When Zev became a big brother six months ago, I expected there to be some jealousy issues. I didn’t expect those jealousy issues to be mine.
The assumption is that when a baby arrives in a household, the former “only child” feels dethroned and envious. I proudly report to everyone who asks, that Zev is handling his big brotherness beautifully. He adores Oz, reads to him, draws pictures of him. When Oz does some new baby trick, Zev brags to everyone from his teachers to the supermarket cashier.
He even does a great job if sensing when the baby needs my full attention. When I’m nursing, soothing or putting Oz to bed, he is careful to give me a wide berth. And that’s the problem.
Zev has gotten so good at giving me space that I feel as though a whole solar system has grown between us. My husband says I’m crazy to think this, that I’m the center of Zev’s universe. But I know better.
“When is Abba coming home?” Zev asks, looking at the clock as though it will conjure his father faster.
“The same time he always does,” I say. “Are you enjoying your double-scoop of ice cream with three toppings?”
“Yeah,” he allows. “Can I get into my Ninja costume so when Abba comes home I can sneak up and attack him?”
“You could,” I say. “Or you can hang out with me, and we can bake cookies and draw pictures and read a little.”
There is a pause as he considers his options.
“I know! What if I dress up like a spy and set up a booby trap for him instead?”
For about four months I tried to shake off the feeling that I’m a third wheel. Sure, I don’t play video games or know all the members of the Justice League, but I’m still fun. Zev still thinks I’m fun! Right?
Then one morning I stumbled into the kitchen after a sleepless night to find Zev engaged in an animated discussion with his dad about Inspector Gadget. I waited for him to say “Good morning.” When he didn’t, sleep deprivation and my own petty insecurities got the better of me. I snapped.
“You never even look up at me when I come into the room anymore!” I said to Zev. “It hurts my feelings!”
Yep. I directed an emotional outburst at a 6-year-old. I might as well have said, “You love him more than you love me,” before refusing to eat my peas.
Zev hugged me, and I apologized. Later, Hubby tried to remind me, again, that Zev still loves me very much, and the fact that I’m spending a lot of time with Oz does not change our older son’s feelings for me.
The truth is, my role has diminished. I look at how dependent upon me Oz is – I’m not only his primary comforter and protector, I’m his sole food source! – and I realize that Zev needs me less every day. While it’s silly for me to feel jealous, I know the slight distance I’m feeling now is just a glimpse of a much bigger separation to come.
No less an authority than the Torah prepares us for this. All through the Bible are stories of children leaving their parents to strike out on their own. These stories are meant to be inspirational. To remind us that we shouldn’t feel threatened by the natural development of our children.
Eventually, Zev will engage the world on his own. He’ll succeed and fail outside my peripheral vision. He’ll make some friends I may never meet.
I should take comfort in knowing that his growing independence is part of the circle of life. After all, if I hadn’t grown up, there would be no Zev. From here on out, I will try to not be jealous. I will embrace Zev’s growth. As Genesis tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave onto his wife.”
I hate her already.