Leena spoke for the first time at the age of 2 months. “Yes,” she squeaked in a shrill voice, indicating to all present that, indeed, she did want her older sister to take possession of the toy she had just received in the mail. I could have sworn that it was Sonya speaking in falsetto, but when I glanced over, Sonya just smiled and said “Thank you sister!” Since then, Leena’s speaking abilities have absolutely exploded – and with them, her Mother Teresa-like willingness to share with her big sister.
Initially, her magnanimity centered around ownership. “Big sister can use this,” she’d chirp as Sonya wrenched a toy out of her hand. Other times, upon opening a new present Leena would immediately announce that she wanted to share this with big sister.
But over time, Leena’s interests in sharing with Sonya have expanded to other areas of her life.
“This is for big sister,” Leena will squeak at the dinner table as Sonya swipes a peach-half off of her plate or takes a long draw out of her sippy-cup.
Other times, Sonya simply reports what Leena has told her. For instance, one afternoon a colorful letter arrived just for Leena during her daily nap. After I informed Sonya that we would open the letter when Leena woke up, she nodded and then cheerfully notified me that Leena had told her “it’s ok. Actually big sister can open it.” When pressed on the point of *when* Leena had said this, Sonya answered “earlier.”
But here’s an interesting fact: for the longest time Leena only spoke when Sonya was around. That all changed in mid July this year. On Sonya’s third birthday, Leena extended her pointer finger at a ballon bobbing in the wind and said “Boon!” I cheered. Mitali cheered. Sonya cheered too – but she could not have possibly anticipated how that word would change things.
With those first words came Leena’s dawning awareness that maybe, just perhaps, she *didn’t* want to do all the things she had been saying all these months. For example, I began noticing that, while she might be squealing “I want to share this with big sister,” a tug of war would ensue, which Leena would inevitably lose and end up keeled over on the floor wondering what just happened. Sonya also began to notice that Leena had lost a certain degree of her former altruism.
To her credit, Sonya adapted well to the harsh realities of a sister who didn’t gleefully fork over her dessert or happily surrender a plastic Wooly Mammoth toy in exchange for a tupperware lid. “It’s Leena’s turn with the block now,” Mitali or I would say. “Your turn is next.” But, really, it was only a matter of time before the “turns” wore thin.
Everything came to a head several weeks ago when Sonya came tearfully running into the kitchen after breakfast and clung onto my leg.
“Leena’s using my backpack, Daddy!” she cried. As if on cue, the smiling two-foot culprit staggered around the corner and into the kitchen dragging an Elmo backpack behind her.
It’s important to note that in the days leading up to this incident, Leena had adopted this backpack as her own child. She slept with this backpack and she ate with this backpack. She toted this backpack around the house and would refuse to leave it behind when going outside, relegating it to drag underneath the stroller while she clutched it by its little red handle.
The only problem was that the backpack actually belonged to Sonya. In Leena’s defense, several days before this impasse, Sonya had received two high-quality backpacks from relatives for her birthday. At that time, Sonya had bequeathed the Elmo backpack to Leena. In soothing tones, I tried to remind Sonya of all this. But she shook her head.
“No, I want *that* backpack!” she curtly responded, folding her arms tightly across her chest and extending her lower lip into a severe pout.
Because a three-year-old has the aggregate reasoning capacity of a box of feral chipmunks, I realized immediately that pressing the point that she had given this backpack to Leena days ago would only hurt my credibility as an impartial judge of the situation. Instead, I appealed to her deep seated conviction that she and Daddy should be identical at all times. I pointed out that Daddy’s backpack was practically identical to her new zebra backpack (they both had zippers and pockets, for example) and the tension of the moment melted away.
Recently, however, this strategy has begun to backfire because my sell jobs have started working on Leena too. This isn’t implicitly a bad thing, of course. It’s just that my efforts to convince Sonya that she actually wants a purple sippy-cup rather than the red one Leena is presently holding now tend to generate an immediate run on purple sippy-cups by all small people in our household.
Most of the time, though, there are enough backpack, sippy-cup, and food stocks on hand to go around. We were in McDonald’s play area recently – one of those multi-level play zones. Leena had just finished eating her chicken nuggets as Sonya climbed to the top tier of the play yard and proceeded to march around shouting, “I need you Leena! I need you Leena!” Leena heard her – she couldn’t articulate it, but she knew what she needed to do. She wriggled out of her seat and started the long, clambering journey up the padded scaffolding towards her big sister.