Juggling the varied needs of two sick kids recently has made me think a lot about one of the primary challenges of parenting more than one child: how on earth to divide yourself in two over the course of an eight-hour day (or sometimes a six or seven hour night, if you're lucky). <!--break-->This made me think back to one of my greatest fears when I was pregnant with T.: I worried incessantly about whether or not I could meet the needs of two children; about whether L.'s displacement as Number One would scar him for life; about how I could divvy up the outpouring of love I had for L., and not have it lessened somehow in the act of dividing. Of course I did not realize then that you do not divide up the love you have among your children--you take the love you already have and double it, or triple it, or quadruple it, as the case may be.
For a good while when L. was very young we honestly didn't think we wanted any more children. We bought our first house thinking we would forever be a one-child family. I remember in fact that our realtor asked us awkwardly if we thought we might have any more kids and we emphatically shook our heads and said almost in unison: No, no. Then, lacking the uncanny foresight our realtor seemed to possess, we reasoned ourselves out of his gentle suggestion that the house we were ready to sign an offer on might prove a little too small down the road (it did, and we moved, but that’s another story).
Some women, their first babies scarcely out of their wombs, dried off, and swaddled, turn their thoughts immediately to visions of Number Two: I could do this all over again! I remember a friend telling me once as she basked in the after-glow of her recent delivery. But I just couldn't imagine uttering that same feeling My recovery from L.'s birth--his three days in the NICU, the pain I went through as a result of the long labor, the all-over through-and through-to-the-bone weakness I felt for weeks following his birth had me completely drained. I didn't feel any glow of new motherhood; I felt wounded, split in two. I loved my new baby fiercely, but it was a new kind of love that I needed time to learn about, to bask in, to absorb.
Two and a half years after L. was born Scott returned from taking our dog Willa out for her evening walk and confessed to me that he'd been thinking about babies. Really? Was my response--anxious at first, incredulous, but then with his confession came the sudden realization--almost overpowering--that I had been thinking about them too, I just hadn't really realized it. But it suddenly all made sense: the nostalgia I had been feeling when sorting through L.'s baby clothes, the time I had spent lingering over his baby photos, the breathless giddiness that had seared through me when I'd held my sister-in-law's new baby, these all made sense to me suddenly, pieces clicking into place. Sometimes you don't realize what you're yearning for until you hear it spoken out loud--the articulation of a desire--a vague feeling taking shape before your very eyes, like a familiar figure materializing out of the darkness and you rush headlong to meet it, arms outstretched.
I learned quickly that my love did double. In many ways T.'s arrival both challenged (positively and negatively) and reinforced (positively and negatively) the preconceptions I'd had of what life with a second child would be like. The first few weeks after her birth were spent shuttling to and from surgeons to specialists as we absorbed the fact that our new baby, born with metopic craniosynostosis, an uncommon birth defect, would need major surgery when she was six months old. We worried about everything, from the extreme end of the spectrum (Down's Syndrome) to the relatively minor end (learning disabilities). T. didn't sleep peacefully in her cradle while I did puzzles with L., or read books to him, or spontaneously engineered some massive crafty undertaking. In my visions of life with two I had not factored in coming to terms with a birth defect, or colic, or overwhelming sleep deprivation that just wouldn't quit. I had not imagined that there would be some colicky nights when we would all be so taxed that I would long more than anything to turn back the clock, for just a few hours, back to the days when T. was a swelling in my womb and I was lying next to L. in the dark, listening to him chatter and wriggle his way into sleep.
I watched my kids yesterday--L. uncharacteristically listless and tucked into bed, T. perched on the edge of his toy chest coloring in her Care Bears coloring book and narrating to her brother a long, involved, and at times incomprehensible story about what she was doing. Every now and then she would interrupt her story and ask, Are you lit'ning Bobo? Are you lit'ning? and he would grouch from under the covers, I'm listening T., but you're talking TOO much and making my HEAD hurt! but she would continue, her voice rising and falling in squeaky cheerfulness. Eventually she stopped for some time and colored quietly. When I peeked in on them a short while later they were both bent over her coloring book, their heads almost touching. They scribbled and colored in companionable silence and I watched them, and felt my love leap and expand, boundless.