about lying. "But you're trying to have a baby," she said, looking guilty, and I told her, "Yes, Mommy is trying, but I don't have a baby in my belly yet, and you can't tell people that until I do. Once I do, you can tell any one you want."

The hardest part has been explaining to her what a sister actually is. She's got it in her head that "sister" is another word for "big girl." She'll say things like, "I have to eat my vegetables so I can become a sister," or she will ask me if big girl's she sees in various places are sisters. She also can't understand the whole big sister/little sister thing. She can't fathom that I am a little sister, or that one of the one-year-olds in the baby room at school is going to be a big brother. We talked about everyone we know who is a brother or a sister, and I tried to explain what made one "big" and one "little." She had it until she brought up her friend Kate who is a middle child. She said, "So, Kate is a big sister because her mommy had baby Claire!" I said, "Yes, Kate is a big sister, but she's also a little sister because she has a big brother." That conversation pretty much sent us back to square one.

The whole thing is pretty heartbreaking because I know exactly how she feels: everyone at school is becoming a big sister or brother, she wants it desperately, but there's nothing she can do about it. This thing she wants is completely out of her control. And man, do I know how that feels.

Luckily, I think she's finally getting it. Yesterday, she was pretty quiet on the way home from dance class. When I unbuckled her from her car seat, she said, "When you get a baby in your belly, I'll be a big sister, but you don't have a baby in your belly yet." I pulled her out of the chair very gingerly and gave her a big hug. "That's right, buddy, but until then, you'll be my baby." She smiled and hugged me back. And in that moment, it was enough for both of us.

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