His Brother’s Helper
Guest column by Michelle Sinclair
Editor’s note: Michelle Sinclair is the daughter of columnist Melodie Davis and has returned to write occasionally for Another Way after a six-month hiatus after the birth of her second son. She works in the advertising department of a major daily newspaper.
The call came at noon; so unexpected I had to turn away from my work computer just to process the daycare provider’s words. Six-month-old baby Henry had spent his entire first morning at daycare refusing to drink his milk. Henry the chunky monkey, Henry the armful, Henry the roly-poly, eat-every-two-hours-and-twice-at-night baby—going on hunger strike? I was flummoxed. I usually nurse him, but he was well-acquainted with taking a bottle of pumped milk from his father or grandmother, so that couldn’t be an issue.
Suddenly he was forced to take a deep breath and see that his brother had been there all along. His brother had milk for him, and it was safe to eat.
Poor Nadrah said she’d even tried to spoon-feed him, but of course that wasn’t really a solution. He was crying, angry, and upset, but I work nearly an hour away in downtown Washington, D.C., and of course Mommy rushing to his side wouldn’t work long term either. What to do? Grasping at straws, I asked Nadrah if she could see if Henry would take his bottle from my older son, James. To my surprise, Nadrah immediately said she’d try it, and hung up.
I stared at the phone, trying to imagine the scene playing out at Nadrah’s house. Two-and-a-half-year-old James has been eager to start preschool for months. He’s the only “big boy” at a daycare full of babies Henry’s age, but we decided to keep him there for just a few more weeks to give Henry a familiar face to ease the transition. James is the best big brother any two-year-old can be, but he’s also a typical toddler—eager to get moving the moment an activity begins to bore. And Henry has never, ever had anyone but a competent adult feed him his bottle. This had all the makings of a milky disaster.
But as Nadrah explained later, I worried for nothing. She arranged James on the couch with pillows to help him hold a 20-pound baby. The moment she placed Henry in James’s lap, his crying quieted to a few shuddering, gulping breaths. James patted Henry’s head, gently repeating, “It’s okay, Henry. It’s okay.” He held the bottle up, and Henry began to drink, gazing at his brother. James sat there through the whole bottle, proud to help.
Is there a moral to this story? A lesson perhaps on letting your toddler help even when you think he’ll make a mess of the whole thing? Undoubtedly, but the strongest impression the story has every time I tell it to people is the bond between these brand-new brothers. Henry was in the scariest situation of his young life, he was hungry, and everything had only grown worse—for hours. Then suddenly he was forced to take a deep breath and see that his brother had been there all along. His brother had milk for him, and it was safe to eat.
In a scary situation, it is so very easy to feel alone and without hope. Reaching out to a friend, a loved one, or with a prayer can bring clarity and reassurance that we are not alone. This is hardly a new concept, but sometimes it takes a simple illustration—like a baby who is too frightened to eat and only making things worse for himself—to remind us that our much bigger problems can only be tackled when we’re in a better frame of mind. We look to those we love, to God, or to the serenity of nature for that lifeline moment to help us breathe and think again.
Henry had no problem taking a bottle from Nadrah the rest of the day and seems to be enjoying his time at daycare now. He has his brother with him, after all. We’ll have another transition to weather when James starts preschool, but as I’ve learned to remember in motherhood, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34 NIV). And whatever comes, the bonds of love will see us through.