Sibling Love

“I swear you can hear their eyelids open,” Blake joked one morning after I had recounted the tales of the preceding night with two babies under two. As usual, he had slept on soundly through Alice’s nursing sessions and Henry’s night awakenings, protesting the confines of his crib.

He wasn’t wrong. When I became a mother, along with these creatures that had grown inside me, a new intuition had grown in parallel. A connected sense that didn’t meet any worldly logic.

Aside from a low-tech, beat-up baby monitor that we used when we frolicked on the beach while Alice or Henry napped, I never used a device to supervise our sleeping babes. I didn’t understand the need to watch them endlessly on a one-inch screen. I inexplicably felt they needed me before they ever made any sounds.

Now, no longer babies, this maternal superpower continues.

Through the heavy, velvety curtain of sleep, my eyes flicked open. Pulling my earplugs from my ears, I already knew that one set of pint-sized bare feet would be creaking through the house. Propped up on one elbow, I held my breath and listened searchingly. Nothing. Blake slumbered on beside me. Clumsily yanking on my slippers, I slipped by Alice’s empty bed knowing exactly where I would find her.

Over the years, like clockwork, Alice had been waking with complaints of loneliness through the ungodly hours of the night. Always, her fleece dragging along beside her, she would search for me in the blackness and beg for companionship. Nightly, I would stretch out on the floor beside her converted toddler bed, room for only my head to perch uncomfortably on its edge, a hand in the space between her shoulder blades, waiting for her breathing to slow. Night after night. If her twilight quest revealed an empty space on my side of the bed, having been called for a delivery or working an ER nightshift, she’d simply help herself to its glorious luxury, slipping in beside Blake, who remained blissfully unaware that any night happenings were occurring.

Tonight though, despite her bedtime demons, she hadn’t come in pursuit of me.

Over the preceding days, Blake and Henry had taken off for a multi-day father-and-son winter camping ski trip to ‘rip the pow’, as Henry would say casually. Fueled by endless hot chocolates in the camper, they snuggled like cocoons in their winter bags, forewent all personal hygiene tasks and gobbled pizza at every meal.

Alice and I were having an equally comfy extended weekend of snuggling in bed, barricaded from the world by books forming a U-shaped fortress around us. We promised to just wear PJs and went outside only to drink in the powder that fell endlessly from the sky. But despite our seemingly joyful time together, every few hours, Alice would pause her activity and inquire about Henry’s return. How many more hours still until the boys came home, Mom?

It was the summer of 2015 and our bare legs stretched out over the driftwood-strewn beach as we regarded the Hecate strait with wonder. The only souls for miles, an abandoned quiet encircled our unconventional date night. Behind us, an eight-month-old Henry slumbered in our three-man tent as dusk crept up to meet our toes. Red wine sloshed in our travel mugs and our backs slackened further against the fallen ancient cedar backrest with each sip. Haida Gwaii had always held a treasured place for Blake and I. Our four-month stint in Masset during my residency had been the best season of our marriage. I had watched orcas pass by through the hospital’s front windows while Blake foraged for salmonberries, caught specked trout in the rivers and formed deep relationships while lending a hand in the building of a longhouse with a local carver.

With Henry newly on the scene, we had made the trek to the most western part of our country to recreate the magic on a two-week-long camping road trip. A perfect trio.

As I downed the last of my red wine, Blake equally loosened, turned to me to ask, ‘Wait, when did you last have a period?’ My eyes widened with pause. Blake laughingly took the bottle from my hands and happily saw it to its end before we snuggled in with Henry for the night, the stars painted overhead across the darkest of dark.

The next day, a pregnancy test confirmed what Blake and I already had concluded – him gleefully, me in disbelief. How could this have happened? I literally made a living on helping women plan their families! Against unfavourable odds, somehow life had doggedly taken up residence in my just newly post-partum womb.

At home in Sioux Lookout, the long light of the June day pulled across the lake and saturated the view of our floor-to-ceiling windows. At the kitchen table, I sat alone. In my hands, I held a glossy, black and white image that so blatantly and indisputably proved what I had hoped had been a giant misunderstanding with my body. I wept, heartbroken. So swiftly was time falling away from me with my baby. From a rapid return to work to now the news I would soon have another all-encompassing being demanding my attention away from Henry’s perfect curls. I was devastated.

Of course, I now cannot imagine our lives without our shy, yet spunky, rough-and-tumble, red-headed firecracker. But truth be told, it took many months for me to adjust to our two-baby household. For Henry, however, at sixteen months old, he instantly gained a. life-long partner in crime. For his entire living memory, he will never know life without his sister by his side, for better or worse.

In late 2020, the pandemic had hit just as Alice had began her transition from her comfortable and deeply-loved home daycare to school. After barely attending more than seemingly a handful of consecutive days of junior kindergarten at Sacred Heart School in Sioux Lookout the provincially-mandated ‘virtual school’ was ordered. Not one to stick to the lesson plan, Alice and Henry spent the majority of their COVID days together playing and adventuring outside with Blake. With an overarching cautious approach, we shied away from play-dates in those early days and soon Alice and Henry became more inseparable than they had ever been. Their fights were fierce, but their love fiercer.

This fall, we landed in Kimberley mere days before Alice’s first day of in-person Kindergarten at her new school. I was beyond terrified, anxious and worried we had forced Alice and Henry into a situation that would be somehow irreparably harmful. It was a massive transition in more ways than one.

Henry sailed through those first weeks without a backwards glance, but the new school, the loud and chaotic change of environment and daily separation from home was a challenge for Alice. At our first parent-teacher interview, Alice’s soft-spoken, quintessentially gentle Kindergarten leader informed us that Alice was having difficulty making new friends. At recess, she would immediately seek out Henry and tail him for the duration of their time outside. They could not be separated.

Back at home, feeling my way through the dark, I stepped carefully down the wooden staircase, the boards creaking in protest. As I had predicted, Henry’s door had been flung open. All was still as I went to investigate. Poking my head inside Henry’s doorframe, I made out a small duvet-covered mound encompassing only the most upper corner of his double bed. Peering closer, the details of the singular lump came into focus. Softly, their breaths rose and fell, their bodies entangled into one. My two babies, cocooned together, enveloped in their beloved lambskin fleeces. Henry’s arm loosely flung over Alice’s side, their bodies mirroring each other’s, spooned together into one. My whole world. Right there in front of me.

As Omicron cases surge, schools and gyms are shuttered (again), visits with friends and family erased from the family calendar, there is very little good that I can say at this time that has come from this pandemic. I’m tired, I’m beyond irritated and yet again, I feel the grief and longing for normalcy permeating my thoughts. Truthfully, I’m finding it difficult to stay present and to sit with our collective suffering. Yet, the deepness and simplicity of my children’s sibling love has reminded me that all is not lost and the strengthening of their bond has certainly been a silver lining to these past two years. As the ground continues to shift under our feet, I hold this image of my spooning, slumbering children close to my heart. One foot in front of the other, hour by hour, day by day.

So, as we carry on in the midst of yet another wave of COVID cases, I send my solidarity and love to all of you parents and caregivers out there who, each morning, steel yourselves for another day of impossibility. Homeschooling, working from home, wading through the chaos, trying to maintain some semblance of a relationship with your spouse, all while attempting to cling to the last of your lingering sanity, I feel you. We all do. There is no easy way out but only comfort in the collective. Soldier on, my friends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: