“Momma. Momma? Momma!!!”
It’s the darkest time of night.
A little voice crashes into my slumber.
Creak, crack go the floorboards as I fumble towards her room.
Her tiny face, muddled with sleep,
is happy to see me.
Like in the old days
hour after hour she would call and her daddy or I would go
Creak, crack on the floorboards, fumbling towards her room,
Again and again.
A steady hot river of coffee flowed into our veins, lifting us above the days, weeks, months and years of
Now the nighttime calls are less frequent.
They are almost a privilege,
The closing of the chapters of six years and two babies.
When the call comes I go
Creak, crack on the floorboards, fumbling towards her room,
To hold her close and rock her
Breathe in her warm smell
And listen to her gentle breaths
That echo those long, long nights that are slowly fading.
I squeezed my hands into yellow rubber gloves and headed for the toilet. Glamorous.
After leaving this gruesome chore for far too many
weeks months, I shut myself in the basement bathroom and told the kids I wasn’t coming out until it was clean.
I avoid rubber gloves, raw meat and cleaning toilets. The minute my hands are inaccessible is the exact moment that my children need me. (You know, Murphy’s Law again.)
In the newborn years and especially in the newborn-AND-a-toddler years, time is of the essence.
In the newborn-AND-a-toddler years, Momma is always watching. Always on high alert. Ready to jump up and fly across the room to catch a falling child, grab an angry kid-hand before it strikes, catch a falling plate of spaghetti or grab a cup of milk before it splashes all over the kitchen.
Society scoffs at helicopter parents. We judge them and think, “Ha…they should be giving their kids more space.” and “How are their children ever going be independent?”
It’s a different story when the kids are tiny and you are the one responsible all day long, all night long and all week long.
The moment a new momma is handed her first baby she is responsible. The feeding, sleeping, safety, emotional well-being and intellectual development of a teeny tiny person are her responsibility. Hopefully Dad is there to help but Mom is usually the one bearing the emotional weight of it around the clock.
When my son was born the heaviness of the responsibility hit me full-on. I would tell myself “Women do this all the time all over the world. Suck it up. You’re the mother now. Relax.” When my daughter came along I revved up into an even higher gear, this time bouncing back and forth between the two like a ping-pong ball, trying (often failing) to meet their pressing needs simultaneously.
When my arms were elbow-deep in the toilet this morning, I realized something.
The kids called: “Momma, can you please get me a snack?” “Mommy, find my soother!” I kept saying, “You can do it! I’ll help you in a second!” After a few minutes of this, they stopped asking. It got very, very quiet. I peeked out of the bathroom.
My 2-year-old daughter was helping my 5-year-old son do up the zipper on his Superman costume.
My son found his own shiny red cape and velcro belt in the costume basket.
My daughter dug around under the blanket and popped her own soother in her mouth.
My son was at the sink, washing strawberries and cutting off the green parts with a kitchen knife for his little sister.
They were just fine. They were a little more independent than they had been the day before.
Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the day to day-ness of parenting that I don’t notice when things shift a little. Difficult behaviours or patterns that drive me crazy for weeks or months mysteriously disappear overnight and replace themselves with something new.
The changes come a bit at a time, maybe even when I’m just cleaning the bathroom.
*This story was first posted on The Purple Fig.
A Facebook friend of mine just announced the joyous news of her first pregnancy. Soon afterwards she asked for advice on which prenatal class to sign up for. That got me thinking…about 95% of what I learned in prenatal class was useless. Motherhood has a wild initiation period and no class fully prepares you for the upheaval your first child brings.
Here is a list of what you really need to know before bringing home baby:
- How to change a diaper on a wiggling, squirmy puppy. If you can do this, you may be able to change a one-year old. Yes, the freaky-eyed, fake babies the nurses bring are good practice for changing a newborn. However, if your baby is like both of mine were, at around 9 months she will realize that it’s really not fun to have her legs in the air and someone swiping at her private parts.
- How to function on 3 hours of sleep per night. Prenatal classes should be held over a long weekend with no breaks for sleep. This might give new parents a tiny idea of how they will feel while caring for a new baby. Sleep deprivation is real and it sucks. Even if you get the very rare, almost-mythical “good-sleeper” off the bat, that is no guarantee that your baby will not turn into a non-sleeper at 3 months or 6 months.
- Never brag about your good sleeper on Facebook. That guarantees you a non-sleeper the next night.
- How to cope during the first few weeks with your baby. Our instructor could have covered the basics of pregnancy and labour in an hour and sent us home to watch What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Actual discussion of the huge psychological changes involved in becoming a parent would be far more helpful.
- Even if drugs are not in your plan, when the time comes, you will want them. Read up on them. The same goes for c-sections. Better to be prepared. My children are five and almost two. I had an epidural and morphine with one and practically no meds with the other. Now that the kids are older, no one asks me about it and nobody cares. You won’t get a badge of honour or special trophy for going drug-free or avoiding a c-section. Do what you need to do to remain somewhat calm and deliver a healthy baby.
- Breastfeeding is wonderful and natural and angels sing when some mothers do it. It also sucks sometimes, especially in the beginning. The nurse teaching our prenatal class actually said out loud to us “Don’t keep bottles or formula in your house. You may be tempted to use them.” We diligently followed her advice…until it was day 5 and my milk hadn’t come in and my son was screaming and starving. We ignored her advice and supplemented the poor child. He survived and he is perfect.
- If you want your baby to sleep in your room, put him there. If you can’t sleep with your baby in your room, put him in his own room if it’s nearby. It is your house, your baby and you need to do what helps everyone in the house get as much sleep as possible. I followed the “rules for creating an independent sleeper” with my son. He slept in his own room until his sister came along when he was three. Everything changed then and no book or sleep expert in the world could compete with a screaming newborn on the other side of the bedroom wall. Now my son is five and he crawls into the big bed every night.*
- Never talk about your maternity leave as your “year off.” It is your “year on.” You’ll see.
*I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 🙂
What do you wish someone would have told you before you had your first child?
I’ve had two children for a while but we are just becoming a two-kid family.
My son is 5 years old. My daughter is 21 months old. Up until this point, we’ve been a one-kid-and-a-baby family.
I always wanted two children. I grew up with one older brother and was pleased to replicate my childhood “million dollar family” with my own kids. I envisioned all the things we could do that would be fun with two. When I was pregnant with my daughter I was told, “Don’t worry, two is easier than one because they play together.” HA! For me, one child and a baby wasn’t easier. It wasn’t two times harder. It was ten times harder.
But suddenly, now that child number two is approaching the age of two, things are changing in subtle ways. It’s easier now.
I notice it while making breakfast: 2 cups of milk, 2 bowls of oatmeal, 2 spoons. No mushy baby cereal, no breastfeeding or bottles. The only difference is the tiny spoons for my daughter’s little bites. It’s easier now.
I realize it while packing for a morning out: two bananas, two water bottles, two handfuls of crackers in little cups. No nursing cover, no bottle warmer. No pureed carrots, bib, spoon and wash cloth stuffed in a too-big, trendy diaper bag. Just a few snacks, one diaper and a couple of wipes jammed in my purse. It’s easier now.
It hits me when one of my children is upset about something. In the early days I would get so frustrated when my babies would cry and cry and I couldn’t figure out what they needed. Now they tell me and I can help fix what’s wrong. It’s easier now.
I notice it when the kids play. The ring stacker and foam blocks collect dust in a bin on the toy shelf. After hundreds of stroller rides and chewing sessions, Sophie the Giraffe is forgotten at the bottom of the toy box. I’m used to having my son’s playmobil and lego spread around our house. I’m used to watching carefully to make sure my daughter isn’t eating it. Suddenly, there are two children playing with it, fighting over it. It’s easier now.
I see it in the morning. A few times a week I wake up and there is a little bit of daylight peeking through the curtains. I realize that no one needed me all night long. It’s easier now.
It really hits me at the park. “Come on, little sis!” my son urges. “I’ll hold your hand! Don’t fall! I’ve got you!” Two kids, playing together. It’s easier now.
Oh, we’ve still got some hold-outs. The diapers, soothers, fleece sleepers, rocking chair and crib will be around for a little while yet. I’m glad they don’t all leave at once. As the baby things exit the house, I silently say a little goodbye to each one. I remember the precious baby breaths and the marathon rocking sessions with little faces nestled into my neck. I think of all the ups and downs of our years knee-deep in babies.
Last weekend my husband and I both sat down on the couch at the same time while the children played together. Nobody needed us for a full ten minutes.
We’re a two-kid family. It’s easier now. It’s wild. It’s wonderful.
I am very grateful to be close to my parents (in location and in relationship). When my dear daughter was about six months old, my dad came down to give us a hand with the kiddies for a few days. We were out traipsing around the island one morning and I snapped pics with my iPhone (as usual). This was the result: a happy baby with her “Bubba.”
- Weekly Photo Challenge: Kisses (bellaremyphotography.com)
“Character house” is actually a pseudonym for tiny, old, full of mold & asbestos and very, very ugly spiders.
This was all a bit of a shock to us, having moved straight from a snowy boom-town on the prairies where a newish, 3000-square-foot house (including basement) was the norm.
The fact that our little white house was a 10 minute walk to a beautiful beach mostly made up for the bumping elbows, constant “excuse me’s” and continual stepping on playmobil knights & Lego. Nevermind the paper-thin walls, non-sleeping 3-year-old and non-sleeping newborn.
Speaking of a newborn…supplementing a 3-month-old with (gasp!) a bottle so an exhausted new momma could get a few hours of sleep meant that a dishwasher would have been really, really helpful. We gave in and bought a portable one from a kind retired guy who rebuilt it in his backyard. He and my dear husband lugged it up the steps and navigated it through the narrow 60-year-old doorways into our tiny kitchen.
Each night after both children were finally asleep (for a little while anyway) my husband or I would begin the nightly dishwasher routine:
- Get a good grip on the slippery metal sides and give a mighty pull to get it out from the wall.
- Back up to take a running start and push like crazy to get the flimsy wheels over the big hump between the hardwood and the lino.
- Retrieve any utensils, bottles or dishes we may need during the night. (Once the dishwasher was hooked up the rest of the kitchen was unusable.)
- Hook up the hose and plug in the plug.
- Unplug everything and move the dishwasher again to get the soap I forgot to take out from under the sink.
- Plug it all in again and start the damn thing.
Going through all of these steps meant that we tried to minimize the number of times we started the dishwasher. During our year in the little white house I started calling it Dishwasher Tetris: loading it to the absolute maximum by moving each plate, bowl and cup a millimetre to the left or right in order to squish something else in.
Now that our days in the little white house are behind us, we have the luxury of a built-in dishwasher again. I’m an expert at loading it to full capacity. The only glitch is my 1.5 year-old daughter who loves to “help” by hurling forks, spoons, cups and ceramic dishes in from a few feet away.
Being without something I’ve always taken for granted makes me very grateful for it when I get it back. Kind of like when I came home from tree planting in the bush and was most grateful for carpet and running water. But that’s another story. 🙂
Getting two children to sleep, stay asleep and sleep past 5:00 a.m. is an Olympic event in our house.
- Once your darling toddler is sleeping through the night again (after a brief, 9 month hiatus of getting 16 teeth), she wakes at 5:00 a.m. for a diaper change. This isn’t much to complain about if you usually rock her for 2 hours in the middle of the night, but still, 5:00 a.m. is early.
- Your toddler quickly falls back to sleep, at which point your 4-year-old immediately wakes up and asks “is it time to wake up, Momma?” in that really loud, awake-sounding voice that means he is definitely not falling back to sleep. You know the voice. Resistance is futile.
- You try everything under the sun to
forceencourage said child to stay in bed: night lights that change colour at parents’ preferred wake time, numbers printed above a digital clock with a hopeful “7:00”, begging, pleading. These things work sometimes with a singleton. It is all a little more complicated when there is an eagle-eared, sleeping toddler on the other side of a paper-thin wall.
- At every 5:00 a.m. wake up you promise yourself that you will go to bed early that night. Even if you dragged yourself around like a wet blanket all day, you will get an instant second wind the minute everyone is asleep. You stay up way too late, wake at 5:00 the next day and the pattern repeats itself over and over.
- On the day you have a babysitter booked and really, really want your toddler to have a good nap she won’t. She will have trouble getting to sleep. You will need to change her diaper two extra times. The minute she is finally sleeping your preschooler will run up the stairs, yelling, “Momma? Momma? Where ARE you?” and the little one’s eyes will burst open.
- When your youngest is between 12 and 18 months old and (some days) you manage to function somewhat normally, you will sit in the rocking chair, hum Ave Maria and stare at the beautiful, precious child in your arms. That vanilla-cupcake baby smell, the soft hair, velvety-smooth cheeks and tiny baby breaths make it all worthwhile. 🙂
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It’s pretty simple. The night your baby finally sleeps through the night a few different scenarios will play out:
1. Your older child will begin co-sleeping, even though he or she has always slept (relatively) soundly in his or her own bed.
2. Your husband will start snoring, louder than he ever has before.
3. Both of the above.