Put a Bib on It


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What Nobody Told Me About Having a Second Child

What nobody told me about having a second child (it's not what you think).I spent so much time before Little Sister’s birth worrying about how things would be between her and Miss E. It never occurred to me to think about how things might be between Miss E and me.

After Miss E was born, my husband and I were shocked by the almost primal instincts we had to protect her. She was so vulnerable, so defenseless; she literally relied on us for her survival. My husband even made a joke, half in seriousness, about turning that manic urge on a mosquito who dared to buzz near her. If we were bears, we’d have roared. That’s how fiercely we felt.

It’s the same with Little Sister, but about a billion times more complicated because we’re not just protecting her from rogue insects and strangers and well-intentioned, unvaccinated relations. We’re protecting her from her big sister.

Last week while I was nursing Little Sister on the couch, Miss E launched herself over my nursing pillow and latched on to both of Little Sister’s arms, trying to pull her off of me while simultaneously crushing her, cackling wildly the whole time. I know she didn’t mean to be malicious – she really loves her, and is in general over-eager to give her kisses and hugs. She cries when I don’t allow her to do so repeatedly. But she’s also used to rough housing with everyone else she loves, and when she hasn’t had a nap or she gets worked up or she’s just in a mood, as toddlers too often can be, she does stuff like this.

My husband was cooking dinner in the other room, and he couldn’t respond quickly enough to my shouts for help. As I tried to pry Miss E off of Little Sister without hurting either of them, Miss E toppled to the floor, the thud as her head hit the carpet joining Little Sister’s wails. And then she was crying. And I was crying, too.

But not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t because of what she’d done, not directly, anyway, or because Little Sister had chomped down in an effort to keep her dinner from being interrupted. It was because of how I felt, because of that surge of animal rage that filled me at the thought of Little Sister being hurt in some way. That feeling was directed at Miss E, my sweet girl, my first baby, my universe. Only now I’ve got two universes, and too often in these first tender weeks they’re colliding.

Nobody warned me about this. Nothing I read about preparing my first child for a sibling offered suggestions for preparing myself for the world-shattering guilt and confusion and anger that comes with finding a balance, not just in your home, but in your heart.

Miss E is two. What happened wasn’t her fault, and I want to believe it wasn’t mine, either. She was fine in two seconds, of course, but I agonized over what happened the whole night (and because I’m writing this, I’m obviously still not over it). So I’ve been going out of my way lately to baby her more than I usually would, rubbing her back at bedtime, carrying her when I can, trying to make her feel so special, because she is. While Little Sister was napping earlier this week I filled the sink with soap and bubbles and we bathed her little dolls, taking our time, enjoying each other’s company, just the two of us.

When I was reading up on methods for helping Miss E to adjust to no longer being an only child, I’d assumed that taking time to be with just her was just about her. Now I know I really need those moments, too.


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Why I’m Glad My Daughter Has a Pacifier

I'm glad my daughter has a pacifier. There, I said it.I’m glad every single day that my daughter has a pacifier. There – I said it. Pacifiers are one of those “controversial” parenting things, because apparently parenting isn’t hard enough without making it more difficult for no reason. But my attitude about parenting is quickly becoming, “Do what works for your baby and for you,” and this is what works for us right now.

I have friends who are very anti-paci. They are worried about future teeth problems, whether their child will still have a paci when they are 35 and how it looks to other parents. I’ve also heard people who say that having a pacifier is a crutch for parents who should instead look for what their child really needs instead of just using it as a plug. These are all fair points, for sure.

But – I’m still glad my daughter has a paci, or rather pacis – because of course we have to have 10 of them and I can still never find one when I need it. There are so many reasons why and admittedly many of them have to do with the fact that Elliot having a pacifier makes my life easier. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing, though.

Like the time we were in Carter’s with my mom and Elli realized she was hungry. Those of you who have babies can sympathize that when Elli realizes she is hungry, that girl is immediately starving. Giving her a pacifier bought us the extra minutes we needed to check out and get to a place where I could nurse her. (Side note: why doesn’t Carter’s – a store whose main demographic is moms – have a place where you can easily feed your baby?)

Or the time we were at a friend’s surprise birthday party and Elli started to cry a few minutes before the birthday girl arrived. Nope – stealing the thunder in that situation was not going to be good, so, in went the paci and out with the crying.

It’s not just about saving face, though. Elli wants her pacifier when she’s tired or when she’s upset. It’s an object that brings her comfort and I’m all about things that make her feel better. When she got her four-month shots, a pacifier and quick cuddles from Mommy helped her calm down in just a few (excruciatingly long) minutes. It helps her settle down at night so she can go to sleep. If she wakes up in the middle of the night, it helps her go back to sleep.

Am I worried that she’ll have it for a long time? Not really. I’ve never been to a wedding where the bride walked down the aisle with a paci in her mouth. Now that she’s old enough to hold onto objects, we have her pacifier attached to a sweet little stuffed bunny – “Blue Bunny” as he is affectionately referred to in our house (the same name applies to all three of the identical bunnies we rushed out to buy once we realized she loved them). Our hope is that her real attachment will be to Blue Bunny and that we can remove her pacifier at some point without too much drama.

We’re willing to cross that bridge when we come to it, however, because the benefits of that pacifier outweigh a few potentially traumatic days in the future. We had a brief period where we thought she would end up being a thumb sucker, and as she is the daughter of a thumb sucker until an age that has double digits (her father) and a recovering nail biter (guilty), a pacifier seemed better than potentially having to physically cut off her thumb.

And let’s be real – this girl is probably going to need braces anyway.


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I’m a Mother (Again)

Second-time motherhood is everything like I imagined. And nothing.I have two daughters.

Crazy, right?

Audrey Jane’s purpled, uncertain face in those first few hours of her life was so much stranger and more remote than her big sister’s had been. She was still a mystery, perhaps because her entry into the world was a great deal more hectic – a labor I managed to stay on top of until the very end, unsure if she was ready to come until she was already coming, crowning with the cord wrapped so tightly around her neck that she was whisked into the anteroom before we even had a chance to see her face.

When I finally held her, the bruises under her eyes reflected my body’s pains as the midwife stitched and pressed and put bits of me back together. I had labored through the night but she was born in the full light of day, nothing like the dreamy dawn of Miss E’s birth. Nothing like Miss E at all, those first few hours, and me nothing like the first time mama I’d been.

It wasn’t until she had her bath, cheeks pinked against my breast, that I could really see her, what a beauty she was and so strong already, head bobbing a course to breakfast. We were a unit, suddenly, just as Miss E and I had been from the moment she was placed on my belly. Even when her big sister clambered into my hospital bed for kisses and hugs and the first of many urgent, gentle touches, that bed remained a little island where Little Sister and I weren’t so much stranded as living in seclusion, wondering, beginning to understand what it was to be mama and daughter. For her, for the first time. For me, again.

Before me stretches the first week without my husband to support me at home with two girls of many and varied needs. And I am still thinking what I thought those first few days in the hospital, and in the days that followed at home with a shouty toddler and a restless newborn: I know how to parent them separately, but not together.

It’s a cruel thing to realize with your second child that caring for a newborn really isn’t much trouble at all, the rhythms of nursing and napping and endless soggy diapers coming back quickly, easily, and aided greatly by an ample Netflix queue. But how to be good to them both? I’m only just able to sit cross-legged on the floor for more than a minute at a time for block towers and puzzles, and when I pick up Miss E, I am staggered by her weight, the broadness of her back, her tangled head tickling my chin as she flails. Little Sister wants all the cuddles and besides, can’t be settled anywhere without aggressive loving on the part of Miss E. Even her crib isn’t safe, where books are like to be launched over the rail with the very best of intentions.

It’s just as everyone said it would be, that I love them both enormously, with every part of me, but differently, too. When I am alone with one I pine for the other, but together they threaten to unmake me. Not just because I’m not sleeping, or because there aren’t cookies and casseroles enough in the world to stave off the hunger Little Sister’s appetite inspires in me. It’s because I have two daughters, because I am the mother of two girls, sisters. Because we are a family of four and I’m not sure yet what that means for me or how I parent or who I’ll be in six months when this cloudy time is cloudier still in recollection.

What I do know is this: just because I know how to be Miss E’s mama doesn’t mean I’ve got Little Sister figured out. Not remotely. Beyond the basics, it’s like we’re starting over. Terrifying as it is, it seems right, somehow, that I should have as much to learn as she does, that she should still get to teach me, like her sister did.


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Dear Almost-Mom

Dear Almost-Mom, from a New Mom.Dear almost-mom,

When I was pregnant with my daughter, those nine months felt like the longest months of my life. I spent a lot of time dreaming about what this baby would look like, and wondering if we would have a boy or a girl. I worried about labor and delivery, our first few weeks home, breastfeeding and just generally surviving with a newborn.

Now that we have successfully survived the newborn stage, I found myself thinking back on some of those worries and wishing I had known some things then that I know now. Here is my advice for you, written with love from a new-mom:

  1. You might have a very long, painful labor. But you might not. If you are visibly pregnant, chances are you have heard everyone’s story about how awful their labor and delivery were. Chances are you’ve heard this from strangers at the grocery store, and that your husband’s brother’s wife’s cousin’s aunt has even surfaced to tell you her story. Yes, labor and delivery are a big deal. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it can take a long time. But it also might not. You might be one of the lucky ones who has a 6 hour start-to-finish labor. Those people don’t tell their stories as often, but they are out there. Worrying about something that is really pretty much out of your control isn’t going to make you feel better.
  2. Breastfeeding is hard. Really, really hard. It was really important to me to breastfeed my daughter, and I was committed to it come hell or high water. Which is good – because the first few weeks of breastfeeding easily qualify as the hardest thing I’ve ever done, including giving birth. The best advice I got was that if I could make it to the two week mark, I could make it. And that person was right – two weeks seemed to be a magical corner and it did get easier. It would still be awhile before it got easy, but it at least got easier.
  3. You will have a new understanding of the word exhausted. There is nothing I can think of to compare this to. Imagine being the most tired you’ve ever been, and then multiply it by a billion. You’ll be exhausted. But that’s okay. You’re supposed to be exhausted when you have a newborn. People understand that and you don’t need to apologize. And it’s temporary. I promise.
  4. Don’t listen to people who aren’t helpful. Even if one of those people is your mom. Or your best friend. Things are different from when we were children. You can’t just put a newborn to sleep on their tummy anymore, no matter how much your mom wants you to know that you turned out just fine when she did that. Get advice from people who you feel are helpful and try to ignore everyone else.
  5. You’re not an expert, but you are your baby’s expert. I don’t know everything about being a parent. I have needed a lot of help and advice. But one thing I realized pretty quickly was that I am the expert when it comes to my baby. We spent an awful lot of time together during those first few weeks getting to know each other and it didn’t take long for me to start to anticipate her needs. People will try to tell you what they think your baby needs – if I had a dollar for every time someone said, “She probably has a stomachache,” we could pay for her college right now – but trust your gut. While you won’t always know exactly what to do, you’ll figure it out together.
  6. You’re going to be just fine. You’re going to be great, even. There will be days you aren’t sure how you’re going to survive, but they will be few compared to the days where you don’t know how you ever lived before this little baby was part of your life. The day that baby smiles at you for the first time will be one of the best days of your life. I hear that her first words are going to be that same way, which is why we have been practicing saying “mamamama” for months…

 

Good luck, almost-mom. You’ll be snuggling that sweet baby before you know it. Now go take a nap. You’re going to need it.

Love,

New mom


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What’s a big girl to do with a new baby?

How do you help your toddler adjust to a new sibling? Very carefully.A few months ago, the mother of a dear friend – who is a dear friend herself – asked me if I would like some advice on helping my daughter adjust to a new sibling. Her daughters share roughly the same age difference that Miss E and her soon-to-be little brother or sister will, so I was eager for her perspective – and tickled that she’d asked before simply doling it out. I can’t be the only parent that wishes folks did this more often.

Given what she had to say was more useful than anything I’ve been able to Google or Pin or suss out on my own, I feel compelled to share.

Don’t tell Miss E how much she loves the new baby. Tell her how much the new baby already loves HER. Feeding my toddler’s already healthy ego? Perfect.

Keep a basket of books near where you’ll be sitting when you feed the new baby. Make sure the chair is big enough for Miss E to squeeze in for stories while the baby is being fed. I took this one step further and put together a special “nursing basket” of books and small, fiddly toys of a kind that usually keep her busy. I know it won’t keep her completely out of my lap – or running amok – but I’m hoping it will help keep her occupied if we reserve the basket exclusively for when baby is nursing. Especially if her new sibling is as poky of a feeder as she was in the beginning.

If possible, have a few small gifts on hand for Miss E to unwrap when folks bring a gift for the baby. Made possible by the Dollar Spot at Target.

Ask Miss E if she’d like to show visitors her new baby brother or sister. This seems like a natural extension of talking about “our baby,” which we’ve been doing. Hopefully she won’t feel so hateful toward the new addition that she’ll refuse.

Ask visitors (ahead of time) to ask Miss E about the new baby. Another nice way of making her feel connected, and part of a family that has a new member to introduce.

She may revert a bit, think she needs a bottle like the baby. You may want to have something special on hand to divert this behavior. Something only a “big sister” is big enough to use. Like pizza.

I know there will be hurt feelings and a lack of understanding, and I’ve been around pairs of new siblings often enough that I’m already steeling myself for the jealous tears. But feeling even a little bit more prepared – and feeding my nesting instincts preparing some special things for my sweet girl – just feels right.


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Making Friends

Yes, I worry about my 3-year-old making (and keeping) friends. You would, too.If someone would have told me a few years ago that I would worry about my son’s social skills and whether or not he could make (and keep) friends at age 3, I would have heavily doubted it. But lately I have been worried about it a lot.

Ev started a new school recently and I’m not sure why but what I was most concerned about was whether he was making friends or not. At Ev’s previous program, he was in a room where many of the children had been together since they were infants. When he walked in the room he was swarmed by friends asking him to p lay or wanting to show him something. At his new program, he was going to have to start from scratch.

At pick-up one evening, I stopped at one of the windows to observe Ev and his class on the playground. He was just wandering around by himself, and I got really sad for him. I checked with the teachers every day for the next week, asking if he was spending any time with other children? I started questioning what I thought to be true. I thought Ev was a pro-social kid who made friends easily, but maybe it was just that he had been around all the same children for so long.

Then on two separate occasions, Ev was outwardly mean to two complete strangers. The first instance we were shoe shopping and my husband and I were engaged in a discussion. We looked down and Ev was scowling at another little boy and I’m pretty sure he said, “I don’t like you.” Then, we were at a county fair and Ev told a little boy, “I don’t want to talk to you,” when they were both petting a llama. Why is my child throwing up his defensives before even getting to know someone? I worry that Ev won’t have any friends if he is mean to other children.

For me, learning how to get along well with others is as important of a skill as learning how to read. For the rest of his life, Ev will have to interact with other people on some level and I want him to be good at it. It’s also a tough skill to learn later in life.

I also just don’t want him to be lonely. I was getting really worried that without connections at school, Ev would have a tough time focusing on playing and learning because he would feel alone. So, I was panicking.

Luckily, the director at Ev’s school reassured me that it’s developmentally appropriate for children Ev’s age to be a little egocentric and want to be by themselves. His teachers also told me that he does in fact work well with others during the school day, engages in good conversations during meals and is even making some friends. I feel a little better. In the mean time, I am just going to work on sharing, using nice words at home and hope for the best.


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Can toddlers do “real” work?

Can toddlers do "real" work?I read a piece recently on the importance of real work for children, and it really, really resonated with me. I’m definitely guilty of underestimating what my daughter is capable of, especially when it comes to contributing to our family. I mean, she’s only 2. It’s far easier to imagine the scope of the damage she can do than the help she could be.

But I’m happy – if a bit sheepish – to be wrong.

While most of the scenarios mentioned by the author are more for older children, toddlers love to help and I’ve tried to find ways to make Miss E feel included. Clean up is a really natural extension of play, and while I sometimes have to help to ensure dumped blocks and un-shelved books get back where they belong, hopefully she’s learning that her stuff is hers to take care of. Also, that I’m her mama, not her maid.

Sorting clothes isn’t quite happening for us yet, though I’ve heard that laundry can be another seemingly easy place to begin with toddlers. While she does love to stack her cloth wipes when I’m putting clean diapers away, she also loves to shriek and toss them in the air, so I’ve got to be quick about removing them to their bin on the changing table.

Miss E also feeds the cat, using “both hands” to carry his daily cup of food to his dish and pour it in. When it doesn’t all quite make it, which happens pretty often, she’ll squat down beside his dish and pick up the pieces, one by one, and put them in. While this can sometimes become a bit too like a game to be productive, and certainly takes longer than it would take me to do it myself, I try to let her be responsible for feeding him as often as I can. And not only because I’m tired of being the only one he comes begging to.

And while our house isn’t as little people friendly as her classroom at school, I’ve been trying to let her help set and clean the table for dinner, too, just like they do for lunch. She can reach to place napkins and silverware on the table for herself and her dad and me, and after we eat bring me a plate or a cup at a time to rinse at the sink. This used to be a solo endeavor for me while her daddy gave her a bath, so it’s actually really helpful. I might otherwise have put it off in favor of checking my email and begrudgingly tidy up the kitchen before bed… or not, and really regret it in the morning.

Soon enough she’ll have a new sibling, and a whole host of new ways to help. This time, I’m not going to make the mistake of believing she can’t.

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