A rival emerges

After I’d finished getting ready for bed last night I paused for a few minutes outside Jay’s room.  He was asleep in his crib, lying on his back with his hands behind his head.  In that moment it struck me as almost comical that he still sleeps behind bars.  A couple years ago I remember a friend telling me about her then three-year-old son, “He’s completely a little boy, there’s no toddler left in him.”  Sometimes I’ll see Jay’s face from a new angle, or watch him pull back from the brink of a tantrum, and it’s clear that there’s not a lot of toddler left in him, either.

Downstairs Wally was in hour five of his night’s sleep.  His sleep trainingwas interrupted for a few weeks, first when he got sick and then by our Christmas trip, but it’s back on

Jay thinking: This stick is for Wally and this other stick is also for Wally.

now and he’s taking to it well.  Rather than going cold turkey on him we’re gently nudging him towards a full night’s sleep.  Don’t call it a comeback, but for the last three nights he’s nursed at 1am and 5am and then woken up for good at 7:30am. It feels like a continuous night’s sleep isn’t far off, and as I peered into Jay’s room last night I started rearranging furniture in my head, preparing for the day I’ve been anticipating since before Wally was born, when both boys sleep soundly enough to share a room.

After dinner last night the four of us spent half-an-hour on the carpet in the playroom.  In Tuesday’s Christmas post I mentioned that over the holidays Jay had played the “train game” with his Great Aunt Cat.  Watching the two of them chug from pretend station to pretend station, Caroline remarked that the most engaged and happy Jay ever seems is when he’s got an adult helping him to create and participate in an imaginary world.

With that in mind, last night Jay and I played “mechanic.”  We flipped his ride-along fire truck on its side and assembled our tools—screwdriver, wrench, hammer, pliers, flashlight.  With the help of a veteran mechanic named Charlie the Lamb we swapped out old screws, repaired punctured tires, scraped rust of the chassis, and fished around for a monkey that had gotten caught in the engine.  When it was time for bed Jay turned the fire truck back on its wheels and started it up.

“Is it working?” I said hopefully.

Jay made a series of wild noises and jumped up and down on the truck.  “No,” he said gleefully, “It’s still broken.”

The only sour note last night for Jay was his brother.  Initially Wally was on the floor playing with a toy telephone, but when he heard us banging around with the tools he hastened over.  It was funny to watch his progress—one arm forward, drag the knee—which was slow but inexhaustible; he moved towards the fire truck like a photosensitive bacterium sliding towards light.

The face of trouble

As Wally got closer Jay moved his tools away.  When Wally kept after them Jay tried to block his path, stepping in front of Wally and pushing him back by his forehead.

Caroline told Jay he needed to find some toys for Wally to play with.  Jay dashed across the room, picked up an airplane and a car that Wally had been given for Christmas and dropped them in front of his brother.  Wally recognized the bait-and-switch almost instantly; as soon as Jay had turned away Wally recommenced his crawl towards the fire truck.

Jay got increasingly agitated that Wally was interloping in his imaginary mechanic world and eventually Caroline picked Wally off the floor and held him in her lap.  Even then Wally continued to strain in the direction of the fire truck.  It was like watching a psychology textbook come to life:  You, Wally, are a youngest sibling.

That night as we went to sleep Caroline and I talked about how we don’t know what to do in those kinds of situations.  On the one hand we don’t want Jay to think it’s okay to thwart his brother and he’s going to need to learn how to share.

But on the other hand, the mechanic game was particularly special to Jay in that moment and forcing him to share all the time with his brother could end up backfiring and leading him to resent Wally.  Relationships are long and at this early stage I’m reluctant to try and over-engineer things between Jay and Wally.

We didn’t come to any conclusions before we went to sleep, but Caroline noted that we’re going to have a lot of opportunities to figure this out—Jay and Wally’s relationship is only going to get more complicated from here.

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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