Seeing these two girls become sisters has been one of the most incredible events of my life. Even more incredible than each of their individual births, maybe. Having a second child didn't seem real until the two of them were in the same room together for the first time - until then, it was a strange sense of deja vu - but once it happened, it was like seeing my world settle into place.
Her first glance of baby sister.
Prior to Em's birth, we tried to help Carys prepare for this life-changing event as much as we could. We bought several big sister and baby books (Hello, Baby and What a Baby Needs and I'm a Big Sister if you're looking for recommendations), which she read with us over and over. We told her that there was a baby sister growing in my tummy, and that the baby would grow and grow and when she got bigger she'd come out. We went to a sibling class at the hospital, which she was technically about six months too young for (as the class was for age 3+), but she did wonderfully - even participating by raising her hand and shouting out answers by the end. I think at that point, she had a vague idea of what was going to happen, but I don't think she really got it. Shortly before Em's birth, though, Carys accidentally saw a birth video on my phone (!!!!!). I had been watching one on YouTube and when she went to play something else on YouTube that video queued up and started playing. I was horrified and worried she'd be completely traumatized, but she shocked me by loving it and wanted to watch more. I somewhat censored what she watched so she didn't see anything too graphic, but seeing those videos seemed to clarify the situation for her - that a baby would ACTUALLY be coming out at the end of this growing process, and she talked about it in much different and more concrete terms than she did prior to seeing the videos.
Come baby day, we took Carys to daycare in the morning, and told her that after school, she'd be able to come see mommy at the doctor's and that the baby would be out of my tummy and she'd be able to hold it. She seemed very excited, telling all of her teachers and school friends that the baby was coming. Her teacher asked us to send a picture of the baby after she was born, and said they'd hang it up and show Carys and make a huge deal about how she was a big sister now (and they did, and it made such a huge difference!).
I even dressed her in a shirt that morning that said, "I love my sis." All out, right? It's the little things in life. Of course, her visitor badge covered up half of it, but oh well.
In the evening, my sister Jenna picked Carys up from daycare to bring her up to the hospital. She was very excited to see us, but upon entering the mostly* strange room (*she'd seen it in the hospital tour so it wasn't completely new) and seeing me in the hospital bed hooked up to wires and IVs and looking a hot mess, she got a little bit shy and clung to her daddy, burying her head in his shoulder. He let her hang back, then slowly brought her over to me to say hi. She wanted to go to me and have me hold her, but was so uncertain it broke my heart a little and I very much had a "what have we done to her???" moment.
I tried not to force it and to let her discover the baby on her own terms in her own time, but to help it along, we had a sibling gift for her that we presented as being "from" baby sister - a Merida doll, from the movie "Brave" (all her other dolls are 'baby' dolls, so I was hoping that a 'big kid' doll would be something special and different). She opened the bag and squealed with excitement, and told baby sister "gank oo!!!" (She will still tell people that "Mare-da" is from baby sister.) We also got her two additional small toys, Lightning McQueen and Mater cars, that sister "gave" her two other days, just to keep the excitement about everything fresh.
She was still really uncertain, so we encouraged her to go play with my friend's little boy Chase and to explore the room. The two kids played hide-and-seek, and the levity of the games helped her relax and feel so much more comfortable.
When her Aunt Ana went to take her home for the night, she insisted on climbing back into bed with me and saying goodbye to baby sister again.
She came back to visit the other three days I was there as well, and each time she was just as excited to see sister, and to introduce her to any new visitors: "This my baby sister! Em-uh-line!" (I love the way she pronounces Emmeline - three very distinct, perfectly enunciated syllables.)
I was a little worried about how it would go once we got home: would Carys want to send Emmeline back to the hospital or think she belonged only at the hospital? Luckily, those thoughts didn't seem to cross her mind. In fact, each morning since Em's arrival, the first thing Carys has asked in the morning is either, "I have oh-gurt? [yogurt]" or "I hold baby sister?" If yogurt wins that morning, a request to hold sister follows soon after. And that request is repeated a dozen times each day.
Emmeline obviously has zero opinions about her big sister yet (or about anything that doesn't involve food) but seeing Carys develop into this nurturing soul and seeing this sisterly love grow has been incredible. She's become such a good helper and revels in doing so. If I say I'm going to find sister's paci, she jumps and and says, "No! I do it!" She loves helping change diapers, pushing her in the swing, covering her with a blanket picking out clothes, replacing the paci, even getting her latched on (placing her hand on the back of Em's head and saying, "I push her on now?"). Multiple times throughout the day, she'll come sit next to me and ask to hold Emmeline. When Emmeline cries, she gets so concerned. I was in the bathroom the other day and heard Em start to cry, and a few seconds later it stopped. I rushed out, a little concerned about what I'd find, only to see Carys sitting in front of her, gently holding a pacifier in her mouth and stroking her cheek, saying, "It's okay, baby sister. I'm here. It's okay."
"Mommy! Baby sister crying!!!! Give her milk!"
She wants to go everywhere Emmeline goes and wants Emmeline to go with her everywhere. When Emmeline was sick, we had to take her to the doctor, and she told the receptionist, the lady in the waiting room, two nurses, and the doctor, "Baby sister is so sick!" with a big frown on her face. When Emmy had to get some blood drawn, Carys grabbed me and started to cry that they were hurting the baby. Afterward, the nurse let Carys pick out a sticker for both of them, and she was so proud to have matching stickers.
The love isn't always reciprocated.
First bath together; Carys was crushed she couldn't take Emmeline out of the bath seat to hold her.
Carys loves showing her baby sister off to everyone: when someone arrives she grabs their hands and leads them to Emmeline and says, "That's my baby sister!" When holding her, she'll narrate what she's doing: "I holding baby sister. I kissing her hand. I touch her softly? I squeeze baby sister! I hug baby sister. I kiss her head."
Occasionally, Carys will test the boundaries: pushing the swing a little too hard, squeezing her a little too much, poking her after I said to let the baby sleep. But I don't think it has anything to do with her feelings toward baby sister, but rather has to do with simply being two. And that's what two year olds do.
Carys seems so natural in her role of big sister; thus far it's absolutely everything that I hoped for when I learned we were having another baby (and multiplied when we found out it was a girl - SISTERS!). I keep taking pictures of each and every time Carys asks to hold Emmy; it never gets old. Before Em arrived, I pictured the four of us laying in bed in the mornings and watching movies on the couch and seeing the two of them play together on the floor, and seeing that become the reality of my life is so incredibly satisfying and fulfilling. I can't wait to see them giggling together under blanket forts, playing teacher and student, whispering shared secrets in the language of little girls. Sharing ice cream while staying up late, huddled together and squealing over brain freeze. Running hand in hand around the playground. Ganging up together against Chris and I; a united front against the tyranny of parents. Growing up to be two different women, yet always having that unique bond that a shared childhood brings.
There are moments when, with two needy little ones (I can't imagine how it is with three or four or eight), you're pulled in different directions and you wonder how you'll handle both children or fulfill both their needs or keep them both happy and you want to cry with frustration, but ten seconds later your big girl comes to sit by your little girl and lays her head down softly on the little one's cheek, and the little one's tiny fingers grasp a finger of the big one's hand, and you melt. And you realize that this, this love between siblings and sisters, is truly the gift that keeps on giving. And with any luck, you'll be blessed to witness it for the rest of your life.
And then you explode from the cheesiness.