Peace in the House

By Anna Mitchael

And goodwill to all siblings

By the time you read this the holiday wrapping paper will be thrown away, your gifts will be cooling in your closet and the prices of what you paid for other people’s holiday gifts will be slashed so low you’ll be keeping a four-foot radius from your computer to avoid reverse sticker shock.

Usually, sticker shock happens when you see the price of an item and your eyes pop out of your head because it’s got the most zeros you’ve ever seen in one place. Even more, if you can believe it, than you encountered at your significant other’s holiday office party.

Reverse sticker shock is when a price goes so low you wonder why you bothered slugging someone on Black Friday for a TV when you could have completely avoided a felony if you’d just rescheduled your family Christmas for, say, January 5th, so you had time to stock up on all the post-holiday bargains.

But right now, as I write this, the holiday gift-buying craze is still on. Just yesterday, I was at Toys R Us and spent a ridiculous amount of money on Legos that look remarkably similar to the roughly one million Legos already in our house. Except that on the front of the new box, the Legos are configured into pirate shapes instead of the city, safari and hospital shapes that were displayed on the boxes of the Legos we already own. I’m guessing that no matter what shape the box shows, they all inspire the same blood-curdling wail when you step on one in the middle of the night as you are trying to find your way to the toilet. I’m looking forward to finding out for sure.

Normally, my mission in holiday shopping is to seek and destroy — but not other shoppers. I believe Black Friday should be spent in the comfort of one’s own home while relishing the leftovers of Thanksgiving Thursday and preparing for Cyber Monday. I seek the items I want in the hope that at the end of the shopping day I can destroy my list. Efficiency is key.

However, this year I am stumped because sometime between now and when Santa comes through our front door (no chimney at our house, and as Santa pointed out in the note he left next to his cookie crumbs last year, he’s not a genie coming out of a bottle — there’s nothing he can do with a chiminea) our 3-year-old son will be getting the one present he must find a way to live with no matter how ill-fitting it seems at first: a brother.

Yes, Baby Brother, as he is affectionately referred to in our chimney-less house, will be here soon, and I have been advised by many reputable sources that if Baby Brother does not arrive bearing gifts, then he will not be well-received by our firstborn. My initial instinct was to ignore these suggestions because, I mean, really. Our son is smarter than that. He knows I would be complaining a heck of a lot more than I am right now if there was also a motorized T-Rex incubating in my belly along with his brother.

But then the baby things started appearing around the house — diapers and wipes and a swing that plays 13 lullabies plus the sounds of waves crashing (a feature I’m sure is more for soothing sleep-deprived adults than babies.) Next, our son made the move to a new room so the baby could have his old room. And finally, the icing on the cake, the baby’s bassinet got a place in Mom and Dad’s room. When I saw the look in my son’s eyes as he realized that the baby would be able to sleep in the room where he could not sleep except in cases of major storm alerts or major nightmares, well, right before the jealousy flashed, I saw the two-second spark of sadness, and I went back to the drawing board on my holiday shopping list.

Maybe I did need to find an extra-special present for Baby Brother to gift his big brother upon arrival. Perhaps I was wrong to push all that advice to the side. My pregnant-lady hormones were in full gear, urging me to take just one “quick” trip to Toys R Us and see what I could find. Famous last words.

I soon discovered this gift is not like other holiday gifts — for those I can figure out likes and dislikes and then make the purchases and wrap them and BOOM, I’m on the sofa with my feet up and a practice plate of Santa’s cookies on my lap. But what kind of present would be fitting as a first gift from one sibling to another? For adults or children, is there a piece of plastic out there that can wipe away insecurities and doubt and animal instincts of selfishness?

I walked — oh, OK, I waddled — every aisle in the store and found nothing that came close to meeting such a challenge. After thought, deliberation and one chocolate peanut butter Christmas tree candy bar that I ate before actually purchasing, I decided to buy the last Legos still lingering on my regular holiday shopping list and give up on the extra gift from one brother to another.

This means that when Baby Brother arrives, he will not come with any extra bells or whistles or 10-piece train sets. The gifts he bears will be those that are hard-wired into him, the ones we get to discover over time. His older brother may not know what to do with him at first, but eventually he will figure it all out. And in the moments when the learning is hardest, I’ll hold him in my lap, and we’ll listen to the sounds of waves crashing from our land-locked house in the heart of Texas.

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