08/14/2014 04:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Walking In On Your Vulnerability: Second-Born Guilt

My younger son came into this world two weeks ahead of time marking his path in life: not gonna wait. Not if I can help it.

At 11 months he was walking -- no, running -- and opening fridge doors and drawers, hunting down his own dinner, fixing himself a snack as he would bite into a saran-wrapped cucumber before I could stop him, because patience just isn't a lion cub's strong suit. I remember a conversation taking place between myself and one of my best friends. I had mentioned to her how surprised I was that at six months of age that my baby managed to preserve his unique, unmistakable signature colicky newborn cry. My friend, superior to me in wisdom and a product of a larger family, delivered a convincing closing argument: second born genetics. They come with built in survival skills. Designed to outscream.

Observing him on his own and as he started interacting with his brother and us, I knew one thing with certainty: here's someone who can fend for himself if he ever needed to.

And as my baby was growing and morphing into a toddler I'd look at him with tenderness and exhilaration, soaking in every breathtaking detail but rarely did I look through that vision-blurring protective lens, because don't you know it? This one is fierce, passionate, fiery! He yells, bites, kicks and growls! Whenever I looked at that tiny frame what I saw were his thick dark curls and I got distracted by a narrative I created. Here comes my little lion with his mane, roar and powerful jaws. I saw mighty Samson in an extremely cute package, a cartoon Samson if you will, and I found proof of his resilience everywhere. And while my older son was always stubborn, independent and determined, 19 Month Old was his brother amplified, his brother with a kick. To drive his point home, in altercations with his sibling 19 Month Old relied on fists and teeth and I often had to step in for 4 Year Old who never retaliated.


Update mom guilt checklist and add following item: not feeling protective enough of her second-born.

That is until I walked in on his vulnerability.


Imagine the following scene orchestrated by 4 Year Old, so typical in its atypicalness: a kitchen floor arrangement consisting of a tray and a chopping board. The chopping board rests on top of the deep tray. Sitting on the floor beside it is 4 Year Old playing rink master to his toddler brother, sweet-talking him into climbing on top of the contraption. Nineteen Month Old obediently obliges although struggles a bit to stabilize himself. Four Year Old's smiling now, a sneaky smile with his voice rising up and dropping down dripping with insincerity as he lures his puppet in and then corrects it: no, no, you're supposed to lie down on this, Daniel! The little feet on the board are immediately launched into action, responding with a little tap dance of uncertainty. A few hesitant attempts to reposition them followed by a clumsy, seeking to please belly dive and there he is, positioning himself on his belly, face down, then turned to the side, not forgetting to tuck his hand under his right cheek attempting to recreate his "nigh-nigh!" game, as his legs are uncomfortably dangling off the tiny board. As I witness this scene, I gratefully embrace the ache and the warm and familiar sense of protectiveness filling my heart.

And then I realize. This was simply the kind of vulnerability I can recognize, but your everyday vulnerability might look differently than your brother's. It might be a loud and explosive one, it might feel like fire, but it's there and I need to learn to recognize it. Even lion cubs need protection and I'm here.