August 18, 2006
I can remember the first night of With-a-Why's life outside the womb. Not yet even 24 hours old, he was already revealing his identity as the baby from hell who would never sleep. I'd been in labor with him for days (quite literally -- my water had broken nine days earlier), and although I was thrilled with this cute lively baby, I was exhausted and sore. Labor and delivery had been wonderful, but the afterpains that shrink the uterus back down to size get worse with each pregnancy, and this was my fourth full-term birth. And sensitive skin means that my nipples always took a few weeks to toughen up each time I had a new baby.
I hadn't had a good night sleep in more than nine days. In fact, I hadn't had any kind of sleep at all for 24 hours. So I was ready to hand this wide awake baby, cute as he was, off to someone more responsible.
I was at home on our king-sized bed, surrounded by children. Spouse had been cuddling three-year-old Shaggy Hair Boy, and they had both fallen asleep on the quilt on the floor. I hated to wake up Spouse. In his efforts to be supportive of me during labor, he hadn't gotten any sleep either. My eight-year-old daughter, who had spent the day rocking the baby and waiting on me, was asleep on the far side of the bed. I knew she too was exhausted from the excitement of a new baby in the house.
But one person was still wide awake -- our night owl, the kid who never sleeps, six-year-old Boy in Black. He was sitting cross-legged on the bed, dressed in a black t-shirt and shorts, his big brown eyes looking at the baby. He did not look tired in the least.
I handed him the baby. "Here, just hold him, and let him suck on your finger."
Boy in Black nodded solemnly. He and the newborn baby looked at each other, both with that same wide awake stare. The baby still had on that little knit cap that babies sometimes wear the first day to keep up their body heat, and Boy in Black pulled the cap off to kiss his brother's head.
"I like to kiss his head," I heard him say. He put his finger, upside down the way I'd shown him, in the baby's mouth and the baby began sucking vigorously.
"He's six," I thought to myself. "This is probably irresponsible." And then I drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up later, Boy in Black was still caring for the baby, both of them still wide awake. "I like having a baby brudder," Boy in Black kept saying. He sounded surprised.
I nursed the baby, handed him back to his six-year-old brother, and went back to sleep. And that night set the pattern for With-a-Why's life.
We always joke in the household that Boy in Black is the only person that With-a-Why listens to, and that is pretty much true. They've never had a fight, or even a squabble. They both have that same easy-going temperament and rational mindset that they inherited from their Dad. (Their mother, their sister, and their other brother all considerably more emotional.) Although they are six years apart, people always comment on the likeness between them.
Almost twelve years later, With-a-Why still looks up at his older brother with those big wide-awake eyes. Night owls both, they've been staying up ridiculously late all week, playing games, watching episodes of Futurama on the laptop, or playing with legos. They are prepping, I think, for what is going to be a dramatic change.
Boy in Black is going off to college.
His closeness to his siblings is one reason Boy in Black chose to go to Snowstorm University, rather than a more prestigious college. (Well, that and a full scholarship.) So Boy in Black will still be able to come home for a meal now and then, or to say hello, or to snowboard with his siblings. He will be living about nine miles away. With-a-Why will probably go spend the night with him in the dorm at least once this semester, just like he has with his sister, to charm all the college students and have the excitement of buying candy and soda from the vending machines.
My daughter, already a student at Snowstorm University, will be thrilled of course to have her brother on campus. But our household is going to feel a loss, as another child grows up and leaves home. It will be strange to check on my kids before I go to sleep and not find Boy in Black playing his guitar in the living room, or looking through music on the computer. Shaggy Hair is going to miss his company when he stays up late to work on a homework project. Spouse is going to miss the child who is more like him than any of the others. But the most difficult change will be for my youngest child, who bonded with Boy in Black his very first night, and who is going to sorely miss his role model, his buddy, his big brother.
Boy in Black teaching With-a-Why some guitar basics. (The guitar is upside down because With-a-Why plays left-handed.)
Posted by jo(e)