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Time…

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A good friend had her second child last spring.  When I asked how it was, she told me she was totally in love with her second child; she couldn’t even bear to put her down.  I was doubtful – how could I love anyone as much as I loved Robbie?  How could I ever be more smitten than I was with Robbie?  And then another friend told me the second child was “the one you can enjoy.”  Again, I was doubtful.  Nothing could ever replace the excitement of a first child.  But then Alex was born.

He really is the child I can enjoy.  With Robbie, I was terrified and overwhelmed.  There was grad school, work, and an administrative practicum.  We were a thousand miles from family.  I’d never spent so much time with a baby, and I can remember thinking, at the end of the day, “I did it!  I survived the day!”  Then I was hit with the realization that no parent was coming to relieve me.  “Oh, shit!” I’d think.  “I have to do it all again tomorrow.  And every day for the next eighteen years.”  For some reason, this never occurred to me when I was pregnant.

It’s different with the second child, perhaps because (unless God is laughing as I type this) Alex will be our last.  All of a sudden, I’m not worried about surviving the next day; I’m worried that the days are going to go too fast and I won’t have soaked in all the baby time.  I don’t mind being up in the middle of the night to nurse because it’s only going to happen for a very little while.  I’m trying to breathe in every baby-scented breath I can sneak because, all too soon, he’s going to smell like a sweaty little boy (which is wonderful in it’s own odd way).

Already he’s growing up too fast.  We’ve passed being able to count his age in days, and I’m barely hanging on to how many weeks he is.  Soon, we’ll be into marking his age by months and then years.  Just today I registered Robbie for kindergarten.  I’m so thankful to have so much time between the two of them because, just maybe, it will make the time slow down a little bit.

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Time

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When Robbie was first born, the days seemed interminable.  I would get to the end, proud of myself for surviving, only to realize that no one was coming home to relieve me and that I’d have to do it all again the next day.  And the next.  And the next.  When I communicated this realization to my mom, she imparted some wisdom.  “The days are long,” she told me, “but the years are short.”  I had no idea how right she was.

All of a sudden, with two boys, time seems to be passing twice as fast.  Robbie has gone from a baby to a grown-up little boy over night, even more so since Alex was born.  He has intense conversations, offering insight I’m not even sure I possess.  He does big kids things – skate boarding, playing basketball, walking the dog.  And he drinks tea.  How in the world can I get him to slow down?

With Alex, I have time to enjoy a baby again, time to revel in the things that I forgot or didn’t take the time to truly enjoy.  Even so, I can’t grasp the time; I can’t hold on to him being a baby as much as I would like.  It’s all slipping through my fingers.  Before I realized it, he was to old to say how many days he was; we were onto weeks.  And shortly, I’ll be forced to say how many months he is because I will have lost count of the weeks.

I suppose I’ll just breathe in the baby scent and soak in all the cooing and toothless smiles I can.  Because, my mom was right.

Happy and Healthy

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Ask any expectant parent whether they are hoping for a boy or a girl, and you will probably hear the same stock response: “Oh, we don’t care.  Just so long as it’s happy and healthy.”  I was a little more selfish than that; I wanted happy, healthy, and male.  Both times.

Growing up, I always wanted an older brother.  It just seems like everyone needs an older brother.  Of course, I say this never having had an older brother.  The second time around, I still wanted a boy.  I was getting pretty good at raising a boy, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up my status as the only girl in the house.  Sure, I was a little disappointed when I realized that we weren’t having a girl and that I’d never get to buy hair bows and cute dressed.  But I was even more relieved to realize I’d never have to learn to do hair or deal with spilled nail polish or have my own shoes and clothes stolen out of my closet.

What’s interesting about having two children of the same sex is that everyone assumes you aren’t satisfied.  No sooner had we found out that we were having an Alexander and not an Alexandra, then people began asking when we would try for a third.  It surprised me – no one started asking when we would try for a second while I was pregnant with Robbie.  However, I soon realized the deeper meaning in the question when my response was not what people expected.  The conversations (all of them) went a little something like this:

“So, will you and Justin try for a third right away?”

“No, we’re stopping with just two.  No more room at the house!”

“Oh.”  There was usually a pause here, since no one expected me to say we were done.  “So, you’re not going to try for a girl?”

That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.  I love my two boys, and, from the time I found out I was pregnant with Alex, I felt like our family was complete.  There has never been a need for another child (plus, in all honesty, now that Alex is here, the idea of really being outnumbered sounds terrifying – and expensive!).  It took me awhile to come up with the proper response.  Finally, I found the one that stopped the conversation.

“No.  In fact, we’re not having a third because it might be a girl.”

Conversation.  Over.

Yours, Mine, and Ours

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Justin and I spent four-and-a-half years sharing the responsibility of one child.  It was, for all intents and purposes, easy.  Now?  We’re playing man-to-man.  There is no break, unless one of us decides to take on both children.  And so, without even realizing it, we have divided the boys as a matter of necessity.

Robbie has become Justin’s child, particularly at bedtime, and Alex has become mine.  We divide and conquer almost everything: mornings, meals, car rides, baths.  We just aren’t good enough at two kids to try to take both of them on at once – except, of course, for the fact that Justin starts traveling again tomorrow.

Part of me is jealous of Justin and his time with Robbie, especially at night.  I miss reading books with Robbie and talking about the best part of his day right before he falls asleep. I got a little bit of that tonight.  After Alex was asleep, I noticed that Justin had fallen asleep in Robbie’s room and that Robbie had not.  So, like any good mother, I climbed in bed with the two of them for a little snuggling time with my favorite four-year-old.  

I know we’ll get it figured out with a little more finesse.  Hopefully by tomorrow, when I have my first solo attempt with the kids.  It probably won’t go smoothly, but it’ll happen.  Eventually.

Grumpy Perspective

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I am totally head-over-heels in love with Alex Manna.  I think he is adorable – his cheeks are the most kissable I’ve ever seen and he smells just like a baby should.  He cuddles with me, falling asleep on my chest.  He makes faces that melt my heart – the surprised look when he realizes he’s going to get to eat, the look as he tries to register what he’s seeing.  And he smiles, although probably not at me, right before he falls asleep.

Justin, however, sees a very different baby – The Grump.  He sees the face of an angry old man, a constant scowl.  He focuses on how Alex really is a Manna, preferring to pace and unable to be still for any prolonged period unless he’s asleep.  And maybe he’s a little accurate, but who wouldn’t be a little grumpy after being born?

It has to be hard for Justin, though.  Or for any dad, really.  I spent nine months with this child growing inside me; I knew him before anyone else did. I felt his first movements long before Justin was able to.  Alex was physically attached to me, dependent on me for survival.  And the most Justin could do was put a hand on my belly, hoping to be graced with a kick.

Even now, three-and-a-half weeks later, I am still the most important person in Alex’s world: I provide the food.  Sure, Justin gives Alex bottles of pumped milk and changes diapers and gives baths and paces the floor to keep him happy between naps.  But it’s not the same – there are no googlie eyes for Justin like there are for me.  Alex doesn’t get excited to see Justin because, well, Justin has nothing to offer him.  Yet.

There is going to come a time when Justin is Alex’s hero, when he is the fun one.  For now, though, I’m going to relish my sweet baby and my opportunity to be his most important person.

Project 2014

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Almost 24 hours into the new year, the clean slate we’ve all been waiting for.  A chance to change ourselves – even if most of us forget what we actually wanted to change sometime in mid-February or, if we’re really lucky, late March.  Sure, there are things I’d like to do.  Lose weight (half of the baby weight is gone but the rest is not going to lose itself).  Be more organized.  Stay on top of the laundry.  But is any of that really going to change who I am?  Maybe I simply need to look to my children to see what it is that I really need to change about myself.

Let every morning be a fresh start.  I mess up.  Every single day.  I yell at Robbie when I really shouldn’t have (like maybe when he sticks my pearl necklace down the barrel of his Nerf gun, even when I’ve asked him three times to please stop but can’t get up because I’m nursing Alex and it’s really just too much to handle at the moment).  Or I forget to make him the hot tea I promised to make for him to drink during story time – even though it really just sits on his dresser and is never touched.  Or I couldn’t get his shoes tight enough or made him wear long sleeves or told him he absolutely, positively had to sleep in his bed.  He doesn’t always react well to these things.  Sure, sometimes he tells me it’s OK because we all make mistakes.  But, more often than not, he cries right along with me when I realize I’ve been too harsh and hurt his feelings or yells because I’m just not being fair.  In the morning, though, all is forgiven and forgotten (if we’re being honest, it’s usually taken care of by bedtime).  I’m back to being his “best mom”, worthy of hugs and an extra kiss before he hops in the car to go to school.  It doesn’t matter how badly I messed up the day before; Robbie gives me a whole new opportunity to be the best mom I can be.  If he can do that, why can’t I?

Playing is fun.  We have work.  And family.  And a house to clean.  Where in the world is there time to have fun?  Everywhere.  Being off work for the past three weeks – and spending two of them with a four-and-a-half-year-old at home – I’ve had to do some serious looking for the fun.  It’s making cookies, even when there’s no special occasion.  Or racing from one corner to the next in an effort to actually complete a two-mile run with a small child.  Some days, the laundry can wait.  Dinner doesn’t have to be spectacular – especially if you’re making it together.  It’s OK if the house is a mess.  Robbie and Alex aren’t going to remember that they had to wear the same socks two days in a row because you took an hour to go to the playground instead of doing laundry (that’s actually a true story – don’t judge; their feet don’t smell too horrible at this age).

Naps are good.  This kind of follows the previous paragraph.  Cuddling up with a sleeping baby, relishing that you can take a nap while the rest of the world is at work (which, by the way, is exactly what I plan to do tomorrow when everyone goes back to school) is empowering.  OK, maybe not empowering, but it sure does make you feel awesome.  Leave the dishes in the sink, slide under the covers, close your eyes, and enjoy the moments of nothing.

Listening is important – even more important than talking.  Robbie talks.  A lot.  About everything that passes through his brain.  I don’t always follow it.  In fact, there are times that I really want to tune it all out, but I can’t because he expects me to respond to what he’s saying.  We’ve done a lot of walking in the past week – close to ten miles, which is a lot of time for talking.  Robbie has showed me all the houses where his imaginary friend, Jack’s, family lives.  We’ve talked about what living organisms have brains (trees don’t), which led to commentary on Robbie’s brain deciding to order pizza.  We’ve looked at cloud shapes and held hands.  It’s the little things that I would miss if I didn’t listen carefully.  How much do we miss around us because we are too busy on our cell phones or thinking about everything else we have to do?  Slow down – it’ll be OK if you don’t respond to that text for the next five minutes.

Hugs fix a lot of things.  It’s true.  They just do.  Skinned knees, hurt feelings, bad dreams.  This applies in real life, too.  Don’t be afraid to give a hug to someone who needs one – or to ask for one when it’s really just too much to take.

People are good and really just want to be friends.  People hurt Robbie’s feelings (and I’m pretty sure he hurts theirs, too), but he’s always the first to remind me that they are his friends.  Tonight, he told me that most people are on Santa’s nice list – only bad guys (like witches, ghosts, and zombies) are on the naughty list.  It’s easy to forget – everyone is a person, with a heart.  Treat people that way.  Assume they are on the nice list.

Will I remember all of this every day?  Absolutely not.  But that’s OK, as long as I remember the first rule of 2014 and start every morning fresh.  The rest will fall into place.

Hitting the Slopes

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For the past few months, Robbie has constantly talked about snowboarding and how awesome it is.  We’ve been making a big deal about Robbie being a big kid, hoping to stave off any jealousy about Alex being the baby.  Today, it was time for Robbie to figure out how awesome snowboarding really was – even though he would be on skis.  Justin bravely decided to take Robbie to Perfect North to see what skiing was all about.

I’ll be honest, neither one of us really expected this to go well.  I figured Robbie would get intimidated once he had his skis on and cry when Justin took him to his lesson.  Justin figured there would be an epic meltdown before they even got outside.  We were both wrong.  Robbie may be a better skier than Justin – he’s definitely a better skier than me.

All I have to go on are the pictures and videos Justin brought home, but it looked pretty awesome.  There he was, skiing!  And without any poles, his arms up for balance.  I was sure Robbie was being pulled around by some string, but he was doing it on his own.  Robbie came home, excited to tell me how awesome he was and that he was faster than Justin.

I love that we were both wrong, that we have a son who is able to try something new without being intimidated – something I struggle with.  And I love that he was good at it, that he and Justin can develop this hobby together.

Life With Two

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I’m not sure what I expected it to be or if, in all honesty, I had really thought the whole idea through.  This whole idea of two children.  Did I expect it to be easy?  For Alex to seamlessly fit into our lives?  Or did I think it would be more difficult than when we had Robbie?  That nothing would ever be the same again?  Three weeks in, I’m not sure there’s a clear cut answer.  It’s a little bit of everything – wonderful and sad and chaotic and strangely peaceful.

There is nothing more incredible than watching my two boys together, seeing the excitement in Robbie’s eyes when he comes barreling through the door after a day at school.  It’s a different side of him, and it almost reminds me of the new type of love I felt for Justin when he became a father.  Robbie has so embraced being a big brother that it is who he is.  He makes every decision based on his little brother.  I offer to take him on a run, and he wants to know if his little brother can go.  Alex is crying and Robbie drops what he’s doing to find a pacifier and calm Alex.  It’s been amazing to see Robbie stop being so self-centered (as any four-year-old is) and really focus on another person.

But, with all of that, there’s a certain amount of sadness.  I find myself being short with Robbie, sometimes through no real fault of his own.  Did I sound a little too harsh when he was playing with a necklace I’d asked him to put away three times?  Yes.  Do I feel like I’m always telling him no?  Or to slow down?  Or to be careful?  Absolutely.  And it kills me.  I try so hard to not make that the only thing I say – much like I tried so hard to stop telling him that we were always going to be late – and to apologize when I over-react.

Trying to get out of the house?  With two kids?  By myself?  Utter chaos.  Last Thursday, I had to get both kids to the doctor by 11:30.  Two of us needed to be showered.  All three of us needed to be fed (Robbie wound up having marshmallows for breakfast).  Alex was crying in his swing while I chased a naked Robbie around the house, trying to convince him that he couldn’t go out in shorts and a t-shirt.  Then, twenty minutes before the appointment, and while I was still not fully dressed, Alex needed to nurse.  Miraculously, we were only five minutes late, despite all the chaos.

And then those moments of peace.  Early this morning, while I was feeding Alex, Robbie climbed into bed with me, cuddling on the other side of his brother.  We laid there, in the quiet darkness before the sun came up, and talked about everything that popped into Robbie’s mind.  In fact, Robbie will sometimes wake up in the middle of the night when Alex cries and come sit with me while I nurse Alex.  When I tell him he really doesn’t have to sit up with me, Robbie replies, “No, I think I’ll stay up with you.  I like getting to talk to you like this.”  And, just like that, I know that, whether I knew what I was getting into or not, we made the right decision.

Iguanas and Bears and Allergies, Oh My!

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Last Monday, Robbie’s face started to look a little red.  Nothing major at first, something that could have easily been ignored.  Until the red exploded all over his face.  Trying to figure out what could have caused it, I went to the source, sure that my four-and-a-half-year-old could shed some light.  Maybe he hit his face on the counter or burned it on the rug doing some strange gymnastics.

“Rob, what happened to your face, buddy?” I asked, kneeling down in front of him to get a better look at the red rash that was creeping up and down both sides of his face.

“Umm…  An iguana itched me on this side,” he explained, pointing to the left side of his face.  “And then a bear bit me on this side.”

It was all I could do to keep a straight face, he looked so earnest and, well, sad about it.  “I was playing in the woods, and the iguana came down and itched me.  Then I kept walking, and a bear got me.  It bit me on the face, and it hurts.”

Fortunately, my mom had some special ointment for me to use.  Most people know it as hydrocortisone cream.  It also doubles as iguana scratch and bear bite medicine.

I’ll give him this; Robbie knows how to stick to his story.  By the time we had gone to the Little Clinic at Kroger (they were closed, by the way, sending me on my way with the advice to give him Benadryl, which does nothing by hype my child up) and woken up on Christmas Eve to find the rash even worse than the previous night, I almost believed the iguana and bear attack story.  However, on the off chance that it was more than exotic wildlife attacking my child while he roamed the woods (where in the world he had that experience is beyond me, but if I find out, we won’t be going there because apparently the animals are very dangerous), we decided to go to the doctor.

Our family doctor walked into the exam room, expecting to see some sort of an allergic reaction.  When he asked Robbie what happened, Robbie gave the same story.  Fortunately, our doctor rolls with the punches pretty well and never contradicted Robbie’s claims.  However, on the off-chance that it was an allergic reaction to something, he prescribed some steroids.  Amazingly, between the iguana scratch/bear bite medicine and steroids, everything cleared up.

Brothers

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Robbie has been waiting for Alex to be born for about 30 weeks – and eternity to any four-year-old.  He’s planned Alex’s nursery and made detailed lists in his head about everything he would teach his little brother.We talked about Alex, and Robbie kissed my belly every night.  But, when it came down to it, I wasn’t sure what would happen when it came time for Robbie to actually meet his little brother.

Rob tends to get shy during important moments, hiding behind my back, especially if there are people around.  I set my expectations of a perfect brother introduction fairly low.  There is only one time in your life when you will meet your baby brother for the first time, and, as much as I wanted it to be perfect, hoping that it would be would only set me up for disappointment.  The labor and delivery nurse suggested having Alex in the bassinet, so Robbie could spend a little time with me first.

We didn’t know exactly when Robbie was coming, so there was no time to get Alex into the bassinet.  Instead, my sister was holding him.  I happened to be up when Robbie came through the door, laden with flowers and Cheetos.  I crouched down for a hug, ready to hold my first-born and prepare him to meet his brother.  Robbie shoved the flowers into my hand, skirted around me, and made a beeline for his baby brother.

“Alex!  It’s me!  Your big brother!” he exclaimed and he peered into Alex’s face.  All worries of a not-so-perfect introduction vanished.  Robbie knew what was going on, and he was ready to be a big brother.

I asked if he wanted to hold Alex, and Robbie smiled and ran to the big chair to sit down.  The look on his face, the pride and joy, and he looked at his baby brother was nothing I could have expected.  He beamed, making sure to carefully hold Alex.  Eventually, we moved to my bed, where the three of us sat together for the first time.  My two boys and me.  It was a little surreal, having my arm around Robbie as he held on to Alex and looked at him with the biggest eyes I’ve ever seen.

It was hard for Robbie to leave – and hard for us to watch him go.  He sobbed, begging to stay and promising to help with Alex.  I can’t wait to get home and have everyone together.  It helps knowing he’s in good hands with Nona, Pops, and Aunt Hilary, but it’s not the same as all of us being together.