Thora's last days of being an only child are somewhat bittersweet. As I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new baby, I try to involve her in becoming a big sister whenever I have the opportunity. However, I am having many moments that make me somewhat sad. Like bath time. Thora was in a tub full of bubblebath playing with the suds and both Johnny and I were in the bathroom too. He was blowing bubbles for her and I was singing our bubble blowing songs. She stood up and held out her arms and squealed with delight at the bubbles that filled the air like snowflakes in a blizzard. Every time I finished the song she shouted "Again!" with glee and I complied. I was weepy with love for this amazing and happy kid and she clearly reveled, as she does regularly, in having her Mama's and her Daddy's undivided attention.
After bath time, she ran around the house yelling like a banshee, butt naked and so, so happy. She ran from me to her daddy and back and giggled the whole time. I laughed with her because it was so darn cute. And then I was weepy because this is all about to change. Bath time will not ever be the same. Playtime will never be the same. Nothing will be the same.
I know siblings are wonderful and that most people have them. I know Thora will not remember being an only child. I know she will not be any less cute or less loved because we are a family of four instead of three. I know and believe all of these things, and on top of that I also believe that she will be better socialized and that having a sister will mean having yet another kind of love and family bond, one that I did not experience growing up. All good things. Yet I can't help but worry that the adjustment will be hard. Will it be harder for her, or for me?
What kind of parent of two will I become? Will I be less attentive with each one? Less focused? Will I celebrate their firsts with less enthusiasm? Will I care as much about Newbee's first words and her first steps as I did Thora's? Will my ability to focus on each child as an individual grow as my love for them grows? I hope that I will want to chase Newbee around with a video camera to capture every cute thing as I did and do for Thora. Will I have as much time to celebrate Thora's development with a baby in my arms? Now I notice everything: improvements in pronunciation, new words, new motor skills, developing awareness of self and the ability to express it (ie when she is pooping or when she is hungry, scared, tired, etc). Will I notice new things when I am sleep deprived and worried about a newborn? Will Thora be expected to help more and play less? Will Newbee suffer from "second child syndrome"? This is probably not always a bad thing, right? I worried far too much about how fast Thora got her teeth and when she started to crawl and walk and talk. This one will go at her own pace and I won't be comparing "grades" of head circumference or how fast she's gaining weight. But will she be left alone more and be held less? Will she cry more because I can't hold her, wear her, nurse her nonstop for the first six months of her life as I did Thora? Will she have to fend for herself more? Will we have to succumb to babysitters, nannies or daycare because we can't do it all ourselves anymore?
These days I think a lot about how much my life changed when Thora was born and I wonder what's in store for us this time. When I had Thora, I had no idea how drastically I would change. Having a newborn really isn't that hard. They sleep and eat nonstop for so many months that I sometimes look back and wonder what the fuss was all about. It's the way it totally resets your life that is the hard part. I've heard that having children is the most selfless thing you can do. For the past nineteen months I have thought about this over and over. My daughter does not make me feel selfless. My daughter validates me. While I have many wonderful things in my life, my daughter is what makes me spring out of bed even when I'm exhausted. It's her smiling face I see when I am angry, sad, stressed. I hear her voice calling "Mama!" and I am rejuvenated. I might be anxious to get her to bed some evenings because I am tired and need to do other things, but ten minutes after she's asleep I find myself watching our YouTube videos or rereading old blog entries again and again because I miss her. That's not selfless, that is totally self-indulgent.
But now I think I understand what they mean. In the short time I have been a parent, I have also become the sole financial supporter of my family, a homeowner, a car owner, a sister, and a vice president. My husband has taken on a great deal as well. I don't think either of us could have been asked to take on more responsibilities in the past two years than we have. Three years ago I saw friends every night after work. I had dinner parties. I went clubbing. I slept late. I spent hours IMing with my closest pals. I took long walks. Went to the gym. Went on dates, like, to restaurants and movies, with Johnny. I read fiction! Johnny was in a band, he went to shows and clubs, he spent hours playing video games. He hung out with friends until all hours, drank more than two beers without falling asleep, and had time to court me.
Now we have basically two things in our lives: family and work.
I know lots of people have done this before us and lots of people will do it after us, but you know what? This is a lot. I am a total overachiever who hates to say no to anything, but I freely admit it: I am in as deep as I've ever been. I just can't stretch myself any more thinly than I already have. And this is with giving up nearly everything I used to do. I used to be the friend who called or emailed or texted back right away, the one who was always awake and around and up for doing something. I always had friends at my apartment. I had five animals that got the very best care. I had time for everything I wanted to have time for, and I made time for a whole lot more.
Now Facebook is the extent of my social life. It's great to have an easy way to follow my friends' lives. I'm lucky if I can get emails out regularly. I've stopped apologizing for my horrible correspondence rate - that gets old after a while. I am so grateful to my friends both new and old who have stuck with me, and I totally understand why other friends have not. It's hard to be friends with someone who doesn't email back, can never accept invitations because they interfere with bedtime, who can't take days off from work or stay up past 11 pm. I'm boring and I can't be there for people the way I once could. I know I have hurt people inadvertently by not being the devoted friend I used to have time to be. Truthfully, I am not sure I'd want to be friends with me either. When I do manage to see my friends in person, which is extremely rare and has to be scheduled way in advance, I worry that I won't have anything to say that isn't about potty training or breastfeeding or pregnancy. And who was more surprised than I was that my decision regarding the animals was to rehome two of them? I still can't believe the person who found homes for the parrots was me, the dedicated bird-lover. I'd always been the type to scoff at new parents or new homeowners who "got rid" of their pets. But then I did it. And while I think about that decision often, I have no regrets because I know they are in places and with people who can offer better care and give them better lives than I can now. Around the same time, my perfect and loving and very geriatric dog had to be put to sleep. While I miss him every single day, I can tell you with a clear conscience that I am not interested in adopting another anytime soon. I just can't do it.
At the same time, we have made more time for family than ever before. We save our weekends for trips to Nana and Poppa, to G-Ma and Gramps, to Poppa and Aunt Hilary. We send pictures to aunts, uncles and cousins, we email and call our families more than we have in years. Becoming a parent and then losing a parent made me hyper-aware of the importance of family. I want Thora to know and love her extended family. But that too is a big change for us and means there is even less time for other things.
I'm not complaining. This is all a choice. I wanted to be a parent and I have a very high pressure and demanding job that I am dedicated to. In order to do both well, I have had to make a lot of sacrifices. It's not that I don't love my friends, animals, hobbies. I do. There are just not enough hours in the day so something had to give. A lot of somethings. But what will I have to give up when the new baby is born? What else is left?
Just yesterday at work some of my coworkers and I were chatting. They were marveling that I was still in the office. One of them said, "You know, some women like to take off before the baby is born to rest and prepare." I said "Tell that to my boss," somewhat stupidly, since I am working up to the very end by my own choice and the deadlines I feel pressure to meet are largely self-imposed. My boss, while very demanding, is probably the most empathetic of all my colleagues when it comes to balancing children and a heavy workload, so it's not fair to throw him under the bus because I am an anal-retentive control freak in the workplace. Anyway, another person winked at me and said quietly, "Your baby is more important than any of this." And he's right. She is. They both are.