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*Column* The New Girl: The Older Girl

Three and a half years ago, when I started this column, my daughter was tiny, and the whole experience of parenting was so new (and I so tired) that I could think of no other title for the column than The New Girl. We were both exploring new worlds then. But now, as Mamazine is closing, I would probably have to end the column anyway, at least under that name: Nora wasn't born yesterday, these days. She knows my coffee order is a cappuccino, she asked recently why all the other kids went to preschool five days a week instead of three (and argued successfully that she should go more, too), and she chooses her outfits every morning based on what color she wants to express that day: "Today," she says, "I will be a vision in brown." Or pink, or stripes, or flowers. (Heaven help us if socks to match aren't clean or can't be found.)

She is, she says, a big girl. I agree, sort of, especially if I look back at pictures of those first days, or even of a year ago. She rejects strollers, and will walk a half mile to the park without whining (much); she clambers up into her carseat all by herself (but I still have to buckle it, of course); and she can tell time enough to know the crucial difference between 5am and 6am when she wakes up (but, once it's six, she comes into our room to snuggle in our bed).

And now she is determined to become an even bigger girl, as soon as she can, because we've just told her our news: we're having another baby, and she'll be a big sister. Obviously, it took us a long time to come to a decision about whether to try to have another child. For at least a couple of years, we were pretty sure we wouldn't, but as Nora grew—and, probably, the memory of the challenges of the first months and years receded—it seemed harder to let go of the idea of a family of four. My husband and I each have a sibling, and those are important relationships in our lives; the thought of leaving Nora without a brother or sister as an ally in the world saddened me whenever I thought of it. She herself has been agitating for a sibling for months. About a year ago, in fact, she told the teachers at her preschool that I was having a baby, having made it up entirely. And she's been occasionally saying that she wants a sister—or, less often, a brother—for a while.

Rationally, I thought there was no need for a second. Nora is a great kid; we don't have another bedroom; we can afford another child but we can take more trips and do more fun stuff without worrying about plumping up a second college fund while restoring Nora's to the health it enjoyed prior to the current market collapse. Irrationally, however, I would see babies and young siblings together, and the underneath-it-all part of my brain wanted that in my own house. And the very deepest, most instinctual part of all was, perhaps, one of self-preservation: I can hardly bear to think of it, but in some ways I think that, with just one child, I am too vulnerable. If something dreadful happened to her, I fear, I would have no reason to keep on going.

Nora, though, doesn't know about any of that. All she knows is that right now there is a tiny baby in Mama's tummy and sometime after her birthday, when she turns four, it will come out. Her reaction—happy, sweet, thoughtful, a touch worried—has been a joy to see and hear. One of her first questions was where we would put the baby (answer: I haven't the foggiest, but if you think of something, let me know). She says it's okay that we don't know if it's a boy or a girl, but we will soon. She says that when the baby is bigger she will play with it and do peekaboo and help it feel better when it is sad. That, I can't wait to see.

We've told her a little bit about what the reality of having a new baby in the house might be like—the baby will cry, it won't play, it won't laugh or smile for a while, and Mama and Daddy will be kind of tired and busy with the baby at first. I'm afraid to overemphasize the negative points too much, since she's excited and happy; plenty of time for all that. But I don't want her to feel shoved aside, though I know that is inevitable, at least at times.

I worry a bit that our family will end up being me aligned with the younger, my husband with Nora—in the short term at least, when the reality is that I will have to spend a lot of time physically attached to a new baby. My hope is that I can be conscious of this and find ways to do the things with Nora that we have fun doing: going for walks, baking cookies, watercolor painting, even just grocery shopping. After all, as I said to her this morning, she will always be my first baby. She made my whole world new.

column added on 2009-02-14 :: ::

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Kate Washington

Kate Washington has written about food, travel, books, and more for a number of magazines, newspapers, and websites. She holds a PhD in English from Stanford University. She and her husband run Roan Press, a small literary publisher. She lives in Sacramento with her family.

Read more of Kate's The New Girl column.

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