My sons are 20 months apart in age. This means they share the same toys, pals, and interests. It also means they have to share me -- and let's just say it's easier for them to share the balls and the blocks.
An infant demands a parent's time, energy, and willingness to be on call. A toddler demands the same, but he's also mobile and apt to get into mischief. Parenting two under 2 is like trying to hand-feed one crying baby chick while -- out of the corner of your eye -- spying the other one about to topple out of the nest and into danger.
I felt most like that harried mother bird at bedtime. If I put the baby to bed first, my toddler would insist on "helping" by singing the baby a lullaby. Unfortunately, this meant shouting at the pitch and volume of a rock star. When my toddler went to bed first, the baby would squall for attention. If the baby was in the sling, he'd inevitably burp all over his brother when I leaned over for a final good-night kiss. Chaos ensued, and none of us got much sleep.
I'd wonder, during those long, sleepless nights, what we might look like in one of those overhead cartoon shots -- bedroom doors opening and closing, people bustling in and out. First, baby wakes. I head to his room. Crying wakes toddler. Toddler joins us in baby's room. Mom, toddler, and nursing baby return toddler to his room. Mom and baby zip over to nursery, settle baby back in. Hello! Toddler's up again! Over to his room. These nighttime high jinks left me exhausted.
On our first shopping trip as a trio, it rained. I sat in the car, masterminding a plan for navigating the 10 feet to the store. Wear the baby and carry the toddler? Put the baby in the cart and run with the toddler? Grip one child under each arm? Or just go home and send out for pizza every night? Finally, I hopped out, strapped the baby into the front carrier, grabbed an umbrella with one hand and the toddler with the other, and pushed the cart with my elbow. We were halfway there when my toddler veered toward a puddle, the wind wrenched the umbrella inside out, and the baby began shrieking as rain cascaded down his face.
Still, as my sons grew, I began to see benefits. While most first sentences are cheerful and benign, my older son's was "Da baby urped all over." Would he have had such intriguing first words had it not been for his little brother? And there was no need to pack away hand-me-downs -- we just transferred clothing from one dresser to the other.
I was reminded daily that these wondrous baby years are fleeting. Watching my toddler applaud his little brother for rolling over for the first time numbed me -- it was only moments before that my older one was that baby on the rug. Even my younger son's terrible twos weren't as bad -- when he'd stomp his little foot or belt out the staccato "no!" I knew it wasn't going to last forever. One glance at my 3-year-old told me that.
So, two under 2? It was a little crazy and not just a little exhausting. But it was a quick season in our lives, and we've all survived. My sons have shared learning, love, laughter -- and, best of all, me.
Kathleen M. Reilly lives with her family in North Carolina.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2007.