I was thinking the other night how different I am as a parent with my second child than I was with my first. When my first son was a baby, I used to listen for him in the monitor all night long. Was he breathing? Was that a cough I just heard? If I didn’t hear from him for a while I would sneak up the stairs and peek into his room to make sure he hadn’t evaporated or something. I was on constant guard.
Before he was born I read every baby book I could get my hands on. I bought the safest car seat (which he hated), the most ergonomic baby carrier (which he was too big for by 6 months) and the most educational baby toys (which the dogs chewed up). I sterilized EVERYTHING.
I was a postpartum bundle of anxiety. When he cried, I cried, then felt guilty for making both of us cry. I danced him around for hours to get him to fall asleep before letting him nap in my arms for hours. I watched a lot of tv.
I wanted to do everything right. I still thought there was such a thing as the right way to raise kids. I still had time to debate whether or not there was such a thing as the right way. It was a simpler time.
Fast forward three years.
I was lounging in the recliner, drinking a cup of tea, and wasting brain cells on the internet when I realized that I had forgotten to turn on the monitor. It wasn’t even in the room. The old me would have immediately jumped up and scrambled to find it, mentally flogging myself for being such a terrible mother.
But that was then. I have three years of sleep deprivation, temper tantrums, sleep training, and breast feeding under my belt. I’m not as ambitious, or as spry as I once was.
I carefully weighed the effort of hauling myself out of the la-z-boy and walking barefoot on the cold hardwood floors to find it, versus the likelihood that he was awake and needing my attention. My laziness eventually won out.
I find that scenes like this play over and over in my house since having the second child. Have I simply learned to be a more relaxed and groovy parent, or am I settling for being an acceptable rather than a good mom because I simply don’t have the energy to do more? What would the childless version of me think of the parent I have become? If you’ve read Paved With Good Intentions then you’ll know that she could be a harsh judge.
My inadequacies don’t end with bed time. With my first, I made all his baby food from scratch. I pureed chicken, beef, a medley of fresh vegetables, every fruit I could find in England during the winter months, and froze them in little ice cube trays for easy portioning. I was militant about his diet. He ate no salt, no sugar, and minimal preservatives. I was Super Mom and he was going to be Super Baby.
Then came baby number two. I’ve written before about the differences between the births of my oldest and youngest boys (see Brothers). The differences in the way they came into this world carried over into the life they joined. From the very beginning, my youngest child was chaos incarnate.
Some of it was his own doing. As soon as he could use a walker he was pulling books off shelves, harassing his brother, and chasing the dogs. Some of the chaos was swirling around him. There were diapers to change, pee to clean off the floor, dog hair everywhere, and a very jealous and demanding preschooler who was now capable of following me everywhere and talking my ear off.
There was simply no time for long hours spent steaming vegetables, pureeing meat, and putting dried apricots through the food mill.
These days, I give myself secret, smug, pats on the back for buying “organic” pre-pureed meats in a pouch, and try not to think about how meat could possibly not require refrigeration. If I thought to hard about it, I’m sure I’d run screaming for the food mill, but who has time to think? The dogs are barking, the baby just threw up on the carpet and the three year old is “cleaning it up” with the clean laundry.
When it was just me and the first baby, I had plenty of time to obsess over every mouthful of food that he ate. As a result, I ended up feeding him until he was two. It was much less messy and more efficient than letting him do it himself, and he would eat more. I had nothing else to do, so why not? However, he didn’t learn how to use a spoon properly until well after his third birthday. The baby, on the other hand, has been feeding himself since the day he started on solids. Sometimes he has to.
I’m sorry to say that it’s a common occurrence for me to sit down to feed him and then realize that I left the three year old’s grilled cheese on the stove and that the kitchen is slowly filling with smoke. One day I turned around to find him holding the pouch of pureed carrots and going to town on it. When he was full he unceremoniously tossed the pouch onto the floor, grabbed his sippy cup and took a swig. He looked at me like “what do I pay you for, anyway?”
Completely unintentionally, I have encouraged my youngest son to quietly tend to his own wants and needs. If there is a toy on the floor that he simply must chew on, he doesn’t fuss and wait for me to bring it to him on a silver platter. He figures it out for himself. It usually involves an elaborate combination of controlled falling, rolling and army crawling, but he gets there in the end.
He doesn’t even get discouraged when his brother blows through at the last minute and snatches the toy he worked so hard to obtain. He laughs it off and moves on to the next shiny object in his path. Usually something breakable. He is happy to exist in a world filled with chaos, screaming and excretion. I once started to change his diaper, got distracted half way through, and found him rolling around in a puddle of his own pee ten minutes later. He thought it was all kinds of fun. Hey, urine is sterile, right?
In an ideal world, I’d feed my son only home made baby food. I’d also feed my three year old balanced healthy meals every night instead of hot dogs, chicken strips, and macaroni and cheese. In that perfect world my children would get dressed every morning, in clean clothes, brush their teeth and wash their faces. Most days I’m lucky to get the three year old’s pajama pants back on after he pees in the morning, and the baby hasn’t seen his feet in weeks because he wears footy pajamas all day.
Of course I’d feel like a much better mother if I could find time to cook from scratch, keep the house spotlessly clean and organized, educate my children through crafts and play, and write award winning novels. Who wouldn’t?
But let’s face it, that doesn’t seem likely to happen. The question really becomes how do I feel about the fact that my parenting style has changed since my first baby. Is perfection something I should still be striving for, or is it more about picking my battles?
After a long day, is falling asleep in the children’s bed after reading them a story any less important than cleaning the playroom or folding the laundry? I like to think that I’ve grown wiser since having my second child rather than simply become lazier. I’ve learned that the key to surviving two stark raving mad little boys is to keep every day in perspective.
So we didn’t make it out of the house today. Everyone still has their fingers and toes. I’d call that a win. So I forgot to turn on the monitor. Everyone was fed, bathed, and put to sleep in their own beds. Tomorrow will be another day, and I’m still learning.