Earlier this week, I walked into my apartment and thought I had been robbed. The furniture was askew, the chairs were flipped over, shredded garbage peppered the floor, and I couldn’t help but notice a particularly ripe smell. I quickly threw the (sleepy, cranky) toddler into the crib and set the car seat-bound baby on the floor before rushing to investigate further. “Jesus, someone broke into our apartment and stole our dog,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t find him anywhere–and in a small apartment, he’s not exactly a needle in a haystack. My heartbeat pulsed rapidly as I searched. Finally, I heard a muted, high-pitched whine. I opened the bathroom door and whoosh went the dog, running frantically with newfound freedom. His head was completely encased in an empty oats container, partially gnawed through so he could breathe. The container took away his peripheral vision, meaning he clumsily ran around our apartment while I continued to take in my doomsday-like surroundings. The best surprise of all was the smattering of dog poop scattered around the (small, totally easy-to-avoid) rug. What a delightful surprise.
Based on the evidence, I suspect the dog rifled through the recycling, stuck his head way too far down the oatmeal tube, and got stuck. Then he proceeded to freak the F out, running around the apartment, anxiously pooping on the carpet, fleeing to the bathroom, and accidentally closing the door on himself.
This story is relevant because it’s pretty reflective of the overall chaos that is now my life. Many people have asked what it’s like to transition to two kids (who are two years and 20 days apart), so let me lay it out.
Welcome to the Circus…
…where bodily fluids know no bounds
In the last eight hours alone, I’ve been on the receiving end of a trifecta of bodily fluids, none of which were mine. (The unexpected bonus of being peed, pooped, and thrown up on is that you can feel very justified in leaving the dishes for your husband to wash.)
This damp menagerie, combined with the copious amounts of sweat I shed due to postpartum hormones and a practically built-on human furnace, means this mom is now often mistaken for a swamp monster.
…where “germy” has taken on a whole new meaning
On a related, but worth-mentioning-on-its-own, note is the amount of germs that have taken this household hostage (despite constant efforts to sanitize). In case you’ve never been around a two-year-old, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: kids are gross.
Life to a toddler is a germy treasure hunt. The most-touched button in a museum exhibit? Leave it to a toddler to decide that’s the perfect time to suck his fingers. Find a cigarette butt on the ground? Better not turn around or it’s going in the kid’s mouth. Walked through urine puddles in the subway on the way home? Perfect time to treat the bottom of his shoe like an ice cream cone! To a toddler, learning he can use his diaper’s contents like finger paint is like winning the lottery. (Luckily, this last one has yet to happen to us. Sorry, Julie.)Toddlers have ownership rights to this sweet spot of revulsion where the disgusting things they think to put in their mouths are almost on pace with the disgusting things they expel. Snot is such an everyday sight anymore, I don’t even notice it. In a toddler’s mind, leaving any of the body’s many orifices unexplored is a missed opportunity. To their credit, their two-year-old fingers are the perfect size for their nostrils.
The new Baby Bear had a cold when she was just two weeks old thanks to her big brother deciding to use her hand as a tissue. (The next day, he sneezed into my mouth. My MOUTH.) Sure it sucked to have a congested newborn, but I figured at this rate, she’ll be a beast by the time she goes to kindergarten.Being a mom to a toddler is like exposure therapy for germaphobes. You can use all the vinegar water and soap you want to try to keep things clean, but you can’t avoid a toddler’s grubby hands forever. I try to take comfort in the germs; with each cold comes a more formidable immune system for the entire family.
…where I learn as I go
I like to think of myself as a fairly laid-back person, at least as evidenced by my laissez-faire approach to germs. If there’s anything I’ve learned so far, it’s that kids are constantly changing and that parents adapt quickly as a result. No one knows what they’re doing, not really. Therefore there’s no sense in worrying too much about every little thing; it’s much less stressful to just figure it out as you go.
This second time around is no different. Yes, certain things were harder at first, like simultaneously carrying a sleeping toddler and a car seat up the stairs to the apartment. But with each passing day, my confidence grows. That, or I fail, have no choice but to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, and learn for the next time.
…where my days are measured by coffee, wine, and diapers
As much as I like to think I’m still “cool,” having two kids has finally forced to acknowledge that my version of “cool” has drastically changed over the last few years. Gone are the days where I’d be able to attend a play’s opening night at the drop of a hat or direct friends to the best bachelorette hot spot. I’m aware that clubs still exist, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you the last time I entered one. That said, knowing the most entertaining playgrounds or the best kid-friendly breweries is valuable, too, and in those terms, I’ve got you covered. (Did I mention how stereotypically important booze is to me as a mom of young kids?)As I’ve mentioned before, I’m extremely grateful for the ways staying at home has changed my priorities and given me more room to live now that I’m not tied to a desk. (But I’ll be the first to admit there are many days where a desk, some deadlines, and, hell, even meetings sound more appealing than having a toddler weasel his way into my personal space all day.)
However, while I’ve been a mom for two years now, I’m still occasionally hit with the peculiar realization that my daily life is now marked by the number of times I’ve changed a diaper, my ability to find that one car my two-year-old suddenly cannot live without, or the constant question of how many cups of coffee a day are still within reason. When asked what’s new in my life, I immediately, without thought, respond with what’s new with my family. My sense of self is harder to pin down now that my entire life is devoted to being responsible for two other, mostly helpless, lives. Self-care and alone time are still very important to me, and I have a lot of support to allow for them, but my self feels less pronounced right now. Grappling with who I am and the uncertainty of who I will be when the kids are grown is difficult.As uncomfortable as it is to sit with that uncertainty, I am slowly learning to embrace it. If the blurry pace of the last two years is any indication, it’ll all be over before I know it and I’ll look back longingly on these harried days. My accomplishments may be of the playdate-related variety right now, but, dammit, they’re still mine.
…where my brain has turned to mush
Another reason my sense of self has faded is simply because I regularly feel like I’m losing my mind. It may not seem hard, but staying at home with a toddler is extremely mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing (hence the aforementioned wine and coffee). Chasing after a human being who repeatedly ignores me, throws himself down on questionable surfaces (read: parking lots, sidewalks, mud), and thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to sit in his own excrement is nothing short of exhausting. That’s not even taking into account the newborn who literally feeds off me for hours on end. Plus, kids are inadvertently skilled at the fine art of gaslighting.I like to think it’s the lack of sleep and influx of hormones, but nowadays I’m lucky if I can properly string together enough words to form a decent sentence. In the grocery store yesterday, I found myself garbling verb conjugations to the point where I sounded more like English was my fourth language than my first. I used to fancy myself a valuable trivia partner, but lately I have a hard enough time remembering simple, everyday nouns, like “goggles,” much less when they were first used in the Olympics (answer: 1976). Try as I may to keep up with current events, pop culture, and literature, you’re not going to get much out of me lately unless you’re asking about the verses of “Wheels on the Bus.”
To make matters worse, I’ve taken these diminished language and general knowledge skills to the streets and have become accustomed to narrating my thoughts and actions throughout the day. This is perfectly benign when my toddler is in tow, but it becomes markedly more disturbing when I’m alone and using a sing-song voice to tell no one in particular that I have to go to the bathroom.
It’s hard to feel like you can add much value to a conversation when you’re constantly preoccupied with someone else’s well-being. Luckily I still do a few things that help keep me sharp, like reading and playing board games. Can I tell you about the author’s use of symbolism or the best strategies to win? No, but ask me to tell you the color of the book’s cover or if the board game box had letters on it? Now, that I know.
…where sleep is the world’s most precious commodity
You think you’ll never forget how sleep-deprived you were when your first child was born. Much like the intensity of childbirth, you can hazily recall that it was hard to get through, but you really don’t remember the details. It must be the body’s way of helping us decide to continue populating the earth. Then your second comes and pushes that sleep deprivation right back down your throat. Except this time, you’ll wonder why the hell you ever thought your newborn was hard.
Yeah, newborns wake up at night, but you know the hard part about two? You don’t get to “sleep when the baby is sleeping.” Instead, you are forced to get your weary ass out of bed at the crack of dawn (otherwise known as a toddler’s favorite time to warm up his vocal chords with a most spirited rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”).Then you must entertain said toddler as they Tasmanian Devil their way through the day. I recently Googled “sleep deprivation Geneva Convention” to confirm that it is indeed recognized by the UN as a form of torture. It is often said that children are little sociopaths, and now I have proof.
My response when people ask how I look “refreshed”?
…where nap time is not to be taken for granted
I never realized how vital to my very existence nap time had become until it slowly started to fade away. My toddler has gone about 50% of the last three weeks without a nap at all. Before that, he reliably slept for three hours each day. (Yes, I was spoiled.) Now, every day is a crap-shoot as to whether or not he’ll go down easily, have a theatrical conversation with himself, scream at the top of his lungs, cry his eyes out, or some strange combination of the bunch. No matter how hard I try to follow our same old routine, this enigmatic dance often results in me quite literally ripping out my hair (figuratively were it not for my trichotillomania, but that’s for another day).
To give you a clue how it normally goes down, here’s footage of our typical nap time conversation.
Me:My toddler: Me: Sometimes, if I’m very, very lucky, I can channel my inner wizard to get both kids to nap at the same time. Those moments?
…where I find my zen by whatever means necessary
Other times, the magical nap moments don’t happen and I’m left with the ongoing urge to scream and/or cry.As is quickly becoming the theme of the post, toddlers are hard. They know how to push your buttons; it’s what they do. As such, it’s only natural that you occasionally feel rage. Sometimes it results in yelling. Other times, it results in the desire to shake them so they just. stop. whining. (It’s not talked about much, but everyone I know how has experienced this feeling before. It is normal and doesn’t make you a bad mom so long as you don’t act on it.) Any time I feel this ragey Mom Hulk come out, I immediately feel a guilty pit form in my stomach. Over time, I’ve learned the best thing to do when I feel it coming on is to make sure everyone’s safe before walking away for a minute. Honestly, we both benefit from the space.
Though I’m not really one for meditation, becoming a mother of two has greatly increased my appreciation for silence. You know you’re in a silence deficit when you drive by a cemetery and think, “Wow, I bet it’d be so peaceful to sit in there by myself.” Lately, the most alone time I get is in the bathroom. I have therefore started to sneak away when Papa Bear gets home just to go sit on the toilet by myself with no one touching or talking to me. Soon maybe I’ll figure out how to bring in a cocktail without raising suspicion.
Until recently, I never thought a bathroom could feel like this:
…where TV is the greatest invention known to mankind
I’m the first to admit that we probably watch an unhealthy amount of TV in our house. Before kids, I thought we’d be the type of parents to limit TV to only a few 30-minute shows a week, if at all. Now, I’m pleased if we only watch a few 30-minute shows a day. If you stay home and still don’t watch any TV, then major props to you. I’m not sure how you do it.
At least for me, with a newborn who wakes up all night and a toddler who starts each day at 6:30, I’m just doing what I have to do to survive. Sometimes I muster the energy to read, play with toys, or get a jump-start on breakfast. Other times I turn on the boob tube, sit on the couch, and let my coffee do its magic.
I only casually watch the shows I play for him (typically in desperation to see how much time is left), but I’ve seen enough to become highly critical of some of today’s children’s programming. For instance, why does Daniel Tiger’s mom wear pants when Daniel and his dad don’t? Does Mickey’s Toodles have all that random crap because he’s a closet hoarder? And don’t even get me started on what an asshole Thomas’s friend James is. Luckily for me, my toddler’s attention span is finally long enough to sit and watch an entire feature-length film. Unluckily for me, he wants to watch the same ones repeatedly.
…where the car can become a torture chamber
It’s hard to explain, but if you’re a mom you’ll know what I mean when I say a kid’s cries go straight to his mom’s heart. Kids’ screams send some kind of biological signal that makes a mom’s stress level rise and stomach turn. It’s hard enough with one, but now that I have two children who occasionally sync their wails while I’m driving? Well, let’s just say this is me when we finally get to where we’re going.
…where small accomplishments count
Take a shower? Wash a dish? Work out? Keep your kids alive all day? Get out of the house? Or, *gasp* put on real pants? I’m not gonna lie; if I do any of these on a given day, I try to allow myself to feel like the badass I am.
…where I sometimes just have to accept pandemonium
Patting myself on the back for the little successes is helpful to some degree, but sometimes there’s just so much chaos that there’s no choice but to give in to it. I often think, “This is my life now.” So my toddler watched five hours of TV and ate ketchup and cantaloupe for lunch. So I’m covered in vomit and my kid is drinking water out of the dog bowl. Who cares? It’s times like these where I try to acknowledge that I’m doing the best I can, that we usually have better days, and that there’s nothing more to do than laugh at the outrageousness of the moment. Honestly, these times usually make for the best stories anyway (see oatmeal story above).
…where my family and friends mean the world to me
I would be an absolute basket case, or arguably more of one than I am now, were it not for my friends and family. We’ve had such an outpouring of support in these last few months and I couldn’t be more grateful. To everyone who has reached out, helped us, or shown us love, thank you.
…where the sweet moments make it all worthwhile
The literal blood, sweat, and tears are hard. The increased mom guilt is harder. The sleepless nights, aches and pains, roaring hormonal shifts, occasional questioning of my sanity–all of it is nothing compared to those moments that make my heart melt. There is nothing quite like seeing Big Brother Bear cuddle up next to his baby sister, turn to me, and say, “Mommy, Baby Sister is so cute!” Better still is hearing, “I love you, Mommy.” It’s moments like these that erase all of the crazy ones.
My toddler may be a little nutcase at times, but he is genuinely invested in his sister’s well-being; he loves to rock her, give her kisses, hold her, and tell me when she’s crying. Lately, he’s big on giving everyone hugs and kisses. He is generally laid-back and listens well relative to many toddlers. He’s such a sweet, empathetic, adventurous, carefree, and funny kid, and I feel humbled to know that I’ve at least partly helped shape who he is. Sure, my patience may be tested on a regular basis, but knowing that it’s to help him learn and grow and blossom is more rewarding than anything I’ve ever experienced before. If I can replicate this to even a small degree with my daughter, I will have hit the jackpot.
Having the two of them has taught me that I’m happy to be a means to an end if it means the end is as wonderful as it’s been along the way.
It might be Crazy Town, but at least I’m the mayor.
In many ways, I still feel like I’m 20 years old. Therefore the realization that I am two months shy of 30 with two children often hits me like a ton of bricks. Then I take a look around at our beautifully chaotic existence and realize it’s just the beginning of the rest of our lives. And so far it’s shaping up to be amazing.[Featured image source]