For J., Who Inquired About How to Manage with Two

Dear J.,

A few months ago you called me to share your wonderful news, that baby #2 is on the way.  "Spence," you said, "You have to tell me how to manage with two."  I promised I would, but notice how I put you off until now as you come very near your due date.  That's because there are some things it's best not to know until the time is ripe.

Since you asked, I will give you a little advice here, even though I'm not real comfortable in the role of advice-giver.  Anything I can say is based on my experience as a mom.  You might have a completely different experience.  My advice might not help you at all.

And before I begin, I have to say this: my experience of motherhood is inextricably linked to my experience of chronic illness.  I have no idea what motherhood would have been like if I had felt well and had lots of (or even moderate amounts of) energy.  Same goes for being a stay-at-home parent.  Who knows what my days, weeks, and months would have felt like if I had worked outside the home at least part of the time?  Last disclaimer:  The word "manage" fled from my vocabulary in 2005 when Sister arrived.  It was replaced by its under-achiever cousin, "survive."  Again, whether that would have happened anyway, or was due to being so sick, I will never know.  You have to consider my advice with all this in mind.

And now, here's what I can say about how to manage with two:

1.  There's love enough.  I know lots of moms who, when they were pregnant with #2, feared they could never love another child as much as they loved their first.  It feels that way, it really does.  All I can say is that by some miracle of grace, the heart makes room and there is love enough for two, and three, and four, and from what I can tell, love enough for however many children you end up having.  Once #2 arrives, you won't be able to imagine your family without him/her.

2.  You are not ruining #1's life by having another baby.  It can be hard to think about what a sibling will mean for your firstborn, especially because it means #1 will have to share you.  It will be an adjustment for #1, but you're giving her a real gift:  a sibling.  Someone to play with, someone to learn from, and someone to learn healthy strategies for conflict resolution with (also known as fighting).  Yes, #1 will have to learn to wait sometimes while you are helping baby, and will have to learn to play on her own from time to time.  On the other hand, #2 can learn to wait, too:  "Just a minute, baby.  You'll have to wait while I pour Sister some milk."  These are good things for every child to learn.  And when the sibling stuff gets difficult, remember this:  For the rest of their lives, when the big, scary world calls out for a Buddy Check, they can look to each other, grab hands, and hold them up for all to see:  We belong to each other.

3.  Get them on the same nap schedule.  Do not negotiate about the nap schedule.  Ever.  This will give you a chance to sleep when the baby sleeps if you're that type (I was) and/or have a brief period of peace in your days filled with the needs of two young ones.  I think teaching children to have a little quiet time in their day is a good thing.  And even the most strong-willed child can learn to respect the quiet time rules if they are strictly enforced (I know this because I have The Most Strong-Willed Child, which is a topic for another post, or perhaps for an epic poem).

4.  Put that two-year-old to work.  At two, children love to help.  Oldest child can run to fetch a diaper or a pacifier or a pair of socks for baby.  Oldest child can help pick up toys.  Oldest child can carry her sippy cup to the counter.  I say, get them used to working while they still think it's fun!

5.  Paper plates are your friend.  Just accept it.  The same goes for Spaghetti-Os and Sesame Street.

6.  Trust yourself.  The nice thing about number two is that you've learned a lot with #1.  Not that every child is the same, but there are some basics that you understand now:  like when you need to call the doctor and when you can wait and see (of course, having a husband who's a doctor, like you do, is pretty handy, too).  You've been through all the learning curve stuff: how to nurse, how to take care of yourself post-partum, when to start with solids, etc.  You know what growth spurts are like, and what the usual suspects are for irritability, fever, diaper rash, etc.  All this baseline knowledge makes #2 a lot easier.

7.  Take good care of yourself.  This is the piece of advice that every seasoned mother will give you, even though she probably didn't follow it herself when her kids were young.  It's hard to do, since the needs of children will expand to fill the capacity of an infinite number of available adults (and yes, I have conducted a scientific study on this).  But try.  Try to do something nice for yourself on a regular basis, and get some time away from the babies and the home front.  And part of taking care of yourself is remembering that there's no such thing as a perfect mother.

8.  It will get easier.  People told me this over and over again.  I kept wondering: when? when?  For eight years I wondered, when? when?  I'll tell you when:  It will get easier when your youngest child is four years old.  Now you know.

9.  Skip the parenting books.  My experience is that most parenting books (and I've only read a handful) aren't all that helpful.  Many include "systems" that seem more like doggy-training than raising kids, and some of them can make you feel neurotic by causing you to worry or wonder about things you never would have thought of if you hadn't read the book.  I think if you get yourself a copy of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, you'll know all you need to know for the next three years of your life.  When your kids get a little older and Real Discipline becomes necessary, give me a call and I'll tell you about a few resources that have helped me.

10.  Strange things happen.  There will come a day.  It will probably be sometime in 2011 or possibly 2012 in your case.  You, Dr. Husband, and your two lovely children will be doing something kind of important.  Something like a birthday celebration, or maybe it's Christmas Eve.  Perhaps you're having friends over for dinner.  Something you'd like to enjoy, let's say.  Someone will be tired (probably all of you will be tired).  One child will begin to melt down over.... well, it could be anything.... the color of his/her socks, or the way you put the green beans on his/her plate.  S/he will be kicking and screaming, something about "I HATE BIRTHDAYS!" or maybe "NO MORE CHRISTMAS. EVER EVER EVER AND I HATE SANTA!" or "COMPANY IS A BAD IDEA! I HATE YOU FOR YOUR BAD IDEAS!" You and Dr. Husband will be staring at the child as if s/he were born on Mars.  Meanwhile the other child has probably thrown his/her plate across the room, or perhaps has peed on the floor, or if s/he is a particularly enterprising child, may be flushing pieces of your cell phone down the toilet in the upstairs bathroom just for fun.  You will be alerted to the situation by this child requesting that you find his/her bathing suit so s/he can "splash in the puddle," or perhaps by the chunks of plaster falling on your head.  At this point it time, you and Dr. Husband will stare at each other, and with your eyes will ask one another, "What were we thinking?  Really, what were we thinking?  We were so happy once!  And now..... this?"  At this point, don't panic (although you have my permission to bawl): for now you are seasoned parents of young children.

11.  The days can feel long, but the years fly by.  Having little ones is exhausting, and the days can be long (also, the nights can be long).  But remember when you came to see my #1?  You were the first of my dear friends to hold him when he was just five days old.  He'll be nine next week.  See how fast that went?  Enough said.

So, J., I'm not sure any of this will be helpful at all.  How to manage with two?  I don't know..... you just.... manage.  Try not to worry.  You'll do great.  Kids have this wonderful way of leading you along the path of their ages and stages.  Sometimes is bumpy and often it's joyful.  Enjoy the ride.


Gerry said...

This is really good, Molly, and very funny, as only the truth can be. When I was a brand new mom living far away from family I consulted a dogeared paperback on a regular basis. Dr. Spock told me when to throw some salve on it and when to go to the doctor with it, and he told me to trust myself--that I knew more than I thought I did. Then people told me Dr. Spock was out of fashion and referred me to a lot of other books that were "better." The only problem was that those "better" books said I was inadequate and needed Experts to guide me through every step of my day. Ha. Good thing I had neighbors with common sense and compassion.

J. is lucky to have you in her life, and very smart to trust you, and herself, to get the important job done. Both of you take good care of yourselves, and each other. In a few years, when you're wondering How to Manage with 15-year olds, I will have some words of comfort for you. They won't be wise words, as everything I learned in my life I learned while fixing my mistakes, but they will be comforting. Hold that thought.

Molly said...

Oh, Gerry - if only my generation of moms had Dr. Spock on our bookshelves, I think we'd all be a lot better off. Thank goodness I had my mother, and my Grandma, and lots of very kind older women who would stop me at the grocery store or the library and dole out concise bits of common-sense wisdom. And everyone said "trust yourself." So after a while, I did.

And you do realize you're on the hook now? The Bean will be 15 in six years..... be ready!

ljchicago said...

Point #2 pretty much says it all for me. We thought more about having #2 than we did #1 because we were just so worried about how #2 would affect #1. Like you said, I can't imagine life now without #2 -- I'd certainly have a lot more "time to myself" and things would be a lot easier with only #1 but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun. And my friends and I now wonder why we thought we were so busy when we all just had #1!

You know how much I worried about having such a small place and having the boys share a room. We waited a year to put them in the same room -- therefore, #2 slept in our room and we all slept terribly. When we visited my parents recently, I thought I'd put #1 with Daddy and #2 with me but then I decided to put them together. I felt so good about it -- that's what they are used to, that's what they love. I love hearing #1 say to #2, "What do you think Mommy and Daddy are doing out there? Watching TV?" And then #2 answers back in his sweet little voice.

Thanks for today's post. Made my day. It's only 12:30 and it's already been a long one.

Ms. WK said...

ahhhh... I could read your writing all day.

CitricSugar said...

Sage advice and so well tempered with humour. I shall have to remember it all....

Minga said...

And don't forget that all important advice: A father is NOT a babysitter. He is a parent and deserves to serve as one when the mother needs, wants, takes a break!! So, when there are two-take (make) some time for yourself and leave Dad at home with the kids.