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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Brothers

The screaming permeated the entire house. It was a cry that would not be assuaged. The little boy was deeply troubled. Scampering to the source of the noise, he entered his parents' room, and immediately tilted his little head to see what was going on. A deep sorrow arose within him. On the bed lay a baby, and the poor thing was yelling at the top of its lungs. The two-year-old did the only thing he could do; he dashed to the side of the bed and climbed hurriedly onto the mattress. Making his way to the littler child, the toddler rested his hand on the baby, and gently stroked its tiny head. 

"Didi," said the little boy. "Stop cry."

And the two-year-old swiftly crept down the bed again, running to his parents with a look of deep worry and anticipation, as if asking them intuitively when they would finally provide the milk to relieve his little brother's cries.
It has been just a little more than half a year since our second son E arrived home. And our lives have changed forever since that momentous day in July last year. 

Looking back, one of our many worries was that our older son Z would be jealous at the arrival of his new brother, and would resent him for taking over his parents' undivided attention. That especially since Sue had already been spending so much time with Z after she quit her full-time job in the education sector to work as a full-time Stay-At-Home-Mum and a part time educator-cum-counsellor. My wife had then just begun a new home-school curriculum which included lots of time painting and reading with Z as well as other play-based activities to help him learn in a fun environment. We were therefore concerned that by tending to the needs of a newborn baby, that the elder child would feel neglected and "act up" in a negative manner. Z was also then still going through his willful tantrum phase and we were worried that the baby's arrival would have an adverse effect on him.

The first few weeks were indeed difficult and there would be instances when Z would saunter casually to E, pat him, and then suddenly hit him without the slightest warning. Our knee-jerk reaction would have been to separate the two boys completely, and not allow them to have any contact whatsoever. But we resisted that notion as by doing so, we knew the brothers would not have had time to bond. So we would observe each interaction gingerly, and only make the move to separate them if we detected a particularly angry glint in the older boy's eyes or if we saw that he was about to lift his hands to hit his brother. It was a trying period.

In desperation, we sought out our pediatrician and poured out all our fears and worries. Without so much as batting an eyelid, she turned to us gently and said, "Three months". She then explained that most instances of such sibling rivalry last about three months, and after the initial period, that the older child gradually learns to accept that there is a new family member in the house. Her words came to pass almost to a tee, and by the time E had turned 3 months, his older brother was no longer hitting him on a regular basis. There have of course been a number of temper tantrum episodes subsequently, but these have been far and few between. 

Over time we have also learnt not to cave in to our older child's demands to either be carried or tended to exclusively by his mother, or to get attention immediately. We explain to him that "Mummy is busy taking care of Didi", and that he has to learn to wait. As in all aspects of discipline it has been difficult to enforce such a habit at the start, but as the months go by things get easier once disciplinary habits have been formed. 

It's curious how bonds between brothers are formed, and how little boys as young as two learn to care for their younger sibling. I cannot remember any tangible instance when we had insisted that Z love his younger brother; except for the times when we ask him to sayang or pat E instead of hitting him. Yet it seems that Z has taken it upon himself to be the older brother to E.

As early as when E was one to two months old, Z would closely monitor his younger brother drinking milk. On a couple of occasions he would say "Amen" whenever E drank his milk, as if reminding his brother to give thanks for the milk. And as recent as a few days ago, we spotted Z attempting to feed E with the biscuits that he was eating. To our horror we realised that our 6-month-old was actually smacking his lips, and we were thankful that he didn't get to swallow the actual biscuit!

Sharing food is not the only thing Z is attempting to do. He also tries to share his blocks, his kuti kuti (the traditional brightly-coloured plastic animal shapes), and even endeavours to teach E that the younger one needs to share things with him! On one occasion my wife was rather amused that Z wanted to go back into his old cot (now used by E). He then proceeded to play in the cot, saying "Didi, share cot." 
There is something special going on when the brothers play together. Our earliest awareness of this was when Z would go up to his younger brother who  would be lying on his play gym or on the mattress on the floor. Z would then sit on E and the younger child would reciprocate by laughing spontaneously. We were of course horrified and had to teach Z how to be gentle with E. Nonetheless we were astonished that E actually enjoyed such rough play. Over time Z has learnt to lie beside E under the play gym and just cosy together. These are precious moments which we have cherished.

Recently the interaction between the brothers has been a picture of contentment. There would be moments when Z would crawl up to E on the bed, and then grin at his younger brother in a cute manner. Reciprocating, the littler child would laugh loudly, stroking his older brother with his tiny hands. This would in turn encourage Z to either engage in a nose-rub or to lie beside E, hugging him tenderly. It truly warms our hearts when we see both of them play in this manner. And we know that there is a special bond between them that will never be broken. 

I have been reading through the Bible with Z each night, and we recently read the story of David and Jonathan. This is one of the most celebrated stories of friendship in Scripture, and the relationship was described in these terms: 

[The] soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 

The friendship was so close that when Jonathan's father Saul wanted to kill David, Jonathan chose to warn his friend rather than to side with his father. 

In trying to understand what the Bible meant by the souls of these two friends being "knit" to each other, I uncovered an important secret. This was revealed in Jonathan's parting words to David after warning him about his father's plot. 

Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” 

The key to the deep friendship between the men was that they had chosen to uphold God as the centre of this relationship. I believe that when we choose to allow God to cement our friendships, that these bonds will then withstand the test of time.

Reflecting on the current state of relations between Z and E, I can say that both boys are enjoying the special bond of brotherhood, one that can only deepen as the years go by. However, I know that for Sue and I, it is our responsibility as their parents to nurture the love of God in their lives. 

For it is only when our sons choose to allow God to cement their relationship, that their souls can be knit together; allowing them to form the deepest of all brotherly bonds.