The other day, I took a shower – admittedly a very quick, water-wise three-minute shower – and left the kids to play in my room while I did it. It was only when I came out to dress that I realized that two-and-a-half years ago, I never would have dreamed of doing something like that, and this was just another example of how much things have changed since we had Kid #2. Because it is only once you have a second child that you realize that really, when you had that first kid, you were a crazy person.
Here are five things that seem perfectly reasonable when have you just one child, and impossible when you have more than one.
1. Never letting your kid out of your sight
When Danny was a baby, he never left my sight. If I needed to take a shower, I did it while he was asleep. And when he was older and walking around, I used to strap him into his stroller, clip on some toys, wheel him into the bathroom, and shower with him seated two feet away from me. Part of this was fear that he would hurt himself while I was showering (even though the house had been babyproofed), or that he would cry for me if he didn’t see me, or that he would start pottering around the toilet. But mostly it was just first-time-parent thinking.
These days I still prefer to shower when the kids are asleep or when my husband is watching them. But if I’m alone with them and need to take a shower, I just ask them to play in my room (so they’re still in earshot) and go take my shower.
2. Being hyper-vigilant about weaning and food
With Danny, I had planned on waiting until six months exactly to introduce solids. A visit to the paediatrician a week shy of the mark put paid to that idea – she thought he was ready and needed a bit of extra sustenance. And although she suggested I take a relaxed attitude to it and introduce a new food every day or so, I remained hyper-vigilant, waiting three to four days before introducing a new (organic, homemade) food, offering small amounts after a breast feed, and going through a host of fruits and vegetables before offering proteins.
With Baby #2 there was no such fuss. Annie got rice cereal the first day. Three days later we took an impromptu road trip and had her feeding herself French fries from a burger joint off the national highway. I didn’t take any baby food with or make any while there; I just mushed up whatever Danny was eating with my fingers and fed it to her by hand. Things have continued in much the same vein ever since. Eating off the floor? No worries. Face, hands and hair full of her dinner? We can wipe that up later.
3. Making bedtime sacrosanct
There used to be a great deal of ritual involved in baby Dan’s bedtime routine. From the earliest days of his life, I’d lay out his bath things and bed clothes, bath and dress him, sit down with him for three books, then give him a feed him until he was fast asleep and slip him into bed.
Annie didn’t even get books until recently. There is no careful arrangement of towels, lotions and clothes. I grab the first pair of PJs that come to hand after I’ve dried her off and wrangled her into a nappy. For reading, we grab the nearest hardcover book or send her to get one from the bookshelf herself. And she gets put into her crib awake. There is feeding, cuddling and rocking but, because there is a sibling waiting to be tucked in, there is only a limited amount of time for it. Her bedtime routine is regular and predictable but nowhere near as ritualistic as Dan’s was.
4. Anticipating and keeping track of milestones
With Danny, my copy of What to Expect: The First Year, with all those checklists of things your baby should be doing, was a constant companion. I read each month and went through each list and stressed about each milestone. Why wasn’t he taking steps yet, or building three brick towers yet, or saying at least a dozen words clearly, or climbing stairs well? With Ann, I haven’t even opened that book. In fact, it’s currently sitting in a box marked “Charity”.
I suppose in part it’s because I no longer need it – I’ve developed a framework in my mind about when Dan did a, b and c and, rather than consulting a book, I am always mentally checking Annie’s development against his. But also, having had much more exposure to the toddler set, I’ve come to realize that sometimes the reason my kid builds taller towers than yours at an earlier age, is because we build a lot of towers at our house, and the reason yours is so happy drawing and colouring while mine can’t be bothered to pick up a crayon is because while you and your kid enjoy colouring together, we always forget to take the crayons out (and are always building towers instead).
5. Sitting on the floor and playing with them, one-on-one
When Danny was a baby and woke up early, we would take turns to be awake with him on the weekends. One of use would take him to the kitchen to play and have breakfast, and the other would sleep in. The one who was with him, would sit on the floor with him and watch him play, or play together with him. I’m amazed we ever got anything done. I used to cook when he was asleep because when he was awake, I felt I had to play with him.
Poor Annie. Yes, we do still sit on the floor and play with her but only for a fraction of the time we did with Dan. Because you can be sure that within minutes of sitting down with her, Danny will come and confiscate her toys, or take her awesome toy away and replace it with some lame item that he has no interest in, or climb into my lap and insist on my attention, or cry. The only time she gets our undivided attention and some one-on-one playtime, is when Dan is at preschool and I have some time away from my desk.
These days when the kids wake up early on weekends, one or both of us will head to the kitchen, ask them what they want to play with, then open a box of blocks or cars, or a cooking set and leave them to it while we clean up or make breakfast. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. With another kid in the house, we’ve shifted to the periphery and ceded the role of primary playmate to the older sibling.
Reflecting on all of this helps me appreciate how far we’ve come as parents and appreciate our more laid back attitude (and the more laid back attitude of Kid #2). But I don’t know whether this reflection will be of any help to first time moms and dads because honestly, no amount of reading can help; it is only with the benefit of hindsight that you realize how crazy the things you did as a new parent were.
What did you do as a first time parent, that you can no longer even believe? Tell us in the comments.
– Featured image via Amazon.