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.
And 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 stop whatever I was doing 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 these 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.