Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Displaced Family Home Evening

One Monday in April we drove past the LDS Temple here in Boston on our way home from taking Dave to the airport. It was almost 8pm and there were virtually no lights on. The girls commented on this and I explained that Mormon temples are closed on Sunday and Monday. "Why Mondays?" Millie asked. "Because of Family Home Evening," I guessed. [For the uninitiated out there, Mormons are advised to set aside one night a week, usually Monday, to get together as a family. There is often singing, a religious lesson, and most importantly, a treat.]

Georgia said we forgot to have FHE last week and needed to do it tonite (she is our rule follower). When we got home I put Bea in bed, lured Jonah upstairs with the promise of "Chuck" after, and we all piled onto Georgia's double bed with the latest issue of the Friend magazine. Millie picked a story about an 8 year old boy whose parents divorce. When the mom remarries and has twins, the kid feels neglected and displaced. The metaphor for it all is the family walking to church, mom and dad side by side, each holding a twin, and the son trailing behind trying to keep pace. It was actually very depressing but led to a great discussion as Millie wanted to understand why the boy was so sad.

In the spirit of that whole new "let's connect this to me" literary movement, I explained displacement to the kids. I told about how Jonah, age 2.9, reacted to Georgia's birth. While he never took his angst out on the baby, anything new made him really mad. When I switched the dresser in his room, he flipped. When we got a bigger car, he threatened to "dump oil on it and smash rocks on it and bite its tires!" They all giggled, imagining our now 12 year old being to enraged. Next I told about little Georgia, just 22 months when she was kicked off the Baby Throne, leaning over and pretending to kiss Millie and then biting her with all her might, leaving dental records on poor Millie's forehead. At that they all laughed really hard.

Now came the hard part: addressing the arrival of Bea and the impact on Millie over 3 years ago. Millie was 4 and lived the role of "Baby" the same way that method actors like Daniel Day-Lewis embody a character almost to the point of madness. Every time I nursed Bea, Millie looked like she too was desperate to latch on. Gingerly I commented that unlike Jonah and Georgia who never remembered life without a younger sibling, Millie did. And she was Jonah's pet (see Exhibit A below). Until the new one arrived. I then turned to Millie and did what I should have done a while ago: I publicly acknowledged her pain. "It was hard for you when Bea came. You feel like Jonah doesn't love you as much and it hurts." Millie collapsed into sobs and out of her mouth rushed 4 years worth of displacement pain.

Exhibit A: Joe habitually snuck into Millie's crib.

And then the sweetest thing happened. Jonah took her in his arms and told her how much he still loved her, would always love her, and that now that Bea was getting older and into his stuff, she was the irritating one and he actually preferred Millie. She stopped crying, "Really? You're not just saying that?" He patted her head like he would a dog's. Jonah replied, "Nope. I kinda can't stand her right now." Millie beamed and threw herself back into his arms. At which point Georgia joined the hug, laying her head on Millie's shoulder. I wanted to dog pile them all, but felt like this was their love fest. When they stopped hugging, Millie commented that it wasn't fair that Jonah's birth didn't bump anybody. That's when I told them that though their Pop would thoroughly deny it, Jonah's arrival wasn't always easy on him, and sometimes he felt edged out. The girls' jaws dropped. Jonah grinned.

I also got personal about some of the drawbacks of being the baby: feeling left out, hand-me-downs, being the last one in a booster seat... I asked Millie why Bea was in the other room asleep while we were all hanging out chatting. The light bulb started to go on. "Oh..." she said. "Big kids get to do stuff babies don't."

We skipped the song, said a prayer, and then they asked if they could all sleep together that night. I tucked them in and they giggled themselves to sleep, treats and "Chuck" forgotten.

I'd love to report that our sweet FHE miraculously transformed my family. It didn't. Just tonite Millie socked Georgia in the stomach because her big sister had "tooted on me on purpose!!" But I do sense less jealousy towards Bea, and more solidarity between the big 3. Jonah has taken to including Millie more and she just glows under his attentions. I have always known that my kids really love each other. Now I know they know it too.