As I've mentioned, in The Happiest Toddler on the Block, the author speaks of how whatever attention you may not be able to spend on your second-born child, know that your first-born will give him that attention four times over. If, when our baby is born, our toddler, D, is anything like he is now, our second born will never be lacking attention.
While in some ways, I can't give as much attention to this pregnancy as I did my first, in other ways, I have a constant companion who is with me, to talk about "the baby," go to my OB appointments with me, and give me and the belly much needed love--my 3-year-old son. To him, this pregnancy is brand new. He has never experienced this before, and he is there with his big blue eyes and toothy smile, excited every step of the way.
So meet your three-year-old big brother, Baby Bouteneff 2! :) He's been thinking about you since you were the size of a grape!
Starting around 7 weeks pregnant or so (when D is 2 1/2 years old), I bring up the idea of a baby. We have a few "big brother" books, so I read them to him, to get him familiar with the idea of a baby. I make no mention of how I have a baby in my belly. He is still pretty attached, and I am not sure how he would react to sharing me, or inviting a baby to live at our house. He also has the kind of personality to think about things for a long period of time. He impresses me how he remembers details, events, people from months or even a year ago. On the same token, he can remember things that make him unhappy, and bring them up repeatedly, making himself anxious. I am not certain which direction the news of a baby would take him. So I go slowly.
I do know however, that he has always had a sweet disposition and is kind to babies. Months ago, when D was a young 2, we see a baby crying at the library. I tell D to make a funny face and maybe the baby will stop crying. "What funny face?" He asks. I give him an example, the classic "hold the sides of your mouth and stick out your tongue" face. D does this with great concentration. The baby stops crying. Success! A few minutes later, the baby cries again. Without a moment's hesitation, D pulls out the serious funny face again. The baby does not stop crying, but D keeps trying. He is sincere in his task, even without success this time.
So while I don't plan to tell D about the baby early in the pregnancy, he is smart, and by bringing up the idea of a baby at all, reading "big brother" books, and talking about my friends who are pregnant (and their sons, D's friends, who will become big brothers), D gets the idea. He gets in the habit of joining me on the bed in the morning, cuddling and asking me questions about "the baby." No one has actually told him there is a baby in my belly. But he starts asking questions anyway, touching my belly.
"How does the baby come out of your belly?"
"It goes--whooosh!" I gesture from my chest to the bottom of my torso in a fast motion. "And it comes out!"
"How does the baby get into your belly?"
"Hm..." I think. This is one I'm not prepared to answer at not even 2 months pregnant. "The mommy and daddy make the baby go into the belly." Somehow this answer suffices for now, but I know it will not for long.
Finally, while we are having lunch one afternoon, D flat out asks me. "Is there a baby in your belly?" I know my son, I know how he reacts to big news, and I know I must be casual about this.
"Yeah. There is. What do you think about that?"
"Um. That's funny," he smiles. It doesn't seem like much of a surprise. He then asks me about what the baby plays with in the belly.
"The baby has water in there, so the baby can swimg around. And an umbilical cord to play with. Not too much though."
From here on out, the baby is "out of the bag," so to speak, and D takes a particularly strong interest in it. While most of my friends' children his age are not so curious about their mom's baby bellies, D can't get enough of it. We take out a few books from the library that friends have recommended, and here D gets some big lessons. The books are intended for children much older than a 2-year-old, and we skip and summarize many pages. But D gets the point. He knows the basics of how a baby is put together and born. One Saturday afternoon, out of the blue, D asks me, "How come the sperm loses its tail when it reaches the egg?"
Needless to say, I'm surprised my 2-year-old is asking me this question. Mike is there as well and recalls seeing this picture in one of the books from the library. He fields this question for me. "Because once he reaches the egg, he's done swimming and doesn't need the tail anymore." Ah, that's why.
Other than the scientific questions D asks, he mostly just wants to love the baby. We get in the habit of singing a lullabye song before nap every day, "A song to make the baby go to sleep." D loves to hear how I sang this same song to him when he was in the womb, and would wake me up at night. He asks me to tell him this "story" over and over. "And then, after I would sing the song to you, you'd calm down and cozy up in my belly, and fall fast asleep."
D feels the baby moving on my belly before Mike does, and from then on, "I want to feel the baby move" becomes a statement I hear many times a day. When we visit Mike at work one day, and his coworkers comment on how they hear he will be a big brother soon, he immediately and proudly, lifts up my shirt to point to my belly, explaining that's where the baby is right now.
He kisses my belly; he talks to the baby in a high pitch squeaky voice. He gives the baby a "marssage" by rubbing my belly. He tells the baby many times a day that he loves him (my heart melts to the floor the first time he says, "I love you, baby" to my belly!). He knows my new limitations with my big belly and respects them. At this point, just a few weeks away from my due date, I can't bend over easily, I can't run fast, I can't go on amusement park rides with him (we go in the winter to Sesame Place), I can't pick him up much. He even reminds me, "The doctor said you're not supposed to pick me up," when I do, "But you like to pick me up."
While toward the beginning of my pregnancy, D asks me once, "Who is the baby's mommy when he comes out?" he quickly gets the message--the baby is mine, the baby is ours. I say how lucky we are to have a baby in my belly because not everyone gets a baby. (And of course, he asks, "Why does not everyone get a baby?" and many other questions follow)
I don't talk much about the fact that the baby will be living with us at first. But we do turn a small living area into a new baby room, we give D a toddler bed, a new dresser and move his crib and changing table into the baby room. We do these steps slowly, gradually, and focus on the changes in a positive way for him, not mentioning it is because of the baby we are doing things. I remember reading that a parent should not tell the older child, "We can't go to the playground because the baby is sleeping," but rather, phrase it in such a way to not have the baby be a reason for preventing fun things. "We can't go to the playground right now, but maybe we can go after lunch." I don't want D to view the baby as an obstacle to anything for him. At least not yet. With my physical limitations, I also stress how I will be able to do more of these fun things with D once the baby is born. I hope that this will give him an added bonus to the baby's birth--I'll be able to pick him up again easily, for instance.
In my last trimester, I ask my son pointedly, "Where is the baby going to live when he comes out of my belly?" D smiles and speaks in a way as though he thinks I'm silly to ask this question. "In our house." I figure he knows this. He ought to know this, but I am reassured hearing him say this. D visits a friend who has bunk beds and also enjoyed them in our trip to Club Med. I tell him maybe one day when the baby is older, he and his brother can have bunk beds. He is beyond excited about this idea. Now we talk openly about where the baby will be in the house, what the baby will play with, toys that are for the baby.
A month ago or so, D sighs, "The baby has been in your belly a long long time."
"Yes, you're right."
Once our friends have their babies, D begins to ask when our baby is coming out. My answer starts as, "Not for a long time still," but gradually changes to, "Not for a while, but it's getting closer," to "Not right now, but soon." As we near my due date, I explain how his grandparents will be with him when I'm at the hospital and the baby is born (he knows Dr. T. will "catch the baby" at the hospital when he comes out). But I point out that he will get to visit us at the hospital (although he says he'd like to just stay at home and build skyscrapers out of blocks with his grandfather. I tell him, we'll see when the time comes.).
A few weeks ago, D whimpers from the back of the car one afternoon, "I wish the baby would come out of your belly right now!"
"I know, but we have to wait a little bit longer," I tell him.
He does a tiny cry. "But I want him here right now!"
Today, D even goes as far as to say, "After you have this baby, I want you to have another baby."
"Actually, I want you to have five more babies!"
"Wow, that's a lot of babies."
Mike asks him, "Where would all the babies sleep?"
"Right here in my bed with me! We'd sleep all cuddled up. And they can share my body heat and I would share their body heat." Our little boy has it all figured out.
Over the weekend, we let D pick out a gift for the new baby. He takes a great deal of time choosing between the varius baby items in the aisle. After much thought and exchanging items multiple times, he settles on a set of nesting cups that can attach in a line, forming a caterpillar. He is proud of this gift and we wrap it together. Then he "hides" it under a blanket on his toy car garage. He knows the baby can't find the gift or open it himself, but D likes to search for gifts, and he says he will help the baby find it and open it for him, "Because the baby can't open a present yet."
He seems very aware of what the baby can and cannot do. He knows the baby will cry a lot, "Because the baby can't talk yet. Why can't the baby talk yet?" He knows the baby will not be able to walk or crawl yet, will have to wear diapers all the time, will eventually smile and laugh and play--but not at first. The baby will be able to look around and make little noises.
He's met a friend's baby sister, and this friend warned him, "Babies cry a lot!" But he was beyond thrilled patting the baby's back and helping her to burp. He still smiles and talks "baby talk" to babies he sees at our library classes, at My Gym, and to friends' babies. He watches out for them, putting his arm around 1-year-old twins to guide them into various rooms of our house, telling us if a baby puts a toy in her mouth. He even coaches an 11-month-old girl, "that toy is too small for you," patting her on the shoulder. "Sorry, baby. You're just too little," sounding like a very mature young man.
He is excited to see the baby on sonograms, to hear the baby's heartbeat, to ask our OB questions. He is in love with this baby already. I know he may not always be ecstatic to have a sibling. They will fight, he may not always want to share. He may test the limits, he may get jealous. But above all else, he is thrilled to have this baby in our lives. He may only be three years old, but he knows this baby is a blessing from God. A blessing not everyone receives and that we are lucky. And he loves this little blessing with all his heart. And I thank God this baby has the blessing of our wonderful first born son as a big brother.