My 3-Year-Old Is Constantly At War With My One-Year-Old

flickr / Nikki McLeod
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The other day I was eating breakfast with Max, my 3-year-old, and talking about how Leo, my almost one-year-old, would soon be walking. “And then,” said Max, “he’ll turn into a big boy, and he won’t scratch me anymore, and he can ride my brown bike, and play in my tent.”

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Hearing him say that filled me with most incredible sense of hope. At the moment, Max and Leo really, really, don’t get on. I totally understand this. Leo is grabby and destructive. He snatches at everything Max has, from his food to his blanket to his toy cars. He smashes Max’s block towers and ruins his puzzles. He doesn’t understand the rules of play, doesn’t listen to commands, and hasn’t the faintest interest in sharing. Max, in turn, can’t bear it when Leo touches him, hates sharing space with him and spends an extraordinary amount of time yelling “Nooooo Leooooooooooooo!” Leo screams and swats at Max, they both end up in tears.

Has this first year been a preview of the rest of their lives? Am I raising Cain and Abel?

It’s pretty exhausting. I knew they would fight, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon. I thought Leo would need to learn to talk before they could argue. I thought he would need to learn to walk, at least, before they could tussle.

Social media doesn’t help. Many people on my feeds are now on Number 2, and it’s all pictures of older siblings kissing newborn babies’ heads, big sisters beaming at their roly-poly baby brothers, the captions all of the ‘Full Mommy Heart’ variety. Why do their kids get on so well? Why don’t their infants claw at their toddlers’ eyes? Why don’t their their 3-year-olds hiss and spit at their one-year-olds when they approach? Has this first year, and the last few months in particular, been a preview of the rest of their lives? Am I raising Cain and Abel?

Leo is, for the most part, a very cheerful baby. He giggles constantly: at the pets, at his reflection, at us. He’s incredibly physically affectionate, and has already learnt to hug and kiss us, in his baby way. He’s independent and given half a chance will dash off as fast as he can to play with some new thing he’s spotted a ways away, but he can also be super-needy and will shriek as soon as we turn our backs on him. He still prefers to nap in our arms.

Max lives in his own fantasy world, and he assumes we’re there with him. He’s constantly holding out an empty hand and saying ‘Look at my treasure!’ He lines up scatter cushions on the floor and calls them his train, he calls the mulberry tree that hangs over the wall in the alley behind our house his airplane. He’s all sound effects and drama, he loves sand and speed. He has become a more reliable historian, and has started understanding his emotions. When I work at night, he’ll tell me the following day that he missed me. He can name his best friends and express sorrow that they’re not around.

I knew they would fight, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon.

Each of them is so individually lovable, but they just seem to annoy each other so damn much right now. I know that Leo loves Max: he stares at him with big puppy dog eyes and cries when he leaves the room. I think Max is warming up, finally, to Leo. He gives him tastes of his ice cream. He mentions him when talking about future plans.

And at last, after our breakfast conversation, I feel like Max understands that Leo is just not yet ready to be the brother he needs. He seems to understand that one day Leo’s teeth will come in, he’ll learn to talk, he’ll be able to stand up straight and play without smashing things. They’ll be able to share a tent, they’ll be pirates together. They might never be the best of friends, but hopefully they won’t be the worst of enemies forever.

Karen Milford is a state doctor, mom-in-training, bad runner, fiction reader, occasional cook, and a dog and cat owner.

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