Tag Archives: What I Wish I’d Known About Two

Pregnancy crib-notes: some things I wish I’d known about two

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‘How are you doing with those two boys?’ people ask.

The answer is: ‘Today I am awake. So today is good’.

Do you remember those guest posts I published back at the beginning of July, with people giving advice about moving from one to two children? I loved them. I still read them now, since seven months and 1278 dirty nappies isn’t nearly long enough to feel like you know what you’re doing. But I have discovered some things, and not all of them are chocolate button-related. If I could do some sort of spiffy time machine action and land right in the middle of 30th June, 2013, I’d…tell myself to give birth on the BATHROOM FLOOR, NOT THE CARPET, IDIOT. And I’d also say this.

(I know I’ve been going a bit Buzzfeed, lately, with all these lists. That’s 11pm talking. I’ll write something with paragraphs this week, I promise.)

you can love them both…

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I worried about this the way everyone worries about this, even while knowing that it was silly. This boy I’d poured heart and soul into for almost two years – how could I love someone else in exactly the same way, without taking away from what I had with my first, or feeling like I was somehow cheating on him? Well, it just happens: gradually and subconsciously at first, then on it comes, like a tidal wave – implacable, deep-seated love. Oh, my little Teddy. He exists in a whole different chamber of my heart, and I love them both for themselves, and together. It just happens, honest.

…but choosing between them still hurts.

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Perhaps this gets easier. I never seem to have enough time to do all of the things I want with them both. I know that making them share and take turns with my attention is extremely good for them, but I always feel a twinge of guilt for the boy I’ve put to one side. You can’t help comparing them, either, and that’s a guilt-maker too. It helps to remind myself that Henry was at this stage once, and Edward will be at this stage soon, and neither of them can help being where they are at the moment. Which is true of everyone, anyway.

you’ve done this once already. You can do what you want now.

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The biggest surprise for me was how much more confidence I had to follow my instincts. The first time I handed Teddy over to Tim for a bottle, after four long weeks of feeding him every two hours, I screwed myself up in bed and cried. Then I stopped, because I’ve done this before. And it was unquestionably the right thing to do with Henry, and it happened to be the right thing here, too. It’s not that you can repeat the experience with your first child exactly, because they’re both very different. But I have a better idea now of when to follow the book, and when to trust my gut. Most of the time I still feel like I’m winging it. But this time I know that one day, I’ll wake up and realise that this thing I’ve been agonising over for months and months has just gone away, without me noticing.

for three months, embrace the chaos

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Those early days of newborn-and-two-year-old. Oh, my giddy aunt. When the boiling needs of your children consume every waking minute, and your waking minutes are nearly all the minutes there are. A good friend told me just afterwards that it took her three months to start climbing out of the chaos, and I clung onto that like a life raft. It was true for me, too – and I would add that it then took six months to get them both to a stage where proper routine is possible. So I tried very hard not to feel guilty about anything in the early months. Getting to the end of the day with us all alive, fed, clean(ish) and happy was more than enough. I slept whenever they both slept, whatever else I could have been doing. What I’m basically saying is that I spent three months with crazy hair and ignoring the vacuuming. And it was fine, and it got better.

the baby phases are even better than you remember

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I’d forgotten about that furious look of concentration when they spy something they want to pick up. Or the way they tell you how nice you are by grabbing your face. Or the way their whole body tenses with excitement when you come into the room. Or that phase where all they want to do is ride around on your hip, because the view is so much better from up here. We’ve been delighted all over again – and watching Henry be delighted by them too is wonderful.

there has never in this universe been so much poo

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You know how when women live together, their cycles start to coincide? Small children have the same thing, only with bowel movements. My text messages to Tim these days are all in capitals, with fractured sentences like ‘BETWEEN THE TOES THIS TIME’, and ‘SEVENTEEN WIPES REQUIRED’ and ‘HAVE STRIPPED THEM BOTH NAKED AGAIN’. I have discovered, too late, that you cannot have too many wipes, or nappies, or disinfectant, or protective head-gear. I have become a form and texture expert. WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME.

Even on the less good days, there’s this. Two really is better than one.

Hey, are you incubating a foetus right now? There are more pregnancy crib-notes here: 

What you’ll actually need in your hospital bag, and why

Things to do at thirty weeks: an alternative list for the anti-nester

Five maternity styles I’ve learned to love…and five I love to hate

What I Wish I’d Known About Two: five things no one tells you

Last, but definitely not least!

I’d planned for this guest post series to run on consecutive days. Giving birth the day before kind of threw a spanner in the works. But I’ve loved reading and posting these, and hope you’ve enjoyed them too. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed.

This post is brill. I am already laughing with recognition and I’m only two weeks in. It’s going to be one heck of a ride…

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I was always amazed at the reasons people gave me for why I should have another child, when my first son Brodie was a baby.

“You’ve got a little boy – don’t you want to try for a girl?” (I’m the least girly person you could know. A lack of pink in my house doesn’t bother me.)

“He won’t be a sociable child if you don’t give him a sibling.” (Errr, I’m an only child, and I’ve never been short of friends.)

“He’ll be hard work, unless you have another child for him to play with.” (What’s wrong with playdates?)

In the end, when Brodie was around 18 months old, I realised I wanted to have another.

Why?

Because I felt I could manage two children (but no more than two).
Because I wanted to enjoy having a baby – PND had left me an emotional wreck for much of Brodie’s early months and I missed so much joy in my fog and panic.
Because I knew Brodie would be a fabulous, loving big brother.
And because I just wanted another child. Simple as that.
Brodie was two and a half when Blake came along, and the bond was instant.
I had no worries about jealousy from the big brother – more that Brodie might smother him from too much cuddling.
Nowadays they are still close – when they’re not fighting. But Blake is a very different character – headstrong, stubborn, fiercely independent and unable to accept the word “no”. So despite their devotion, they are bound to clash sometimes.
Which brings me to the five things I’ve learned about having two children – that no-one ever tells you.

They’re not clones
You can pat yourself on the back that you’ve used every Supernanny trick in the book to get a child to eat/sleep/behave. Kids are not dogs, and a method that works with one child will not necessarily work with another. Take it from a mum whose first child was sleeping through at 6 months – but who is still still up through the night with his 4-year-old brother.

You won’t treat them equally
I’m not saying you can’t love them both, but inevitably you’ll learn lessons from the eldest which will change the rules for the younger one. Usually you’re more relaxed, and the smallest benefits from that. Or maybe you’ve made some mistakes which means you’re stricter on the littlest. But it makes me laugh when parents say “I treat my kids the same”. Parenting changes you, and you’re nowhere near the same person when number two arrives.

PND can strike twice
It can come again – but it doesn’t mean you’ll have the same experience twice. The first time around, I was tearful and panicky about whether I was doing the right thing, whether I was a good mother, and that feeling stayed with me for more than a year. With Blake, I enjoyed the baby experience much more and knew what I was doing. But I felt invisible and like my identity had been swallowed up. Counselling got me through it, with no regrets.

They will hate each other
Despite the fact they love each other, there will be days when they can’t stand the sight of their sibling. You’d better get your referee’s whistle at the ready to deal with the barrage of “It’s his fault” and “He hit me” and “Tell him to go away”. There will be days like these. But they will pass.

It’s still bloody painful
I’ve saved the best til last. And sorry to break the news, but don’t believe everyone who tells you childbirth the second time will be a walk in the park – because your body’s done it before. It’s quicker, I’ll tell you that. But as someone who was determined to go drug-free second time around (and failed miserably) I’d say don’t count on the pain being any less. Unless you were superwoman first time around, and got through it with just a light perspiration and a couple of grunts, don’t think you’re in for an easier ride.

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Donna White is a Geordie, a freelance journalist and a lover of wine – not necessarily in that order. She has two sons Brodie, 7, and Blake, 4, and writes about the runaway train that is her parenting experience over on Mummy Central (http://www.mummycentral.com).

You can also find her on Twitter @Mummy_Central or lurking on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mummycentral

What I Wish I’d Known About Two: the practicalities

Today’s post is from the lovely Fay, with two slightly older children – I do love hearing from more experienced mothers. Somehow you’re able to look back on things with less anxiety (and a better sense of humour)! And all that indecisiveness seems to disappear in hindsight. I especially enjoyed what she says here about coupledom after two children.

Fay blogs at http://flyonthewallfay.com, so go have a look!

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My second child was a long time coming: part post-traumatic stress from Amy’s birth, part grieving my brother, part, shall we, shan’t we.

Time flies when indecision strikes.

I will never forget the pregnancy test for Jake: we kind of knew, Amy was 8 so we were trying to keep it under wraps a little. I sneaked upstairs and Dan loitered by them in trepidation.

It was positive and I sat there, biting my lip, thinking that’s gone and torn it.

“So?!” He yelled up the stairs.

“Yes” I replied, talking in a subtle and ingenious code.

“Yes?!” He asked. “Yes” I whispered now on the bottom step. We looked into one another’s eyes and hugged, thinking, that’s really gone and torn it.

The wonder of a second is you have been there before, you know the joys, and the truck loads of love that are delivered each day, the achingly sweet, would-not-swap-for-a-second cuteness.

The horror of a second is you have been there before, you know the tiredness, the pain, the hormones and short fuses and all that bleeding!

We finally told Amy on holiday a few days later, pretending we had just tested. She said “Does that mean you did the willy thing?!” “Um, well, yes” we replied, and felt about so high.

A large age gap is a very different kettle of fish.

A lot of the clichés have proven true for us: our family now feels complete, and the fun interaction of siblings is priceless especially at Christmas.

Seeing what mix of features and character, foibles and silliness each child has inherited is so much fun and we do feel closer as a couple having enjoyed and survived those early baby days, twice.

We were a real parenting team the second time round, and watching Dan fulfil that role so fully has been very rewarding.

My second time round list:

Do be aware a lot of marriages fail in the first two years of the second child’s life. Make time for each other, seek romance between you.

Swimming really helps those joints.

Formula tins now advise each feed is made up with boiling water as you go, that is madness. Cooled boiled water works fine. Those wheel formula dispensers are brilliant. I used to pre-fill them and have a stack of bottles with water waiting at Jakes bedroom door.

In my opinion waiting to wean for 6 months is a hiding for nothing.

Tag-teaming the feeds was so much better than me trying to go it alone.

A lot more goes by in a blur with number two, don’t forget pictures and hand prints.

Muslin squares are still invaluable.

You now know the baby really isn’t getting that much out of all those enriching crafting sessions and music classes and just let them tag along a lot more.

I felt a lot more respected and listened to the second time round, by medical staff and other mums. It’s a bit of a club having two kids, practice your “been there, done that” attitude.

If you do need a C-section it’s really not as bad as it sounds at all.

Hold on in there, it’s so, so worth it!

Love it. And amen to the muslin squares.

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.

What I Wish I’d Known About Two: How it’s done

I haven’t the words. I haven’t the words for what two babies feels like so far. I try, and my brain reaches back for more chocolate ice cream, baby smell and fumbly emotional seesawing. Thank goodness for talented people who can express it for me. 

It might be crazy hormonal milk-arrival-day talking, but this post resonated with me so much I cried. So it felt like a good place to start. Megan writes at Meg In Progress, and is one of my all-time favourite bloggers. When I read her stuff, I remember how good it is to write about things that matter.

Hope you enjoy this and the posts that are scheduled to follow this week – I definitely have. 

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My baby is three weeks old and I am two days past being absolutely bonkers. Some mothers are slowly driven crazy by their children. Mine make me mental from birth. It is not entirely the darling dears’ fault. My chemical make up is particularly prone to postpartum depression. Combine that tendency with sleepless nights, diaper blow outs and HOW-MUCH-WEIGHT-DO-I- STILL-NEED-TO-LOSE and you have one notsohotso mess. We are nearly a month into this two child experiment and I am finally waking up. I can smile in the mornings and haven’t fallen asleep crying on the floor for days.

Yes. This is big and beautiful news.

Sunday was one of my last actively psycho waking periods. By mid morning, I had pushed past the panic and sadness. The question sounding since Viola was born, “How are we going to do this?”, had become a bit quieter.

In celebration, I made a fancy breakfast. And by “fancy”, I mean that hash browns were involved. The table was set and in the course of breakfast making I had only broken one egg yolk. Time to eat. Of course, Viola decided she was scream-till-I-just-can’t-scream-anymore hungry at the very moment I had dressed my beloved potatoes. (Three shakes of salt, two from the pepper and a generous ketchup-ing.) By the time I was done feeding the baby, my egg had congealed and Margaret had been taking bites of my bacon. The hash browns, however, still looked just perfect.

My baby was fed, my family was enjoying a meal made by my hand. Who needs eggs? Who needs bacon sans two year old slobber? I have everything. Everything with a side of fried potato strings. Contented, I lifted a forkful of the hash browns to my mouth and they were cold. Freezing. Glacial.

It was more than only slightly sane me could handle. I got up, threw the plate in the sink and locked myself in the bathroom for an angry cry.

The tears came hot and my breaths burst out in short gasps. How are we going to do this? How are we going to do this. How am I going to do this?

Twenty minutes and one shaky make up application later, I emerged. Margaret was in her room, Viola was asleep and the kitchen had been cleaned. Riley was waiting for me in the front room. The poor man looked very confused. He sat next to me, pulled me into his arms and asked what was wrong. I started crying that horrendous ugly cry I do so well  – all splotched face and hiccups and a runny nose.

“Don’t you see?” I said, “With two kids I am really just a mom, I can’t see myself or the things I want outside of that role. Ever.” and here my breath caught as I nearly shouted out that harsh realization, “I will be eating cold potatoes for the rest of my life!” This was of course followed by more tears, hiccups and snot.

Lovely, I am sure.

The good – patient! – man laughed, pulled me in closer and said the most romantic thing this crazy girl has ever heard,

“Meggie, don’t forget. I am here.” He kissed the top of my forehead and pulled me in closer, “We will take turns eating cold potatoes.”

And there it was. My answer to that question that I had carried home from the hospital. That is how we are going to do this. We will all laugh and love. The girls, Riley and I will color the world with sidewalk chalk and read about the places we can’t reach. I will remember the man I married and follow him to the bright lights he has always seen. He will remember the girl he fell in love with and give me time to write and space to dream. We will touch and make out and ahem, you know, so that for just a little while it feels like we are the only ones in the world.

And we will take turns eating the cold potatoes.

meganandriley

What do you wish you’d known about two?

Happy juice. No, it really is.

Happy juice. No, it really is.

It might be the giant angry beach ball on my front talking, but – man, 34 weeks feels rough this time. Urgh, the heaviness of it. And the achy unhinging of my pelvic bones whenever I have to rush around, which – given the existence of Master Dangermouse over here – happens far too many times an hour. I’m not saying I want an unexpected, panicky, prawn-cocktail-crisp-fueled labour like last time, and of course I’m very grateful that I’m here at all. But if the midwife tells me this week that oh, a miracle, this baby looks full-term already, I’ll be faking my sad face. And it won’t be very convincing.

Of course, when the Bowel-Treader (affectionate but tragically apt nickname) does emerge, things get more complicated. And less complicated. And there’s much more chocolate gateaux involved. The feelings will be mixed, is what I’m saying.

I can’t be the only one peering over the precipice of one-baby-to-two and worrying about how it will feel. I was continually surprised by Henry, and expect this new transition to be just as glorious and discombobulating. So…

–STAND BY FOR THRILLING ANNOUNCEMENT–

…I’m terribly excited to let you know about a little project I’ve had in the pipeline: What I Wish I’d Known About Two, a guest post series that will appear here on makealongstoryshort.net, beginning the first week in July.  I feel so much better about everything when I speak to people who have been there already and come out with their hair and marbles intact. And what a hugely supportive community this internet can be. Some of my favourite people are contributing their perspective to the series, and I’m so looking forward to it. I hope you’ll all come along and join in the conversation in the comments, because I’m gathering advice and stories like one of those nutters on Hoarders.

–BUT HANG ON A MINUTE–

Perhaps you have a story to tell, too? If you’d like to write a guest post for the series, I’d love to read and publish it. Just send it to rach.makealongstoryshort [at] gmail.com by the end of June, along with your blog/social media details if you like, and a photo if you don’t mind. I am absolutely determined to be in labour by July, so want to make as many notes as possible before then.

Cheers to you, fabulous internet people. Shall we hug? Oh go on then, let’s.

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