I have high standards – so high that they often exceed the limitations of space and time. No other time has that ever been more apparent than in parenting two children.
Before Little Bird entered the picture, I believed – despite it being impossible – that I could be there for Sprout all the time. When I wasn’t at work, I made every effort to be as present as possible. I limited missing bedtime to once a month, minimized the number of date nights, and rarely traveled for work. I even scheduled my prenatal yoga during his naptime in hopes of missing as little time as possible with him. When I was spending time with Sprout, I did my best to focus on him and him alone. I was determined that if I was going to be gone from 8 AM to 6 PM five days a week I was damn well going to be present the rest of the time.
All of that changed with Little Bird.
Even before he was born, pregnancy complications kept me from being able to pick up Sprout or go for long walks with him. When he arrived, he was physically attached to me nursing for hours a day. I tried my best to spend a little time alone with Sprout every day, but my anxious mind was with the baby.
Now that I’m back at work, my time is even more divided. With pumping, I’m always home late. When I arrive, Little Bird often wants to eat. With my arms and lap occupied, I can still talk to Sprout, but not tickle or play Legos with him. Attempting to be close to me or the baby or both, he hovers and tests limits. Some days he tries to crawl on my shoulders; other days, poke his brother in the head. I hate telling him to back off, but he simply can’t do dangerous things.
Even on weekends, I can never quite focus on one child.
I want to go on Sprout’s time without rushing him. I want to give him freedom and agency. But when his brother is screaming because he hates being in unmoving cars and Sprout is moseying, it’s hard not to just grab him and stick him in his seat.
Similarly, even when I’m in the middle of playing with Sprout, everything in me wants to run when Little Bird starts crying. His cries drill into me, making it hard to breathe if I don’t respond. Chris always moves slower than my arbitrary, impossible standard, so I grit my teeth.
The guilt goes the other way too. Little Bird nurses just before he goes to bed, so I can’t give Sprout his bath like I used to. He usually asks for Chris to do it anyway. As I nurse Little Bird in the dark, I listen to Sprout splashing in the tub and jumping on our bed. I never thought I could miss someone so much who is just in the next room over.
I don’t know how to deal with this split. I frequently yell, “There’s just no winning!” at Chris while throwing up my hands. And I know I’m not the only one. My mother-in-law said that when my sister-in-law was born, she did her best to guarantee that nothing changed for Chris.
I know it will get easier, in time. I can already do more with more with both of them than I could a few months ago. And these little people will grow to be less needy, making more space for both of them.
Before Little Bird was born, I promised Sprout that I would love him just as much as before. And I do, in addition to the deep love I have for his brother. I just wish the number of hours in a day expanded to match the love in my heart.