In the 7 weeks since Baby Sis was born, our family has undergone a series of transitions. Some changes are obvious, while others are more subtle. G and I went from focusing all our attention on one child to having two children to care for (and worry about); N transitioned from being an only child to being a big sister; and Baby Sis has grown from a helpless newborn into a nearly two-month-old baby who can smile, coo, and even bat at toys.
It’s hard to say which transition is the most significant. Adding a whole new person to one’s family is a big deal, in a number of ways. So far, I think we’re coping with all the changes pretty well, but of course we’re still figuring things out.
Our first challenge was learning to manage our family’s “evening rush” — i.e., the time from 5pm-9pm, when everything seems to happen all at once. Every evening I’m fixing dinner first for N, then for us (many nights we eat separately because G doesn’t arrive home until 7pm). Then I’m breastfeeding Baby Sis while coaxing N to eat her supper (which requires near-constant supervision and nagging). Finally we head upstairs for N’s bath and bedtime, which we just moved a half-hour earlier to 7:30pm. The new bedtime helps N get a little more sleep, and it gives us a little more adult time in the evenings (at least, when things go according to plan).
G usually arrives home in the nick of time, at the moment when I’m about to change like the Incredible Hulk from Nice, Patient Mom into Tired, Cranky, Shouting Mom. He jumps right into the fray and takes over the duties for one kiddo. However, with two kids, we’re now evenly matched. When it was just N and one of us was exhausted, the other could take over and give the tired one a break. Not so with two little ones — there’s one parent for each child.
Of course, as parents, we have only one piece of our family’s transition. N has been going through a profound shift as well, becoming a big sister.
Ever since day one, N has been terrific with Baby Sis. She was SO excited to meet her baby sister in the hospital — more excited than we’ve ever seen her about anything. She brought Baby Sis a little bag of toys and wore her “Big Sister” t-shirt. The sister bond was evident immediately when N hugged the baby gently and giggled over her tiny hands and feet. At home, N loves taking care of the baby, helping to change her diapers and sing her songs (usually along the lines of “Ba-ab-y, don’t cry, mama is coming to fe-ee-ed you. You are the cu-u-utest little baby in the wo-or-rld!”). When we’re out and about and people comment on the baby, N pipes up proudly, “I’m the big sister!”
But it’s still a transition, and we’ve noticed N being more clingy with us in certain ways. One day when I picked N up from preschool, I was having a conversation with another mom. I said hello to N but apparently I didn’t sufficiently show her how glad I was to see her. N immediately got very grumpy that I continued my mom-conversation and stayed mad at me on the way home — until I figured out the problem. “Honey, I am always so very glad to see you, even if I am busy talking to someone else,” I said. We had a little discussion about patience, then I asked — “How would you like me to show you how much I missed you?”
N promptly responded, “Go crazy!!”
For her part, Baby Sis has been great. She has big bright eyes, which she uses to intently study the world around her. She is quick to smile when she sees a friendly face, and she coos quite purposefully, as if she knows exactly what she is trying to communicate. She’s pretty chill, and her love for observation comes in handy when she is relaxing in her bouncy seat while I’m working in the kitchen.
So, gradually, we’re getting used to being a family of four. But there is another transition that we’re experiencing as well: I’m taking an extended maternity leave from work. I plan to do some projects from home beginning this fall, but my work will be more limited than it has been in the past. The change has already done wonders for our family’s schedule — I’m able to drop off and pick up N from preschool, do errands with Baby Sis during the day, do after-school activities with N, make dinner and help N get to bed on time — simple daily things that have improved our family’s quality of life.
Now that I’m spending more time with N and we’ve established a good routine, I feel like we’re more on the same wavelength than ever before. We understand each other better than we did when our time together was more limited — thus we’re better at smoothing out our misunderstandings and nipping tantrums in the bud. This has improved our relationship, which is more precious to me than words can say.
Of course, I love spending time during the day with Baby Sis and keeping our home — though I have noticed an increased sense of pressure about how I “ought” to be managing our family’s schedule. Now that we have more time together, I find myself wondering whether we’re spending that time as productively as we could. Am I doing enough educational activities with N and Baby Sis? Am I encouraging enough outdoor physical activity? Are we watching too much TV? Should we be going to the library more often? I’m not as confident as I’d like to be in terms of how we are spending our time.
I have a feeling that our family’s transition isn’t done yet, and that we have more things to figure out. Actually, once we’ve settled into being a family of four, we’ll probably encounter some new transition. I’m starting to think that managing change is what being a parent is all about…