It was a trust exercise worthy of an executive retreat:
"Mummy, I want you to not put the baby in the playpen while you shower. I will watch out for him!"
I looked at my four year old consideringly. He'd played with the baby, he'd taken away toys and checked if they were choking hazards..and he'd also tested toys that the baby was playing with, removing them for a fun-worthy assessment. Usually, the toys passed muster. And the baby roared at losing them. But still.
So we tried it. I put the baby on the bed, which is set up for co-sleeping with a rolling, scootching (i.e., not crawling, but pushing himself around with his arms in a sort of swimming motion) baby. I yanked all blankets and pillows off the bed and put a few toys on it. I reviewed the rules with my older child: can you take the baby's toys away? Should the baby get near a pillow? a blanket? Can you leave the baby alone on the bed? What do you do in case of emergency? He knew the answers to every one.
However, this is the same child who also knows enough to hold my hand in a parking lot, yet dropped my hand two days ago...just as a car was sweeping past. He's four, with all of the contraditions and splendors of the age. Do I trust him with the baby?
The answer is, frankly, not really. But I've learned that, while my older son can be an outright hazard to his infant brother, treating him that way only exacerbates the situation. If I bellow, he'll look to fulfill the pattern I've given him, and he's extremely good at playing the role of Evil Offspring. If I bring him over to my side, engage him in my role as being the grown-up, amused by the baby's foibles and patient with the baby's needs (more or less), well, I usually end up being reminded that he is, in fact, only four. But first he will do his damndest to play that role, as well.
So I left them there. And went down the hall to check on the weather report. And peeked in. I brushed my teeth and then peeked in. Over and over, I saw a happy, giggling baby and a delighted, proud four year old. So I took a deep breath and hopped into the shower, where I listened to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" being bellowed at the baby. I got out of the shower and dripped my anxious way down the hall, only to be greeted by a very self-possessed young man, who explained to me that, thanks, but
"I'm bored of taking care of the baby. I'm going to go and play with some choking hazards now."
Um, okay. Sure. How old are you, again?
My thanks to Auntie A for this corn-y link: