- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Trouble is coming down the pike. My grandson, Matt, is about to become a big brother. Gone is the suction cup my daughter used to pipe Mozart to Matt when he was just a fetus. The new baby has been serenaded with "The Wheels on the Bus" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider" as sung by Matt. For this pregnancy, my daughter has armed herself with an impressive library of books with names such as "Successfully Introducing the New Child to His or Her Older Siblings."

She is trying to make the transition from one child to two as painless as possible. We all did that, remember? And now remember how the truth unfolded. That truth sibling rivalry is an inherited disorder present in the gene structure of 100 percent of all older and younger siblings.

I believe the first time sibling rivalry was documented was about 6,000 years ago when Adam and Eve brought Abel home. Remember how happy Cain was? In all fairness to Cain, he never really had the benefit of a good lawyer to establish reasonable doubt. Of course, with only three persons left in the world, reasonable doubt would have been hard to establish.

My own sibling experience was likewise less than stellar. Fifty years after my brother's birth, I still have the incessant need to remind him that the first time I saw him he looked like a balding rodent wrapped in a blue blanket. Sometimes, I add that the blanket was a lot more attractive than he was.

I was a child before sex education was taught in preschool (in fact, I was a child before there was either preschool or sex education). I believed my parents went to the hospital, chose the baby from a row of bassinets lined up under a sunny window, and brought their choice home. In my mind, I was sure my parents would eventually recognize the magnitude of their error and return my brother for someone more attractive, not to mention a lot bigger. I thought he would be at least old enough to throw a ball.

"You really have to let it go," my older sister keeps telling me. She, however, has no recollection of my brother's inaugural appearance. When I ask her why I was so much more upset by his arrival than she was, she answers, "Because I was still trying to get over the fact they brought you home."

My own children fared no better. Shortly before my second daughter was born, I read anything I could about the impact of a new baby on the first child. We talked about the new baby coming to live at our house. We took Dayna, my oldest daughter, to see other little babies. We even gave her a new baby doll of her own when I arrived home from the hospital. The most extravagant thing we did was hire a baby nurse to assist for two weeks, so we could spend as much time as possible with Dayna.

She was enamored with the new baby. She sat next to her and stroked her little hands. She kissed her forehead whenever she could get close enough. She sat next to the nurse as the baby was being fed. She repeatedly told us she loved the new baby.

My husband and I patted ourselves on the back. We had successfully brought the new baby home. Dayna was OK. She was happy. Two weeks later, we all kissed the nurse goodbye. The new baby was fast asleep in her crib. Dayna returned to her room to play. Twenty minutes later, she came flying into the kitchen, her eyes as big as saucers. Her face wore the ashen mask of panic. "Ma-a-a-a," she screamed, "That lady forgot her baby."

Now it's Dayna's generation, the Mommy and Me, Mozart group, who is dealing with the new child in the family. I hope they can fix that sibling rivalry gene, but early feedback is not encouraging. Remember Madeleine? She is the granddaughter of a good friend, the little girl for whom I childproofed my kitchen. Recently, she became a big sister.

A few months before the new baby was born, Madeleine's parents moved her into a big-girl bed. Her parents told her the crib would be for the new baby. Madeleine felt fine about moving into the big-girl bed. She kept telling her parents she was sleeping in the big bed, and the crib was for the new baby. Sometimes she would put old toys in the crib for the new baby.

Since her mother's labor was being induced, Madeleine even knew when the new baby would arrive. Three days before her mother went to the hospital, Madeleine asked, "Who are the new baby's mommy and daddy going to be?"

Ellen Rosenthal is the grandmother of 2-year-old Matthew. Her column appears the first Tuesday of each month. Send any comments and suggestions to her by mail: PO Box 60701, Potomac, Md. 20859; or by e-mail ([email protected]).

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