“Mommy,” Zoe said to me one day when we were grocery shopping, “Does the hermanita have teeth?” She looked at me with very serious eyes as I explained that indeed, she did. “Oh, OK,” she replied.
A couple of weeks before, she had told me that she would help me change the diapers of the hermanita, and give her a bottle. I reminded her that her little sister wouldn’t be a baby, like other little sisters, but that she would be around 3 years old.
“Three, like this,” she repeated, showing three small fingers.
“Yes, amor, like your friend Luca,” I confirmed.
When we were approved for adoption by the US State Department in October of 2012, we told Zoe that sometime next year she would have a little sister, and that we would all travel to Ecuador to meet her and bring her home.
I wanted to prepare Zoe for this important change, but on the other hand we didn’t know when we would travel, and I didn’t want her to become anxious, so I chose not to talk about it every day, until we had more certainty.
However, the topic was on her mind.
“Mommy, when we take a bath together, the hermanita is going to sit here, and I’m going to sit here,” she declared one day, claiming her spot of privilege next to the faucet.
“OK, maybe you can take turns,” I suggested.
“No, mommy, the hermanita can hurt herself if she sits here.”
I’m still trying to figure out how a 3-year old can be at risk by sitting next to the faucet. One thing is for sure: Zoe has learned that we take safety very seriously in this household, and any argument is valid to keep the prime real estate in the tub.
Having a sister is not new to Zoe. Her sister Julia, the daughter of my husband’s previous marriage, is 10 years older than Zoe and they have always been close. During the first 3 years of Zoe’s life, Julia lived with her mother and she spent 50% of her time with us, and last year she moved in with us, so she has always been very present in Zoe’s life. They love each other and as many siblings, they also fight a lot. Zoe enjoys having sleepovers with Julia and watching her at cheerleading practice, although they don’t share the same games and activities.
One day I decided to find out if Zoe understood how our new family would be formed.
“Zoe, who is going to be the dad of the hermanita?” I asked her one day.
“Papa,” she responded quickly.
“Yes! And who’s going to be the mom?”
She stared at me, as if I had asked the most bizarre question in the world.
“Me,” I said
She looked at me in shock.
I then realized that Jean-Marc is also Julia’s dad, but I’m not Julia’s mom. Perhaps Zoe was thinking that the little sister would come with a mother incorporated. She clearly didn’t expect it to be me.
The next time she mentioned the hermanita, I asked her again:
“Zoe, who’s going to be the mommy of the hermanita?”
“You… and me,” she said with a smile.
“No, I’m going to be the mom”
“I also want to be the mom!”
“You’re going to be the big sister,” I said.
“But mommy, Julia is the big sister.”
“You’re both going to be big sisters! It’s so much fun being a big sister!”
She clearly wasn’t convinced.
I have amazing memories with my sisters. Like Zoe, I also have a sister who is 10 years older than me, and who only spent vacations with us when we were children, and a sister who is a bit younger than me. Growing up, I was very close to my young sister Cecilia, because of our age proximity. We shared a room until we were teenagers and would stay up late talking about everything and nothing until our mom heard us laughing and told us to go to sleep. Even when we each got our own bedroom we sometimes did sleepovers. When I was in college and I lived in Argentina, I studied near Washington, DC for a semester, close to my older sister Marcella’s house. I spent every weekend with her, talking about school and the boy I liked, eating out and playing with her children. I can’t imagine a life without siblings.
It makes me happy to know that Julia and Zoe will have a younger sister, and that our little one will have a sister almost her age and a big sister to look up to. I’m sure there will be jealousies and adjustments, and it might not be easy but then again, what is?
Every evening before going to bed Zoe and I pray. She gives thanks for her friends, Horsie, mommy and daddy, and practically everything that’s in sight, including books, toys, furniture and the window. Her closing line is always the same. “Please God let it be a beautiful day tomorrow and that the hermanita is happy and comes soon from Ecuador.”
“Amen,” we say together, and I kiss her goodnight.