Falls from grace

In the weeks after Zoe was born, I remember my constant irritation with Sweet Dog who quickly went from beloved first born to a needy, demanding, irritating obstacle.

Now it is Zoe who appears suddenly large and dangerous, all pointy elbows and heavy footsteps. Her voice is loud and screechy at just the wrong times. Her desperate needs come, magically, when I am least available.


"Zoe's such a GREAT big sister" I say to friends, within Zoe's earshot. The first few weeks I meant this, unequivocally.

Zoe is still so excited about Eliza, with frequent kisses and hugs and songs sung to calm her crying.

She is also suddenly "needing" the Boppy for her dolls and despondent when it's "Eliza's turn" on the Boppy. She wants my lap when I'm nursing, decides she HAS to bounce crazily on the bed when I'm nursing there, must have my assistance at bed time when I'm nursing Eliza (Do you notice a trend? [Luckily, she has decided that she is no longer interested in breastmilk.]).


"Eliza is such a GOOD baby" is an easy thing to think, to say. She has slept all night for the last two weeks. She hasn't ever required the three hour nightly bouncing/shushing/hair dryer-on-right-next-to-her-ear sessions that Zoe did at the same age.

She will, at some point in the future, not sleep all night.

She also has had a few screaming->coughing->choking->gagging->barfing fits that come out of nowhere and leave us frazzled and confused. Does she have reflux? Did I overfeed her? Is it just gas and she needs more vigorous burping?

(Is she still a "good baby"?)


I earnestly kept TV at bay for over two years.

Zoe just watched an hour of Sesame Street, then yelled for "more videos MOMMY!".

CG and I earnestly crafted family rules for the table (No talking with your mouth full. Wait your turn to speak. No throwing/spitting food. Clean up your own spills. Use your manners when asking for/refusing food. Ask to be excused before leaving the table. No walking around with food in your mouth or your hand. Once you leave the table, the meal is over. Clear your own plate and cup. OMG ARE WE CRAZY STRICT OR WHAT?) only to be unable to enforce some of them on a regular basis now that we have Eliza and her needs to contend with.

Having two children is either the best thing for Earnest Mothers like myself or the worst thing. I've spent three years reading all the books. I've spent three years explaining and caring and guiding and listening and reflecting and hand holding and setting boundaries and following through and BLAH BLAH BLAH NOW IT IS ALL FOR NAUGHT.

I cannot hover in ways I'm used to. I cannot always help her clean up every toy before she takes out another. I cannot ensure she isn't wasting water/soap/toilet paper when she insists on using the potty by herself. I cannot always intervene in her fraught peer relations during playdates, because I'm changing a diaper/nursing a baby/washing poop off of clothing. I cannot always help her when she asks me politely and calmly for assistance finding a toy. So then she melts down and throws a huge fit at my feet which begs the questions: when I'm finally available to help her, does she get my help? Does she have to calm down and ask nicely AGAIN?

She's clearly acting out due to all the changes in our lives. Her behavior is asking "So much is different.... is THIS different? How about THIS?".

And the answer, sometimes, is "yes".


I am finishing nursing Eliza in bed, her face squished against my breast. My nipple falls from her mouth and we both take deep, heavy breaths.

I hear Zoe's clomping footsteps in the hall and she bursts into the room. I scramble to hide, to fix, to erase, like a cheating wife in bed with her lover.

I simultaneously resent the abrupt intrusion into my lovely little scene and mentally toss Eliza from the bed to make room for my first baby.


I've heard that adding a second child to your family is like "dropping a bomb into the middle of your life".

To me, it feels like a house of cards, one that was so carefully built and so preciously tended, is collapsing in slow motion all around me. It is not so much painful and explosive as it is inevitable.

It will, of course, be rebuilt, with just as much loving, thoughtful care, but the cards are still falling all around me. The rebuilding will take time. It will look different than the first time around.

It has only just begun.


Marie Green said...

Here is what I believe the gift of the 2nd child is:

For the first child, the gift is more wiggle room. They are no longer the object of all our affection, true, but they also have a little more space to breath in life, a bit more room to blossom in their own unique way, apart from our helping and urging and prodding and reminding.

For the second child, they have the advantage of parent(s) that are no longer novice. We are more relaxed this time, more confident, more in tune with "what really matters" and "what will pass with time, so don't get too worried about it". They don't get our undivided attention, but they DO get an older sibling to dote on them and to pave the way for them.

For moms, the gift of the second is perspective. Things that were BIG DEALS with our first are no longer BIG DEALS with our 2nd, and we find ourselves relaxing and enjoying our 2nd that much more.

You are still WELL WITHIN the adjustment peroid of getting used to 2 kids. I am impressed with how well you are handling everything. NICE WORK! =)

Hillary said...

My mom has been saying since The Boy was six months old that I need to have another child so I don't spoil him rotten. She's probably right. Marie Green is most definitely right.

Mrs. Chicken said...

It gets better.

But to be honest, it took about six months for us to get normalized. It isn't easy, and sometimes it is still hard, but it does get better. It does, I promise.

And then one day you'll have them in the bath together and they'll stare at each other for a few minutes, and then burst out laughing together, forgetting you are even in the room, like mine did tonight.

And in that moment, your heart will sigh -- and be at rest.


Kathi McCracken Dente said...

I have been thinking about all of the same things. I read all the books with Mira and have crafted a world for her with structure and rules. For example I followed all the sleep rules with Mira (nap at home not in the car after 2 hours of being awake, etc). There is no way to provide the same structure for Tessa. But looking back, maybe Mira's world was too controlled. It is a big transition (bigger than i expected) to have a second child. I just wish we could get through it with less stress for all of us. Hang in there! Our lives will be rebuilt better than before.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Marie Green and Mrs. Chicken- Hearing those wise words from moms who've been there, who ARE there is beyond comforting. I will cling to your wisdom.

desperate housewife said...

Warning: novella ahead.
I don't know that I'm completely "there" when it comes to having the two kids thing down, but I do know it now feels like second nature to think in two's (for sandwiches, sippees, books, carseats) rather than for just one child. It no longer breaks my heart when I must tell one child to wait because the needs of the other seem more urgent. I have accepted that my job entails constant judgement calls, and that I may fail sometimes, but all I can do is my best at that moment. I have stopped thinking of Addy as being the big kid and Eli the little one, and I generally just speak of them as "the kids" or "the babies," acknowledging that they are both sometimes the one and sometimes the other.
I think their sharing a room now, just a recent development, was the final step in solidifying firmly in my mind that I am the mom of siblings now. Not one baby, not a toddler and a newborn, not even just a preschooler and a toddler, but also siblings, with all the rivalry and give and take and jealousy inherent. It is mind blowing that we have at long last reached that stage, where they are together, babbling to each other in the dark, a separate entity from us, their parents. They are their own "they" now.
And it's fantastic. Did I say that yet? It's just my favorite thing ever to look back and see them holding hands in their carseats, or passing a cup back and forth to share. (This is not a super FREQUENT thing, mind you...) But like just now- I hear Addy handing her grumpy brother a ball and suggesting, "Come on, we play forgether!"
It's worth this stage you're at now, of constant second guessing and guilt and watching all your hard work seemingly unravel. It really is. Almost two years (!) later, I can say that it really is more joyful to be a family of four. Not easier, overall, but better.
In the meantime, just trust yourselves to know what things are worth fighting for, in terms of rules and schedule, and what things can be harmlessly allowed to slip and slide a bit. Remember what Dr. Spock said: "You know more than you think you do."

Melanie said...

Sweet friend! I hear your heart loud and clear. "Adding" a family member is sometimes more than we feel we can handle. Rest assured, as you came from a 2 child family, and so many did before you, it will all smooth out...sort of. There will always be the juggling of time, hands, toys, tissues, hugs, and laps. But in the end, Zoe and Eliza will know that you guys LOVE them and as simplistic as that sounds that's what they carry with them (even through the years of therapy that I'm sure mine will need!) Keep on keeping on girl! Melanie

Whimsy said...

Wow. Seeing as how I have NO expert opinions about this, I have to say that Marie Green's take on things is just lovely.

I'm sure you're doing a fantastic job, and that both girls will not only survive this transition, but they'll thrive.

Astarte said...

So much changes with a second baby, and it's hard to accept that it has to be that way. For instance, with Josie, we were super-anal about what she could watch and hear. BUT, she was 3.5 when Patrick was born, and she can't watch Pooh forever, so... Patrick has seen and heard a lot more at a younger age than she ever did. He seems fine, but I wonder a little if he would have been a different kid if his life had been filled with only Pooh and Noggin.

Anonymous said...

Found you via Swistle and now I'm addicted! This is beautiful. My husband and I have been talking about a second baby, and this speaks to me more than anything I've read.

Tess said...

Oh, this is lovely. I have no experience with this, but also no doubt that you're doing an amazing job.

Giselle said...

Popping over here for the first time...and Marie Green has hit the nail on the head. I also really like desperate housewife's insight into seeing them as a "they" as well as individuals. So so true...I love the individuals AND the group...and I dislike them sometimes also. ;)

When I'm feeling down about not devoting enough time to any one child, I always try to remind myself that this is life...you are never the center of attention in life...there are always people to share with. And what a safe and loving environment to learn it in. I love my eldest MORE now that he has siblings...because I get to see a side of him that would have been unknown to me without them. I see him sticking up for them at playgrounds, I see him desperately trying to make them laugh after he's made them cry so he doesn't get in trouble, I see him cheer them on when they do something great.

That all comes eventually...you'll get there. But I think it is also important to remember your daughter's emotions...because they will fade as she grows to accept and love and adjust...but I think there is always a little of that displacement there. When any of mine just start getting snarky (scientific term), I try to remember to set aside a date with just them. Even if it is just in the backyard...as long as it is undivided time with just the one. Reminds me and them that it doesn't ever HAVE to be all the kids...I still love just being with them.

Jen said...

Ditto what everyone else said.

One of the best gifts I got when my second was born (on the same day my husband was leaving for Iraq) was from a friend with two children of her own. She gave my oldest a Super Special box of toys, nothing fancy, that he could only play with while I was feeding the baby. It didn't work 100% of the time, but it sure worked a lot, and made things much easier. I've done the same for friends having their second child.

It's amazing how much your capacity for love grows, isn't it?

Alicia said...

This post captures SO WELL what I've been trying to articulate (to myself) for years. We now have four children (including a May 09 babe, actually), and it is the splitting of the time and effort and the revising of rules for different human beings that is so very difficult about having more than one child. I feel for you. I don't think it really gets BETTER, exactly, but it changes, and becomes new normal.

Lauren said...

When my second baby was one week old I broke down and sobbed for my first because I felt so bad for ruining her world. I identify with her because I was the big sister too.

But after a few months she started to like being the BIG KID. She constantly told us about all the privileges she enjoyed. "Colin can't eat pizza like me." "Colin has to go to bed now, but I can stay up." etc. And sometimes I catch her trying to make him laugh and I know they'll be glad to have each other eventually!

Also, we plan a special mommy outing for her every couple of weeks and that has been a wonderful thing. Good luck!

Serial Mommy said...

i need to apologize to begin with, but i had to giggle while reading this post...here's why...i'm curently pregnant with twins..my 6th and 7th babies..what you descibe with your first child hasn't existed in a VERY long time for me..i will say this...while that is all gone, and honestly, it's probably good that it is, what is put in it's place is much better, you'll just have to take my word on that and wait and see however...

Kristin said...

I will be where you are in 2 weeks. I have been fretting constantly about how the impending birth of our new baby girl is going to impact my toddler son's life. He is SUCH a mama's boy right now and that is going to have to change rapidly. I already feel like I am failing him and the baby hasn't been born yet!

I know in the long run it will be good for all of us to be a family of four, but I am expecting the transition to be difficult. At the same time, I agree with Marie Green about how the second child will benefit from our experience already being parents. I am looking forward to enjoying this baby's infant stages much more than I did with my son, because I am hoping that I can just relax and not freak out about everything.

Good luck to you!

the new girl said...

I have a couple months left until the you-know-what hits the fan around here.

I LOVED Serial Mommy's comment so much because, SERIOUSLY? 6th and 7th babies and she's still, you know, ALIVE? I'm taking her word for it, yo.

Jenni said...


MaryP said...

What a lovely post! Transitions are the hardest, and it sounds to me like you're doing a marvellous job with the adjustment. (And thanks for the links!)

I love what Marie Green and Desperate Housewife said. As the parent of three children, I've often said that the first child turns your world upside-down as you adjust to parenthood; the second child has you adjust to the sibling thing, and for three and beyond (my husband has five kids, so we've had as many as eight in our home, though not full-time), it's merely logistics...

When my second was born, I felt SO GUILTY at what I'd done to my first. Even though she responded pretty well all in all, suddenly, she no longer had the spotlight, and this critter who did nothing more than eat and sleep had it all.

Six months later, they were interacting, playing, enjoying each other's company, and I realized that what they shared as siblings was something I, as a parent, couldn't provide.

Additionally, what my second child showed me, and my third child confirmed, is that it isn't necessarily the best thing for a child to be in the spotlight all the time, anyway.

(Oh, and Jen's idea was one I used with decent success, too: the "Nursing Box" full of little toys she could ONLY play with when I was nursing the baby.)

You're well on your way to being a really contented family unit, I'd say.

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