I’d forgotten what the poo of a newborn, breastfed baby smells like. It’s sour and yeasty, and it triggers floods of memories. Every time I change Fiona’s nappy, I’m taken back to Alex’s early days, and I’m astonished at how much he has grown and changed in the last three years.
Alex is huge compared to Fiona. I can hold Fiona with one hand; that same hand can now no longer encircle Alex’s thigh. Alex talks. Not just words, but whole conversations. When we put him to bed, he wants to tell us about his day. When he comes through to our bed in the mornings, he wants to tell us what he’s going to do.
Right now they both have physical needs, but only Alex has emotional ones, even if he doesn’t properly understand them. He wants and needs our attention. He’s scared that we’re going to forget about him, and spend all our time on Fiona. He knows when we’re tired and stressed, and that makes him sad.
Although Fiona is the more helpless of the two, in many ways it’s more important for us to concentrate on Alex right now. Fiona needs warmth, soothing voices, a certain amount of visual stimulus, and mama milk. Alex needs intellectual and emotional effort. Fiona may be a challenge to Abi and me, but it’s Alex’s world that is experiencing the greatest upheaval right now. And he’s reacting in the only ways that he knows how: by getting angry, by getting sad and crying, by hitting us and screaming when we don’t immediately jump to attention.
It’s hard to react positively to that, and generally, we don’t. Letting him get away with behaviour that would be unacceptable under other circumstances is not the way to reassure him or make him feel loved. He has to figure out that the rules still apply: not just rules like “don’t use crayons on the walls”, but also the rule that “mom and dad love you no matter what else happens.”
It’s a tough balance. We want to spend the same kind of time and attention on Fiona that we did on Alex when he was young, but Alex’s presence means we can’t. It’s hard to put Fiona in second place mere days after her birth, and concentrate on Alex almost to the point of ignoring her, and it’s hard not to feel resentful towards Alex because of it. But I have to realise–and I have to help Alex realise–that this isn’t going to last forever.
We’ll find our new equilibrium sooner or later. In the meantime, Alex needs my patience and love more than ever.