How I survived my first six months with a toddler and a tiny baby 

A letter to an expecting mom who already has a toddler. 

Dear mommy-friend

In my previous life (you know, the one where I actually used to sleep) I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Ever since my parents took us to Disney World when I was 14, I have loved roller coasters. There’s nothing quite like that moment of anticipation when you have climbed ever so slowly up, up, up and are now braced and waiting for that first stomach-churning plunge. You wait on the precipice, totally committed and hugely excited, yet a small part of you is shouting ‘This is madness! Get me out of here!’ And then it begins, and you just have to go with it. A barrage of swirling, twisting, turning, flashing that leaves you breathless with laughter and flushed with excitement. It’s over before you know it, and that moment of apprehension is forgotten in the tidal wave of adrenaline and the relief of solid ground beneath your feet once more. Continue reading

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The tiny people days

There’s a song on the radio at the moment called ‘The Days’ by Avicii. It’s one of those upbeat summer anthem types, yet I can’t listen to it without getting choked up. Because while the carefree lyrics are, I think, aimed at those in their halcyon university years, somehow they have come to carry a much more substantial meaning to me. While I have found various lines that are applicable to me for weird, personal reasons, it’s really the chorus that gets me:

These are the days we’ve been waiting for
And days like these who couldn’t ask for more
Keep them coming
Cause we’re not done yet
These are the days we won’t regret
These are the days we won’t forget

On good days, these words feed into my joy. On bad days, they become a bit of a mantra, helping me regain a bit of perspective and reminding me of the value of the time I’m investing in my tiny people.

Colin and I often talk about the paradox of the toddler years. They are so fundamental to who we become, yet we don’t remember them. As children we don’t remember how cute we were, or all the games and outings we had. But as parents, once the trauma of sleep deprivation has passed, I think they become golden years. Already I know we are going to miss these days and look back on them with nostalgic fondness. And isn’t that the strange thing about time? Because right now, the average day is pretty hard!

The exhausting days
At two months old, Aiden is now such a part of our family that it’s hard to imagine a time without him. But wow, it is exhausting! Cameron is an absolute whirlwind, always on the go and perpetually bursting with energy. When that force (and believe me, it is a force) is combined with the energy depleting nature of breastfeeding and broken nights, it’s a deadly cocktail. And so the exhausting days have a number of spin offs including the ‘forgetful’ days, the ‘impatient’ days and the ‘what were we thinking having another kiddie so soon’ days.

One of my challenges at the moment is that my reserves have been depleted by a long and tough year. So I reach that tired, emotional breakdown point, where everything feels overwhelming, much more frequently that I did when Cam was a newborn. As Col is also suffering from burnout we are having to regularly call in the grandmother reinforcements. We are just so grateful to have both our moms near by and available.

The ‘just say no’ days
I am finding that if I keep my social and personal engagements to a bare minimum, and focus my energy on Cameron and Aiden, then life can be really pleasant. But the problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t leave any time for Colin or myself, and after a while I start to crave something other than finger painting, playing dinos, reading stories and rocking Aiden to sleep. But the moment I let my expectations include something not toddler or baby friendly, tension immediately arises because Cam wants to be involved or Aiden refuses to sleep and I quickly find myself frustrated and impatient.

So right now I am just trying to say no. It’s especially hard at this time of year when there is so much going on socially, and there are so many little traditions that I love but need to shelve (like making fudge – a truly risky undertaking when one is at the mercy of temperamental nap times).

The rapidly changing days
The equilibrium of peace and merriment in our house can change in an instant. We go from playing happily outside, with Aiden gurgling away under a tree, to Cameron hurting himself and throwing all his resources into fighting off my Savlon wielding hands. By the time Cam is sorted, Aiden in inevitably crying and my half drunk tea is stone cold. Next thing I know I am utterly drained and wondering bemusedly how twenty minutes ago I was feeling so energetic.

The thankful days
One of my coping strategies at the moment is my Happier app. I try to end off each day by sharing three things I am grateful for. Even on tough days there are usually far more than three. Because Cameron is just so delightful, coming up with the cutest statements and antics. Because our house and garden is a blessing and is full of unexpected wonders if you have the time to look for them. (For example, two days ago we saw a pair of hoopoes mating!) Because Aiden is growing before our very eyes and is starting to give us glimpses of his personality. So back to Avicii:

These are the days we’ve been waiting for
Neither of us knows what’s in store
You just roll your window down and place your bets
These are the days we won’t regret
These are the days we’ll never forget

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Finding a new normal

We’ve had a number of milestones to celebrate lately: Aiden has been home for three weeks, he is now a month old, and this past Tuesday would have been his due date. With these events behind me I feel like I can finally find a bit of objectivity to write an update.

The first week home was incredibly tough. Having two kiddies under one roof was much more of an adjustment than I anticipated. I spent most of it on the verge of panic, feeling as though someone had turned the speed on the treadmill up to max and that it was only a matter of time before I face-planted into the floor! Cameron and Aiden seemed to have such vastly different needs and I couldn’t fathom how I was going to find any sort of rhythm that somehow juggled both. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the brotherly love we’d anticipated just wasn’t there initially. Cameron wasn’t aggressive towards his brother, but any time I was with Aiden, he pumped up his attention seeking antics a few notches. This meant a high energy toddler throwing himself around the room, shouting ‘Look at me’ and resorting to physical violence (towards his mother) if that didn’t garner the required result. I had also forgotten just how exhausting the newborn phase is. Aiden has been struggling with bad cramps which hasn’t helped and I am averaging four hours of very broken sleep each night.

But somehow in the weeks since then we’ve all adjusted. Cameron is much more settled and starting to accept his brother. He very sweetly imitates Col by saying ‘Hello boy’, asks to hold Aiden occasionally and doesn’t get as stressed when his baby brother cries. He’s also protective of Aiden and gets upset if other people go near him ­­– evidenced by him shouting ‘No’ and pointing an accusing finger at the guilty party until he or she backs off!

I have been surprised by how I’ve adapted to the lack of sleep. While it takes me half an hour to wake up in the mornings (and I spend most of it wondering how on earth I’m going to get through the next hour, never mind the day), when I’m up and going I’m generally okay. My short-term memory is completely shot though and I’m doing a number of incredibly stupid things every day, but fortunately to no detrimental effects yet! I am also feeling much stronger physically which is a relief as I found the recovery from this c-section much harder and more painful than my previous one.

The passing of Aiden’s due date didn’t find me as contemplative as Cameron’s did, but I think that’s because I’ve had too much emotional baggage from Aiden’s last month in utero, birth and hospital stay to work through. I am just grateful that it has come and gone as we’ve now caught up to where we should have been and I know that soon the pressure of this phase will lift a bit.

Physically Aiden is doing really well, starting to put on weight and developing some lovely rolls. (This does lead me to think that while I’m disappointed I didn’t have the natural birth I was hoping for, when I look at the size of him now I’m just grateful I didn’t have to push him out of my lady parts!) Aside from the cramps, the only struggle in his life is second-child syndrome. Cameron is such a forceful personality and at such an attention seeking age, that poor Aiden is getting lost in the whirlwind a bit. But our tiny man has a big voice and is starting to use it with gusto.

Despite the chaos that is our life right now, I find myself in a contented and grateful space. I am really enjoying having a baby in the house, probably because I am so much more relaxed this time. In the absence of anxiety there is far more space for delight and appreciation. We have also decided that we won’t be having any more children and consequently I’m cherishing everything about Aiden so much more because I know I won’t experience this again.

And as for Colin … he’s burning the candle at both ends! Work is incredibly busy yet he’s putting in plenty of hours playing with Cameron and bonding with Aiden. The pace is taking its toll, and while I’m trying to ensure he gets good sleep, the man is exhausted. But December is not far away and in six weeks or so he can take a well-earned rest.

But now I must wrap up. Aiden is stirring and once I’ve fed him, it’s time for me to snatch what sleep I can! Until next time …

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An Aiden update

It’s been five long, long days since my last post. For the first three days of this week Aiden simply slept. All efforts to wake him up were fruitless. As a result we had no luck with breastfeeding. But there were lots of positives. Both of his drips were removed, as were all the sensors on his chest and tummy when he had his first bath on Wednesday. Which means all that’s left is the feeding tube and a sensor picking up his heart rate, but that one is moved from one foot to the other every three hours so is easily attached and removed. In addition, the volume of his feeds was steadily increased and by Thursday he was up to full feeds (50ml), even if they were all being given through the feeding tube.

Yesterday I arrived at 08:00 to find Aiden the most awake and alert that I’ve seen him. He breastfed well at 08:00 and lasted until 11:00 without needing a top up through the tube. This was a big breakthrough. He also fed at 20:00 so we managed two feeds in a day.

I managed to catch the paedatrician on his rounds and he also only had good news to deliver. He said that Aiden is doing wonderfully. As soon as he’s up to full feeds on the breast (eight a day) we can take him home. The doctor said this can happen in as little as two or three days but did warn me that little boys tend to take two steps forward and one step back, so to mentally prepare myself for a longer wait.

As for the rest of the family … Cameron has settled a bit more as the week goes on but had a major wobbly on Wednesday night as neither Col or I were there for bath and bedtime. He seems to be coming to terms with the reality of having a brother. We’ve been showing him photos and videos of Aiden and whenever I express milk at home he comes up and says, ‘Milkies, baby.’ He did the cutest thing yesterday – he found one of his teddies, said ‘Baby’ and then pretended to give it some milk. Next moment he popped the teddy down my T-shirt and said ‘Sleeping.’ Clearly all the photos of Col and I doing kangaroo care have made an impression!

As for the parents – we are running on fumes. I think this is largely because this stressful period has come on the back of a tiring month so we didn’t start out rested. We are finding balancing home and hospital utterly exhausting and to top it all, Col is incredibly busy at work (something we are very grateful for as it’s been a tough year for his practise). I don’t think either of us have ever been so tired in our lives.

We are handling our days on an hour-by-hour basis at the moment and eagerly await the day Aiden is discharged. The future holds plenty more interrupted sleep, but at least we’ll all be together and the logistical complications will be a thing of the past.

The big brother

I think the time has come for a post about how Cameron is handling the arrival of Aiden. It’s been a tough month for Cam with his mom disappearing off to hospital every few weeks and not being her usual active self when at home. As I’ve been here since Sunday this is my longest stay and the way things have worked out, we’ve only managed one visit a day. But we’ve developed a few hospital routines that Cam enjoys – eating my jelly and custard for one! Since Tuesday there have also been exciting gifts to play with – an Avengers balloon my brother brought and a huge Mickey Mouse and teddy bear that have been put into service as wrestling partners! My bed moves up and down with a remote so we’ve had fun riding that. And of course Aiden, being the generous soul he is, has given Cam presents for the last three days.

Yesterday we had a really wonderful visit as I was feeling strong enough to walk to the coffee shop. Cam held my hand the whole way and gave me such wonderful cuddles while sitting on my lap and drinking my milkshake. Between the bed rest before Aiden was born and the pain I was in for the first two days after the op I’ve been handling Cam a bit cautiously lately. Yesterday was the first time in weeks that I could physically engage with him more normally and it did my heart and his a lot of good.

As for the reality of being a big brother, we aren’t sure how much Cameron understands. He hasn’t been able to meet Aiden as he’s not allowed into the NICU. We’ve shown him photos but we aren’t sure what sort of connections he’s made yet. With Aiden being in NICU, Colin and I are finding ourselves thinking of our sons in a compartmentalized way. It’s going to be special moment when we can finally see our boys together!

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Cameron turns two

On August 26th, we celebrated Cameron’s second birthday. It was far more exciting this year, what with blowing out candles (and relighting them so he could do it again), and the mind-blowing excitement of opening presents. (I think the act of opening was more fun than the actual gift. Cam kept saying ‘Next’ without actually taking an interest in what was inside!)

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We started off the day with tea, muffins and presents in bed. Cam and I spent the morning at home, and had visits from my parents (Pops and GG), and Colin’s sister. Colin managed to take the afternoon off, so we went for ice-cream and waffles and visited the bird sanctuary (always fun for Cam).

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Last year we had huge party at the Botanical Gardens, but this year, for a number of reasons, we decided to just have a family tea. That did mean 27 adults though – Cameron’s 20-day old cousin Caleb was the only other little person there, and he didn’t take too much of an interest in proceedings! All these big people totally overwhelmed Cam, and he spent most of the afternoon clinging to Colin or I for safety, warming up towards the end to open presents or run around outside, far away from the crowds. He didn’t even want to blow out his candles, a skill we’d been practising all week!

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Cam’s first love is any kind of construction vehicle so I made a cake with a bulldozer, cement mixer, crane, digger and dump truck on. It was a huge success, and the toys are the still the first thing he asks for each morning!

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Daddy and his two boyz

Between working on Cameron’s baby book and the arrival of my nephew last week, I am all babied up at the moment. I’m glad to see it’s not just me, and that my husband, Colin, is just as excited about our growing family …

Although I often feel the urge to write, I have normally talked myself out of it by the time Cam goes down for the night. I have heard that myth about men and women – you know the one about how women have thousands of words a day and men are supposed to have three. That rule definitely does not apply to me! In our house the roles are reversed. Lucy runs out of words long before I have even warmed up. (At least when I am in court, I am being paid to talk.)

Cam is about to turn two and he is like a human parrot. He tries to repeat any word he hears. This means I have to be extra careful not to curse or scream at the ref in front of him. I think the upcoming birthday and the fact that Number Two’s literal birthday is coming up has made me pause and reflect.

The last year has been challenging for me on the work and financial front but in my personal life I have never been happier. Cameron has blossomed and I am so proud of him! He has a wonderful disposition and I know he is going to grow up to be a good guy, full of love and affection.

I also know that he is going to be great older brother. I am so excited about the idea of my ‘Boyz’. I am of course nervous about being able to give the next one the same love and attention but I know from experience with Cam that there is a part of my heart already reserved for Number Two and that upon his arrival it will explode like an empty field after the dry season.

The major difference with Cam between the ages of 0-1 and 1-2 can be explained by the difference in my reaction to him crying and a little man calling, ‘Daddy!’ I’ve gotten pretty good at tuning out the crying, but a call for ‘Daddy’ will get me out of bed no matter what time it is. The first year was hard work and Cam was not a good sleeper. The second year has in comparison been a breeze. It is so rewarding when after teaching and showing Cam how to hug and kiss and say, ‘I love you’, he does those things of his own accord.

Cam’s first cousin has arrived, little Caleb, and seeing that tiny baby and becoming an uncle has just made me even more excited for the arrival of our new baby. Visions of backyard cricket, camping out, golf, swimming, running, jumping and wrestling swarm before me.

Everyone keeps asking me if we will try for a full fourball but I tell them that with Lucy we will already be one. Maybe we’ll change our minds about this, I don’t know. What I do know is that I can see in Cam the effort , love and attention Lucy has put in. I also can see the wonderful cumulative effect of our support structure that includes grandparents, friends and other family.

There are some things in life that you know will be awesome before you have even experienced them, like playing golf at St Andrews or the Springboks winning the World Cup. I am so grateful that having a family is one of those things.