The moment you meet your baby for the first time is timestamped onto your brain for the rest of your life. The feelings may be mixed – love, relief, anxiety – but you can’t imagine ever being without them.
And then one morning they’ve vanished. Not only have they disappeared they’ve been replaced by a toddler. And as that toddler might say to you frequently over the next couple of years, “It’s not fair!”
This doesn’t happen instantly I know but, particularly the second time around, it happens a lot sooner than you think.
So the point of this post is I suppose a note to myself to enjoy the end days of babyland, and an open letter to all new parents that although those war zone early days feel like they will never end they surely will, probably just as you’re getting the hang of it.
Frankly I’ve just about got used to the idea, just shy of three years in, that I am a dad. I look at our first born son tearing round a park shouting at pigeons – “COME BACK HERE RIGHT NOW NAUGHTY DUCKS!” – and I can’t reconcile this with the tiny helpless bundle I first held in my arms in spring 2014. These days I can barely lift him, especially when he does the toddler move I call ‘the dead dinosaur’.
And when I look back at the (hundreds of) photos I can of course see the gradual changes that led us from there to now. But sometimes it still feels like I blinked and he was gone.
And now his baby brother seems to be in a hurry to catch him up!
This is a parenting cliche, I am well aware. “It goes so fast” they said. “Cherish every sleepless night” they didn’t say. And of course you don’t cherish every moment because a lot of it is a slog. But then as you find yourself wishing the screaming baby to grow bigger you berate yourself for not being in the sodding moment.
That’s life though, to a large extent. Looking back from the pleasant hilltop of middle age I can see all the times in my younger days I didn’t stop to appreciate, for example, being able to stand up from sitting in a sofa without making a small grunt of effort.
So when our second baby boy arrived this year I recall saying to myself and Mrs B, that we really needed to do all the stuff we didn’t do the first time.
You know, stuff like take prints of his hands and feet, fill in our baby book, note down the first time he did his first smile/fart/curl/babble, take photos of him in his brother’s outfits at the same ages, make more videos of him with us, get me involved in making meals for when he started weaning, and oh, you know, just enjoy being a family together.
What was I thinking?! As anyone with two children under three could have told us the next nine months were going to be utter mayhem. Why did I think that caring for a new baby as well as coping with the first one turning into a jealous monster would leave any time for anything other than staggering through the day and collapsing into bed?
I was lucky to be at work, having a break from it all and only entering the war zone at evenings and weekends. So not only did we do none of the things we said we’d do, I’ve also barely written any blog posts about it!
So here we are. Our ‘new’ baby is already starting to pull himself up at every opportunity. He isn’t crawling yet – and we are in no rush to have two moving targets – but seems intent on going straight to walking. I’ve read that this can happen. Yikes.
Just as we remembered how to look after a newborn baby – and it is incredible how much you forget – he was on solids. And just as I got used to him being a bit more chunky but still a cuddly little baby, he had a growth spurt and doesn’t fit in the crook of my arm anymore.
I know in the next three months up to his first birthday, our second little baby will start to disappear. And it’s harder this time because there won’t be another; we are most definitely stopping at two.
I look forward to our boys playing together and at exactly two years apart we know they have a good chance at being best buddies, even if they continue to fight occasionally as all siblings do.
I look forward to not changing nappies. We’re about to embark on potty training our eldest and know that the next one will be earlier without another baby to make us put the moment off.
And I look forward to getting some time back. Babies and toddlers are high maintenance and just an hour of the boys playing in their room would be amazing. I see our friends older children and I like this future where they don’t need you 24/7.
But I will miss the moments of babyland in between the stress and chaos.
I will miss the mewing cry of a newborn that freaks out any cats in earshot. I’ll miss holding their smallness, a smallness you so rarely see and reminds you of how fragile life is. I’ll miss lying in bed in the early hours of the day, with that exhaustion you can actually wallow in, with a tiny woodland creature nestled on my chest.
Miss the late night feeds huddled in the nursery, the glow of a night-light, rain pattering on the window, looking out at the sleeping world, listening to the gurgling below my chin, resting my cheek on a velvet head.
I’ll really miss the giggles.
I know they won’t really have vanished. Our boys are right there in front of us every day, and I’m forever grateful that we made it this far when so many families don’t. But as wonderful, spirited, funny, eccentric, kind, and downright challenging as our children will be as they grow up they will never be babies again.
Sometimes I worry that I will forget what they were like. It’s already hard to remember some bits. And I can no longer hold that new baby smell in my head. I look at photos of our first and then at the boy standing in front of me asking me to come and play tractors and the two people don’t match up.
Before Christmas I went on my traditional late-December shopping trip to Oxford Street. I only go to three or four shops and one of them is that stalwart of the high street who make heart-warming TV ads. I was going up the escalator from the perfumery to the toys on the top floor and I passed by the baby department.
There was a couple standing looking at buggies. She was pregnant and there were no other children in tow. From the bemused expression on their faces I assumed it was their first baby. And for a moment I had a flashback to us standing in the same spot three years ago, full of excitement and worry, confusion and determination.
I wanted to run back down the escalator and grab them and tell them that once the baby rollercoaster ride began there would be times they’d want to get off, but all they needed to do was stop for a moment at the top of each loop and breathe the air and look around and squeeze each other’s hands before they hurtled back into another corkscrew of terror.
But then I remembered I wasn’t in a Richard Curtis movie, and I didn’t want to be thrown out by the store security, and I had to find a “red car” and a “Percy engine” on behalf of Father Christmas, so I turned away and was thankful I wasn’t spending hundreds of pounds on baby-stuff again.
So, for now I am going to get my vanishing baby up from his nap -I will miss those – and spend a bit more time than I need to kissing his face before I change his smelly nappy.
Just because I can. 🙂
Categories: Being Dad