When I found out I was pregnant with our second baby, in one sense it wasn’t nearly as shocking as the first. Not that I wasn’t excited or happy about it; I was. It’s that I knew what a positive pregnancy test looked like and I didn’t need to take three tests in a row, I didn’t need to Google all of the other diseases I could have that would create a false positive, and I didn’t call my best friend in a panicked state of total disbelief. I was still surprised. I wandered into my toddler’s room where my husband was reading books to him on the floor. I held up the positive test and simply said “I think we need to confirm this with a non-Target brand,” and my husband’s jaw dropped.
The big shock was that we didn’t expect that it would be as easy for us to get pregnant with our second as it was. The several months of buffer room we figured would give us kids two years or so apart was gone. We were going to have two under two.
Everyone who told me that 21-months was a good age gap said that because I was already pregnant.
From here in the thick of it, I will tell you that a 21-month gap may be one of the hardest to deal with in the first year.
My toddler was ahead of the five words milestones for communication at his 18-month well child visit. He had a mix of English, Spanish, and signs that brought him to about 45 words we could understand. I hoped that his ability to communicate would help us in the transition of having a baby join the family.
We read books like Waiting for Baby and I’m a Big Brother. We talked about the baby in mommy’s tummy. He would point to the bump, tell other people “baby,” and even on occasion share his food with the baby by grinding waffles into my shirt. I figured something was clicking as much as it could in his toddler brain.
Not surprisingly an ability to understand words is not the same as having the emotional maturity to handle the arrival of a crying, needy thing that steals your parents attention.
When we were driving to the hospital to have our second baby I was crying. It was a mix of feelings that included fear of what was happening, excitement over meeting our new baby, concern that I wouldn’t be a good mom to two children, and a ton of what ifs. What if our big man didn’t like his brother? What if we didn’t like having two children? What if I just couldn’t do it, whatever it was? I was having big emotions over a shifting dynamic that was hard for me to articulate with a developed vocabulary and being a veteran of years of therapy. It was shortsighted of me to think my toddler would handle this in any reasonable manner.
When I look at the picture of my first child meeting his brother it’s very clear to me that I had two babies.
While my 21-month old looked like a giant next to a tiny baby and in many ways seemed much more functional by his ability to hold up his head, help get himself dressed and not roll off of a changing pad, he also demonstrated that he was still a baby.
The first few weeks at home with a big and little baby were very difficult. My hormones didn’t crash as hard this time around, but I was still sensitive. When my big man wanted me to hold him and I was trying to nurse the baby, my big man would end up hysterical. If I was trying to give attention to my big man and my new baby wanted to nurse or cuddle, he would end up in tears.
My big baby wanted to be held, cuddled, carried and babied too. He didn’t want our divided attention and he didn’t want to wait to have whatever he wanted or needed in the moment.
My newborn needed what all fresh babies need – to be held close, kept warm and snug, changed, fed, and loved. Basically to be attached to my boob or resting on my chest in order to hear my heartbeat, feel my skin and smell me.
While my needs didn’t matter by sheer necessity, I was recovering from child birth. I craved rest which was quite elusive. I needed to spend time with my toddler because he was, and is important to me. I needed to spend time cuddling and bonding with my baby, and keeping him on the boob to establish my milk supply.
No matter what I did I felt that one of my children would be unhappy. No one was getting their needs met.
When my toddler started hitting the baby a few weeks in, it wasn’t that surprising, but it was hard to handle. He was too young for time outs. He doesn’t understand a logical approach to why he shouldn’t hit the baby. An emotional appeal doesn’t work either.
We struggled to find a way to enforce a no-hitting policy. Trying to find a way to discipline my big baby, and by that I mean an action has a clear consequence, was hard. I don’t believe in corporal punishment, as I can’t wrap my mind around telling someone not to hit and then hitting them to enforce the message. I’ve read about why time out isn’t an effective form of discipline and how I can inadvertently enforce all kinds of messed up messages around safety and expressing emotions. I really didn’t know what to do.
Our pediatrician recommended immediately removing our big man from the situation when he hurts the little man. This could be picking him up and moving him to another room, putting him in his room, placing him in his crib, or standing with him in a corner of the room to get the violence to stop. I wish I could say we have found a better way, or an effective way, but we’re still working on it.
More Daddy, Less Mommy
Having the 21-month gap made me and my husband each single parent one child. I had the baby by virtue of being the food source, and my husband took over major parenting with our toddler. This divide and conquer approach was all about survival.
My son grew closer to his father. They’ve always been close, and my son has consistently been demonstratively affectionate with daddy which is awesome. When I was taken out of commission more, my son started to not only prefer dad, but started to lash out at me. He would hit me and say, “no, mommy!” “No kisses!” No want mommy, want daddy!” I know that I’m supposed to take the high road, but this rejection crushed me. I worried that I had permanently damaged my relationship with my toddler by having another baby. The hormones definitely didn’t help.
Whether he was jealous or feeling displaced, I don’t know. I’m sure he was feeling all sorts of feelings. My mother told me how she thought of introducing a new baby would feel. She said imagined how she would feel if her husband, my father, brought home a new wife and said, “look honey, here’s someone else for us to love!”
The logistical nightmare of bedtime and naps
A toddler and a baby are on similar but different schedules. For months we were lucky if their naps lined up around midday, as we all needed that time to rest. In the early days, I took to napping with the baby just to get him to sleep and so I could get some rest. Doing that I felt like I was hiding from my toddler, which messed with my very tired head.
My toddler was never able to put himself to sleep for naps. He can do it for bedtime, but naps just never clicked. We worked really hard on it around 10 months and he was rocking it, but the nanny we had didn’t agree with allowing him to cry and she undid it permanently. What this meant is that two people had to be around during midday nap time, one to rock a big baby to sleep and one to hold or otherwise contain a tiny baby.
Nighttime was harder. While my toddler can put himself to sleep, he can’t bathe, diaper and get his pajamas on himself. I also nursed the baby, so I needed to have hands for that as well. We were putting the boys to bed at different times, and each child had their own routine.
So here we are just past halfway through the year
We have fallen into a rhythm of managing two kids, but it’s not always pretty.
My husband and I alternate who gets up early with the boys on the weekend days, while my husband generally does the early mornings on the week days when he has to be up earlier for work anyway. I handle night wake ups, so my morning nap while my husband gets ready for work and entertains the kids is my reward.
We rely heavily on YouTube in the mornings. My toddler is obsessed with trucks and we have some go-to shows, like The Little Bus Tayo, and the Twentytrucks truck tunes, which he watches while I nurse the baby and get him changed, or if I have to get the baby back down for a morning nap and I need him to stay put for a few minutes. I like the truck tunes, and I have learned a lot about various construction vehicles. Did you know that some bulldozers have a decelerator instead of an accelerator? Go, dozer, go.
If it’s one adult and two kids, we either stay inside and destroy the house, or get the boys in the double stroller and head out for coffee or a trip to the park. I love my double stroller, a Bumbleride Indie Twin, and it actually made the difference of me being able to handle both kids on my own or staying trapped in the house. I’m not joking when I say that it may be the one single piece of gear that saved my sanity in the one-to-two transition.
Midday nap is a challenge if they both need to sleep at the same time. If the baby goes down first, then the toddler will eat lunch/throw it all over the floor and then he goes down for his nap.
We just moved the baby out of our room and in with his brother for nighttime. It was a desperate move. He had been waking up all night long, sleeping in bed attached to my boob, and then waking up to start the day well before 6am. My husband and I were camping in our own house so he could have the room to himself. After two weeks of not sleeping together or in our own bed, we decided the boys could just figure out how to share a room.
Tomorrow will be a week of the boys room-sharing. The baby is in the awkward period where he isn’t napping well as he goes from three to two naps and needs to go to bed super early. Therefore, our toddler has been napping in our bed, and now has decided he will put himself to sleep. All we had to do to achieve this was wait over two years, read “purple Corduroy,” sing exactly the songs he wants, rub his back, give him a queen size bed with down pillows and tuck him in under our lovely West Elm duvet covered down comforter. Jeez, I don’t know why we didn’t do that sooner.
We’ve started giving them baths together with the baby tub in the regular bathtub and his brother wedged into the big tub with it. They both splash each other and laugh until the toddler water boards his brother with the rinsing cup.
The good moments, like bath time, are multiplying. The first night they slept in the room together, our toddler was shushing his crying brother, telling him, “it’s okay, watch me sleep like this.” Then we have days like yesterday where my toddler hits his brother in the head with a wooden airplane.
I hope that they’ll grow up to be buddies. When the baby can defend himself against the big man’s monster trucking, aka jumping on him screaming, “I’m a monster truck!” I think they’ll do better.
Now that the toddler is out of diapers, I’m telling myself that unless I forget how hard the early days are and have a third, which feels doubtful right now, we’ll be done with all of the baby stuff soon. In a few years, we’ll be out of diapers and naps, able to travel again or do anything that requires us to be away from the house for more than a few hours. Yes, we’ll have two kids in college at the same time, but it’s not like we’ll be able to pay their tuitions without financial aid anyway.
The good moments make me hope – even think – that I’ll love this terrible age gap in a few years.