Put a Bib on It


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Second Time Parents, First Time Baby

Second time parents, first time baby.I don’t consider myself a terribly fussy parent. I’ll drop absolutely everything to ensure Miss E takes a nap and gets to bed relatively on time – if only because the repercussions of not doing these things reverberate throughout our lives for days – but I am generally inclined to let her be a kid and not parent too closely. Food consumed off of the floor is a more-regular-than-I’d-like-to-admit occurrence. Dirt is our friend. If she can climb it on her own, I let her, even if it’s a knobby wall rated for kids three times her age.

But I am still surprised by what I’ll allow with Little Sister that just wasn’t a part of Miss E’s newborn life. Namely, that she spends a heckuva amount of time alone.

Playing alone has been a big part of Miss E’s life for quite some time now, but when she was a baby, if she was awake, I was by her side. Even if she was contentedly falling in love with lamps on a blanket on the floor, I was sitting beside her, reading or writing or just admiring her. But if Little Sister is awake and content, I’m busy catching up on things that need doing, or spending time with Miss E. I’ll realize of a sudden that Little Sister is awake just staring at the wall in another room and has been for who knows how long, and feel incredibly guilty.

I’m already ready to move her into her crib, even though we kept Miss E in our room for almost four months. The only thing holding me back is her predatory big sister.

Little Sister also waits. My goodness, does she wait. When Miss E was dirty, she got a clean diaper, straightaway. When she was hungry, I’d drop everything and settle myself in the rocker in her room to nurse. But now that rocker is in the basement, because the room my girls share is just big enough for two cribs. Inevitably, they want things at the same time, and too often Little Sister’s howls can be heard reverberating through our tiny house while I get Miss E settled with a snack or a book or, if she’s very lucky, a game. And then it’s the couch and as quick as Little Sister and I can be, with little time for cuddling and mooning over each other.

I try to make the most of the time we have together despite the fact that already I can see how it will never feel like enough. I try to sing to her during as many of her daytime diaper changes as I can, even if she sometimes wallows in her own filth for a few extra minutes while I switch loads of laundry and dish out lunch. I wear her when we’re out and about, and around the house, when I can get away with it. We get a few days a week with just the two of us, when Miss E is in school, and I try to replicate some of her early days – Little Sister and I in our pajamas, napping, reading books with her in my arms. There’s still so much to do, but I make her important, too.

A few nights ago we sat on the floor together after Miss E had gone to bed, Little Sister kicking and stretching and grinning as I sang to her, and I made my husband come and sit on the floor, too.

“You’re missing this,” I insisted, and it wasn’t just her smile. It was wondering over her littleness the way we once did with Miss E, every moment new, every little motion a marvel. Just because we know better now, as parents, that Little Sister’s demands aren’t immediately dire, just because we’ve seen all of those gross motor developments before, doesn’t meant they aren’t just as special. We aren’t first time parents. But this is the first time we’re parenting Little Sister.

And it’s good to remind myself of that, sometimes.


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Should You Read Fairy Tales to Young Children?

Years ago I wrote on the topic of fairy tales for young children as an early childhood “expert,” how they aren’t developmentally appropriate because many young children cannot distinguish between what’s real and what’s not real, but now I’m revisiting the topic as a parent. And I feel a little differently.

I want Ev to know what storytelling is. I don’t want to say I’ll never read him a fairy tale or a fable because I have fond memories of my mom reading to me about Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and the Tortoise and the Hare. There are underlying messages in these stories that I want to be able to talk about with him. Just recently we shared the story of the mouse and the lion, where the lion is going to eat the mouse but decides to be kind and free him, instead. Then later when the lion falls into a trap, the mouse hears him crying and comes to help. Ev and I talked about being kind and helpful and why that’s important. These are the kinds of stories I want to continue to share.

The blog that originally inspired my previous post suggests that children, “like generations before them… understand the stories as they are intended: fairy tales teach us about life…. and the moral of it all is that it ends well for those who deserve it and bad for those who don’t.” I disagreed with the blogger then, but despite the fact that I do now share some of these stories with my son, I also still hold to how I felt: we should be careful and thoughtful when we choose stories to tell our children, or books to read, or even what TV shows we watch.

Parenting is about making choices and doing what feels right for you and your family. For me it’s considering what I know about Ev: I know he is a thinker and a worrier. I also know that he has bad dreams quite often. Stories with ghosts and witches may only confuse him, and because I don’t want him to feel scared or uncertain about storytelling, I avoid those kinds of stories. I won’t be telling Ev about witches who kidnap children or wolves who eat grandmas but I will continue to share stories from my childhood, like the one about the mouse and the lion. And hopefully he’ll remember the  morals.


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Change Your Attitude Before You Change That Diaper

Lately, diaper changes have become a task only for the very brave. And the very prepared.

Diaper changing time with Bryce as a small infant was great: we sang, we talked and we took our time enjoying each diaper change. It was a bonding time for us. But when Bryce figured out how to crawl, diaper changing became less desirable for him and consequently, me. He really didn’t have time to be contained to a little changing table when there was a big world to discover.

But he was still small enough that I could keep him on his back and get his diaper changed quickly, liberating him  to go on exploring new territory. Unfortunately, the table(s) quickly turned, and I ended up relinquishing my power to my little (but, oh so strong) boy, flipping and maneuvering to a seated position before I could even react. It is impossible to change a seated baby.

Not changing his diaper really isn’t an option, so what can a frustrated mom and an equally annoyed baby do to get through a diaper change without either of the participants ending up in tears? I’ve scoured the internet, reading blog posts and informational articles, and I’ve talked with other mommies about how they manage tear-free diaper changes.

Surprisingly, the answer I got time and time again turned out to be so simple. Slow down. Sounds counter intuitive, right? I thought the same thing. Why would I want to drag out something that my baby (and I) have grown to hate so much?! It was worth a try though, as it seemed to be the reoccurring theme as I researched. Slowing down and enjoying the diaper change and time spent with my son made a huge impact.

Before even approaching him, I make sure to take a deep breath and relax (somehow, like animals, they can sense our fear!) I ask for him to cooperate through many different phases of the diaper change, including walking to the diaper changing table with me, sitting down, laying down, holding up his feet and even wiping himself (following up with better wiping by me). I go back to when he was itty bitty and sing songs, tell stories or just talk about what is happening. His current obsession is his body parts, so right now we often we talk about body parts. I make the diaper change about him, instead of about the diaper.

The diaper change might not be as quick as it has been, but it is definitely more enjoyable. Diaper changes are back to being about quality: quality time, quality conversation, quality learning, quality experience. Not only are his eyes and his bottom dry, but he’s happier, and so am I!


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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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