Sister Act: Bonding over blueberry rice cakes
Ava was not quite 13 months old when Ruby was born. I'd gone into hospital for an elective caesarean (because of a delightful dose of obstetric cholestasis) and had, in Ava's understanding, disappeared off the face of the earth for 24 hours.
So she was SO delighted to see me, when Dan brought her in, that she could hardly contain herself. She gurgled and whooped and kicked her legs and grabbed me by the head to give me one of those soft and slobbery suck-your-cheek baby kisses.
Then she saw it.
The cot next to my bed.
It had something in it.
AND THE THING WAS MOVING.
To say Ava punched Ruby on first sight would be unfair. It was more of a prodding push.
That the prodding push was met with both her parents fussing and saying things like "No darling! Don't do that! She's your new sister! And she's only little!" probably didn't help.
I mean, who wants a little sister when they're barely 13 months old? Ava was still crawling and must have still thought she was as small, and as important, as anyone could possibly be up until that point.
The next couple of months were a bit tricky. A caesarean when you have your first baby is one thing. A caesarean when you have to constantly be removing your 13/14/15-month-old first baby from your tiny second baby is quite another.
Ava used all the usual tricks. She'd give Ruby 'hugs' while actually seeing how hard she could squeeze her. She'd come and sit with me while I breastfed, and stare lovingly into my eyes while simultaneously seeing if she could put her thumb into one of Ruby's. She'd lob a plastic ball at Ru's head while shouting "CAT-SCH!"
Ava never really meant Ruby any harm – she was testing her, and me, the cause and effect thing. And of course, she was still so young herself.
I remember it made me worry though. They were very close in age, yet the gap between them seemed so wide back then: tiny baby / talking toddler. I worried that Ava would not forgive me for making her share absolutely everything in her world and it seemed so far off, a time when they would be friends.
As it was, it didn't take that long at all. As all newborns do, Ruby began to get more interesting at about three months and, in return for being more interesting, Ava would sometimes kiss her on the nose before leaving the room.
At the age of about six months, Ruby began sitting up – and in return for this gargantuan effort to interact, Ava would knock her over, lie on the floor next to her and squeeze her head. It was actually more tender than it sounds.
By the time Ru was seven months old, she had begun eating proper food at the table, in a high chair, next to her sibling. And in return for that, Ava would try to spoon feed Ruby everything she didn't like from her own plate (okay, that's kinda 50/50 in the bonding/bullying stakes I guess, and I did have to watch out for whole jacket potatoes being pushed towards Ruby's face).
It was a moment in a park, when Ruby was eight-and-a-half months old, that sealed the deal though. This was the moment (as embarrassing as it was) that made my heart sing, because I knew that Ava had come to LOVE her little sister.
A well-prepared mother had sat down with her daughter (a gorgeous child, a bit older than Ava) to picnic on some juice and snacks. Ava sidled up to them (I was keeping an eye on her while also very gently pushing Ruby in a swing) and glared longingly at their bag of rice cakes.
I was asked if it was okay for Ava to have one, and when offered the bag, she gently removed a single rice cake and nibbled it happily, and quickly.
"Would you like another one?" the well-prepared, picnicking mother asked my daughter.
"S'pease," Ava said sweetly.
Then she splayed her hand as widely as she could, shoved it in the bag of rice cakes and with lightning speed extracted about six of 'em and pelted over to the swing to share the loot with Ruby.
Exactly half and half.
I think I mouthed a slightly ashamed 'sorry' to the well-prepared mother. And then I watched as Ava patted Ruby's head, and Ruby sucked on her purloined snacks, and I knew they had bonded over someone else's blueberry rice cakes.
Pip Jones previously wrote the Terrible Twos column for Parentdish.
How did your toddler respond to the new baby? Did you experience a tense first few months? When did they bond? Tell us your experiences...