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Spurned And Burned

Penni Drysdale feels the heat of rejection as her four-year-old son adjusts to the arrival of his brother.

He is jumping around like a crazed monkey amid myriad plastic toys that he’s pulled from a box that was out the back of the house. As is bound to happen, a bare, four-year-old foot lands awkwardly on a small, jagged piece. He looks up at me, his lower lip dropping. He hobbles through the chaos towards me and plants a snotty kiss on my arm. I am a little confused. “Hang on,” I begin. “You just hurt yourself and you’re giving me a kiss?” He sighs heavily and shakes his head in an ‘Oh Mum, you’re sooo silly’ gesture. “No Mum. I gave you a kiss because I love you.”

Things haven’t always been so rosy. This precious moment was like discovering a rare gem in a massive pile of prickles. Getting to it was painful and frustrating. You see, we introduced a sibling to my big boy earlier this year, and with that arrival came the demise of a mummy-son relationship.

It started with small, daily rejections, wanting Dad to do things with him and for him. “No Mum, you have to look after Oliver and the house.” When I made an effort to spend some one-on-one time with him, doing something he’d enjoy, I was similarly rejected. A suggestion that we go to the playground together, leaving Dad and the baby at home, was turned down: “No, you stay here. I’ll go with Dad.” Things deteriorated from there.

The following week, the drawing contained four stick figures, only three were grey and one was red… He proceeded to name us all, and, surprise surprise, I was the red one. His explanation? “Oh, you got burnt in the fire mum.” Ouch.

Only a few short weeks prior to this spontaneous, most-welcome kiss on the arm, my son brought home a drawing from preschool. There were three well-practised stick people looking back at me. Hmmm. There seemed to be someone missing. “So, who’s in the picture?” “Umm. It’s me, Dad and Oliver.” Okay, so I was the missing one. The following week, the drawing contained four stick figures, only three were grey and one was red. “Wow, looks great,” I offered half-heartedly. Here we go again. Call in the child psychologist. “Show me who they are.” He proceeded to name us all, and, surprise surprise, I was the red one. His explanation? “Oh, you got burnt in the fire, Mum.” Ouch.

burnt-mummyWhile things are slowly improving, I could never have anticipated the impact that having a second child would have on my relationship with my firstborn. Of course, people talk about siblings needing time to adjust, especially if they have been an ‘only child’ for four years. But this? Burnt in a fire? I struggle to drag myself from one incident, one confrontation, one insult, to the next, forcing the corners of my mouth to turn upward and my jaw to loosen its hold on my clenched teeth. I hold back the tears and swallow the lump in my throat. The past five months have left me feeling frustrated, guilty, sad and thoroughly spent.

Could I have done anything differently in the lead up to the family expansion?

We talked about the baby and read books about babies. He said goodnight to my bulging tummy, giving it a gentle kiss and a rub as I lay beside him. He spoke of sharing his bath toys with the baby and taking it for a walk in the pram. He spoke of helping to change nappies, using wipes and buttoning clothes. It seemed to us that he was as well prepared as he could have been. And now that the baby has arrived, he loves him dearly, smothering him with kisses and cuddles, singing to him and dancing around like a monkey in order to entertain him and elicit a chuckle.

Perhaps I should have talked more about Mummy being busier and less available, but still loving him as much as ever. Who knows? I’m just hoping that whoever coined the phrase ‘Time heals all wounds’ was right.

Illustration by Sandra Eterovic

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