Tag Archives: Siblings

Now take a deep breath

Teddy disappears as soon as we’re through the doctor’s door. I keep half an eye on his white-blonde head, bobbing around the pharmacy shelves, while I sign the form and pick up my latest flavour of tablets (this week: iron! For extra energy and black poo!). They’ll go on the shelf with the daily aspirin, and the multivitamins, and the lucozade from the glucose tolerance test I took yesterday, though the tolerance it tested most of all was my ability to go without food for half a day without Actual Murder happening.

He has settled himself at the toy table by the time I turn around. ‘Ted’, I call across the waiting room, ‘Ted, we’re not staying today’. He looks mildly peeved, but drags himself over to me.

‘I wish we could stay at the doctor’s every day’, he tells me as we leave, little hot hand in mine.

‘Why?’ I ask, amused.

‘Because they have Star Wars plasters, and those toys’.

‘I bought you the Star Wars plasters’, I remind him. ‘You can look at them in the downstairs loo any time you like’.

I did, too. This boy has accompanied me to most of my appointments this pregnancy, and they’ve piled on more in the last few weeks. He has sat in a wide variety of waiting room chairs, swinging his legs, eating cereal bars or watching the iPad. He knows that sometimes they take away some of my blood with a pin, that we mustn’t forget either his snacks or my bottle of pee, and the whoomph-whoomph-whoomph of his almost-sister’s heartbeat. He’s never complained, but I still felt guilty enough to buy the Star Wars plasters the last time we visited. He has been actively hoping for an open wound ever since.

***

When we get home I know I’ll need to lie down sharpish, so I ask him whether he minds watching some CBeebies this morning. Of course he doesn’t. I ask him because it’s me who minds. On go the Twirlywoos, and I settle him under a blanket and open the little box of iron supplements. They’re supposed to give you terrible constipation. After some consideration, I pop an iron pill into my mouth with one hand, and a dried prune with the other. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, right?

***

She moves, and moves, and moves. I’m amazed she still has room, but I get the most astonishing(ly painful) triangular lumps poking out of my belly day and night. I am reading baby books again, listening to hypnobirthing tracks, buying sleepsuits, and have generally skipped forward mentally to the point where she’s a baby, not a five-pointed uterus star. So I sometimes wake up surprised to still be pregnant. Ted thinks – after he asked where the baby would come out and I gestured too vaguely – that she’s going to squeeze out of my feet. I haven’t corrected him. (Would that be better, or worse?)

***

In the playground, and everywhere else, all anyone asks me now is how I’m feeling, and when my due date is. Which I don’t mind, because it’s mostly all I can think about too. After one of these conversations – one of the school mums running in one direction, Henry and I hurrying back to the car in the other – he asks ‘What does the 29th March mean?’

‘Oh’, I say, ‘that’s when the baby is supposed to be born’.

‘On the 29th March?’

‘Well, thereabouts’.

He thinks. Then he says, with an air of dawning wonder, ‘So…so that means, after the 29th March, you won’t have a belly anymore, and you’ll be able to bend down, and ride your bike again?’

He’s known that the baby will come out eventually, I realise, but not that I won’t be like this forever. He thought this puffing, exhausted, snappy version of his mother was all he’d get. I think about myself a year ago, manhandling a pushchair over tree roots in a yellow jumper. I think about getting that back. I think about never having this again, this holy thing where I carry a child blindly, not knowing what they will look like or the precise pin-sharp contours of their personality, only that they have a decent set of elbows and are about to break my heart open, all over again.

I think I want to cry a little, for at least two reasons.

‘That’s right’, I tell him, firmly. ‘I’ll be able to do all that again. Just like before. Only there’ll be a baby, so it’ll be even better. Put your seatbelt on, please’.

I just catch his answering beam in the rear-view mirror, as I switch on the engine and drive off.

What’s the magic (sibling) number?

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I’m back! And I’m catching up as quickly as possible, which is to say, not very quickly at all, despite my many multicoloured to-do lists.

In some ways it’s been a rough landing. Toddler-plus-newborn felt pretty damn hair-raising, but toddler-plus-determined-climbing-biter is black belt martial arts. ‘I’d forgotten how much of my day is fending off chaos with karate-chopping hands’, I meant to text to Tim, but didn’t, because I didn’t get a minute to sit down. (I said it to him while wrestling pyjamas onto Teddy during the three minutes he was home, instead.)

And yet, and yet. The way these two interact at the moment is a joyous thing. They communicate somewhere outside speech, in a dialect of face-patting, cheerio-stealing, laughing and crawling up and down stairs, shoulders bumping together. Every day they get more like brothers. ‘Two boyths in the bath!’ Henry crows in the mornings. ‘Two boyths doin’ crawling! Two boyths in the washing machine!’

I ran in quick for that one. No harm done.

I had a really good week away. Today I sorted out my photos from my brother’s wedding, and it was the photo at the top that made me realise why: sibling time is easy time. Your jokes are always funny, your dance moves are always appreciated; your oldest self comes back out to play and you remember why you liked her.

It was this photo too that convinced me I’m not yet done with babies. We would be lost without our boys, Sarah and I. They have spent a lifetime infuriating us, teasing us, accepting us – we’d be infinitely poorer without all that. Four was a great number: we could divide into pairs if we wanted, but altogether we were like the kids putting our rings together to call up Captain Planet: varied and multi-faceted and unstoppable. No one gets you like your siblings, and the more you have, the sweeter it is.

And my own boys – who knows who might be waiting to join their conspiratorial gang of two? I’m game to find out.*

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*not yet, though.

What’s your ideal number of siblings? What made you decide to stop or carry on? Has your experience with your own family made you want the same, or sent you screaming in the opposite direction? It’s different for everyone, so spill the beans below.

Living arrows: how we laugh

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls.
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from your children as living arrows are sent forth
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And he bends you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far.
For your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even he loves the arrow that flies, so loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran

Hello, friends.

I am a tiny bit overwhelmed by life, the universe and everything at the moment, so just something short today. There’s a weekly project on I Heart Snapping blog called Living Arrows, all about photos that capture a moment in the life of a child. The title comes from the passage by Kahlil Gibran above. I love the thought that our children are part of us but separate too: that we’ll send them forward into days we’ll never see, that all we can do is steady their forward leap, and watch their paths with our mouths open.

Today the boys had simultaneous nappy explosions after their afternoon naps. I don’t know what they’ve eaten, but in Teddy’s case I’m willing to bet it came from the floor. I showered them both off and plopped them down into sunshine on Henry’s bed.

Sometimes, and that minute was one of them, they are just delighted with themselves and each other, with the twosomeness of the two of them. Henry pulls out his repertoire of faces; Teddy laughs; Henry laughs harder. I can see down the years like a tunnel, and imagine them gangly-limbed and cracking each other up at my expense, light on their faces, potty training miles behind them and bigger, brighter, more sanitary milestones ahead.

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living arrows

Open your hands

We were five days into this two-baby experiment, and something felt off. Of course, it was unbearably hot, I hadn’t slept for longer than two hours all week, and I was hurting everywhere, so there was plenty of off to go around. But this was something else. Tim put Henry to bed and Henry got back up, which had been the usual state of affairs since Edward and the heat arrived together, so I fetched him a drink of water and put him back down again. It was dark in his room, and quiet. I sat by his bed while he drank with his legs in the air. I hadn’t seen this much of him in days. Once he saw I wasn’t moving, he smiled so big it looked like the birthday of his life was here at last, instead of just a sleep-deprived crazy woman with a baby permanently attached to her angry chest.

I started to cry. And I realised I missed him, and there was the off. He was confused and displaced, and I missed him. Now everything was different, and he knew it and didn’t know why. I couldn’t even give him a drink of water without crying like a lunatic.

Was I actually sad because I’d just given my boy a sibling? This is what five days of crazy will do to you. I love this tiny arrival like I grew another heart to accommodate him. He is the most laid-back and lovely of things, all furrowed forehead and delicate fingers. He has a pointy chin and an actual jawline, for which marvel we must thank his father’s genes, because what business do I have producing a child with a jawline? You have never seen anything like the look of resigned dismay on his miniature face when Henry tries to sit on him for the fourteenth time. I cannot imagine not having him here.

And yet, and yet. Henry and I have spent two years as two halves. Not all of our days in each other’s company have been good ones, but we are used to weekdays as a pair. Now he would never have all of me, ever again, and things would never be the same for him, or me. Brothers are wonderful, and it will be so unbelievably good in the end. But in that minute I looked straight into what we were losing, and I was afraid.

Well, I took him out for an hour the next morning, just the two of us. We bought a Thomas the Tank Engine magazine and read it over chocolate buttons on the front step. I worked out the art of feeding Edward with one arm and reading to Henry with the other. I remembered that there are bunk-beds and lego sets in their future, and a million jokes at my expense. Now we’re in the middle of a halfway normal week, I can see that it’s going to be fine. And in this strange, delirious, breathtaking month I am loving this day, this minute, as hard as I possibly can. Even the bits where Henry accidentally headbutts me in the face because he doesn’t want to go to bed without his shoes on (?), or that point where I’m ready to drop at night and Teddy wakes up, all ‘I AM REFRESHED AND HUNGRY AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW IT’.

Because everything is a phase. Everything will be over soon. And since I can’t spend my time wishing for the bits we left behind, this is what mothering means: love it all as hard as you possibly can. And then open your hands, and let it go.

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What I Wish I’d Known About Two: It’s morphin’ time

Today I’m excited to feature one of my besties, Emily from The Wiener Takes It All. Em writes like I wish I could, and compounds this brilliance by being one of my favourite people ever in real life. 

I asked Emily to write about what it’s like to be one half of an awesome twosome. If the photos are anything to go by, a fabulous number of eighties accessories are involved…

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“I’m the yellow Power Ranger, you’re the pink.”

Most of the time, being the older sister isn’t something I relish – but when you’re younger it comes in quite handy. You’re the oldest, which means you get to be the best Power Ranger. End of.

Abi is three years younger than me and she could, and still can, drive me insane. When there’s only two of you, you develop world-class skills on how to push each other’s buttons. When I was younger, if I’d gone on Mastermind, I would have sat in that squeaky black leather chair, legs swinging in the air, and, when questioned on my specialist subject I would have said, with complete confidence: “Driving my sister MAD”. I’m sure Rachel will find that Henry and He Who Is Yet To Be Named will no doubt have numerous talents, but irritating the heck out of each other will always be a gift.

When there’s two of you, you are the yin to the other’s yang. You’re salt, they’re pepper. You’re fish, they’re chips. At times you completely love each other; you have in-jokes no one else understands, you can play for hours. At other times, they make you so boiling mad you consider stealing their favourite My Little Pony and hacking its tail off with your safety scissors from the Early Learning Centre (although you don’t – that would be completely below the belt).

I believe there is a special bond that comes from being a two. We lived in each other’s pockets. I still remember the day it was time to move Abi into her own bedroom, and stop sleeping in bunk beds. I felt lost and a little bit heartbroken, even though she was still only two steps away. I had always had the top bunk (obviously – elder’s rights) and she was on the bottom. We would listen to story cassette tapes as we went to sleep – we loved the music on The Railway Children, but our favourites were the Roald Dahl stories. Apart from The Witches; I’m 27 and I still can’t get past the opening music. Blood-curdling stuff.

On Christmas Eve, Dad would ring a little bell at the bottom of the stairs, and we’d giggle hysterically in our bunk beds, knowing we had to go to sleep quickly – because he was obviously getting perilously close, and if he got to our bedroom and we were still awake, then he wouldn’t leave our presents. In retrospect, this seems a bit harsh, but we had it on good authority that it was correct.

We are completely different in so many ways. Abi is sporty, musical, with a steely edge that says: “Mess with me and I’ll knock your block off”. I’m a bookworm, happiest at home with my dog and a complete wimp. But in so many ways, we’re the same person. We’ve been mistaken for twins (by a man who then pointed at me and said “Well then, you must be the youngest”. *PUMPS FIST IN AIR* (this hasn’t happened in a while, but you have to take small victories against ageing where you can)). Growing up, she was my partner in crime, my playmate, my best friend. Who do you turn to if your friend makes you cry, or your parents annoy you? Your sister, of course. She’s your permanent ally – even if she’s been known to consider pushing you down the stairs.

We spent so much time driving each other mad. But there were times when reality would hit – and our bond would become unshakeable. I remember, very clearly, coming home from a day out with my friends. I had been to see Titanic and I’d bought the Celine Dion single on cassette. My mum came upstairs and told me some bad news about my gran’s health, that she might have to have her leg amputated. Abi was in the bath – I could hear her splashing around. I put the cassette on and sobbed. “Em, are you crying?” a little voice said. “Don’t cry, everything’s going to be ok, I’m here”. We seem to share sorrow – as if, by taking some of it on, we will relieve the pain for the other. When Abi was at university, she had one really awful day and was really upset. I got in my car, drove up the motorway and fetched her. There was no question in my mind – my little sister was upset. I had to get there and try and make some small part of it ok again.

When she was little, she nearly gave us all a heart attack. She was demonstrating the best way to perform a somersault on a sofa. In retrospect, this might not have been a fantastic idea but Abi hadn’t quite grasped the concept of danger. Like an episode of Casualty, you can probably tell something bad was about to happen: Abi flew through the air, straight in the fireplace, smashing her head against the brick surround. I remember Dad speeding us to the hospital, and the nurses rushing her into a room straightaway, her nightie covered in blood. She was fine – but the blow narrowly missed her eye. Did it stop her somersaulting on the sofa? Did it heck. Abi is fearless. I always looked up to her, even when she was a foot smaller than me. I was painfully shy when I was little – I would avoid speaking to people and would find it very hard to make friends, much preferring to be at home, walking in the woods with our dogs and reading books in our caravan. Abi was bold and brave – even when I was six and she was three.

Now that I’m older, I have the benefit of looking back and appreciating what we had. Abi made my childhood what it was. I have no memories that don’t involve her. We would spend our days playing in the garden, leaping around on the bench being Power Rangers. Playing ‘dog show’ with our Puppy in my Pocket figurines (my Airedale always won best in show – yes, being the eldest had its benefits here too, but, in my defence, everyone could see it was the superior hound). I remember playing on mounds of dirt piled up at the back of our house, at the entrance to the wood, with our walkie talkies, and the day we saw the Black Panther (I still stand by that observation – there’s no way it was just a fat cat). Practicing our dance routine to Cher’s ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves’ – quite an inappropriate song for two under-tens to dance to, but who can argue with a routine that involves several well-executed handstands? We look like wayward gypsy children in most photos, because we spent most of our time tearing around the garden, on Famous Five-esque adventures. Or in hilarious fancy dress get-ups, where Abi was forced to be the boy for several years because her hair didn’t grow very quickly.

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I remember my mum asking me if I still believed in Santa, when I was about eight. And I replied: “I don’t think he is real, but I want him to be real – and that’s good enough, isn’t it? Besides, Abi still believes – and I don’t want her find out the truth”. I would have done anything to keep the world magical for Abi. I still would.

But most importantly – no one can make you laugh the way your sister can. When I was researching this piece, I texted Abi and asked if there was anything she would include. Here’s our conversation:

Emily: I’m wring my piece for Rach about growing up as a pair, can you think of anything I should include?x

Abi: Um how about you dragging me on the ghost train at the Safari Park – you closed your eyes the whole way round, sucking on a lolly, and I was left traumatised! Or the gymnastic routines where I threw myself off furniture and you twirled a finger? Oh and dancing to Cher, which now I’ve listened to the lyrics of Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves was actually quite inappropriate! Apparently mum said you were always prodding me in the soft bit of my head when I was a baby. Oh and I was so jealous when you got headlice! I think because I thought they were little pets! Haha is that useful?x

E: I didn’t know that about headlice?! You weirdo lol x

A: Oh yes, I remember being so jealous!!

E: A little bit of wee just came out that was so funny x

And there you have it. You might want to push them down the stairs, but they make you laugh so much a little bit of wee comes out. And it doesn’t get much better than that.

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What I Wish I’d Known About Two: We’re going to need a bigger boat

Today’s post is from James, a father of three-almost-four who writes (wonderfully) at Things My Children Said. Go and read it! But read this first, because it’s brilliant. 

We’re Going To Need A Bigger Boat…

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A couple of years back, I started a parenting blog. If I’m being honest, it was established purely as a vanity press, a way of grouping together all the little conversations and observations and snippets I’d compiled over the years. If I’ve made the odd connection (and some good friends) along the way that’s great, but – with occasional exceptions – that’s not why I do it. Purposely writing for an audience is always risky when you’re talking about family, because on some levels it’s just about the most personal, private thing you’ll ever do, and unless you happen to be an expert who’s seen thousands of children and who knows when to be vague and when to be specific, you’re going to run into hot water. This water is usually flavoured with comments that read ‘Who does she think she is, she doesn’t even have children!’ (I’m looking at you, Gina Ford), or ‘Not every parent can breastfeed, you know’, or ‘My mother ate this / drank that / did this and it did me no harm’ (followed by obligatory joke about space bats).

But you know what? There are patterns. Things crop up. There are oddities you notice that seem to tally with what you hear from other parents. And this applies particularly when you make the leap from one child to two (or two to three, or three to four) precisely because your second / third / fourth child is different to the last one. In other words, it’s the differences – however they manifest – that bind us.

So here’s a little something on how it’s going to be different this time around. In honour of my current favourite TV show, I have given them all Big Bang Theory style names.

The Goose Anomaly

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What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, but you only have one goose amongst your offspring. Your second is a duck. Or a chicken. Or, in some cases, a red squirrel. The point is that it doesn’t matter how you raise them, this child is going to want different things and like different things. This needn’t be a problem as long as you remember to rewrite the rule book. That favourite story that always used to have your little one in hysterics, before he snuggled peacefully in your arms for a thirteen-hour kip? Your second child will throw the book across the other side of the bedroom and stick their fingers up your nose. That special rocking technique the midwife taught you in hospital? Your second child will wriggle and squirm and refuse to play ball. Conversely, when it comes to actually playing ball, they’ll enjoy it far more than your eldest. Yin and yang.

Joshua, for example, was a brilliant traveller. We’d stick him in his car seat and he’d be asleep before the Subaru had left the village. It got to the point where difficulties at nap time could be resolved by strapping him in, backing three feet out of the drive and then pulling forward again, relishing in the blissful silence that followed half an hour of protracted wailing. Daniel, on the other hand, was diabolical. Generally the faster we travelled the more likely he’d be to eventually drop off (we learned, accordingly, to avoid rush hour) but even this was no guarantee, and he’d generally wake again the moment the vehicle came to a stop. We tried everything, but no matter how comfortable we made him every long journey was the same: he would scream and scream and scream until he exhausted himself into unconsciousness, at which point we’d turn the radio back down and pray we didn’t hit a red light.

Unless you’re particularly unlucky (and wind up giving birth to, I don’t know, Benjamin Button) you will get – by and large – a child who finds certain things much easier and other things much harder, and who responds in completely different ways. It’s partly nurture, because you’ll do things differently this time around, anxious as you will be to not repeat the mistakes you made with your eldest, but much of it is nothing more than genetic makeup – it’s simply who they are. And that’s marvellous, really, when you think about it, because it stops us being lazy. That’s the great thing about parenting. We’re always having to adapt.

Do say: “Fine. We’ll find another story. What the heck, there are another three hundred on the shelf, it’s not like I had anything better to do tonight.”

Don’t say: “Listen. Your brother loved this one when he was your age, and SO. WILL. YOU.”

The Anticipation Exposition

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This is one specifically for the men.

At a given point, it may be put to you that you are less interested this time around. You’re less engaged with your partner’s second pregnancy than you were with the first. You don’t talk about what sort of father you’re going to make, you’re less inclined to be sympathetic about the fact that none of her clothes fit, and you don’t seem as anxious to get things ready. Even the scans appear to have lost their novelty value, and when was the last time you looked through that list of prospective baby names? Your response, of course, is to say that no, dear, of course you’re interested, but you know what you’re doing now. You’ve been there and done that, and you see no reason to talk about stuff when it’ll by and large be a similar experience.

All of the above may be true. But you know what? You’re going to have to drum up some enthusiasm, and sharpish. Because I know you’ve been here before, but your other half has not. Every pregnancy is different, and while this may not be apparent to you, it sure as hell is to her. Things are going to be different for all of you, and if you don’t process this now – and help her process things herself – you’re going to pay the price later. Chances are she wants to share with you, and if you’ve been quiet about the whole thing, she’ll feel she has to reciprocate, and it will drive a wedge between you. So talk about it. We men get enough (largely deserved) flak for being silent and withdrawn as it is. Don’t allow yourself to become another statistic.

Do say: “Can I get you anything? Cushions? Chocolate? Something to drink? Would you like to talk about your feelings, or did you just want a back rub?”

Don’t say:Terracotta?

The Sibling Incursion

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Let me tell you in advance: this is a lost cause.

Why? Because however much you justify your decision to have another child – you didn’t want your eldest to be lonely, the financial cost is easier to bear, and what the heck, those baby clothes would only have wound up in a charity shop anyway, the fact remains that – in your eldest son’s / daughter’s eyes – you have consciously made a life decision that will impact on your ability to spend time with them. Things are never going to be the same again. Oh, for sure they’ll have another little playmate to beat to a bloody pulp share their toys with in years to come. You’ve assured them that you’ll love them just as much as the new baby. And yes, they’re going to be the big brother or sister, and that’ll make them feel all grown-up and responsible, right?

Bollocks will it. As far as your child is concerned, they’re now pushed into the role of Older And Sensible One. This means they get the blame for everything, despite your promises to yourself that you’ll try and be fair. It’ll be played out in scenarios involving broken eggs and crayoned walls and the stern admonishments that will always, always, always run along the lines of “You’re the eldest! You should know better! Your sister is only little! WHY DID YOU TELL HER TO DRINK THE BLEACH?!?”. You will be unable to help yourself in these conversations and they will be par for the course. Accept that, like I do.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how much quality time you pencil in to do Something Nice with your oldest child while the baby is napping. That special present ‘from Simon to his big brother’ that you brought along to the hospital for that first visit? Won’t make a blind bit of difference, at least in the short term. Neither will any emotional redress – or if it does, it’ll take years before you see the results. All those comments about how special you both are and how ‘Mummy and Daddy love you both the same’ will ultimately pay in dividends, as will the explicit / borderline-pornographic children’s books about baby-making that you stockpiled throughout that second pregnancy. Do all this. Please do, because in years to come your children will have a decent measure of self-esteem and a healthy, responsible attitude towards sex and relationships. But in the meantime there will still be fighting and jealousy and noses pushed out of joint. Children are as change averse as the adults upon which they model themselves, and if you really think that sort of behaviour is restricted to the kids, just remember what happened in your office the last time they introduced a new seating plan.

But let’s not get off-topic. In a house with a newborn child, we may effectively summarise all this as follows:

“Ooh. Baby Thomas.”

“It is Baby Thomas. He’s just waking up.”

“He awake.”

“He is. Isn’t he lovely? Just like you were. And you’re still lovely. You’re a lovely big brother, aren’t you? And we all love Baby Thomas.”

“Ook. Eye.”

[squelch]

“Ooh. Baby Thomas crying.”

“Well, he BLOODY IS NOW!”

Trust me, things will calm down. Everyone will get used to each other – your cat did, didn’t she? And you’ll have two / three / four adorable children who play nicely together. Just don’t let them near the bleach.

Do say: “Please don’t use your brother as a skateboard. He doesn’t like it.”

Don’t say: “Darling, it’s film night. I’ve shortlisted The Godfather II, The Royal Tennenbaums, and Raging Bull. What do you want to watch?”

The Completion Problem

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Oh, that first child was going to be such an adventure. You had such grand plans for a world filled with poster paints and lively Saturday morning adventures. You were going to introduce them to museums and fine art and classic cinema. Yours would be a house of gourmet organic food, lovingly prepared, and children who had constructive, fun-filled routines.

And perhaps you’ve managed that. But it’s more likely that in a couple of years you’ll be waving that first child off, singing ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ –

“What happened to the wonderful adventures

The places I had planned for us to go?

Well, some of that we did, but most we didn’t

And why, I just don’t know.”

I could tell you, Agnetha – it’s because that second child wiped you out. The lifestyle of a millionaire pop star in one of the world’s most successful bands couldn’t have helped, but it’s hard to muster up enough energy to build a cardboard spaceship out of the Amazon boxes that held your family’s Christmas presents when you’ve been up until three a.m. feeding the baby. There is a bell curve somewhere that plots “number of children’ against ‘likelihood of saying sod it and just turning on the TV’, and I don’t think I need to tell you how it projects. (It’s ironic, because more often than not TV isn’t the answer – all you have is three or four children who all want to watch different things.)

Part of it is establishment of a routine. As you claw your way back to what you might consider normality after those first confusing weeks of second-time parenthood it’s very easy to think that this is going to be your life from now on, and that you’ll be forever reduced to a world where the house is perennially messy and you are still in your pyjamas at three in the afternoon (but for some people that’s how it is with one child, so meh). Where oven-ready fish fingers and frozen chips are a quick and easy substitute for homemade goulash with freshly-baked crusty bread on the side. You need to trust me when I reassure you that things will one day be fine once more, and that the recipe books will be back on the kitchen reading stand.

But you might be in a position where you have to settle for less. Where you accept that the lounge will no longer be tidied as regularly as it once was. Where wall scribbling becomes something you have to deal with a little more frequently. Where you might have to slacken off a bit on the cooking, simply because you no longer have the time. Where paintwork gets ruined, crockery gets broken and furniture gets damaged. And where you feel guilty about taking a little time out by sticking the children in front of CBeebies while you have that second cup of coffee. But that’s OK. That’s a natural reaction to parenting. Above all, save something for yourself.

Do say: “Fine, you can have chips.”

Don’t say: “This is a four thousand dollar sofa, upholstered in Italian silk. THIS IS NOT JUST A COUCH!”

The Affection Quantification

06 - Affection

I’ve just looked back at what I’ve written, and while I did try and be at least a little tongue-in-cheek, it strikes me that it might come across as rather negative. I fear that at this point you may be panicking, or wondering if I’m exaggerating. And I probably am, to be honest, but let it be known that making the transition from one to more-than-one is complicated on any number of levels. It may not necessarily be difficult, but it will be complicated, and that can throw people. So be on your guard for this extra wrinkle in the bed sheet of your life – the wrinkle that is a single pair of arms when you need at least three to carry two whining children round the shopping centre while handling the bags, or the fight you have to break up while the pasta is in danger of boiling dry on the stove, or the fact that they both want you to do different things with them at precisely the same time in two different rooms – those times you wish that cloning hadn’t stopped with Dolly the Sheep.

The question you will find yourself asking over and over is “Do I have the time for both / all three / all four?” And I am here to tell you that the answer is categorically and unambiguously yes. Because, you see, there are certain practicalities that get solved when your child count goes up. That morning you slept in until after eight and awoke in a panic, fearful that your children had been abducted or worse? That happened because they’d both woken up early and then sat playing together – calmly and peacefully – for an hour and a half. That cup of coffee you’re able to have on a park bench with your smiling partner? That’s because your son and daughter are off playing together on the climbing frame, desperate to outdo each other in contests of daring. Occasionally the friendly rivalry will descend into arguing and hair-pulling and you’re going to have to put down the Thermos and go and break it up. But aren’t bathtimes so much more fun now that there’s more than one of them splashing about, soaking the bathroom carpet and peeing up the wall? Yes, it’s extra work, but don’t you enjoy it more now that you have a larger audience for your singing and jungle animal impressions? Honestly?

I remember two things. The first was a morning three years back when I was rushing around the kitchen trying to sort out breakfast for three boys, all of whom were being loud and silly: Joshua and Thomas on either side, and Daniel in his usual spot, perched at the end. Thomas and Daniel were sharing the conspiratorial grins they sometimes have, and then Josh was joining in and they were all laughing at each other. And in the midst of this I had a sudden flash forward to the same scene, twenty years later, perhaps around a different table in a different house, but the three of them laughing and joking with each other, about totally different things, while their parents mill around making coffee. And it was a wonderful, resonant image, one that has stayed with me ever since, and one that I still go back to when times are difficult.

The second thing was a conversation I had with Emily on a star-crusted evening back in February, driving home from Bristol, the boys asleep in the back of the car. We were talking about the prospect of having a fourth child.

“The funny thing is this,” I said. “Family love isn’t a reservoir that you drain. It replicates. When you’re adding to the pile, you find there’s more love. I used to worry that three would be too many and there wouldn’t be enough of me to go round. But that’s not actually what’s happened. I just keep finding love to spare. So I’m not worried about having to find any more.”

I squeezed her hand. “I say – ” I finished, wanting to give her the reassurance she craved, “– I say we keep trying.”

You know what? I think you’re going to be OK. In fact, I think you’re going to be just fine. We were.

Sibs

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My little brother just got back from his mission, and it’s kind of made me feel better about life.

Because someone very wise said on our Facebook page recently (in response to one of my two-baby panic attacks): ‘one of the best gifts I ever gave my children was their siblings’. And then my brother came back, and I realised it was true. There is nothing like the relationship you have with someone who grew up in the same house. You become old, old versions of yourselves; you know the same stories, and the stories aren’t even very good, but they go back twenty years, and that’s enough.

One day last week he found a piece of music I played for a wedding, nearly a decade ago – I made him pretend to walk down the aisle while I practised; a role he embraced with worrying enthusiasm – and he sent it to me. I looked up the whole song, and emailed back ‘FORGOT ABOUT THAT CHORD JUST BEFORE THE CHORUS. FLIPPING HECK’.

It’s a tear-jerker of a diminished seventh. No one, no one at all in the world, would get it better than him. I’ve got stuff like that with all three of my siblings, and it never occurred to me to thank my mother for it, until now.

A few days later it was US Mother’s Day. I was so grateful to my lovely mama for the sheer guts-and-grit that got her through four babies, four toddlers, four sets of dance and music recitals, four teenagers and their stupid hair. Then I sat with Henry in the evening, watching The Prince of Egypt, his arm propped casually on his brother’s head. The first unwilling arm-rest of many, I assume.

I hope they’ve got a diminished seventh or two between them in twenty years’ time.

When You Go There, They Have To Take You In

My younger brothers are here. They’re downstairs, right now, in that comatose, sweaty state they call sleeping. And they smell and seem too big and ungainly and make lots of noise and have an immense amount of hair, but still: I feel more myself with them in the house. Or rather, I reconnect with a self I don’t often occupy these days. I think Jane Mersky Leder expressed it best:

Our siblings push buttons that cast us in roles we felt sure we had let go of long ago – the baby, the peacekeeper, the caretaker, the avoider…. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has elapsed or how far we’ve travelled.

Very true. Fifty-one weeks of my year are without family. And I love my life, don’t get me wrong (why do so many grown-ups go around looking so miserable when married adulthood is so much fun?); I just feel somewhat loose and untethered with brothers and sister on a different continent. I only notice when they come back, one golden week a year. It’s like I take a deep breath and remember myself in the way they see me. Oh yes, I think. That’s who I am. It doesn’t even really matter how well we get on – we are the same, underneath. We draw from a common pool of childhood memories. We are each other. (Too sentimental? Yes. Concentrating a year’s worth of sibling interaction into seven days makes for heightened appreciation but also mawkishness, I find.)

We’ve had a good week, so far. We’ve visited Oxford museums, gone swimming, raided Topman, eaten lots of food, talked. Harry Potter Day was yesterday, the clear highlight of the week – we went to see the film once Tim arrived home from work, then discussed and analysed every scene from every angle on the way home. My favourite conversation:

James: Doesn’t it make you wish there were more than seven books?

Rob: Doesn’t it make you wish it was real?!

James: (flatly) No. If it was real, you’d be a Muggle.

Rob: (rises at once to the bait) No I wouldn’t.

James: Yes you would. You think you’d get a letter at seventeen, inviting you to Hogwarts? It’s too late for you. You’d be a Muggle. You just don’t understand how it works, Rob.

Rob: You just don’t understand the magic of the Harry Potter series.

This is an in-joke at James’ expense (a line from a film review he wrote aged nine), so we all laugh and he growls, threateningly. A pause.

Tim: Rob, if it were real, you’d be a house elf. (The back seat erupts in outrage.)

Ah, family.

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