More than six years after having my first son Toby, I gave birth to a second little boy named Leo. In between each of those momentous birthdays were years of trying and failing to fall pregnant and three unpleasant and devastating miscarriages.
We tried for as long as we did because we started our procreation journey with the goal of having two children. I grew up as part of a family of four, so it made sense to me and also seemed like a sensible number of kids to have from an emotional and practical perspective.
I love my little sister and I treasure our bond, so I wanted this for my own family. As the years passed however and the gap became ever wider between Toby and his potential sibling, we started to reconsider our options. I felt bruised and deeply saddened by the loss of three unborn babies, and yet our life as a family in all other aspects was wonderful. We were grateful to have our happy, bright and cheeky boy, and we were enjoying holidays and dinners out with him as he grew out of nappies and nap times.
Yet this vision of having another baby, a sibling for Toby, was unshakeable. We decided based on previous heart ache and a desire to move forward, that my 38th birthday would be a self-imposed deadline. No successful pregnancy by that date meant we would grieve for what we could not have, but celebrate our future as a family of three.
Halfway through 2016 we found out I was expecting Leo – cue buckets of tears and cautious joy! The whole pregnancy was a roller coaster of anxiety and the thought that we might have actually have this mystical second child and sibling for Toby was overwhelming.
Leo arrived on 27 February 2017 and the first cuddle with his big brother was captured by at least three smart phones and is pretty special. Toby is ruddy-cheeked, smiling and proud while Leo is cute, squishy and fast asleep.
It was clear not long after that moment however that Toby first saw his mewling, demanding little sibling not as a friend or the completion of our family, but as a mortal enemy. Someone who was literally sucking the life out of his mother and making everyone else giddy with delight.
I realised that the long delay between Toby and Leo’s births meant they couldn’t have the same relationship enjoyed by my sister and I, at least not for a few years. Toby at seven-years-old is all about soccer, Clash Royale on the iPad and hanging with his friends. Leo at just over one-years-old is all about his cuddly panda and pulling stuff out of the waste paper bin. As more time passes however, I am noticing that they are beginning to form a precious bond.
While Toby’s initial interest in Leo was suspicious at best, almost as soon as Leo could hold his head up I could see him intently watching Toby as he whirled around the room.
Once he was sitting up and making sounds, ‘Toto’, Leo’s name for Toby, was the first thing he would say in the morning, and he would save his biggest, gummiest smiles for his brother’s fast-paced antics.
I was intrigued to see how Leo’s smiles and genuine interest made an impact on Toby and from an occasional passing glance, Toby began to spend more time trying to seek out Leo’s giggles by copying me as I sung him nursery rhymes or tickled his feet.
Leo is now 14 months and still Toby’s biggest fan. He follows him around to play in his room with his big boy toys, and he loves nothing more than when Toby has a friend over and he can watch two energetic kids run, jump and whoop!
Adoration from Leo aside, I have also enjoyed seeing their first fights which I know will cause me headaches in the years to come. Leo already says ‘nah’ and tells Toby off if he is doing something he doesn’t like. I have seen Leo give Toby a good cold hard stare and a pinch if he is withholding a toy or teasing him.
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Toby mostly tolerates Leo and the way he shadows him around the house, but does need time away from his littlest fan. I have witnessed some heart melting cuddles when he thinks I am not looking, and I have been surprised at how patient Toby is with him when in the right mood. Less surprisingly I have seen Toby slam his bedroom door to keep Leo out and complain to me when Leo cries or is too rough with his favourite toys.
Their burgeoning relationship has reminded me that while they are separated by six years in age, they are still brothers and they will fight, hate, laugh and love like any others. Seeing them interact in any way; good or bad, reminds me how lucky I am to see it at all and I hope that one day, they will realise the same thing for themselves.
For more on Laura Jackel, go to her website.