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  • Emily Echols

Dear Firstborn


Photo by Isaac Del Toro on Unsplash

Last week, Little Brother had his tooth capped. He did great during the procedure but afterward he dealt with the weird feeling of a numb lip by chewing on it savagely. Stringy bits of the inside of his lip hung out of his mouth. I almost took him to the ER to get stitches. There was blood all over him, all over me, and all over the floor. Every time I thought I was done cleaning up blood, I found more. It was horrible.


Later that morning, my husband called me to tell me we had to cancel our vacation to Jeju Island due to work stuff. I spent the morning cuddling the little one, begging him to stop biting his lip, cleaning up blood, and stewing about losing our non-refundable plane tickets. (The trip issue got figured out and we do get to go, but it made for a crabby day.)


As we ate lunch, my oldest son said, “You don’t give me as much love as him.” Now, if you want to destroy a mom, that’s a pretty good place to start. Because you’re not currently bleeding, I don’t love you as much?


In the early days of being a mother of two I went to a ministry meeting. It was soon enough after the birth of my second son that people were surprised that I’d come. During the meeting, my oldest son fell on the playground and split his lip. One of the childcare workers brought him to me because all he wanted was his mommy. He tried to curl up in my lap while I nursed a brand-new baby on the other side and I remember thinking, “My lap isn’t big enough.” It was the first time I realized I would always be running triage. Everyone needs me but who needs me the most right now? Whose pain is worse? Who is bleeding? What if everyone is bleeding? Does the youngest child automatically win?


That’s what my oldest was trying to say but he chose the most hurtful words possible. The constant calculation that was supposed to be behind the scenes was visible. He saw me running triage and he saw that he often lost.


Dear Firstborn,

I love you more than words can say. I am so sorry that me cleaning up your brother’s blood makes you think I love him more. Maybe next time we can clean the blood up together? (A quality time activity. Is that your love language?) I don’t know what to tell you except that it destroys me every time you say you think we love him more. Or when you say you wish you didn’t have a brother. If you think we love him more, I have failed you in the most basic way. I wish I could say that your brother will need less, or that there will be less blood to clean up, but I’m not sure if any of that is true.


Your brother has always been hard in ways that you weren’t. He projectile spit-up for a year and a half so we were both always covered in spit-up and he couldn’t go to childcare. He is always covered in scabs because he has two speeds-- fast and asleep. He scales the kitchen cabinets instead of asking for help. He needs more supervision. He needs more trips to the emergency room. He needs more time outs. He needs.


I am so sorry that his need led you believe that I loved you less.


You are the one who made me a mother. When you were born, we lived in a small town where I had no friends. You were the world’s slowest nurser. I fed you and held you. We both nodded off and then we’d do it all over again. I sat next to you on a blanket and handed you toys. We went for walks. For months and months. I had nothing else to do, no one else to spend time with, and you were all I wanted.


I spent five months with just you when your daddy was deployed the first time. We went to the library every Saturday morning. We picked out a stack of books and sat at a tiny table reading them for an hour. Then we brought our favorites home. We took road trips to Pensacola and Austin. We went to the park at 8am. We went to Music Together classes and danced and sang together. It was just the two of us and it was really good.


But your love bank can’t be filled with times you can’t remember. I need to figure out how to balance both your needs. You may not be bleeding, but you need me just as much as your brother. Sometimes I need reminding that, even though you’re a big kid who can read and ride a bike, you still need me.


Shortly after we moved to Washington, I confessed to my PWOC class that I felt unsettled. I said I wasn’t sure if it was that we had just moved or that I was still getting used to having two kids or what. Several people said, “This is just what having more than one child feels like.” I was angry with them for giving me that answer. I wanted the answer to be that I would get settled in Washington and the feeling would go away. It has improved a little but it’s still there. I feel unsettled because my heart is running around outside of my body and now there are two of you. You go in different directions and you need different things and you are such different people. My how-to parent template does not work for both of you. I’m running plays off two separate books and it can be exhausting and it doesn’t always look fair. And I am sorry.


Things change. You learn how to ride a bike and we move to different countries and all your friends move away but this part doesn’t change. You are loved. By me. Always.


Often, I need someone else’s words to say what I mean. This is a song called, “Light” by Sleeping At Last.


I'll give you everything I have. I'll teach you everything I know. I promise I'll do better. I will always hold you close, But I will learn to let you go. I promise I'll do better. I will soften every edge, I'll hold the world to its best, And I'll do better. With every heartbeat I have left I will defend your every breath, And I'll do better. 'Сause you are loved. You are loved more than you know. I hereby pledge all of my days To prove it so.

Love,

Your Mommy

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