From one child to two: Northwest Arkansas mom gets real about the transition

The transition from one baby to two… Here’s the real scoop:

By April Wallace, nwaMotherlode contributor and local mama

Before I can sit down long enough to tell you what it’s been like to become a mother of two, I need to find my coffee. I know I left it around here somewhere.

There it is. In the microwave still, cold. Again. That happens a lot.

We welcomed our second baby, Elliott Reid, in January and life has been chaotic ever since. I really, really wanted to write about this earlier. I just thought I would wait until I hit some kind of magical plateau where I had things figured out (or close enough) before sharing my message with other mamas.

But now that my oldest is 2 and Elliott is six months old, I realize that day may never come. Or it might be when they’ve grown and left the house. Will I feel put together then? Go on, I’ll wait.

Stage one: fear and isolation

The first few months were so overwhelming.

In our last few weeks before Elliott’s arrival, I tried my best to keep things normal for my 2 year old, Henry. I took him to all our usual hangouts, like the library storytime, music class, the Amazeum and grandma’s for our regular Sunday visits. I refreshed his toy boxes around the house in preparation for our early, housebound weeks with the newborn. We cuddled even more than usual, and I let him nap on me (a rare treat by then). Those were incredibly sweet days between me and our oldest that I’ll remember fondly.

Then my new baby came and Henry showed me a side of himself I’d never seen. He was spiteful and ill-prepared for his new reality. And really, at 19 months, how could he be anything else when confronted with such a life changing thing?

If I turned my head for a second, he would swipe at the baby or attempt to scratch his eyes. Once when I reached for a baby wipe, he managed to throw a large tub of vaseline in that second and a half and narrowly missed my newborn.

Suddenly my sweet, formerly happy toddler was my enemy, and I never even saw it coming. It saddened me more than anything.

Before Elliott was born, some naive part of my brain thought that, if anything, the new baby might have to win me over. Henry and I had had a year and a half with no one getting in between us. I felt like it might be possible that I would just have to make room for the new family member a little bit at a time.

Elliott as a newborn

But of course that’s not how it worked. My new baby arrived, my hormones soared and my brain and body instantly worked together to bond with him and protect my baby at all costs.

It was a sickening feeling to have to protect one of my children from the other. And it was even worse while being trapped in the house in the dead of winter. I couldn’t very well send Henry to play in the backyard in February. I couldn’t even take them to our usual haunts, like library story hour, for fear of illness.

They were long, long days, those first eight weeks. I missed my friends. I missed my husband, for that matter! Taking care of our now two kids meant we had nothing left for each other at the end of the day. I missed going to the gym or hitting the trail with the stroller. I missed being anywhere that wasn’t sitting on the couch breastfeeding.

I realized around this time that I hadn’t had any fun with Henry at all since the new baby arrived. Our relationship now was one strictly of discipline and tolerance.

One question racked my brain night after night: What if I was only a good infant mom? Was I going to be a terrible toddler mom, or worse yet a bad mom from here on out?

Stage two: experimentation and survival

I folded on my standards and fell into a routine of giving Henry pre-packaged meals all day everyday. At least he was fed, am I right? I decided that adhering to the doctor’s standards for no screen time was going to kill us all and just leaned into it. I found a semi-educational show for Henry to watch regularly and let him see countless kids music videos. It was either that or he was going to have to move out.

I let him take baths for an hour a day or more because it made him happy and kept me sane. I made myself instant oatmeals and ate more marketplace salads than I can count because cooking was only possible during a 20-30 minute window at 4 or 5 p.m. daily.

As spring arrived, I rejoiced for the prospect of soon bringing my newborn out in public. I hung my hope on my own clearance for return to exercise and a semi-normal kind of life. I knew that a return to our constantly-on-the-go lifestyle was unlikely, but I was still happy to get out of the house more.

The first time that I took both boys to the library without my husband’s help, it was too soon. But by the time I realized that, it was too late. Henry bombarded the other toddlers who were fresh out of craft time. Where did they get that? Could he have it? He reached for their newly minted treasures. My hands were tied. I had to breastfeed since my baby still couldn’t go much more than 90 minutes without eating.

Thankfully I was unknowingly surrounded by a few other mamas who had babies with the same small age gap who first helped me redirect and corral my toddler and then reassured me that it would get better. When? I begged. When does it get better? Tell me the exact day and time that it got better for you.

Stage three: just go with it

Now that a few more months have passed, our family has adjusted a little more. Henry still has some bad moments, but they’re getting fewer and further between. More often now I worry about his loving behavior accidentally hurting Elliott, like an overzealous hug or setting a toy down too hard on his baby brother’s face.

These days I see my toddler starting to share his toys, going out of his way to keep Elliott company and giggling good naturedly if his hair gets pulled or his leg gets scratched by the baby. Henry cheers each time that Elliott rolls over, shows him things and sometimes sits patiently next to him, just waiting for the next funny thing his bubba is going to do. Now these are moments that I had hoped one day to experience.

Of course, we didn’t get there overnight. I realized that having some one-on-one time with each person in our household made things, if not easier, at least more workable. I get some alone time with my toddler during our bedtime ritual, some one-on-one with my baby while the toddler naps, a chance to use my undivided attention to talk with my stepson on the way home from school each afternoon, and on Sunday evenings my husband and I leave all the kids behind to have a date—rain or shine, fancy or otherwise (usually otherwise). Because if we’re to take care of these kids together, we need a few hours to just be a couple, not momma and dadda.

So life carries on even though it’s more complicated now. Other changes help keep it running smoothly for us.

I have traded nearly all on-paper things for their digital equivalents. Gone are my beautiful, handwritten grocery lists and to do lists in various colors of Le Pen on colored notepads. Now I have a note on my phone that saves me time and energy to update and refresh. Better yet, I can’t lose it and if it gets spit up on, it’s not ruined.

I still eat fast and easy breakfasts and lunches on many days, and I’ve stopped feeling bad about that. It gives me more time to plan and cook dinners for our family and other meals for my toddler, which gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I’ve even been able to return to making new recipes once every week or two.

I have a new respect for those little drive thru coffee stands. And I’m ok with that. Just check my car console for my loyalty cards.

I go to sleep earlier when I can and don’t sweat it if my babies get me up earlier than normal. The tiny sliver of kid-free time I might be able to squeeze out of staying up late is so not worth it. At this stage of my life, I anticipate the energy I’ll need for the coming day and all the things I need to do for my babies. That’s priority one. And it’s a short list these days.

Last but definitely not least, I accept help more often. Maybe not from everyone who offers, but I definitely rely on my husband and mother-in-law more than I did when we had only one baby to care for. If my husband suggests I take a half-hour to myself while he wrangles the kids, I run out the door to the gym without looking back. If my mother-in-law agrees to keep our boys for an afternoon, I kiss them goodbye and go to lunch with a friend. When my parents visit occasionally, I let them take over some of the duties.

I have no plan, and I’m not sure how I’m doing at this gig, to be honest. But I take my breaks wherever I can get them because now I know exactly how constant my children need me. I know now how easy it is for my well to run dry, and I can’t take a chance of being so depleted all the time when two sweet, energetic boys need me around the clock.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go reheat that cup of coffee. Again.

April Wallace is a stepmom to one smart, funny teenager, mama to two beautiful and curious baby boys and wife to a very kind and generous man. She spent the past decade as a news reporter, sometimes lifestyle writer, and recently left her job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to be with her babies while they’re still babies. When she gets a few minutes to herself, April loves to run local trails and read fiction.