The Bear and I

Two months after my friend gave birth to her second child, we met up for lunch at a cafe, on a tree-lined street in Redfern. Normally extremely punctual, she arrived a few minutes late, but this was by design. As she approached the cafe, she saw that her baby was beginning to doze, so she took an extra loop around the block to ensure he made it to the land of Nod. A small investment for what she hoped would be a cry-free lunch.

At the time Tom and I were trying for a second baby. Even though Artie was still giving us some hellish nights (and days); even though we bickered constantly about who was more tired; even though every evening we counted down to Artie’s bedtime so we could enjoy our ice cream, wine and screen time in peace, it was still incredibly hard to shake the so-called biological imperative.

Harder to shake still was the image I had of my adult self since childhood: that I would be a mother of two. Most ideally a boy and a girl, just like my brother and myself. And of course there were the everyday reminders – at the playground, at Artie’s daycare, on the street – it seemed as though everyone I knew in our immediate vicinity was pregnant with or already had their second child. It only made sense that we joined their ranks.

“How’s it going?” I asked my friend. She had finally sat down and ordered. The baby was asleep and she, though tired and wearing a milk-stained blouse, seemed somewhat invigorated by this tiny victory.

“It’s been fucking hard.”

She described their recent nights, much like the ones Tom and I experienced early on (and later too) when Artie would not sleep. Except now her baby’s wails would also wake up her older daughter, who had also never been a good sleeper. Sometimes, after being roused by her brother in the middle of the night, the little girl would be awake for an hour or two and want the same level of attention her brother was getting. My friend’s husband would try unsuccessfully to get her back to bed and eventually let her watch TV downstairs while he dozed next to her. Meanwhile upstairs, my friend wrestled with the baby, who would fuss at the breast only to sleep in cruel unpredictable stretches – sometimes an hour, sometimes two, sometimes forty minutes. The end result was an extremely fatigued family of four, one of whom still had to go to work the next day and the other who had to continue contending with an irritable baby.

“I sometimes wonder why we did this to ourselves,” my friend said.

Our food arrived and she smiled gratefully at the young server, who cooed at the sight of the sleeping baby.

“But you know what the hardest thing is?” my friend asked.

Beyond the unending sleep deprivation, I wondered?

“I miss my girl!” she said. “I miss when it was just me and her. Our walks home from childcare, when she’s pointing out all these silly things and we just chat about nothing. I miss reading with her. I miss just sitting and cuddling with her. She’s growing so fast and changing so much but I feel like we’re just surviving. I try to but I just can’t give her the time right now. I feel so spent. But I really do miss her.”

She looked at me. “Oh Betty.”

I was crying. Up until then, I had not considered that part of having a second child: that my relationship with Artie would essentially be changed forever. My affection undiluted, but my attention and patience, the last already in extremely short supply, surely. To expect him to understand and accept this at two and a half, three or even four – whatever the age difference would be whenever we eventually got pregnant – seemed unreasonable.

So much of the time I spent with Artie felt like it was filled with impatient shouting and threats. I dreaded hearing the patter of his little elephant feet in the morning and dragged my own feet to pick him up from daycare.

When my cousin, expecting her first, asked me how much of day-to-day parenting I actually enjoyed, I said with a straight face that it was somewhere around ten percent.

“And six percent of that is when he’s sleeping.”

And yet I still wanted to have a second baby. The gap between the reality of how I parented and the ideal parent I was trying to become had only widened since Artie was a baby, when I could be patient despite intense sleep deprivation because I felt he was a cute blob who couldn’t be reasoned with. But still, every night when my night owl insomniac came alive and sleep hygiene went out the window, I tried to bridge the gap. I constantly read books and articles about parenting, but found little energy and patience to actually implement any of what I’d read. I was – am – constantly, constantly trying to change that.

I wish that hearing my friend lament lost one-on-one time with her daughter immediately snapped me out of my impatient, shouty ways with Artie, but it didn’t. Instead I continued on with my impatient, shouty ways, all the while trying to get pregnant.

After nine months, we did get pregnant. For the first week we were happy, but then Artie brought home a daycare cold to share with us. For a week we felt we barely slept. We practically drowned in our fatigue, and this was with just one kid.

“Oh God,” we thought. “What have we done?”

When I told my friend about the pregnancy, she was ecstatic for me, though still enough in the weeds to warn me: “It’s gonna be shit for the first two months but it’ll get better.”

By then, she had reached a sort of equilibrium with her children. The baby was sleeping longer stretches and her daughter – the occasional jealous outburst aside – was proving to be quite a doting older sister. Though my friend knew better than to take it for granted. However short-term, peace was peace.

“It’s fine for now,” she said. “So we’re just going with it.”

Meanwhile I wasn’t enjoying pregnancy at all, not because I had any terrible hard-to-deal-with symptoms, but because being pregnant is tiring and this time around, with Artie, it meant I had almost no time to just sit and nap and fantasize about what a fantastic mother I’d be. I already knew that I wouldn’t be.

We went back to the States for another long – though not as long as last year – visit and in doing so, un-enrolled Artie from two days of his daycare to save money, only to come back and find that those two days would be incredibly hard to get back (we still haven’t gotten them back and have had to enroll Artie at a way more expensive daycare).

So I found myself three months pregnant with a new job part-time job, just two days of childcare, and overall, feeling even more fatigued and irritable – something I didn’t think was possible.

Much of what Tom and I discussed during this time consisted of complaints and cursing. When people asked if we were feeling ready we said, “Hell no.” When people asked if we were excited we said, “Not really.” When people asked if Artie was excited to be a big brother we said, truthfully, that he mostly told people he was having an older sister, the demographic he seems to get along with best. This poor second baby probably kicks me so much because he can feel the sort of welcome that awaits him.

But since that lunch with my friend, I’ve been thinking about the time Artie and I have left, and more holistically, the time Artie, Tom and I have left as a unit of three. As of this writing it’s about thirty days (I’m due Jan 21st). Long enough to look back and cut both myself and Artie a bit of slack.

It would be unfair to myself to characterize the past year as one in which I’ve spent raging at him, and not to recognize and revisit our many sweet moments tucked in amongst long days. There were plenty of long walks, ice cream breaks, books, and playground visits. It would be unfair to him to say that he hasn’t been, from day one, entirely himself – my first and best and only Artie.

We’ve had our seasons, we’ve had our ups and downs. I’m sure we’ll continue to have them for years to come, but I’m working on the downs not being so down. I am genuinely trying to be a calmer, less angry and more understanding mother. I go a few days without blowing my top, regress, regress, go a few days more. It’s cliché to say, but it’s a process.

I’d never thought I’d read parenting books or listen to parenting podcasts with such voracity, but I do because if left to my own intuition, my intuition is anger.* Sometimes the wild-eyed uncontrollable sort that scares both myself, my husband, and my child. I have shouted at Artie in ways and at such volumes I’ve never used with another adult. It’s partly to do with how I was raised, sure, but you can only blame your parents for so long. I’m thirty-six and, I hope by now, decently self-aware. Whatever comes out of my mouth is on me.

This is all a very long-winded way to say that I’m here not only to acknowledge what’s been hard and aim to improve, but also to remember the good times me and The Bear (as he’s referred to around these parts) have had and will continue to have, perhaps especially, after his brother arrives.

Me and Artie, Artie and me.

*The ones linked are just two of my favorites. At some point I need to give credit where credit is due and link to like twenty different resources. 

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