Regarding Wally, Jay’s still not sure how he feels

When I last wrote about Jay and Wally as brothers, Jay was alternately dive-bombing Wally’s bassinet with a basketball and scaling our bedskirt to reassure his wailing brother, “It’s okay, I come back.” Their relationship has only grown more schizophrenic since then.

This morning Jay, who’s been potty training for a week now, sat on his little plastic john and said: “I want to poop on Wally.”

I replied: “How about you poop in the potty.  That would be a first, too.”

Pooping is just the start.  Jay has requested permission to pee on Wally, to break his bones, to feed Wally to the monkeys, and to spit on him. Except, with the spitting he didn’t ask for permission—he just did it, twice, and as a result was sent to bed at 7pm on Friday night with no dinner, no playtime, and not a single hug or kiss. (Alright, fine, he got a kiss.)

But there is sunny news to report as well.

Jay is not a very affectionate kid.  Hugs cramp his style.  Kisses are a nuisance. The only time I’ve ever seen him treat a stuffed animal like a companion was when he put his rabbit in time-out for breaking a Lego tower that Jay himself had destroyed.

But, for reasons Caroline and I can’t quite figure out, he’s very affectionate towards Wally.

Yesterday Jay woke up from his afternoon nap (which, btw, is majorly back on track thanks to some award winning fatherly cunning…more on that later) and sat next to Wally and me on the floor.  Jay wrapped his hands around Wally’s head, smushed his brother’s face into his chest, and nuzzled his cheek against the top of Wally’s soft, sweet head.

This happens several times a day and Caroline and I always praise it:  “Oh, you’re such a good big brother, Jay.”  But really we have no idea what’s going on.  How does the nuzzling square with wanting to poop on Wally?  And what to make of the fact that Jay has never nuzzled a single other object in his entire life? It just seems too good to be true that this small beast who took his place at his mother’s breast would be the one true object of Jay’s affection.

It occurred to me recently, though, that Jay might have a different angle.

Most weekend mornings Jay runs out of his room and climbs into bed with Caroline, Wally, and me.  It always breaks my heart a little when he bursts into the room all sunny and full of morning vigor and sees Wally and Caroline lying in bed together like illicit lovers: How could he not feel left out?

But if Jay feels hurt he doesn’t show it.  “Where’s Wally,” he says, as he grabs hold of the duvet and pulls himself up onto the bed.  He climbs over Caroline’s legs, declares that he wants to go “in the middle” and wedges himself between Wally and Caroline.

“Hiii Wally,” Jay says in a cheery, high-pitched voice, applying his palms to his brother’s temples and pressing his nose square into Wally’s.  Caroline tries not to interfere too much but she does temper the pressure on Wally’s head.

Finally, when the affection verges on trauma, she pulls Jay away and asks him if he had any dreams last night.

Any theory about Jay’s feelings with respect to Wally would probably miss the mark, at least a little.  The arrival of a younger sibling is a complicated thing and Jay’s emotional world belongs to him alone, if it belongs to any one at all.   But if it were possible to parse every one of Jay’s actions to an emotional cause I imagine we’d find a little bit of everything coursing through his hot toddler blood: a desire to get a rise out of us with his poop threat; a real wish, from time to time, to leave Wally out in the cold; at least a measure of genuine affection that I hope will grow over time to define their relationship.

And maybe, also, a hard kernel hope that manifests as a nuzzle, even when the intended object isn’t really his brother’s soft hair: “If I love this baby who Daddy and Mama love, then maybe they will love me.”

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No sleep to spare

Wally, sweet Wally, is taking his pound of flesh.

He extracts it differently each night. Pacing, knee-bending, 2am, 5am, nurse, nurse, nurse, nurse, nurse.  These ain’t glory days at home.

Seven years ago I was watching television late at night and came across a special on Mt. Everest.  It was about how in the so-called “death zone” above 26,000 feet the normal rules of morality are suspended: If you fall you can’t expect your fellow climbers will have the strength to pick you up.

For Halloween Jay dressed as a dalmatian but thought he was a cow. Our neighbors, seeing the fatigue on our faces, offered us a beer.

That’s not incommensurate with how Caroline and I feel these days.  Bleary-eyed, heads pounding, we’re hit with the incomprehensible several times each night: I cannot believe I have to get out of bed again.

And in that state, neither of us has a lot to offer the other.

(Or to use a less severe analogy, we’re like that “Seinfeld” scene in the women’s bathroom, where a tightfisted woman tells a desperate Elaine: “I’m sorry, I don’t have a square to spare.”)

There is one sanctuary.  We call it the “Sleep Cave,” down in a dark corner on the bottom floor of the house.  It has heavy blinds, a white noise maker, a new bed, and an 800-fill down comforter.  Sweet oblivion.

But how do you get to the Sleep Cave? On Sunday morning Caroline generously let me go first.  From 8-10am I was buried in a deep, anesthetic slumber that recalled a thatched hut on a Thai beach in a World Before Wally: the greatest sleep I’ve ever known.

Then it was Caroline’s turn.  I stumbled out of the Sleep Cave limp and groggy and found her sitting with the boys on the kitchen floor.  Wally was leaning forward against her raised knees like the figurehead on a ship; Jay was intent beside them with colored pencils and construction paper.  The three of them looked so happy that I thought maybe I could sneak off for just a little more…

Caroline smiled and said: fat chance.

She handed me Wally, told me Jay might need a diaper change, and then walked out of the room looking as free and easy as a single girl in an open convertible on a sunny American highway.  We didn’t see her again until after lunch.  Or was it dinner?

For the most part Caroline and I split evenly what sleep there is: two hours for you, two hours for me.  There is some posturing that goes on, too.  There are times when I make an extra-pronounced yawn or I sigh louder than I need to, just to let Caroline know I’d be willing to take the extra sleep if she has some to spare.  And, as generous as she is, Caroline’s not beyond letting me know how many late-night nursing sessions I slept through, just so, you know, we have the score straight.

Still, our days don’t lack completely for small mercies. Every now and again Wally nurses back to sleep at 5am just when we thought that a day we absolutely, positively could not bear to face was upon us.  And early this morning Jay—who hasn’t earned many gold stars for empathy—played by himself for an hour while I slept on a fold-out mattress at the base of his crib.

Between Caroline and me there are moments of grace, too.  This morning, with Jay eating breakfast and chipper Wally bouncing in his chair, Caroline put her arms around me while I was washing dishes.  I turned to face her, one pair of dark-circled eyes to another.

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you, too,” she replied.  “Almost more than sleep.”

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