We are walking home from gan and her slightly sticky little girl fingers are wrapped halfway around my hand.
"You saw Leah's mommy? She has a big belly. It's big like there's a baby inside. Isn't that silly?"
"Um, I don't know if it's so silly, love. I think that there is a baby in there."
"But, Ima! Leah already has a baby!"
"I guess Leah's baby is going to be a big brother. I think that Leah's mommy is going to have another baby!"
Her hand jerks in mine. She is quiet. Then, "Ima?"
"Who was the big girl when I was the baby?"
(Let me just interject here to say that Princess is very, very bright. And in touch with her feelings. And a little scary. Because she is three years old and is really around seventeen. Just without braces and body image issues. And with a few more almost-made-it-to-the-bathrooms than the average teen. I cannot say anything in front of her that she will not repeat back to me and then to the woman on the park bench next to me. She wrestles with ideas that she is really not supposed to grasp yet. So I am VERY GLAD and GRATEFUL that she shares her feelings with me. )
(oh, and temper tantrums. She has more temper tantrums that other seventeen year olds.)
(Actually, scratch that. I think it's about even.)
(Do you realize that half of this entry is in parenthesis?)
(I'll stop now. Back to the heart-stopping question posed to me by my 3 year-old.)
It took me a few blinking moments to understand what she was saying, and why she was gripping my hand so hard. Then I got it. I stopped walking and knelt on the ground in front of my beautiful apple-cheeked daughter, who thought that when I was going to have another baby, she was going to go the way of the last big girl. Out with the old, in with the new! Omigod!
"There was no big girl when you were a baby, love. It was just you."
When I was pregnant with Coco-pop, I was torn up with guilt. How dare I introduce a new presence into the house that will cause my precious Princess feelings of jealousy and insecurity? I would sneak into her room at night and watch her sleep, feeling my love for her and doubting that I could love another as much as I loved her. And she needed so much. Even as an only child, she needed validation and reassurance constantly. How would she react to another baby sitting on my lap when she wanted to cuddle? To me nursing someone other than her? How could I DO this to her?
Oh, and I was also hormonal.
After I had my second baby, I knew that a parent can and does love more than one child, that love is like fire that can be given over to another candle without any loss to the first candle. I just didn't know if Princess felt the same way. Actually, we got a few good clues that love was not a fever on Princess' brow as she gazed at the 7 and 1/2 pound invader for the first time. She picked up the edge of the blanket covering Coco-pop and pulled it completely over her head. Then she inquired casually about the hospital's return policy.
The coming together as a family was coming together now, I think. It's always so delicate, the balance. Do I ignore when Princess takes the toy away from Coco-pop? Do I scold her? When Princess hits the baby, I tell her not to. When Coco-pop takes a swat at her, I tell her that Coco-pop is just a baby. Is that a double standard? Am I making her feel picked on?
I know that I am very, very imperfect. I have a temper. I work on it. But is that good enough? Am I good enough? We took her 6,000 miles way from loving extended family, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Does Princess feel happy and safe and warm, wrapped up in a family of only mother, father, me and baby sister?
I stand up and take her hand again. I hope that I allayed her fears. "I love you."
Distractedly, "I love you, too." We walk across the street.
Then, "Oh! So Ima! It's gonna be like this. You and Abba stay Ima and Abba. I'm gonna be the big girl, Coco-pop will be the little girl, and the baby will be--" her eyes sparkled with the effort of her thinking--"the baby could be the BABY!"