“Should we name the baby Little Critter?” I ask. “What about Curious George?”
When I suggest a picture book character with an actual name—“How about Nella?”—he says, diplomatically, “Maybe.”
Yes, I am talking with my two-year-old. No, his input doesn’t carry quite as much weight as the adults’.
I’m still surprised he vetoed Critter.
He and I discuss the concept of relationships. We list all of the new baby’s big sisters and brothers. This will be our family’s sixth child, so the conversation takes a while.
The baby is in mama’s tummy, I explain, but when it is big enough, it will come out. “And you,” I tell him, with my best Excited Voice, “will be the big brother!”
“I the big brother!”
I try to help him visualize what’s ahead. “You’ll hold the baby, and kiss the baby, and snuggle the baby, and talk to the baby.”
“Did… um… did you just say the baby would be delicious?”
“Hmm?” He stares at me with big toddler eyes until we both blink. “No.”
Two-year-olds are not always reliable witnesses.
Again the next day, we remind him that we will have a baby soon.
“Mmm, yummy!” he says, and we begin to fear we are raising a tiny cannibal. I was never in the running for any Mother of the Year kind of awards anyway, but I thought we were aiming a little higher than Raising Kids Who Eat Their Siblings.
“Not yummy,” we say. Yes, the baby will be scrumptious. Yes, we will say things like I could eat you up, but we are not that literal, I promise. We say these things already. We never eat anyone. “Not eat baby,” we say.
“Okay,” he says, and kind of shrugs.
We parents are supposed to prepare our kids for the road ahead, to let them know what’s coming and to smooth the way. But a two-year-old really has no frame of reference for new baby.
If our prior experience with toddlers is any indication, he will adore the baby anyway—because babies are awesome—and he will love being the brother—because he already has plenty of practice at that—and he will be a tiny bit furious with us parents.
We will have disrupted his routine, displaced him from the youngest spot. We will have shaken the foundations of his tiny earth. We will have created entirely new family dynamics, and we don’t even know if we’ll get a sleepy baby or a screamy baby or a quiet baby or a puppy. (Well. We’re pretty sure not the puppy thing.)
For some things in life, there can be no adequate preparation.
Later I tell him not to jump onto my belly, as toddlers are wont to do.
“Baby in tummy?” he asks.
“Yes, baby in tummy.”
“Mama eated baby!” Oh. Aha.
I wonder whether it would help to define “vegetarian.”
So now I point out babies whenever we see them: at church, around the neighborhood, at the park or the grocery store or the library. (They are never being eaten.)
“Do you see the baby?” I ask. “Will we have one in our family?”
“Yes! Baby!” He knows he has the right answer, and he grins with two-year-old pride. But a moment later I think I hear him, under his breath, say: “Mmm.”