It's the little things that thrill a mother when her kids are small. When my son manages to eat his breakfast without incident, my heart sings. When I change my daughter's nappies in the middle of the night and she barely stirs, I punch the air for joy.
I know, I'm a pretty sad case.
It was with no small happiness that when people asked me whether my son - aged 28 months - had shown any serious sibling rivalry toward his sister - now aged 5 months - I offered a few small incidents (whacking her over the head with a book called The New Baby was one such), but in general, I preened, he seemed to be taking it fairly well.
I congratulated myself constantly. I even felt bad for the baby because I managed to keep such a punishing schedule with the toddler - keeping him well attended to - that I hardly had much time to spend with her.
My son would stroke her hair and say "mice, mice" (nice nice). He'd run to her when she cried in her cot ("cry lots!") He'd give her a big sloppy smoochy kiss and hug her, almost knocking her out with his big melon head. Aaaah. So cute!
Then someone warned me: wait til the baby gets to about six months! That's when the toddler realises the baby isn't going anywhere, and rivalry kicks into high gear.
Oh really, I said, all the while thinking, yeah right - my boy would never do that.
Of course, I should have realised that toddlers seem to have a sixth sense for whenever their parents are feeling happy, secure - heck, even relieved. They immediately hone in on some behaviour that's bound to upset the status quo. Sure enough, out it's come.
This morning is a typical scenario in our house at the moment. Toddler behaviour is full-on from the get-go. Mother goes to get crying baby and brings her into the room; toddler immediately wants hug. Baby starts playing with anything - even a little rattle - and toddler ignores a roomful of toys to snatch rattle out of baby's hands. Mother tries all manner of methods to show toddler it's not acceptable. Toddler responds by crying and clinging to Mum's legs. Mum feels like a triple gin, and it's only 8.30am. And so on, and so on!
When she was alive, I had asked my mother whether my behaviour had taken a nose-dive when my twin sisters had come along shortly after my second birthday.
No, no, my mother assured me. I had done the opposite, become totally accomodating. "Toilet trained yourself overnight!" she assured me. A great little helper!
Well, either I was truly a one-in-a-million child, or, more likely, my mother had edited out all the horrible, tedious bits around that era and had presented me with an encouraging tale designed to get me through the hard times.
Unfortunately I'll not be able to grill her further on it. But I do know this: that sibling rivalry is normal. That the eldest child supposedly has the hardest time with it. That children learn from their siblings, that life isn't fair, which, let's face it, is a reasonable lesson to learn in preparation for the coming years.
It doesn't make it any easier when a toddler's hanging off your shoulders and crying pitifully in your face while you breatfeed his baby sister though!
Dita De Boni
Photo / Alan Gibson