It’s started already. Not the countdown to Christmas (although The Boy is counting the sleeps until his November birthday, now that it’s officially autumn); not even the new school term (three more days of freedom…). No, I’m talking about the inter-sibling clashes which are, as I’m about to find out, an inevitable element of life with more than one child.
I thought I had at least another six months to go before we got to this point. The Baby is only six months old, after all, and given that the big fat pudding has yet to even roll over, it’ll be a while before she’s crawling into her brother’s personal space, hell bent on eating his Lego. I even thought that, with a big age gap, we might avoid the whole bickering thing altogether. I know, I know; I’m a bit naive. But over the past few days, The Baby has begun her metamorphosis from sweet little chubby-cheeked angel to Annoying Little Sister.
It started subtly with a bit of hair-pulling. The Boy, somewhat stupidly, doesn’t try to avoid this, but actively encourages it. Then, of course, The Baby makes a swipe at his glasses or lunges open-mouthed at his nose, and suddenly it’s not funny any more. ‘Help, Mummy, Baby Attack!’ has become an oft-heard cry in this house.
Then there’s the noise. Oh yes, The Baby has found her lungs. While I like the high-frequency babbling and shrieking, The Boy is less than impressed when she’s shouting over the top of his TV programmes. And much as I love to hear her chatter, even I find it a little irritating when her pre-7am crooning wakes The Boy, resulting in a very uncomfortable four-in-a-bed squash punctuated by five-year-old knees and elbows.
But what’s really getting The Boy’s goat is that The Baby has learnt to grab, and naturally, the most grab-worthy objects are whatever her big brother is engrossed in. This morning, he was reading his comic in bed, and not even a scrunchy packet of baby wipes would tempt The Baby away from it. Admittedly, The Boy invites trouble by refusing to move away (how many times am I destined to hear the words ‘I was here first’ over the next 18 years?), but I did feel for him as The Baby launched herself towards his magazine, crumpling its pages in her chubby fists, prompting him to wail, ‘Stop it, Baby, I’m trying to concentrate!’
I can see now that having a larger-than-average age gap isn’t going to grant me immunity from sibling squabbles. They may not grow up fighting over each other’s toys, but I’ve taken off my rose-tinted glasses and am already foreseeing arguments over broken Airfix models and who watches what on TV. Having five years between The Boy and The Baby won’t mean they don’t fall out; they’ll just fall out over different things than close-in-age siblings would.
But while this week’s minor flashpoints may just be the tip of the iceberg, I know that they’re part and parcel of growing up with a sibling. And even though The Boy may be beginning to realise that his baby sister isn’t going to be sweet and tiny forever, there’s already an unshakeable bond between them. No one makes her laugh like he does, and to his credit, he actually seems to like being on the receiving end of her slobbery kisses – even if he does make a typically five-year-old-boyish show of wiping his face clean afterwards.
Most endearing of all is the way that he looks out for her. Yesterday, The Boy, The Baby and I managed to get stuck in a lift at the Natural History Museum. In an attempt to calm a panicky Boy down, I tried to reassure him that we were only a couple of feet off the ground, and that if the engineers got the door open, we’d be able to jump down. ‘But what about The Baby?’ he asked, genuinely distressed by the thought that we’d just walk off and leave her there.
No doubt I will soon be an expert in counting to 10, taking deep breaths and dispatching warring children to separate bedrooms to simmer down. But although we’re already getting a taste of things to come, I have a feeling that rather than The Boy and The Baby ganging up against each other, they’re more likely to join forces and gang up on me – just like at dinnertime today, when, despite my imploring them both to please eat nicely, he had her in hysterics and spraying sweet potato mush across the table.
Messy? Oh yes. But if that’s the price I have to pay for having two children who – despite their ups and downs – are the best of friends, then so be it. My dining table may never be the same, but I am, without a doubt, a very lucky mummy – and they are lucky children to have each other.