Sujatha Bagal

Stories and essays on food, travel, culture.

The Manifold Advantages of a Big Brother – Chicken Soup Series

This story was published earlier this year in the Chicken Soup series anthology titled, ‘Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul: Celebrating Brothers & Sisters’.

It is a cool autumn day and I’m in the doctor’s office with my three year-old daughter and nine year-old son. It is time for the second of their semiannual influenza vaccinations.

From the time he was three years old, I’ve been very upfront with my son about how shots are important to prevent illnesses and how it seems more painful than it really is if you fight it. My intention was to never hide from him the fact that he was about to get an injection. I was more afraid of him finding out that I had tricked him into something than I was of him being wary of a visit to the doctor.

I really did not expect the message to go over so well so quickly, and was heart-broken when the little three-year-old child did more than I had ever wished for – when it was our turn, he let go of my hand, walked up the tiny toddler-chair, lifted his sleeve and presented his arm to a skeptical nurse. She finished giving him the shot and put on a bright, colorful band aid where the needle had gone in. He ran up out of the chair, hugged me around my legs, looked up at me and asked, “Mama, was I a big boy?” The nurse was more than a little taken aback, I was left trying to stifle my sobs and my baby was suddenly all grown-up.

Fast forward six years later and to my daughter who’s three. With her, it’s a completely different story. When she was about a year old, she went through a spate of tests that involved drawing blood. The repeated visits at that age and having needles stuck in her arm each time cemented a dreadful connection in her mind – a visit to the doctor meant injections.

That association is starting to fray a bit given the numerous visits where the syringe has not made an appearance. I still stick to my philosophy about not tricking children into going to the doctor’s office on the promise that there will be no injections. On this day, she knows fully well why we are at the doctor’s office and, as far as we can tell, seems to be holding up well.

When our turn comes, the nurse asks who will go first and my son raises his hand. He goes through the drill – gets up on the table, pulls up his sleeve, cringes a little in anticipation, and lets out a long sigh when it’s all done. Then it’s my daughter’s turn. From experience, my son fully expects her to bawl and stands at the door to the room with his ears covered. I scoop my daughter up in my arms and sit on a chair with her on my lap. She’s been watching quietly all this while and eyes the nurse and the syringe warily.

As the nurse lifts her sleeve to prep her arm, there’s a sudden burst of activity at the door and all three of us turn to look at my son when he calls out to his sister. “Look at me!” he cajoles her and proceeds to do what I never saw coming – he starts to dance a crazy little jig. His arms are flailing, his legs are turning this way and that, his face puts on silly expressions and he’s making funny noises. My daughter turns to me, giggles and says, “Look, Mom! Nanna’s* being silly again.” The nurse realizes what’s going on and seizes the opportunity to finish up her task as quickly as she can.

By the time my daughter feels the prick of the needle on her skin she’s too engrossed in her brother’s antics, and much too busy giggling at his moves to spare more than a glance at her arm. The kiddie bandaid has already made an appearance.

As far as my daughter is concerned, her big brother is a major source of fun – he’s great for horse rides, to watch movies with, to make puzzles with, to bounce on the bed with, to play tag with, to raid the freezer for ice cream with, to read books with and to tussle with. I hope it’s not long before she wraps her mind around all the tiny ways in which he makes her life a little less hurtful.



This entry was posted on June 20, 2012 by in Anthologies, Published, Stories.
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