Friday, September 28, 2012

Life With Two

Whenever someone asks me how I'm adjusting to life with two kids, my go-to response is that it's hard, sometimes impossibly hard, and that while everyone says the transition from one child to two is much harder than when you add a third or fourth child, I cannot possibly imagine why anyone ever bothered to find out.
I knew it would be challenging. I knew the round-the-clock feedings would get in the way of me playing with my three-year-old. I knew there would be fatigue, hurt feelings, tantrums, colic, maybe even a bout of mastitis thrown in for good measure.

Even though things like Charlotte loving the baby right away and breastfeeding being much easier to establish, or Desmond just being an easier baby in general pleasantly surprised me, the obstacles have been significant. Physically, mentally, emotionally, having this baby has challenged me in every imaginable way. Sure, I’m up for it, but holy hell.

I mentioned in my last post how well Charlotte was adjusting to having a baby brother, how much she loved him, and how happy we were with her reaction. This remains true. But, as Desmond gets older and more aware of his surroundings, the more attention he requires. I was worried about the marathon newborn nursing sessions, but at least in those days I could read a book to her, supervise a puzzle completion, or even watch a movie if it came to that (and it came to that A LOT in those early days.) But now, I can scarcely have a conversation with Charlotte if I’m nursing Des. He’s so easily distracted and will try to watch whatever’s on the TV or butt into a conversation with his baby squeals. And it kills me, because he’s so damn cute, and I’m loathe to ignore any of his wide-eyed, wiggly, tongue-sticking-out grins, but I also need to give Charlotte my undivided attention. And, really, who am I kidding? When we’re all together, NO ONE gets my undivided attention, and even though that’s necessary, it still bums me out to have a story time or game interrupted because the baby is up from his twenty minute catnap or because he’s tired of being alone on the floor mat. The guilt I have for both children in these scenarios is mind-boggling. Guilt has always been one of the top three emotions in my arsenal, and I’m still surprised at how much of it I can muster.

Getting our one on one time at a tea shop

Charlotte acts out rather passive aggressively. She “hugs” the baby by squeezing him hard enough to make his eyes pop. Or she tries to lie on top of him. Sometimes she leans in to kiss him and then bonks him with her head. Obviously, I stop her as soon as I realize what’s happening, so there is never time for her to really hurt him, but needless to say it has put my blood pressure on the rise. And it makes something as simple as running down the hallway to grab a onesie more complicated than it needs to be. Do I risk leaving her alone with him even for a second? Obviously the answer should be “no,” but she lulls me into a false sense of security. Whenever I take the chance and sprint to and from my bathroom, I find her exactly where I left her, nowhere near him, apparently unaware that I had ever even left. For all I know she’s already administered the Five-Fingered Death Punch on him and is nonchalantly pretending to watch Finding Nemo while she waits for it to take effect.
She even punches him in her sleep. Yes, she still sleeps with a binky. Self-righteous judging be damned, she sleeps twelve hours, bitches. Not messing with that right now. But, no, I'm not defensive.

Honestly, I’m still flabbergasted by how well Charlotte is handling the whole thing. She can be very understanding when we have to go rock Desmond back to sleep for the third time in an hour and will happily play by herself while she waits. And, she does still genuinely like him when he isn’t “gooping” on something that belongs to her. Really the issue is that she’s three, and she’s trying to assert her independence from us by challenging our authority. And maybe because she’s all maxed out on adapting to a new brother, she can be particularly trying when her comfort zone is being threatened in any other way. So, there are many tantrums and LOTS of screaming. Last night, I kid you not, she screamed for half an hour, kicked her legs, writhed on the floor, and dramatically ran down the hall into her bedroom shrieking because SIX MONTHS AGO we gave some princess pens from a set purchased at the Dollar Tree to her cousins in their goody bags from her birthday. They never belonged to her. They were purchased for the sole purpose of giving them away. She helped me pick them. She got to choose the pen she wanted to keep, and she happily discussed which pen would be given to whom. That was the last I heard of it. Until last night when she happened upon her Belle pen, inquired on the whereabouts of the other pens in the set, and proceeded to freak the hell out when I told her.

See, she looks calm enough, but you never know when she's about to snap...

It’s stuff like this that obviously tries my patience. I’ve developed a sort of mental shield I put up at times like these to prevent me from yelling right back at her (most of the time.) But, it would be significantly easier if there wasn’t a baby involved. A baby who is sometimes sleeping during and is subsequently awakened by one of these outbursts. A baby who might also be crying because he is sleepy or hungry while his sister is crying about the color of her toothbrush or something equally ridiculous.

I know that this is just the beginning. Soon, Charlotte will outgrow this stage. Someday Desmond will be big enough that I don’t have to worry about her breaking him all the time. Someday they will play together nicely. And then they won’t. And then Des will be three. And then they’ll be teenagers, and all hell will REALLY break loose. So, I’m just taking it one day at a time.

When Charlotte was about Desmond’s age I was starting to watch what I ate. I started working out. And by the time she was six months old I was in pretty great shape. Well, according to my low standards, but still. Now? Ha! I’m still in survival mode. And I survive the day by sneaking handfuls of M&Ms from the freezer and downing sugary iced coffees. Exercise? Hardly. Sure, I run through the sprinklers, panting, of course. And I’m up and down all day on and off the floor changing diapers and playing with the baby on his mat. Sometimes a vigorous cleaning of the house, however rare, will make me feel like I’ve gotten a workout. But, even if it helped me burn a few calories, my nightly beer takes care of that. So, I am truly boggled when women who have babies Desmond’s age are tweeting about Weight Watchers and fitting into pre-pregnancy jeans. Especially since a few of them have three-year-olds to boot! I guess I’m just weak.

I could always take some exercise tips from this guy.

So, I’m busy. And tired. And frustrated. But, the hardest thing about all of this has nothing to do with changing a diaper while soothing a tantrum or cheerfully pouring a bowl of cereal for Charlotte after a sleeples night with the baby. What has completely knocked the wind out of me is simply how many emotions I have to contain these days. They say that you don’t need to worry about having enough love to give a second child when it seems that your heart is about to burst with love for your first, because your heart will make room. This is undeniably true. What they don’t tell you is how much it will hurt. Because loving a child isn’t like loving anyone else. It’s magical and exhilarating. There is so much pride and admiration in a parent’s love. But there is fear. And guilt. And worry. And doubt. And some more guilt. And even more fear. Am I doing my best? Is she happy? Will he get hurt? Could I go on living if I lost them? Did I handle that right? Will they know how much I love them? All of these feelings, all of this love, it’s so much to handle sometimes. It’s terrifying at others. And, of course, it’s absolute bliss the rest of the time.

Surely, some of this is hormones. And some of it is the knowledge that comes with knowing I am done having babies. It’s a sort of ridiculous nostalgia for a life I am still currently living. It’s a constant struggle for me to stop worrying about how much I will miss this time and just enjoy it.

I’m turning thirty tomorrow, and the big plans I had to celebrate this milestone have been hilariously deflating as it draws nearer. I don’t really get grand birthday celebrations usually, so I wanted to do something special. It went from an overnight trip away from the kids (Ha!) to a night out doing karaoke, and has comfortably settled into dinner with a few friends and then home to the kids. I’m not upset. I’m barely disappointed. This is my life. A life I have wanted SO badly since I can remember. I won’t always have small kids. I won’t even always have kids who WANT to spend my birthday with me. And there will be plenty of opportunities for kick-ass celebrations.

I go to bed every night exhausted. I stay up way too late because I value my “me time” more than sleep, so by the time I get in bed, every ounce of me is tired. But, I am happy. Satisfied. I watch my children breathe, and I take them in (It’s a cliché because it HAPPENS, people) and I know that I am lucky enough to have everything I always wanted out of life. There is so much to look forward to, not just with my children, but for me and also my marriage. We have great things in store for us. But, right now, life is exactly what I want it to be.