My second child, my second daughter, turns two today.
My first, the oldest, is an eight-year-old that acts like she’s 14, and since there is such a large gap between number one and number two – for a very, very, very, very good reason – the past two years have been a refresher course in infant and toddler life.
I’m a much better parent now, thanks to eight years of living it. I didn’t have much experience with children before I had my own, so much of it was new to me the first time. It’s not that I completely forgot about bottles and bibs, messy diapers, and frantic searches for pacifiers in the middle of the night, but remembering them and actually living them again are totally different experiences.
I remembered how much my first child loved to stand on me, and push and press her arms and legs against my torso, but I forgot the sharp pain that occurs when the younger one is standing on my thighs and rocking back and forth. Similarly, I remembered doing middle-of-the-night feedings, but the memory doesn’t make it any easier to pull yourself out of a warm bed at 3:30 a.m. and it doesn’t help you fall back asleep after being awakened by a strong kick to the face by a tiny foot. Although she’s just now turning two, the “terrible two” behavior has already started and I try to remember it’s just a phase when she stands in the middle of the kitchen, crying at max volume for long stretches of time for seemingly no reason.
My brother likes to joke that once kids outnumber the parents, the adults must switch their defense from a man-to-man to a zone, but the opposite is also true. When there are two parents and one child, you can double-team the kid like she’s James Harden, and there is no one else on offense to help. Until they even the odds.
It has also been a lesson for me on the differences between children and the ways they learn and grow depending on the environment around them. My firstborn was able to create her childhood world inasmuch as the toys were solely hers, the play area was solely hers, and the TV, when it was time to watch kids shows, was solely hers. Now, her sister is entering this already-existing world, much of it not meant for her age. It’s like a first grader being dropped in a middle school. She watches her shows like Peppa Pig and Masha and the Bear, but she has to share with her sister. At the same time, she has access to toys and games that are meant for older kids and she reacts like any child of her age does: by banging and swinging and throwing things.
That’s something I constantly have to remind myself when she’s dumping out the bag of blocks I just put away, rips the DVDs from the shelf, hangs from the staircase railing, or climbs on the coffee table and begins babbling and waving her arms like Mussolini on the balcony. She’s exploring the world and her place within it. It’s not fair to her to expect anything more because I got used to having a self-sufficient older child that can give herself a bath, clean her room, and set the table.
My two-year-old is right on schedule for a two-year-old. She says words here and there, although she still yells gibberish most of the time, but she can understand a great deal – like every other parent in the world, I think my child is so smart – and even knows where certain food items are located even if she cannot articulate it. That lack of communication does cause frustration for both of us, and I have to remind myself that it’s unfair to her to have less patience than I did with her sister at the same age simply because there are now two of them that need food, love, and attention. She was ten pounds, seven ounces at birth and continues to literally be off the charts, so she has the appetite of a teenage boy. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to hungry, ravenous even, and unable to express that feeling. That’s a level beyond hangry.
I am constantly checking myself to be as fair and kind and fun to my young one as I was to her sister. There was a period when I lost that thought, when everything was about checking items off the daily to-do list – dishes; laundry; cutting grass; whatever – and not actually living in the moment. I was the youngest of three, so I know firsthand what it’s like to feel like all of the attention has been used on your siblings or the pressure you feel to act older because people get frustrated with having to still deal with a small child. I have vowed to myself not to do the same to my daughter.
While it’s been interesting to see how the young one approaches the world, it’s equally as fascinating to watch how our older daughter handles this intrusion into her orbit. For over six years, she was the only one. She really wanted a younger sister (not brother) and was overjoyed when one arrived but, as is expected, there was some difficulty transitioning to this new era, particularly at the beginning when so much attention – particularly from visitors – was focused on the baby.
However, she worked through it and, for the vast majority of the time, she’s a wonderful big sister. She loves to pick out her sister’s outfits. She tries to incorporate her into her games as much as she can. She loves getting those awkward toddler squeeze hugs. She’s even changed her diaper a few times. There is the occasional scream of exasperation when the toddler kicks over her Barbies like Godzilla or ransacks her bedroom like the DEA raiding a trap house, but those are the rare exception rather than the rule.
Speaking of rules, another thing our second child did was force us to break our own. My wife was extremely disciplined with our first child, keeping a scheduled for naptime, bedtime, and meals. And she rarely came into our bed. All of that went out the window this time, not because we didn’t try, but because this one was different and needed to be parented differently. The plans and rules no longer applied.
I’ve always been interested in the differences between siblings. Although they were created with the exact same ingredients, they’re not the same. They are two totally different people. Hell, identical twins aren’t even the same.
My oldest loves to sleep. She wakes up early, but she has no problem adhering to a bedtime. Even when we’re at someone else’s home and she’s allowed to stay up, oftentimes she’ll pull an Irish goodbye, find a dark bedroom, and go to sleep. That’s how she’s always been. When she was younger, every night after dinner she would settle down and cuddle under a blanket with one or both parents and watch TV until it was time to pack it in for the night.
The younger one, meanwhile, tries her damndest to stay up all night. She has an incredible amount of energy, even by toddler standards. We’ll try to sit and cuddle with her or rock her to sleep, but she prefers to push off us and wander around in a daze until her battery reaches zero. As I type this, she is fast asleep at my feet on the living room floor, arms and legs spread wide. She looks the way I did my first weekend at college.
Even their appearances vary. They have many of the same mannerisms and facial expressions, but they also have major differences. My oldest is a miniature version of my wife – brown hair and eye color, Hispanic complexion – while the youngest has lighter skin and hazel eyes like myself. Let’s hope she’s a much more attractive version of me.
So while this may be our second time around, it’s not a rerun but or a sequel but more akin to a reboot. And despite the myriad challenges associated with going back to the beginning and starting over, a benefit to having such a large gap between child number one and number two is that we get to experience it all – the good and the bad – all over again like it’s the first time.
Christopher Pierznik is a nine-time worst-selling author. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.