These are the two boys who turned my world upside down. (See what I did there?)
As I quite frequently and openly explain, neither of them were planned. I regularly get huge doses of mum guilt for not having my life “together” enough by the time they made their arrival – our small two bedroom terraced house feels incredibly crowded now that we are a family of six when my step children are here – and having a second baby when I barely had the space, money or time for a first just gave me another thing to feel guilty for. I was convinced that my first son, not being old enough to fully understand or have the process explained to him, would hate his new baby brother with a seething jealous passion that would only be exacerbated by the arrival of the terrible twos. He still ends up in our bed almost every night and has only recently stopped breastfeeding, and I thought he would really struggle with seeing a new baby take his place alongside Mummy.
As my due date drew closer we talked a lot about the baby in mummy’s tummy, how it was his little brother, how he had to be gentle with him and keep him safe, and how much we would still love him, but to a two year old who hasn’t seen anyone else close to him pregnant and then with a baby, it was all a bit too conceptual for him to grasp.
Then baby arrived.
This is one of the first pictures of Alfie holding his new baby brother, Archie. His eyes say it all. He was so excited when we brought him home, and all he wanted to do was very gently touch him and hold him, and when he held him he did so with such care and interest and pride that I felt a flood of relief and a renewed burst of love for my first born. Maybe he wouldn’t hate his younger brother after all, or me for producing him, for that matter.
What I soon came to realise was that the problem wasn’t that he wouldn’t love him, it was more that he might love him a bit too much. He demands to know where his brother is as soon as he enters a room with me in it, and is fiercely protective of him (he was just about willing to fight my step daughter over the fact that Archie was his brother and no one else’s as she tried to explain that he was her brother too). He is forever wanting to prod and poke at him with all the care of a curious chimpanzee, he loves lying down next to him in bed or on his play mat which can lead to the occasional elbow to the head for baby, and if Alfie spots baby drifting off to sleep he immediately starts yelling “I need Archie!” at the top of his voice or trying to touch his face, neither of which make for a particularly long lasting nap.
However, I am still overwhelmingly grateful for the love that Alfie has for his new baby brother, and a couple of moments have really reminded me of that. When visiting an elderly relative, Kath, for her to meet Archie for the first time, Alfie marched over to the car seat, practically climbed on top of the sleeping baby to kiss his cheek, then pointed at him and announced “that’s my brother” to the room. “Oh my goodness, did you see that?” asked Kath, and when I looked at her I realised she had tears in her eyes. Kath is in her 90s, and after having a stillborn baby by her first husband never managed to conceive again with her second, who now lives in a home. She is also an only child. It really knocked me back as a reminder that even though I didn’t ask for any of this to happen to me, I am so very incredibly lucky that it did.
The other moment was a few nights ago when I was putting Alfie to bed. Most nights I breastfeed Archie and lie or sit next to Alfie while I sing or whisper poetry to him as he falls asleep, but this night Alfie told me to put Archie down next to him in bed. I knew this would mean Archie would cry and it would stop Alfie from going to sleep as fast, but I did it anyway, and Alfie snuggled up to his brother and kissed him on his head over and over again. He kept opening his eyes and I told him to close them and go to sleep and he said “but then I can’t see Archie”. Again I was reminded that actually, even though this might not have gone how I would have planned it given half the chance, maybe I haven’t messed things up for my children by having them when I did as much as I was worried that I would.
What it’s like having two
Over the next couple of weeks I realised a few things that can only truly be learnt by having two babies in quick succession with the eldest not yet in school:
- Babies are so much easier than toddlers. Totally portable, and they stay where you put them before they learn to roll.
- You are far less precious with your second. First time around: the slightest whimper and I was at his side. Second time around: he’s crying? Oh good! That means he’s breathing. I’ll be right over as soon as I’ve finished wrestling his big brother’s trousers on.
- Hygiene standards also slip, despite your best efforts – a big brother who is forever wanting to plant slobbery kisses on his baby brother on the lips, eyes and hands means the sterile environment you sort of managed to maintain the first time around goes a little bit out of the window. Baby has had a couple of colds from his big brother already, but he bounced back quickly and I’ll tell myself it will all make for a strong immune system!
- Any squeamishness has completely gone out of the window. Baby spew? You’ve seen, smelled and absorbed it all before. Wet babygrow after a leaking nappy? Newborn wee is practically water anyway. Poosplosion? At least it doesn’t smell like your big brother’s nappies do!
- In theory, you run far less of a risk of “making a rod for your back” by holding baby all the time and picking them up every time they cry, because you just can’t. He’s lucky if he gets ten minutes of uninterrupted cuddling when my toddler is awake, in fact. But to be honest, my excessively cuddled toddler won’t sit still for long enough for me to cuddle him now anyway without it turning into a wrestling match or a head butt, so I don’t think my rod turned out to be too stiff anyway…
My essential purchases for round two
Having two has meant I have needed to ramp up my organisation game. To be honest, I’m not great at it. I’m quite good at remembering where things are, even if I need some archaeology tools and a head torch to reach them amid the chaos, but I’m not very proficient at preparing for things or completing tasks at any minute other than the very last one, and usually in a massively frantic rush. Here is what I have found to be extremely helpful in what is more or less saving me from myself when I’m running late and in a rush to get somewhere.
Bugaboo wheelie board
The age gap was too big and my house, car and 70% of shop doorways were too small to justify a double buggy. However, my biggest wasn’t yet big enough to walk everywhere. This is the happy medium. Alfie has almost completely dropped his day time naps now 😬 so I don’t usually need a place for him to lie down, and with him on board the wheelie board we can whizz around surprisingly quickly. Alfie loves it because he feels like he is driving, and it’s much easier than trying to hold his hand or carry all 16kg of him when he is tired. I am by no means condoning or endorsing the bugaboo one specifically, there are all manner of different brands that fit all manner of buggies, but this definitely does the job for us for now.
£90 – Bugaboo
Car seat buggy adaptors
Last time I didn’t buy these. I had some strange notion that I would just forget and leave Alfie in the car seat all day and drastically hinder his spinal development (as if he would sleep for that long for me! Dream on!) Now I don’t know how I lived without them. To just be able to click the sleeping baby in the car seat from the car to the pram and be off on our way makes things like popping into the shops or filling up on petrol with both boys in the car so much more straightforward – no more waddling around swinging the car seat next to me any more, and certainly easier than navigating two small children across a road that way!
Also Bugaboo, but I got mine for half the price on Ebay
Car seat rain cover
Does what it says on the tin, and if you’re going to be using the car seat on the pram base then this is essential for British weather, not just for wind but for rain as well!
Activities to entertain the toddler
Alfie is just the right age to love/be borderline obsessed with stickers. Sticker books have been a godsend, as have colouring books, puzzles and water painting books. They are great, non screen based ways to keep him entertained long enough for me to make some headway with preparing food or cleaning (cue hollow laughter).
Again, loads to be found on Amazon
A smaller changing bag
No, I haven’t lost my mind. I still have my big mum rucksack from Tiba + Marl which I love, but now there is so much in there, a very small bag with just the essentials (nappies for both boys, nappy cream, wipes and a changing mat) can be much easier to carry off to the changing facilities with you, and means you don’t have to dig through snacks, outfit changes, books and toys to get to what you need. If you get a cute tiny rucksack you can even get your toddler to carry it, making you feel like a bit of a genius! (See above). Ours which has a 3D whale on it was a five pound middle aisle at Lidl discovery but there are several out there from the super stylish at Tiba + Marl to the more affordable supermarket kids accessory ranges like George at Asda.
Top laundry tips for two
Always wash baby clothes separately from adult clothes.
I mean separate laundry baskets, separate wash loads, separate clothes horse, the lot. Baby clothes are too small. If you ever want to keep track of those tiny socks, hats and scratch mittens, don’t lump them in with adult or big kids clothes because they disappear faster than laundry mountain grows. I do a wash every two to three days for baby and toddler, and that way I can just about stay on top of things. Just about.
Sunlight gets rid of stains.
Why it took me this long to find this out I have no idea. Not only does it get rid of baby poo stains, but it also gets rid of other stains like baked beans, tomato sauce and chocolate. After washing the item, put it somewhere the sun can reach it – I put it on the windowsill in my bedroom as it’s wide enough for a babygrow to lie flat. In the rubbish weak British winter sun it usually takes about three days for the stain to disappear. Then you can feel all smug for not having to throw away favourite items of clothing. As Martine McCucheon’s character said before she was bludgeoned to death with a wheel of cheese in the episode of Midsomer Murders that she starred in, “you know what they say, sunlight is the best bleach”. A nice current reference for all you hip parents out there.
A few final observations:
- Alfie was a much more difficult newborn baby. It wasn’t until having Archie and I could compare that I realised just how hard going he was – the sleep deprivation, the volume of his crying and screaming, the cluster feeding…but I wouldn’t change any of that because it is helping me appreciate my laid back little Archie all the more, and it taught me a lot about what I could cope with as a mother, and how to cope with it!
- The memory of only having one baby feels like a luxury now. It seemed like an incredibly complicated, difficult time with just one, and in many ways it was, but two feels like so much more than “one more than one”! Last time I lounged around all day watching trashy tv and napping when Alfie napped. This time we have to leave the house every day or destructive toddler cabin fever sets in. I also prepare and eat breakfast, lunch and often dinner because there are two of us to feed, whereas last time I was existing on chocolate, cereal bars, picked at leftovers from the fridge, toast, and whatever else could be snacked on with one hand while I held and breastfed Alfie with the other. As a result I end up looking more like I’ve got my shit together this time around and frequently get told as such, but I’m not sure if that’s actually the truth…
- Breastfeeding, once you know what you are doing and provided you don’t have any comolicarions, is much more straightforward the second time around!
If you’ve made it this far then congratulations, I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings, and if anyone wants to chat about the trials of having a two year age gap – whether it’s to offer or ask for advice – then do get in touch on here, or via my Instagram page. Happy parenting everyone!