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big brother blues

One of the things we wondered and worried about before Junebug was born was how Munchkin would greet the arrival of his baby sister. Would he be jealous of her for stealing mama’s love and attention, and how would he act out his envy? Or would he be loving and protective and act proud of being a big brother?

Perhaps we should have anticipated that he would exhibit both impulses, at times oscillating from one extreme to the other in a matter of minutes. On our Fourth of July outing, for example, he first threw a fit because we had put Junebug in “his” stroller, but then proceed to strike up conversations with random strangers to tell them with evident pride that he had a new baby sister. Being spoiled by love and affection from countless family visitors has certainly helped keep the jealousy at bay, but we also fret that the overindulgence is exacerbating some of his more ornery tendencies.

At times, S feels like she has reached a breaking point. The summer’s many transitions and lack of routine coupled with Munchkin’s spirited ways make parenting him challenging, especially when S sometimes barely has the energy to stay awake. Some nights Munchkin sleeps through the night, but unfortunately these rare instances are more the exception than the rule. More often than not, he wakes up in the dead of night and demands that S go through his entire bedtime routine to put him back to bed or insists on sleeping with her in her bed.

He also has taken contrariness to a whole new level. If he knows that we want him to do something, nine times out of ten he will dig in his heels and do the exact opposite to assert his independence, no matter the context. And he does so even with nana, whom he adores, and who typically has been immune to his rebellious ways. When she asked Munchkin to wash his hands one evening before eating, for example, he refused. And when she picked him up and washed his hands for him, he immediately ran into the garage hollering like a banshee and pointedly rubbed his hands on the dirty floor.

The kid who used to love saying cheese and grinning with glee at the camera now puts his hands over his face as if he is turning away the paparazzi. His whining, which was Academy award winning pre-baby sister, has reached a whole new level. He also has entered the “why” phase, continuously repeating this most innocuous and maddening of questions even after we’ve answered his queries a dozen different ways. We love him, always and without a doubt, but there are times we don’t always like him.

For every bitter moment, of course, there are also sweet ones. Munchkin has always been stingy with his hugs, turning his back into our outstretched arms and letting us hug him without always reciprocating. Now that he sees us snuggle Junebug, however, he has become more huggy as well, snuggling in tight and wrapping his arms around our necks after bedtime stories.

He has also become very outgoing this summer, striking up conversations at playgrounds and restaurants, typically with adults. He likes to tell people his name and how it is spelled, and where he lives. And if there are crayons around he’ll ask total strangers to draw him a picture. His passion for music runs deep and he chatters to himself incessantly, riffing fantastic variations to the tune of Wheels on the Bus or Do You Know the Muffin Man. He may be demanding, but we enjoy watching his eyes light up when he gets to pick out his lobster at the seafood market or we let him vacuum the carpet, a strange fascination we have leveraged as a reward when it is difficult to get him to do otherwise mundane things.

Perhaps the most heartwarming of his developmental leaps this summer is that his affection for his relatives has crystallized into tangible and loving relationships. Not only is he now old enough to feel the bonds of family and want to interact with specific people, but also spending time with relatives in the flesh has clearly made them feel much more real. Considering how much of his young life he has spent half a world away from our families, this development more than offsets his sometimes difficult character.

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