You are eight and five. You are friends now.
Yesterday I listened from the kitchen as you said,
“Here, Ada. You be this guy!”
And you lost yourselves together in imagination; the round couch your castle, the pile of stuffed animals your cohorts.
From the very beginning you were fascinated by this little sister. She was enamoured with you.
She sat in the baby chair in her fuzzy pink Cookie Monster sleeper,
her blue eyes concentrated on you,
When she cried it upset you and you begged me for “a two-arm hug, momma,”
Not understanding that you had to share me.
You started playing together, sort of,
When she was about 12 months old.
She trotted along behind you, fascinated by you, frustrated when she couldn’t keep up with your manic pace.
Your painstakingly built Lego pirate ship smashed to the ground by a curious two-year-old was the next step; your face crumbled as you screamed “THAT BABY wrecked it again!” And again.
But you wanted to be with her. You didn’t want to sit alone in your room where the toys were protected and quiet.
Now she is five. You are eight.
“Wait for me, Benny!” she calls, racing behind you on her rainbow bike, determined to keep up. Only she is allowed to call you Benny.
You have raging fights when things aren’t fair.
There is hitting and yelling, whining and alone time.
But you love each other.
She wraps her tiny arms around your neck and squeezes, pulling you in tightly.
“My Benny,” she says. You smile and gruffly answer,
“I love you too, Ada.”
Soon she will follow you to your school.
She will be just down the hall, peeking into your classroom door on her way to the library.
The fears and loneliness she had at preschool will be dampened because
You are there.
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.
My blog has been quiet. My son finished preschool last week so I have two very constant, very busy companions with me all the time. Funny how just nine hours a week of preschool gave me a slight amount of sanity. 😉
The good news is that my kiddies are suddenly realizing that they have a constant companion and a built-in buddy who is always ready to play. I’ve found myself actually watching from the sidelines a few times, enjoying being the observer instead of the referee (for a few minutes, anyway).
I didn’t really get what a sibling would do for my son. It’s only now, that my daughter is two, that I am seeing the life-altering impact of siblings, the way they carve and shape each other’s personalities. Another post for another day.
My poor, poor daughter gets so many pitying looks from first-time mommas.
The way I parent her is a million times different from the way I parented my son when he was her age.
I haul her around in a hand-me-down, slightly stained blue umbrella stroller. Her brother glided around in a deluxe designer stroller. I, like many first-time moms, gave in and bought the fancy-schmancy ride for my son. Yes, it’s great, but nope, it’s not so great while also managing a preschooler who never stops moving. With two kids in the family, it is rare to have one free hand, let alone two. I need a stroller I can pick up with my pinkie and throw in the trunk, completely assembled.
I had my daughter in the fancy stroller the other day (while scrounging for cheap toys and funky sweaters at Value Village) and a young mom sidled up to me and asked casually, “So, how do you like the Peg?” It took me a few minutes to realize she was talking about the stroller. I guess my children are getting older because I no longer recognize new-mommy-stroller-lingo. 😉
My daughter is often completely neglected at the park. A few months ago I took the kiddies to the playground near our house. As we pulled up, I let them loose from the constraints of stroller (my daughter) and bike helmet (my son). I always feel like yelling, “Release the hounds!” as they run wildly to whatever catches their fancy at our new child-proof neighbourhood park.
Anyways, on this particular afternoon there was only one other child there, a little boy close in age to my daughter (about 18 months at the time). He was accompanied by both of his parents and was obviously their first and only child. The little guy couldn’t take a step without some sort of comment of encouragement from both parents. At every trip or stumble they both jumped to attention. It was sort of cute, for the first few minutes.*
I was busy helping my son strap into a safety swing for 5-10 year olds (?) way across the park and had half an eye on my daughter. I saw her move towards a ladder that led to a medium-sized slide. The look on the other parents’ faces as my daughter climbed up and went down that slide alone was total shock.** She survived. Now, a few months older, she proudly announces, “I did it!” when she lands at the bottom without falling.
My daughter is continually harassed by her five-year-old brother. The other day it was raining and he was bored. I gave him an old diaper box to do something with. He made a “toddler trap,” complete with bait (a soother and a cookie) and chased his poor sister around, trying to drop it on her head.
Interestingly enough, I’m noticing many, many benefits to her being (slightly) neglected. My daughter is fiercely independent. She can say “no!” in a loud, confident voice over and over; a trait that I hope will come in handy when she is a teenager.
She can entertain herself for ages “reading” stacks and stacks of books and magazines.
She finds and gets what she needs by hauling around a kitchen chair or old plastic stool.
But most important of all, she has a built-in hero, confidant and ally in her older brother. A bit of “neglect,” a lot of independence and a best buddy for life.
*I was totally this mom when I only had one child.
**Just so you know I’m not a total slacker…I was running at warp-speed-that-feels-like-slow-motion and got there just as she landed on the soft mulch on the ground. By the way, why on earth do they use mulch at children’s parks? It’s like inviting children to play in a lumberyard and then being surprised when they get slivers.
What is different about the way you parent your second (or third or fourth) 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.