Saturday, July 31, 2010

Growing Your Family: A Survival Guide

My dear friend and fellow blogger Heather, has just given birth to her second child - a gorgeous girl she has nicknamed Sweet Pea, little sister to darling Peach.

This cheeky guideline is my gift to her, and to every mother whose world has been turned upside down by the arrival of a second child.

Part One: SLEEP
 (or decided lack thereof)

Old Wisdom: "Sleep when the baby sleeps."

Belly Version: What? Are you effin' KIDDING me? And who, pray tell, will watch over my Firstborn, my Very Heart, who is presently shoving books into the dishwasher in a fit of rage because for the zillionth time this morning, instead of playing trucks, I have settled into the couch with the Interloper and cannot move for the next 45 minutes while he suckles at a boob that is bigger than his head?

To survive:

First of all, let go of all your pre-children notions about limiting TV and sepia-washed fantasies about playing age-appropriate games on a white, stain-free carpet, devoid of all but a small wicker basket filled with brightly-coloured books and finger puppets.

That's right...let it all go.

Release yourself from the desire to be perfect and remember that this is about survival and nothing else.

Make a comfy nest of pillows and blankets on the floor in front of the TV. Turn on Treehouse/cartoons/soap opera/Sex in the City. Whichever. Anything will do as long as it holds your Firstborn's attention for more than 10 minutes.

 If you have a golf umbrella, open it up and plonk it behind your nest, supersititon be damned. If your living room is big enough to house a tent, pitch it. Gather snacks. Put the potty next to the three baskets of laundry you've not yet managed to fold, let alone put away.

 Better yet, bring out your secret stash of Pull-Ups and ruin weeks of potty-training. Whatever. Firstborn won't go to university in diapers so cut yourself some slack and ignore the clucks of disapproval from neighbours, family members and strangers, all of whom had their children potty-trained and reading before they even walked. (Insert eye-roll here)

Plop irritable, formerly angelic-but-morphing-into-the-Devil-right-before-your-bleary-sleep-deprived-eyes Firstborn in front of TV. Watch his/her eyes widen, jaw fall open and body finally, finally still. The electronic babysitter is on the job.

Relax. Breathe.

 Balance the Interloper on a pillow next to your ginormous, swollen boob and let yourself drift off to the high-pitched urging of a swollen-headed Dora. Dream of Boots the Monkey. Be still. Ressssttttt....

Alternate ways to catch some ZZZ's:

Load both children into the car. Drive to the nearest coffee place and buy a large coffee. Do not worry about the caffeine intake, reasoning that it's better to have the contents of a Tim Horton's double-double buzzing through the Interloper's tiny body for the 10 minutes it's in there between a nursing session and a blowout diaper, than to fall asleep behind the wheel and kill everybody.

 It's all about perspective.

Drive aimlessly until the children fall asleep (which, blessedly, mine did within minutes of being strapped into their car seats) and then steer yourself home. Park. Turn off ignition, but leave the music playing, battery power be damned. Crack the windows, ease back in your seat and close your eyes.

(During winter, roll the windows all the way down - your little darlings are snug as bugs in their snugglie car covers/sleeping-bag-thingys/snowsuits. Bellymonster Family Motto:  Have toque? Will travel.)

Do NOT worry about drool. Do NOT entertain a sick and twisted daymare about a masked bandit stealing the children from behind you while you snooze. Stuff like that only happens on TV. Or to really rich people. Or at gas stations. Or all of the above, but it will NOT happen to you so rest easy and sweet dreams!

2. Seize the Moments:

Foist the manic, clingy, whiny child that is your Firstborn onto your partner's/father's/neighbour's/Jevhovah's Witness's lap.

Unlatch the Interloper from your breast while tugging on your stretched-out yoga pants and grimacing. Gag, for effect. Announce that you NEED a shower RIGHT NOW and quit the room.

 Lock the bathroom door, turn on the water and climb in. Curl up in the bottom of the tub. Never in your life will chilly enamel feel more like fluffy cloud than it does at this moment.  Enjoy the warmth and the steam and the feel of something other than baby-spit up, formula or breast milk coursing down your body. Revel in it, but be sure to turn your head away from the spray:

You want a nap, not to drown with your ass sticking up in the air.

3. Relinquish Control

This is harder than it seems. At first.

But after you've stopped expending precious energy on making it look like you've got it together, you'll feel tons better and the lack of sleep won't seem as bad. Don't get me wrong, you're still gonna feel like you did during the drop-into-a-coma-exhaustion-first trimester of your pregnancy only now your hair is falling out and your nether region is unrecognizable, but you won't MIND as much if you do the following:

a) Stop putting laundry away. Seriously.

Get four baskets, five if you've been ambitious and done the sheets and towels instead of hauling the holiday stuff out of the basement and spritzing your bed with Febreze. Put 'em in the living room, next to the umbrella and the potty. Don't fold it, just rummage as needed.

 (Incidentally, freshly-washed piles of teeny-tiny diaper t's make a pretty good pillow. Actually, smelly towels and soiled footy pj's work well too, in a pinch.)

b) Hubby needs things pressed? Give directions to the iron and ironing board. Heck, you can set the ironing board up next to the umbrella too, and he can starch his way through the hockey game. If you duct tape an old coffee tin to the metal rack where the iron sits, you've got a ready-made beer holder.

c) Two words: Kraft Dinner.

Toss in some cut up hot dogs, maybe some salsa for colour, some carrot sticks and a juice box and you're done. Two boxes of every child's comfort food and your Firstborn AND your husband can have leftovers for lunch the next day. Around here, we are big fans of  "Snacky Supper" which is essentially this: crackers, cheese, keilbasa, grapes and applesauce.

Naturally, this is eaten in front of the TV, under the umbrella. And if you use paper plates emblazoned with the Backyardigans? You are just about THE coolest Mummy ever.

d) Rethink your sleeping arrangements: Do you have a spare room? Couch? Beaten-up old armchair in the garage? Good. Move your husband there and bring the Interloper to bed with you. I realize that tongues are clucking even as I type this and yes, I am aware that both the American and Canadian Paediatric Societies frown upon co-sleeping, but this is my blog, so there. And for spluttering husbands/partners/disapproving mothers-in-law I must gently remind them that this is about Mama survival, NOT domestic bliss.

Shove a body pillow into the space where your husband used to be, but underneath the fitted sheet. Doing so will alleviate any concerns that the Interloper will roll off the bed or roll under a pillow and suffocate. Nursing whilst lying down takes some practice and you may find yourself contorted into all sorts of whacky positions but at least you'll be lying down in a dark room.

Ah, bliss.

I'm not sure that I ever really slept while nursing my Interloper 6,328 times a night, but at least I rested my eyes and my weary body. And while I wouldn't wish a 12-hour night shift on anyone, I definitely leaned toward inappropriate glee when my husband announced that I'd be bedding down without him.

 I enjoyed the special kind of freedom that comes with stretching out diagonally across the bed and not feeling my husband's feet with mine.

Alternately, you can haul the mattress from the guest room into your Firstborn's bedroom and have a cuddly camp out there, Interloper on one side of you, Firstborn on the other. In doing this you'll be resting your aching body AND alleviating a teensy portion of the guilt weighing down your soul re: the state of your Firstborn's sense of self/place/sanity/security.

You may be lucky enough to snatch five minutes of peaceful slumber in the Nursery during Sunday Mass. If you can manage to sneak away for a haircut and have an understanding and sympathetic stylist, you can don a pair of sunglasses and saw logs right there in the chair - the hairdryer should drown out the worst of your snoring.

Tip well.

In combination with all of the above, or as a stand-alone, make this your mantra, prayer and wish:

This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This too shall pass.

Because it will and it does and someday soon you will wonder how the heck you survived it, but you will.

You are.

Coming Soon:

Part II: Mama Guilt (aka: The Soundtrack of Motherhood)

Growing Your Family: Part II (Mama Guilt)


  1. Belly, I love you. I laughed my way through to the parts where I either welled up or exclaimed out loud, "Amen, sister!". And I'm no stranger to bed-sharing as it has relieved MANY situations all at once for us, however the body-pillow-under-the-fitted-sheet is brilliant! You have outdone yourself, Belly... and can't wait for part II, as I am currently finding myself chin-deep in Kleenex, wiping my mommy-guilt (albeit hormone induced) tears away. Can't wait! Thanks again Belly, you are my hero!!!

  2. I feel like this was written for me too.
    I am looking forward to the mama guilt entry.. can you write it soon because I feel an immense amount weighing me down!
    Love you Belly!

  3. Loved it!! Boy I needed to read that about two years ago when Sean Patrick entered the picture!! ;)

  4. Oh, this needs to be shared amongst the internet at large. Best written piece about mothering two EVER.

  5. Oh my. Love it! You should save these and publish it under "What you DON'T expect when you're expecting..." or something clever. Because damn, that's spot on, Belly! Love it! Love you!