Little Brother is 21 months old, and is the master of coming up with ways to annoy his big brother. I’m pretty sure this is a skill that comes naturally to younger siblings. (My husband and I are both the eldest in our families, and we have plenty of stories about our siblings driving us crazy.) But the interesting thing about Little Brother’s methods are that they involve him finding ways to really, really, really annoy his brother while at the same time doing nothing wrong.
To this end, Little Brother spends a lot of time listening to what I say. Then he takes what I’ve said and turns it to his own ends.
“Let’s put out a blanket and sit on it to eat our lunch,” I said one day. Indoor picnic. Yay!
A few hours later, Big Brother was playing happily by himself, building a world out of figurines and blocks and coloured cloths (blue for water, green for grass, yellow for sand, etc, etc). Along came Little Brother. He watched for a couple of minutes. Then he stomped his way into the middle of the landscape, kicked the buildings and people out of the way and sat down.
Amid Big Brother’s screams of rage and grief, Little Brother held out his hands and looked at me innocently. “Lunch?”
Sometimes it’s hard not to just laugh.
I always encourage Little Brother to tidy up after himself. I work with him to put away his toys, encourage him to put dirty clothes in the washing basket, and other little jobs around the house. He thinks it’s a lot of fun — so much so that he’s taken to waiting impatiently for people to finish eating so he can put their crockery on the bench for them. We talk about tidying up a lot. But I have to admit, I didn’t think this was a skill he would use against his brother.
The boys were playing together nicely yesterday. Big Brother was using his craft things to build some kind of invention, and Little Brother was alternately watching in amazement and half-heartedly stacking blocks. They giggled together from time to time. All was well in the world.
I took the opportunity to disappear into my office and check my email for a few minutes. And that was my first mistake.
“Noooooo!” Big Brother screamed. “Little Brother! No! No! Bad Baby! No!”
Incoherent screeching followed as Big Brother got more and more upset.
I went to investigate. “What’s going on?”
Big Brother was dodging back and forth, trying to prevent Little Brother escaping from the playroom with his prize. “I need it!” Big Brother yelled. “Give it back! I was using it and I need it! Muuuuuuuuummy! I was using the sticky tape and Little Brother snatched it from me and he won’t give it back and now my invention is ruined!”
Sure enough, Little Brother was clutching the sticky tape to his chest as he tried to run around Big Brother’s outstretched arms.
He saw me watching and, using my appearance as a suitable distraction, ducked under his brother’s arm, and ran to the set of drawers that house the craft goods. With a satisfied smile, Little Brother deposited the sticky tape away in its rightful place and closed the drawer. Then he looked at me proudly and clapped his hands. Look! he seemed to be saying. I tidied up the sticky tape before you even asked me to! Aren’t I a good boy?
And with Big Brother’s mournful wails still echoing in my ears, I left the room.
Because getting the giggles in front of a devastated five year old has got to be bad parenting karma.