I have a confession: sometimes I forget we have a baby.
But before you pass judgement, there are extenuating circumstances your honour: we have a toddler.
‘Ahh. I find this father not guilty of neglect. His hands and those of the child’s mother are fully occupied. If the child is fed, bathed, changed and occasionally tickled it is as much as we can hope for. Clothed? Errr. It’s summer isn’t it?’
I don’t think we’re alone in this, what shall we call it? Black Hole Toddler Syndrome.
Anything that comes within the influence of the toddler will be trapped forever by its irresistible grasp (sticky fingered most likely).
Any attempt to look at the baby let alone touch it is futile as he lies, quietly wondering why he bothered coming out, kicking on the playmat, beyond the event horizon.
In our defence we only had two years to get used to being parents at all. And to stick with the physics analogy those two years we spent focusing on our first son like the lasers in a particle accelerator.
Round and round we flew, faster and faster, circling the baby with a panicked stare, noting his every breath, burp, poo, and pee.
We applauded his first roll over, his first tooth, hair, word, crawling, standing, until one day we stood transfixed like the world watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon as our darling boy took his first faltering steps.
Then we had another baby, the baby and toddler particles collided, and the world as we knew it was torn apart in a big bang.
We ended up living in one reality (which I’ll call chaos), the baby stranded in another alternate universe (probably the bouncy chair) with THE TODDLER a roaring maelstrom separating us like a tear in space and time (probably standing precariously on a stool near something breakable and precious, using his outdoor voice and demanding ice cream…ICE CREAM IN DUMPER TRUCK!).
I know we are not alone living in this weirdly fractured state. And the shock of going from no children to being parents is still the biggest shock I’ve experienced.
But even though other parents warned us in reverent tone and with a serious warning look on their tired faces, we thought, “Well, we’ve managed to look after one baby – how hard can it be to have two? There’s two of us. One each.”
You will need at least another person.
OK I get it now. Going from one to two is more like adding 150% to your daily tasks and level of exhaustion.
I am lucky. I get to escape to the office. And yes, of course I miss my son…TWO SONS! Sorry. See?! But from the dispatches I get from the front line a typical day with a new baby and a toddler goes something like this:
730am: we’ve all been up for an hour or more and hopefully one child is dressed. Probably the toddler but he may well be sitting in his nappy on the sofa eating toast and watching Hey Duggee. I leave to catch the train (Duggee is my cue to go). A portal to hell opens up under the house.
8am: Mrs B is trying to sort out the toddler’s demands for ipad, orange juice, nana, grapes, ipad, orange juice, while feeding our four month old baby.
8am -830am: Mrs B is trying to leave the house.
830 – 9am: Mrs B is trying to leave the house.*
9am: baby in double buggy AKA The Tank. The toddler MAY get in buggy if he’s feeling good. Or he may play chase round and round the living room and then scream like he’s being grated while he is fastened in. Leave house. Go back. Get phone. Leave house.
915am: waiting at the bus stop. A bus arrives. The buggy spaces are taken. “Wehave to wait next one Mummy!” Waiting at bus stop. Bus arrives. There is a space but the bus driver says there are too many people on the bus….
930/945am: arrive at playgroup after walking down the road from the bus stop while the baby tries to sleep and the toddler shouts at diggers, and lorries, and buses and demands cake if he sees the bakery. He WILL see the bakery.
Mrs B sits and chats to her friends while calmly sipping a coffee and cuddling the baby while the toddler plays nicely. Mrs B tries to talk to her friends while feeding the baby with one hand and getting up to run after the toddler to stop him escaping or snatching toys from other children. The toddler will occasionally bash the baby on the head as he passes by in the pedal car. Coffee has gone cold.
1130am: leave and go to the cafe. The toddler wants cake. He doesn’t want cake. He wants a nana. He doesn’t want a nana. He wants to play cars…can you guess what comes next?
12pm: try to get home for nap time. Repeat the journey above in reverse.
1pm: not home – need to go to Sainsbury’s to get milk/bread/washing up liquid/cat food (delete as appropriate). The toddler is over-tired and wailing for his dummy/panda/car/cake. (I must point out that we do not feed him endless cake. He just lives in constant hope.)
130pm: everyone is home. Mrs B takes the baby up for a nap. The toddler has now fallen asleep in the buggy. This is an emergency. Come back downstairs and wrestle the now wailing toddler upstairs. The baby starts crying. The toddler is playing cars. “Just two minutes Mummy!” Run between the bedrooms until they are both asleep.
2pm: sit down. Look at long list of jobs. Think about which one to do first…
230pm: wake up from unplanned sleep. No jobs have been done. Baby wakes up. Feed baby. Change baby. Put washing machine on. Look at list. Cry.
330pm: the toddler is up. He is NOT HAPPY. “Want to get OOOOUT Mummy!” Mrs B lifts him out of bed. “I TIRED Mummy I TIRED. WANT PANDA.” Get Panda. “I don’t want Panda.”
330 – 4pm: cuddle toddler on sofa while he sobs and watches a video of a toy digger being pushed around by someone’s hand while an annoying American voice over (like Kevin Spacey as a CBeebies presenter) tells you what is going on. The video has had 5 billion views and is utter crap. The toddler would watch it on a loop for hours if allowed to. Who is this guy!?
4pm: to avoid insanity turn YouTube Kids off. Make tea. Go in garden if it’s not raining. Maybe even if it is. Play paddling pool. Play sandpit.Play dinosaurs. Play diggers.
5pm: start making dinner. ‘I want pasta Mummy.” Pasta is duly made and lovingly prepared with a home cooked sauce. And cheese. It is presented to the toddler. He stares at the plate and pushes it away in disgust.”I don’t like pasta Mummy.”
HANG ON. WHERE IS THE BABY!!?
Oh there he is. Phew. Bouncing in his chair. Almost forgotten because his brother will never ever ever leave Mummy alone. Ever.
530pm: try to feed the baby while the toddler tries to shove his food in the baby’s mouth and smear it on the cat. Eventually the toddler eats his own dinner in massive handfuls. He has a fork, he can use a fork. He does not WANT to use a fork.
6pm: toddler is now naked but for a nappy and covered in pasta sauce. He grins. “I done poo poo mummy!” It’s up his back. Pick up toddler and gingerly carry up to the bathroom. Go back for the baby. Run bath. Try to do a double bath time without anyone getting water in their eyes. Impossible. Tears ensue.
630pm: bath time is over. I come home. I take one of the children – probably the toddler and do story time and bed. “Just one more story Daddy…”
730pm: they are in bed. And the evening might be ours. We cook a ready meal. Watch Location. Do some house jobs. Go to bed.
And then the night time routine begins.
(*Trying to leave the house involves: packing the baby bag with nappies, wipes, two bottles of milk (some in the form of water and powder to mix later), nappy bags and some other stuff I never remember; packing the toddler bag with nappies (NO WE HAVENT POTTY TRAINED HIM YET! WE’VE HAD A BABY!), wipes, bags, change of clothes, snacks, toy cars (which are the wrong ones Mummy), water (which WILL leak), and at least ten other things I always forget.)
I cannot imagine what having three or four or five children is like. And I can’t believe we used to complain about not having enough time when we only had one to worry about.
On that note, I don’t mind how many children you have as long as they are loved and happy and you’re providing for them. Some people get very hot and bothered about how many children is the RIGHT amount to have.
All I will say is I am in awe of anyone with a big family who doesn’t have extra hands to lessen the load. We’ve watched those programmes about people with ten plus children – not the nasty ones slagging off poor people, the nice uplifting one about the baker – and although even I can see that newborn babies are addictive, like too much booze or cake after the initial rush of endorphins the hangover and sick feeling kicks in.
We are not having any more, unless there is an accidental baby. And I think we’re too tired to have an accidental baby.
So to all of you about the have a second baby, especially if the first one is under four here are my pearls of wisdom on how to lighten the load.
Five Tips To Balance a Toddler And A Baby
- Get some help. If you can. I know lots of people don’t have family round the corner (we don’t) but even a friend who makes a meal or drops by to babysit for an hour can make all the difference.If you have the money keep up the child care. After months of looking after two we have crumbled and despite it meaning we may go into debt we are putting Little B back with his child minder for two days a week. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. Mrs B needs some quality time with our new baby before he gets any bigger and she goes back to work.
- Don’t make any plans to do big house projects or anything that will involve you needing lots of free time. You won’t have any free time so unlike us, who finished a loft conversion the week before the birth, make sure everything else in your life is on an even keel if you can. And the small jobs can wait. Focus on caring for your kids and looking after each other.
- Get a car. Even if you live in a city like us and you got on fine with one child and public transport. After the umpteenth time not being able to get on a packed bus or train or having to suffer the judgements of others on your wailing children you will relish spending hours locked in a tiny metal and glass box on wheels with them listening to The Gruffalo on repeat. No really, a car will open up your horizons and make life that little bit easier. They can be expensive but if you can scrape the money together I think it is worth every penny.
- Book in quiet time for you. Looking after a new baby is tough. Having a toddler literally on your back while you do it would push anyone to breaking point. Whether it’s your other half, your parents, a friend or a babysitter booking an hour now and then to do nothing or whatever makes you feel good will revive you and make you a better parent to your little ones. Sometimes all Mrs B needs is a half hour with a coffee and a magazine in a cafe away from the tiny voices. I like to go for a walk. Or sit in the shed writing this blog!
- Remember each other. I think this might be the most important tip. I wrote recently about how after Baby F was born we had a day lounging in bed. It’s so easy to lose sight of the person you made these little miracles with. But if that relationship is neglected you won’t be able to gather the strength to fight the parenting battles. It might be as simple as a cup of tea the morning after a long night. A tired kiss. A weepy hug. A kind word to each other. Yes you are mum and dad now. But you are still each other. And there is a place between you that has a big no entry sign for small people.*
Good luck. Happy parenting!
*I am of course well aware that many mums and dads aren’t together. So in that case point five means remembering to be kind to yourself. And turning to those other people in your life who love you.