If your first child changes your life completely, turns it upside down, what does a second child do?
Let me explain. Parenthood changes you in so many ways. In our own case, La Niña was our little world. The Husband and I were completely enamoured with her. She took over our life. So when El Niño came along, I had to reconcile myself to the fact that our life would be taken over twice over.
In fact, even when I was pregnant the second time around, I used to wonder guiltily if I would love the new baby enough. Was it possible? The heart seemed chockablock with the first and how would I squeeze in the second? And then the errant thought would be followed by guilt.
I knew that things were not going to be easy this time around, just because we had practice and experience in the parenting department. But I had no idea just how difficult it would be. There was twice as much work to be done. Two mouths to be fed, two bottoms wiped, you get the drift. Naturally that left me no time to really enjoy the early days the way I had done with my daughter.
It was double the work back then, at least it seemed so on some days. El Niño had needs, but so did La Niña. I just had to adapt, run faster to stay in place. La Niña would still want me to put her to bed, but I couldn’t turn away from El Niño’s needs.
When La Niña was little, I used to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” That was no longer an option. While El Niño slept, it was an opportunity to catch up with La Niña, play with building blocks, read Noddy and Matilda to her, spend some time at the park before an urgent telephone call told us that the baby was awake and that playtime was over. The only way to manage was to get the Husband more involved in day-to-day routines.
There were other changes too. La Niña’s every milestone was captured for posterity on the digital camera. We have so many more pictures and videos of La Niña sitting up, standing, walking, babbling on, reciting numbers in English and Marathi (up to 20) and in Spanish (up to 10), not to mention her childish prattle. When she was little, the digicam was one of the most hardworking appliances in our home.
With El Niño (horrors!), I don’t have a single video on my phone. I just don’t remember to point and shoot. As for photos, I think I’ve got two of him, but he isn’t alone. During my maternity leave, the Husband would come home and listen to a tired account of all the day’s newness and chide me for not capturing some shots for him. I was generally too tired to explain that wartime photographers and soldiers are never the same people. When you’re elbow-deep in mothering two kids of different ages, needs and personalities, who’s got the time to shoot pictures?
Within a few months of La Niña’s birth, I had started a special blog for her to document her little milestones as seen through my eyes, so she would have a glimpse of her childhood. I planned to do the same for El Niño, but I couldn’t think of the right name for his blog. Laziness or fatigue? You tell me. Of course, it is another matter that her blog has only three posts in it, and that the rest of what I mean to eventually document is either in my head or on little scraps of paper.
Another difference: when La Niña was a baby, I would check babycenter’s updates every week to make sure her milestones were in keeping with the norm. This time around, I’ve subscribed to the updates, but I’ve never actually read any updates in months.
The change didn’t end there. When La Niña was a baby, every little concern was amplified. It didn’t help that it was my in-laws’ first stint at grandparenting. So they kept me on my toes with their anxiety and misgivings. Every issue, diaper rash, fever or cold would see them goading me to call the doctor. Today I am more capable of taking things in my stride, and more willing to listen to my instinct. If El Niño accidentally bumps his head against the dining table, or the fact that we haven’t completely mastered potty training – these things don’t faze me anymore.
Above all, La Niña allowed me the luxury of reveling in my motherhood. I had the time to smile benignly at her sleeping face. With El Niño, the time left to me after putting him to bed was usually spent in stretching aching body parts to the fullest before determinedly heading back to the grind.
My whole parenting style has undergone a drastic upheaval. I used to mother La Niña with an enthusiasm that bordered on frenzied militancy. I was a very careful parent, walking around landmines, wanting the best for her. She didn’t have her first bite of chocolate until she reached playschool. Nor did she get her first taste of colas until she was well past her third birthday. Don’t look at me like that! Milk teeth need to be protected.
With El Niño, I find myself far more easygoing. I’m not sure I can manage that level of vigilance with El Niño. My daughter’s promised not to eat chocolate in front of him. But I’m not sure she will remember her promise. And when that happens, he’s going to want a piece of the action too.
Nor did I let her watch much of TV. We would sit together and read nursery rhyme books and other stories. I don’t often find time to read to him.
Parenting two is not easy, particularly when both are growing kids. Of course, there are some things that you are a veteran at. That includes the feeding and cleaning department, and you start with very low expectations with regard to a good night’s sleep. You’re prepared to battle fatigue. You know it comes with the turf.
What you’re not prepared for is the realisation that the hard-earned lessons that you gleaned the first time you played with fire aren’t going to help this time around. Since they are both different genders and personalities, we are learning that the methods that worked fabulously with her don’t work with him at all.
But the whole exercise of mothering these two kids has been very healing and therapeutic for me. My daughter’s mother was more unyielding. My son has opened his eyes to a mother who is far more flexible. A mother who couldn’t care less if the house is in disarray, one who allows La Niña to eat chocolate, provided she brushes her teeth immediately afterwards (no arguments there). A mother who won’t think it’s the end of the world if the kids (yes, El Niño too), sip some fizzy drink once in a while.
Life has changed for the Husband and me. All our resources are divided now. Our attention, time and patience in particular. Despite it all, in some miraculous and magical way, the love has doubled.
I had been worried that El Niño would be second-best in my life, that I might never be able to love him as much as I loved his sister. I am happy to admit today that I underestimated the capacity for love. My little boy has helped me and my heart to grow. He has helped his structured and organized mother to become more flexible, to go with the flow, to have realistic expectations of us as parents and of the kids. I am startled by the depth and extent of the love that has done that .
To answer my own question, yes, a second child does turn your life upside down again. It’s worked well for me, though. My life is finally right side up again.
Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar loves being mamma to 4-year-old La Niña and 18-month-old El Niño. A working mother, she enjoys writing short stories and poems and looks forward to being published someday. She blogs at http://cynthology.blogspot.in and tweets @Cynth_Rodrigues.