Family of Four

So I’m back after my unplanned and largely baby-led hiatus. My firstborn consumed my sleep which I’d thought was bad enough, but now his brother has dramatically swooped in and eaten time itself. Not that it isn’t wonderful and fulfilling – it really is – but I do spend my evenings staring into space, scraping bodily fluids out of my hair and gazing upon the day with the awe, pride and incredulity of someone who’s woken up next to an empty wine bottle, an alpaca and a return ticket to Peru.

Our smallest family member is now the grand age of 5 months, from my experience a time in a baby’s life when wakefulness and screaming for increasingly elusive reasons become firm priorities. Also hair pulling. Between Leo and my postpartum loss there’s enough hair embedded in the carpet to weave actual-size replicas of the cats, which will be handy when they inevitably pack their bags and move out because they’re done reaping the consequences of our decision to procreate. (“We stuck it out after the first but then they did it again and I’m too old to be run over with a Cozy Coupe.”)

So to compensate for my absence here I thought I’d take the chance to share a snapshot of our new(ish) life as a family of four via the things I’ve learned over the last 171 days –

1. It turns out my children being within a metre of each other is the BEST THING. Not for them, you understand; Tristan has virtually no interest in his brother, and I get it – objectively Leo is not exciting. He doesn’t have wheels, he can’t play and he wasn’t created by Pixar. Bor-ing. But for me seeing them together makes me positively giddy with joy. The two creatures I love more than anything in the world INTERACTING. My heart explodes every time. It reminds me of the feeling I had when my best friend and boyfriend (now husband) became friends and I’d watch them chatting in the pub and beam across at them like an over-earnest kids’ TV presenter, except with my sons that feeling is even bigger and the smile even more creepy because I love them more than life itself. My attempts to create these moments have led to photos like this –

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And this –

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2. All babies are different, I knew that. But I naively thought fate would be generously selective about those differences when it came to my own children. NOT SO. First time round we had a sleep thief, who at 32 months still hasn’t learned the mythical skill of ‘self-settling’, is rocked to sleep, has milk during the night and doesn’t sleep alone. Fine, I thought, the next one will be easier. We’ve earned it, I thought, and the first time I placed Leo gently on the bathroom floor so I could pee and he instantly drifted off I believed I was right, and that perhaps there was a god who’d seen how tired I was and figured I deserved a break. WRONG. At five months old Leo has never napped lying down (apart from that one time on the bathmat). Never. He only sleeps on Big T’s shoulder or with a boob in his mouth. Suddenly my pram loving, sling loving, dummy loving toddlebeast seems like something off a Mothercare poster. Leo will not go in a pram for more than ten minutes at a time. He quite likes being in a sling, but not for too long and he WILL NOT SLEEP IN ONE, which seems like a matter of principle to him, especially when his eyes are half closed and he’s chain-yawning. And as for a dummy, not a chance. Why settle for silicone when the real thing is available? Suddenly my well stocked parenting arsenal is looking a little sparse. I have boobs and that’s basically it, and those boobs aren’t even his primary food source. I feel like a total novice. I thought I had this! I should be a pro by now!

3. Gender disappointment is real, but in my experience doesn’t last very long.
A year ago, early on in my pregnancy, if someone had told me I could choose what sex my secondborn would be I would have said, “GIRL,” without any hesitation, due in the main to a natural preference for variety. I’m usually a ‘little bit of everything’ kind of gal so it stands to reason that at the buffet where all the chromosomes hang out I’d go for the XX since I already had some XY on my plate (babies-as-hors d’oeuvres metaphor ftw!). Another, much smaller reason is that clothes designed for children with vaginas tend to have more rainbows on them, but that really is a minor issue since Tristan definitely doesn’t have a vagina and still wears clothes not ‘made’ for him because, y’know, his genitalia doesn’t predispose him to liking tractors, football or the colour blue. But I digress…
So we had a preference, albeit not a particularly strong one. And yes, when I saw Leo being born and he was presented to me balls first (seriously) there was a shock of disappointment that lasted all of one second, a sort of lightning strike to illuminate a path I’d never follow. I was the mother of boys. We had boys. And with no other children planned I’d never be a mother to a girl. And what surprised me was how completely okay that felt. Better than okay, it felt good, like it was exactly how things were meant to be. I held my newborn son in my arms in my hospital bed and a new piece of my heart bloomed that I hadn’t known existed before. Where his brother had brought me alive, Leo had made me complete.
And it’s nothing to do with which box is checked on his birth certificate.

4. There is nothing worse than seeing your child sick in hospital. Nothing. Nothing can prepare you for the powerlessness, the frustration, the guilt. But you get through it. You manage, somehow. You don’t sleep, you barely have a chance to eat – but you cope. And you come out the other side more fiercely protective of your tiny human than you thought possible, and with a quiet but steely belief in yourself as a parent.

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5. I found out who my true friends are, and they aren’t all the people I’d have guessed when I started my parenting journey more than three years ago. Some have been in my life for many years, others are new, but they are all very dear to me. They are the people who came round with supplies when we had a new baby and didn’t care that we weren’t dressed and our house was upside down. They held Leo so I could take 10 minutes to finish a cup of coffee. They brought gifts for me rather than him, at a time when I felt all I was was a baby feeding machine, and a failed one at that. They offered to donate breastmilk for my son when I was desperate and spent and had nothing more to give. They sent messages in the middle of the night telling me that I had this. They talked to me the same way they always had, as though I was still just Lindy, not Mummy, not a parent, not a breastfeeder or bottle feeder, babywearer or cloth nappy user. Just me. I don’t see these people every day, or even every week or month – some never – but they are my tribe, my village and they have my gratitude and friendship for life. They are part of why I didn’t suffer with post-natal illness after having Leo. They are why I’m still holding it together. They are fucking awesome. ❤

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6. I understand now why my own mother never had new clothes or shoes, why she mended her old things and why it was a Big Deal when she bought anything new for herself. I had a taste of that when we had just one child, but now we have two I understand more the need to nurture my babies at the expense of myself. Kids are expensive and while we aren’t poor by any means, with only one of us in employment we do have to make sacrifices to give our children the lifestyle we want them to have. If that means I have to sew up a hole in an old dress or Big T has to buy his jeans second hand, that’s more than fine. We’re proud to do it. Seeing Tristan pick out his own shoes for the first time is a gift far greater than having new shoes myself.

7. There are different kinds of love, we all know that. We don’t love our grandparents the same way we love our 6ft hunk of husband, for instance. But I wasn’t prepared for how different my love for my two sons would feel. It’s as individual as their personalities. My relationship with Tristan was more fraught, more tempestuous when he was a baby. Harder. And that shows now in the affinity I feel with him, the sense that we battled something together and came through it even stronger.  With Leo the beauty in my love for him is its simplicity. He is my precious baby, and I am his mother, and there’s a purity about us, a bubble we live in that remains untouched by the outside world, as though he’s still in my belly. Nothing prepared me for the difference. Everyone told me I’d love them equally, and I do, but it absolutely isn’t the same.

8. You can absolutely watch The Land Before Time too often. Trust me. You can try to appreciate the racial subtext, the beautiful artwork and James Horner’s deeply moving score, but ultimately you will want to take Littlefoot and his pals and feed them one by one to Sharptooth just to get the film over and done with sooner. Luckily Tristan isn’t aware of the numerous sequels yet, though at this point I’d be grateful for the variety even if that means singing dinosaurs.

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9. I’ve said before that motherhood for me is a wicked combination of joy and guilt. Since becoming a mother-of-two I’ve had a healthy dose of the former and a less healthy onslaught of the latter. My eldest watches too much television (see #8). He uses his Kindle too much. He goes to bed too late. He doesn’t eat well enough. He never gets enough time with me. He doesn’t socialise enough. My youngest never gets to nap undisturbed. I’m not expressing my breastmilk enough. I put him in the jumperoo too often. I clock-watch. I sleep in on weekends. I scream into a cushion when things feel too much just so I don’t have to scream at my kids. I see photos on Facebook of my childless friends on far away holidays or nights out and I envy their freedom. I sometimes wish I could go back in time and tell myself to calm down with the procreation and live a little. I have ALL THE GUILTS.
But my children don’t need me to feel bad. My guilt doesn’t help them grow or feel loved. All they care about is that Mummy and Daddy love them beyond words and that we keep them safe, which we do. The rest is filler. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make things better where we can, but instead of letting my guilt cripple me I have to thank it for reminding me I have more to give and then let it go. I don’t want to raise my two beautiful boys in a world of not enough. That shit is toxic and it doesn’t belong here.

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10. Further to #9, and somewhat paradoxically, I’ve learned to try to let go of perfection. I don’t have to be the perfect vision of parenting. When Tristan was a baby I was very hung up on doing everything exactly as the attachment parenting guides told me. I felt guilty if I used the pram, tore my hair out over BLW, wished the earth would swallow me whole when I bottle fed in public. PND and a desire to feel like I’d done something right led to that originally, but Leo’s birth and all the healing it brought gave me the perspective to see how ridiculous it was. Parenting isn’t a sport; I can never be the ‘best’ at it. All I can be is true to myself and try to parent instinctively. When I stop checking boxes I find my values don’t change but my flexibility grows, and I enjoy my children more without the pressure of being the poster girl for all things AP. Looking after two kids doesn’t leave time to worry about how I come across on Facebook, or whether it’s been too long since I carried my kids in a wrap, or whether I can be arsed washing nappies this week. Those things are superficial and I don’t need them to prove to the world what kind of parent I am.

In lots of ways life has carried on as it always has. My boys change and grow all the time, and we grow with them, sometimes not quickly enough to adapt to their needs in the way we want to, but we keep trying. We juggle, we struggle, we love and learn and fill our home with laughter, and the occasional frustrated, cross word.
Our days are as changeable as our current sleeping arrangements, but we’re happy, and while we may not be the perfect parents to our imperfect children, we are all perfect for one another.

(Except for the cats, poor things… But four out of six ain’t bad.)