It's hard to believe that a) Ben's been here for two months and b) we've managed to juggle two kids for the last two months! Parenting two little kids is definitely a special challenge! Both Ben and Grace are at an age where they need near constant supervision and assistance, which is stressful at time. But being a second-time parent has made me so much more aware of the passage of time. A year and a half ago, Grace was Ben's size; now, she's more like a little girl than a baby!
I'm determined to enjoy this time with two under two. As @tesschupinsky put it a few days ago, the goal shouldn't be just to survive; we still need to live, be present, and enjoy these moments! I have already admitted that I "rushed through" too many moments in Grace's life, and I don't want to do that anymore.
Honestly, I think this is one of the greatest gifts that parenting two little kids has given me: the desire to be fully present for both of them, but the grace to realize I can't do it all the time. There's two of them, and one of me, so I can't be perfect. But when I can give either child my undivided attention, I do. Fully and deliberately. And those moments are pretty magical.
On the flip side, there are plenty of moments where I am in survival mode. I've given myself permission to be in that state many times throughout the day. When I'm solo, the most stressful part is definitely bedtime. Grace is tired and antsy. She's used to being held and cuddled and carried during bedtime. But it's also RIGHT when Ben's witching hour kicks up, and he just wants to be held. When I'm solo, it's SO hard! I'm just trying to get from point A (finishing dinner) to point B (Grace is in her bed). Everyone cries, and my blood pressure shoots up...but we survive.
I think that's the biggest takeaway I have for parents who are prepping for two under two (or a newborn and a toddler...because it's not like a switch suddenly flips that makes kids easier when they turn 2!). Throw your Pinterest parenting out the window. Life will be chaotic and messy, and it's okay. I'm choosing to focus on doing my best. I fall short of perfect every single day, but my kids still think I'm pretty darn great!
We're still at the point where Grace only has a casual interest in Ben. She loves him, talks about him all the time, yells, "Uh-oh Ben!" when he cries...but to her, he's not very much fun yet. We still have to supervise a lot if they're in close proximity. If he's on his playmat, she'll go up and shake it or try to lay on top of him for a hug, and she also tries to push him on the swing (and yells "WHEE BEN, WHEE!"). Her intentions are great, but execution isn't quite there!
For that reason, I try to keep them somewhat separated. I'll put Ben down for naps in the basinet up on my bed, or wear him in the Baby k'Tan while Grace is loose; if she's napping or eating a meal, he can go on the floor for tummy time or back time. Occasionally, Ben gets shut in the walk-in closet in his Rock and Play because Grace is getting too enthusiastic, but I really only had to resort to that when she was battling Hand, Foot, and Mouth at the end of June. She's slowly getting more gentle, and I think in a few weeks she'll have mellowed out more/he'll be stronger and we'll be in a much better place in terms of interaction.
I'm really lucky that Grace is very vocal and a great communicator, especially for her age. She speaks in 3-5 word sentences, and can tell us what she wants and needs most of the time. She'll even lead us to her room for a nap if she gets tired! On the flip side, Grace is very high-energy. She is ALWAYS moving! I quickly discovered that if I use the 60-90 minute windows when Ben is fed, clean, and sleeping to do high energy activities with Grace (i.e. dance party, run through the sprinkler, make a couch obstacle course, trip to the pool or playground), she's more willing to chill out when he wakes up and needs to be fed.
We're doing a pretty good job getting out and about, and that's something that's very important to me. Most new moms know how isolating the newborn stage can be very isolating. Casey was deployed to Iraq when I had Grace, so if I wanted ANY adult interaction during the day, I had to make it happen! (Even if it was just making smalltalk with the cashier at Target). This time, it's less about interaction -- Grace gives me more than enough of that, thank you. It's a chance for all of us to be in a new setting and get some energy out. Some days, we are a HOT mess. But I'd rather be a hot mess with a fresh cup of Starbucks and a toddler who's sitting on a stool counting the passing trucks than a hot mess at home with a toddler watching Baby Shark for the 6th time that day.
Admittedly, it takes more planning and coordination to get both kids out of the house. I've made stocking my diaper bag a nightly task (diapers and wipes, snacks, a water bottle for me) so I can just grab and go during the day. I try to plan outings after Grace has just finished a meal, because she's usually very content, and use the time she's eating to load the car and get Ben ready. I LOVE my Phil&Ted's stroller and my Joovy Caboose stroller for the kids, and make sure I have one of those in the car at all times! You truly never know when a quick escape is going to save the entire course of your day! We’ve had plenty of moments where both kids are losing it so I just throw them in the car and go somewhere...anywhere. The corner Walgreens works wonders when my toddler needs a change or scenery.
I'm sort of transiting into random practical advice right now, but I'm terrible at transitions. So, here's some practical things I wanted to share, too:
One thing the attending physician on our second NICU team suggested was to have me come into the house FIRST, without Ben, and be with Grace when he came in. As he framed it, it's already a confusing and anxious time for the toddler -- who is used to having mom and dad all to himself/herself. The BEST way to ignite jealousy is to walk into your toddler's "safe place" (the house), carrying and fussing over a new baby. So, that's what we did. I went in and hugged Grace, talked to her a little, and Casey followed about two minutes later with Ben. I think it worked! Grace had two or three jealous outbursts in the first 48 hours, then pretty much settled into a new routine that included Ben. I'm so grateful for that!
Childcare. Moms preparing for baby #2: do yourself a favor, and find a daycare, preschool, or mom's morning out type of deal for your toddler! Since my maternity leave is paid, we didn't hesitate to keep Grace enrolled in full-time daycare (this was also possible because the military subsidizes daycare on-post, so we weren't making a mortgage payment to keep her enrolled). She didn't go for the same long hours (12-13 per day) as she did when I was working, but sending her for 6-8 hours a day is a Godsend! It gives me a break and gets her back in a structured environment, full of kids her own age. Even if your situation only allows you to get a few hours a week, they are SO worth it!
If you don't have a diaper bag backpack, go get one STAT! I got this one from Fisher Price and I LOVE it! I've also heard great things about the Lily Jade line and Fawn Designs, but they're a little more expensive. You’ll want the space, and you’ll want both hands free.
Working out with a kid is hard. With two? Damn near impossible. I'm so grateful for the Glow Body PT 12-Week Post Pregnancy Plan because the workouts are SO quick (15-25 minutes) and still challenging. I'm also using Bulldog Yoga once or twice a week, and at least one of the kids has been with me for almost every run. I'm not able to do as much as I'd normally do during a workout, so I use little 5-ish minute windows throughout the day to do core work & pelvic floor work with my kGoal.
And finally, if you're like me and can't handle the sound of your child crying...be assured that you'll learn to deal with both kids crying at the same time, and you'll learn it fast!