A couple of months ago I read a very interesting article about how some people, the more cynical amongst us, could benefit from the very opposite of positive thinking – replacing that tried and tested ‘everything will be wonderful’ mantra with a more, ‘well, the worst that could happen is this..’ kind of musing. The idea was that instead of setting yourself ridiculously high expectations which inevitably ended up not working out as perfectly as you imagined, or as quickly, you would aim for pretty easy and achievable things. Achieving them makes you feel so accomplished and successful that you are then able to go much farther than you’d anticipated.
A bit of a cheap trick, but one that works well for me. Howard made this poster once because of my tendency to imagine the worst:
But the good thing about imagining the worst is that it is never as bad as I think it will be, and then I get to feel relieved, happy and maybe even pretty successful too.
Such was the way when I imagined how challenging it might be to have two. Particularly when it came to being on my own with two all day long. I imagined some pretty terrible and unlikely scenarios. I told myself that it would be okay to feel like a miserable failure because everyone had told me how difficult the leap from one to two is. Much more than going from two to three, or three to four (Once you’re outnumbered etc)
Since it’s only been two and half weeks, I’m clearly no expert on having two, but it has been mostly great so far, and the challenging moments have been a lot less catastrophic than the ones I had envisioned.
When Howard was off work, the four of us found an easy enough rhythm. Usually one adult to one child. Ava got to play a lot with Daddy whilst I gave myself some time to rest in bed, nursing and snuggling Ezra. Sometimes it would be the four of us together, reading or playing. It was blissful.
And when Howard went back to work I told myself that even if Ava watched back to back films throughout the day, if I could just get through it without forgetting to feed one or forgetting to do something essential to their well-being, I’d be okay. Pretty low expectations. So I felt very pleased with myself when we had a lovely first day, just the three of us. No films at all. A lot of reading, some drawing, a lot of time in the garden and some in-bed snuggling.
It’s the small things that count. After I had Ava I felt like my world had zoomed in on itself and small tasks became things to prepare for and plan. Rhythms, routines were needed. With two it has zoomed in even more. It took us an hour and a half to get myself, Ava and Ezra dressed on Thursday morning. A large nappy explosion (with comically timed projectile poo and then projectile wee) and a nursing session interrupting my attempts to dress.
I managed to do the dishes and bake a lasagana during that first day, whilst Ezra napped in the sling. That felt huge, and it makes me smile to think of how accomplished I felt achieving such tasks when, pre Ava and Ezra, those kinds of things wouldn’t have even registered in my daily life.
In part, I think my love of all things domestic means that I don’t feel as frustrated as some people would at these kinds of ‘achievements’. I like home life. Home life is our whole life. As unschoolers our home is at the centre of everything we do, so I feel like there is significance in paying attention to such tasks. It’s the reason we put so much time and energy into making our home environment as pleasant to be in as possible.
It’s also an exercise in being mindful. If you can get joy out of doing dishes with a sleeping baby on you, then I guess having two kids with you all day isn’t such a daunting and terrifying thought. Most of the time.
Rereading parts of ‘Buddhism for Mothers’ at this time has reminded me how much more pleasant a day is, these long and often tiring days, when you can pay attention and find joy in the smallest of tasks. And if you’re going to be at home or anywhere with children of multiple ages, I think that this might be the saving grace – the answer to how not to go stir crazy, or feel overwhelmed.
Last night, Howard was reading to Ava in her room and she fell asleep. Usually she needs Mama snuggles and some songs, not to mention her (our) bed to go to sleep. I was nursing Ezra in ours, who also appeared to be sleeping. We were texting each other from one room to the next. Howard said, ‘Nice work Mama’. And then all hell broke loose. Ava woke up as Howard attempted to move her from her room to her bed in our room. I went downstairs with Ezra who had also woken up and was now crying because there was no longer a nipple in his mouth.
Ava then got more upset, because I had left, and I could hear her getting more and more hysterical upstairs. So I had to go back up, comfort her whilst Howard bounced Ezra around with enough vigour to allay his cries for more milk. That was the first time we had two crying children on our hands. And it was not easy.
But you find a way to make it work, which is just what parenting is. Even when you don’t know how, you just do. There’s no time to second-guess, or contemplate options. And even though the result is never perfect, and often you look back and think of how you might have done it better, or just differently, doing it with your best intentions, with as much mindfulness and consideration as you can, is enough to make you feel some amount of satisfaction.
I thought that I might find it hard to love another person as much as I love Ava. I wondered how your heart coped, being split in two. But it’s different to that, and I couldn’t have known before, with only Ava. The heart is a muscle, after all. The more it’s used, the better it becomes.
There is just so much more love now. Not just for Ezra, who I adore, achingly, completely and wholly, but for Ava too. I miss her. There are bittersweet moments when, next to Ezra, she seems so beyond her baby-ness, so grown up. (Actually she seems like a teenager – huge, massive, gigantic, at times).
Ezra seems like an obvious part to the picture, just one we hadn’t seen before. He has always been around, surely. He’s so whole a person, so unique already, that it is hard to subtract him from our life and remember when it was just Ava. Even Ava seems to have adapted easily. She spent so much time talking about Ezra before he had arrived that now she seems to have accepted his presence without any confusion.
She actively adores him. Poor Ezra is lovingly manhandled constantly, and Ava seems to be enjoying the feeling of being the bigger one, the ‘big girl’ now he is here. The toughest thing for all of us are the moments when it is impossible to do everything that everyone needs at once. Sometimes in bed, Ava wants to cuddle up, but if I am nursing Ezra I can’t do more than put an arm around her, over Ezra, or stroke her hair. She sometimes gets sad at such moments, as do I, but unlike me (who by this time is wallowing knee high in melancholy waters, imagining how awful this all must be for her) she also seems to accept and understand the situation too. She rolls over , takes my hand and falls back asleep. This is how it is now, and she accepts it with much more ease and grace than either of us do.
We spend a lot of time giving her as much love and as much affection as she’ll let us, and maybe she feels we are doing our best. I suspect often she is pretty wise and old beyond her years, and a great deal more in tune with what’s going on than I expect her to be.
It has been a good transition all round. So good I still want more, still dream of having five (or six, or seven). We are still trying to figure out so much, and I know there will be challenging days, and moments within those days, but I am doing my best to take everything slowly, one day at a time. I am appreciating the pace this time, excusing myself if I don’t make it out of my pyjamas or out beyond the garden at this time. I have two (two!) children to snuggle, and be thankful for. Everything else can wait.