A New Little Sister

I was regularly told that having two kids wasn’t twice as hard as having one – it was exponentially more difficult. I can’t say that I’ve found this to be true as of yet. Sure, it can be a little tough supporting the baby with one hand, holding the bottle in the second, and then fending off the over-eager attentions of a toddler with the third, but overall I’d put the addition of another member to our family at around 1.5 times more difficult than before – so it’s not all that bad.

Of course, that’s probably because Rosie is four weeks old, so she mostly only sleeps, feeds, poops and cries. When she’s just as mobile, inquisitive and determined as her 28-month-old sister, I imagine I’ll revise that figure upwards, but for now we’re certainly coping.

But that’s not to say it hasn’t been bloody difficult.

When Izzie came to the hospital to meet her little sister, she was so excited that the first thing she did was to slap the bed twice. And then, without missing a beat, she grabbed the nearest bottle of milk and tried to ram it down Rosie’s throat.

You see, to Izzie, Rosie is a doll – a flesh and blood doll she wants to cuddle and kiss and feed and change and do all the things to that a parent does. Which is all well and good, except I’ve seen how Izzie treats her dolls, and Rosie wouldn’t last thirty seconds without a dislocated shoulder or worse. It’s a sobering thought that the greatest threat to my second-born is not the dog, not the cat – it’s my first-born.

It has been difficult convincing the wider family of this basic reality.

‘Well I trust Izzie,’ said one with great pomposity in response to this statement, as though trusting a toddler with a baby is a sign of virtue instead of gross negligence.

‘I think she’s lovely,’ I replied, ‘but you never know what a toddler might do.’

‘Only a child with mental health difficulties would harm a baby,’ this person went on to say, clearly believing toddlers are in complete control of their emotions, have mastered fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and fully understand cause and effect.

There’s no cure for stupid.

So the past month has involved extremely careful supervision alongside the usual aspects of baby care. We’ve had to keep a certain distance between the two girls until Izzie can understand how to be gentle, which has caused plenty of tears and tantrums. Izzie wants to hold Rosie, and rock her, and get in the pram with her, and stuff her dummy in her mouth, and open her eyes when Rosie isn’t awake, none of which we can allow. But we have taken steps to alleviate this tension.

I instituted a rule from the word go that when people come to the house they have to greet and make a fuss of Izzie before allowing her to introduce them to her little sister. Furthermore, we involve Izzie in all aspects of childcare by encouraging her to fetch the changing mat and nappies and wipes, and she sits with us during feeds, and we make sure we spend plenty of time hugging as a group.

It’s had the effect of avoiding any jealousy, giving Izzie some sense of ownership of the situation, and encouraging her to love her little sister.

And, without a doubt, love her she does.

When Rosie cries, Izzie tries to comfort her – well, on those occasions she doesn’t put her finger to her lips and shout, ‘Shush!’

She’s also rather conscientious about keeping Rosie involved, telling us to take Rosie with us, to give her a hat, to give her milk, to change her nappy – which is lovely.

And Rosie responds to Izzie in ways she doesn’t to us. Now that Izzie is finally cottoning on to the fact she’s not allowed to touch the baby, when Rosie lies on the floor or sits in the bouncy chair, Izzie often lies and sits in front of her and tells her stories and sings and giggles, and you can see that Rosie is being stimulated by it. They have a connection to each other, as siblings and as infants, that we don’t seem to have with them as adults.

I mean, there are some teething troubles – Izzie doesn’t want to go to bed because the baby’s still up; she wants to be carried because the baby’s carried; when I’m rocking the baby in my arms I find Izzie clinging to my legs; and whenever Rosie is out of the car seat, Izzie climbs into it and makes it her own – but these are all normal, I think. Other than the clumsy roughness, Izzie is the very model of a doting big sister.

Although tere has been a really weird development: Izzie has become incredibly squeamish about poo.

Every time the baby poops, Izzie says, ‘Me not touch it, daddy, me not touch it.’

‘You don’t have to touch it,’ I reply. ‘Nobody’s making you touch it.’

‘Not touch it, daddy.’

The most hilarious manifestation of this was the first time Izzie held Rosie on her lap. I surrounded her with cushions, including one across her thighs, sat close beside her, and gently placed Rosie down. Izzie looked like the cat that got the cream, the happiest I’ve ever seen her.

And then Rosie did a noisy poop.

I’ve never seen Izzie move so fast. ‘Not touch it!’ she screamed as she somehow slipped out from under the cushions and over the arm of the sofa and off in the blink of an eye.

We think it’s because she went to her mother’s baby shower shortly before Rosie was born where they played a game involving putting strange substances into tiny nappies – peanut butter, chocolate, Marmite – and getting people to sniff and taste it to correctly identify the substance.

And now Izzie is traumatised.

Thanks mummy.

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Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 2)

The fact that pregnancy is one month too long might be the most convincing argument for intelligent design. Women seem to spend eight months dreading the labour and birth, and one month going, ‘Oh come on, hurry up and get this thing out of me already!’ If that’s an accident of nature, it’s a damned good one.

And it doesn’t just affect the women – most of my anxieties about the birth have been crushed beneath the elephant seal that’s taken up residence on my sofa, barking at me whenever it wants food or attention or a foot massage. It’s no fun being a heavily pregnant woman, but nor is it fun being a heavily pregnant woman’s spouse. Seriously, she snores so bad at night it’s like sharing a bed with an obese eighty-year-old asthmatic. Give me back my wife, damn it! I’m not sure how much more I can take.

We still have three days till the due date, but we’re aching for the birth. And it’s not just us – my twenty-two month old daughter has been looking forward to meeting her little sister for months now.

‘What’s in mummy’s tummy?’ I ask her.

‘Baby,’ she replies excitedly. ‘Baby girl.’

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘And how’s she going to get here?’

‘Mummy bigger, bigger, bigger POP! Hello baby girl.’

‘Yes. Well, sort of.’

If only it was that easy…

Of course, she probably has no idea of what’s going to come – a pretty dolly she can play with, I think – but we’ve tried to prepare her as best we can and included her as much as possible along the way. She’s come to scans (nightmare), midwife appointments (nightmare) and to see the consultant (nightmare); she’s seen the baby on the screen, heard her heartbeat, and helped us pick out the layette; and she talks to her in her mummy’s tummy, hugs her, and kisses her goodnight.

But currently, her little sister is nothing more than an abstract concept. When she arrives, when Izzie faces the reality of a crying baby who monopolises mummy and daddy’s time, that’s when we’ll see how she really feels.

And there have been a couple of signs of potential storms to come, both concerning the sleeping arrangements. When the new cot arrived – after I spent several hours wondering why I’m so much better at baby ballet than assembling furniture – she climbed into it and decided it was hers. When I told her it belonged to the baby, her face fell.

‘My bed,’ she said quietly.

‘You’ve got your own bed, sweetheart. This is the baby’s bed.’

‘My bed.’

After half an hour of this, and plenty of hugs and reassurance, she finally admitted it was the baby’s bed, and the crisis was averted.

The second difficulty was when she discovered, a few weeks later, that the baby would be sleeping in our room for the first few months.

‘Me, mine room; mummy daddy, mummy daddy room; baby, baby room.’

‘She has to sleep next to mummy and daddy because she’ll be very small and we need to look after her, like we did when you were small.’

‘Mummy daddy, mummy daddy room; baby, baby room.’

And that’s that.

That one wasn’t quite so easily resolved. It took a long time for her to get her head around the idea, though she eventually seemed to accept it. Clearly, she understands the concept of fairness and isn’t going to like that the new baby is likely to have certain benefits that she no longer enjoys.

This might explain why she has become rather clingy of late; she’s trying to keep her dummy with her during the day when she’s only allowed it at night; and she wants to be carried everywhere. Certainly, she is aware that a change is coming, and she is insecure about just what that might mean.

On the one hand, a second child entering the house is a rival, if we look at the family unit as an economic model. She has to compete for limited resources – namely, her parents’ attention – and she will no longer be the centre of the universe, which are both difficult lessons to learn.

On the other hand, I’m not so sure this either/or allocation of love and attention is entirely accurate. We fully intend to involve Izzie in every aspect of our child-rearing – she can help fetch nappies and wipes, hold the bottle during feeds (with close supervision, of course), and she can sing and dance and entertain the little one. It’s not so much about the new baby coming and stealing her place as it is adding another member to our already happy family. So long as she can feel included around the new baby – and if we all work together, there’s no reason that she shouldn’t – then I don’t think there’ll be much of a problem.

But even if there is, we’ll deal with it. That’s parenting.

I sat her down the other day for a chat. I told her not to feel scared about her sister coming, or how strange things might be. I told her that even though things might be different, it wouldn’t change how much she’s loved or how special she is. I reassured her that we’d still have bath times, I’d still read her a book at bedtime, and that no matter what, I would be there for her when she needed me.

I’m not sure how much of this she took in, being as she’s only two-years-and-two-months old, but I’m continually surprised by what a toddler is capable of understanding. You give your child love and patience, there’s nothing that can’t be overcome.

But I really hope this second baby comes soon – if mummy gets any bigger, she really is going to pop, and I don’t want to be anywhere near when that happens.

Mummy’s Girl

Izzie’s first word has well and truly arrived. I’m not talking about the rather funny imitations she does – pronouncing buzzard as ‘buggered’ and beach hut as ‘bitch hoe’ – no, this is a real, bona fide, unmistakable word, used without prompting and in the appropriate context.

Unfortunately, that word is ‘mummy.’

I say ‘unfortunately’ because now that she has learnt the word, she has decided to use it in earnest. ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy,’ she says as she wanders about the lounge. ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy,’ she mutters when she’s supposed to be napping. ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy.’

This is a particularly galling word to hear when you’re a daddy, and you’re the one getting her up in the morning, or changing her nappy, or bathing her, or feeding her, or playing with her, or cuddling her, or all of those things you do that you really wish she’d be grateful for, and for which she might reward you by saying ‘daddy’. It’s hard to remain upbeat at three in the morning when she wakes you up crying, and as you try to settle her down all she can say is, ‘mummy, mummy,’ as she gets snot all over your shoulder. And it’s rather difficult not to feel a little aggrieved when you put her to bed, kiss her cheek and bid her goodnight for her to reply, ‘mummy, mummy.’

You might think she’s simply saying the word without knowing what it means, or because she likes the way it rolls off the tongue, but you’d be wrong because she knows exactly what it means. I’m not sure which came first, her obsession with the word or her obsession with her mummy, but she’s decided that mummy is the coolest person on the planet and daddy is just some guy that mummy lives with. Yes, I have been pushed aside in favour of a person with bigger boobs.

Who does Izzie want to see in the morning? Her mummy. Whose lap does she want to sit on? Her mummy’s. Whose hand does she want to hold when we walk down the street? I’m sure you can identify the pattern in this. I jokingly asked her this morning who her favourite parent is (like she’d be able to understand, ha!) – and she pointed at Lizzie and said, ‘mummy.’ Ouch. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was hoping to gain from that question!

Following quickly on the heels of Izzie’s first word came her first full sentence yesterday – we often show her how to do something and then say, ‘Izzie do it,’ so when she was struggling to fit the shapes through the correct holes on her toy, she picked it up, plonked it down on Lizzie’s lap, and said, ‘Mummy do it.’ It was a revelation to her – now she can ask mummy to do everything!

It has been a week since this started, and while Lizzie initially rubbed it in – ha ha, she’s not saying ‘daddy’, is she? – even she’s getting a little tired of the constant, ‘mummy, mummy, mummy’. More worryingly, when I tried to kiss Lizzie earlier, the little tyke clambered up into her lap and started slapping me in the face, as if to say, ‘Get away from my mummy, you horrible man, she’s mine, all mine!’

A few weeks ago she was definitely a daddy’s girl. Now when I cuddle her she reaches out for mummy. I figure this is all just part of growing up, and toddlers being toddlers, and it’s not like Lizzie and me are in competition. Still, I’m looking forward to the day that as I close her bedroom door I’ll hear the words, ‘Night, night, daddy.’