Before Beck was born everyone told me how hard it was going to be for Harper to adjust. I was told that she would be angry and resentful and that she would go through a phase of not really liking me because I would be turning all my attention to the baby. I was so afraid for that boy to make his debut. Harper and I had a very sweet relationship, she adored me almost as much as I adored her. She would spontaneously love on me without me even asking her to and it melted my heart every time. I did not want that to change.
So it was with a heavy heart that I left her in the care of her grandmother as I waddled to the car, taking stop-and-breathe breaks every 2 minutes. She would no longer be my only baby. I would no longer belong to just her. My time and attention would from that point on always be divided.
The first time Harper came to the hospital to meet her new baby brother she combed his hair. It was equal parts hilarious and endearing. She saw my comb, picked it up, walked right over to Beck and started combing his hair. They've been buddies ever since.
Each and every time he wakes up from a nap, Harper starts saying "brother" over and over again and baby talks to him as she purses her lips and slowly shakes her head from side to side. And immediately afterwards she insists on kissing him. She says "kiss" until I bring his little head to her level so she can plant a big, wet (and sometimes sticky) kiss all over him. It melts my heart every time. Sometimes we tell her to give him a kiss but she usually comes up with the idea all on her own. A couple weeks ago was my mom's birthday. I got the kids dressed and posed and starting snapping some pictures for her and without warning Harper just turned and started kissing him like she knew it would make us all swoon.
All my fears have been put to rest as I have watched Harper fall effortlessly into her role as Sister. She has never once acted out in any display of jealousy or rage towards Beck or towards me. In fact I would have to say she has only become more loving and affectionate towards all of us since he was born.
But her love and kindness doesn't end with us. She is actually quite affectionate towards complete strangers (so far only of the child variety). She'll walk right up to them and start pointing out their shoes and their jackets and their pants and whatever else she is in the mood to say and then she'll try to give them a hug. I have seen all sorts of reactions, from returned stranger affection to very hateful shoves. It breaks my heart to see her put herself out there and offer her own sort of friendship to other kids and to be rejected so quickly. (I can't help but feel that those behaviors are learned, not innate. I think babies are born with traits similar to their loving Heavenly Parents and had their environment not taught them otherwise they would retain those qualities forever.)
This summer I had the opportunity to nanny for a family in our ward that have three children, each with a very unique set of "special" needs. The middle child, a girl, has multiple seizures a day. Her mom took her to Omaha for 2 weeks to pick up a service dog, trained to help comfort her through those seizures and protect her from harm. The next week was spent in Ohio doing follow-up visits for the brain surgery she had undergone 6 months previously. So for 3 weeks I was put in charge of their youngest boy Jared. I don't know what the full story is on him and why he is the way that he is, but up until just a year or so ago (he is now 7) he was fed through a tube in his stomach. Now he drinks milk but that's all he eats. He has hearing aids, glasses, and wears braces on his feet. He had a kidney transplant when he was very young. I don't know exactly what level he is at cognitively but he is behind and he struggles coping when things don't go his way. He is prone to meltdowns. To ask him to tolerate my 14-month-old was a lot for him. He would get pretty upset with her sometimes and yell at her for things that bothered him. I understood that he just didn't understand her intentions. Anyway, it was a long, very challenging 3 weeks and I was worried that Harper might lash out at him and dish it right back. But she didn't. She just happily played alongside him and was excited to go back to his house day after day.
This past week I was asked to babysit him again while his mom took his sister to the Mayo Clinic for more testing. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see how Harper lit up as he walked through the front door on Monday. She was giggling at him for the first 15 minutes and followed him around like his little shadow all week long. Every day was the same. Jared would come over and Harper would squeal in delight. He still didn't really love having her around but he was much more tolerant this time.
Jared LOVES angry birds. In any variety. We happen to have some plush angry birds and I pulled them out for him to play with on Tuesday. Harper apparently noticed how much he loved them because the next day as soon as he got there, she went herself and got them out and brought them to him. She had been playing with her other toys before he got there, not interested at all in the birds. But upon his arrival she knew he would want to play with those birds so she went to find them. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness! I didn't know a 19-month-old had the capacity to think that way.
I hope Harper never trades in her sweetness for popularity or success. I can't fool myself into thinking that she'll always light up when I enter the room (everyone has to be a teenager for a few years) but I pray that her love for others never fades.
If I keep hanging around this girl, I may have a few new valuable traits to add to my own list of "strengths."