We’re in the toy section of Target—a stop we always make to encourage our three-year-old to cooperate the rest of the time. He stands on tiptoe and gently lifts down the box of $2.99 wooden trains to dig through. Our one-year-old pulls Star Wars paraphernalia off the shelves, and I rush behind him like the too-permissive mom that I am, frantically trying to tidy up while he carries on with his destruction.
In the midst of this, my eyes drift to the preschool board games. I’m always so tempted to buy one. When I look at those board games, I visualize my preschooler and I happily engaged at the kitchen table. As I look at the brightly-colored boxes advertising math skills and cooperation, I mostly just want one-on-one time with my preschooler.
We had our second son when our first was two and a half years old. We expected our kids would be closer in age, but our first was a bad sleeper, and we really enjoyed being parents to just one kid, so we kept waiting.
The first year of two kids was all about too many adjustments and too much tv. It was about giving most of my time to the baby, who needed me the most. It as about seeing my son learn to depend on others.
During the first year of his life, the baby did nap spottily and wasn’t mobile, so it wasn’t impossible to play with my toddler while bouncing a baby or carve out twenty minutes of play during one of the baby’s short naps.
All that changed when the baby transitioned to one nap and became mobile, both within the same month. And now, time with my three-year-old is all about “We have to play together,” and “You have to go to your room if you don’t want him to knock down what you build.”
To my older son, it must seem like we’re on the baby’s side in all of this. But sometimes, I feel a little resentful of the baby’s perfectly age-appropriate but destructive tendencies and his overeager adoration of his brother.
I often feel guilty, too. I feel guilty that I am forced to take the baby’s side. I feel depleted by the sibling squabbles and constant yelling and injury prevention. I feel guilty that I know I’m often expecting too much of my preschooler, and I feel frustrated by my lack of ability to “Control Baby,” as my three-year-old often tells me to do during heated moments.
And in the midst of my frustration, I feel sad. I feel this deep, deep longing to just play trains or Lego with my firstborn.
Even when I’m frustrated that he is screaming as his brother toddles toward his Magnatile tower, what I really miss is time to just play with my preschooler.
I simultaneously (in this complexity of emotions that is motherhood) feel so guilty that I use my baby’s nap as our household quiet time when I could use it to play with my toddler. But I can’t survive the broken sleep without that rest time. And I don’t know what the best solution is.
I feel frustrated that I ever took that playtime for granted, but I also know how hard it was to have just one child and be expected to entertain him all day long.
I know one day, things will get better. I know that the baby will not always be such a destructive force—that they will learn to play together. I know that they will become playmates; I see glimpses of this in the hysterical laughter they provoke in one another as they zoom around the house on riding toys. I know that it will get easier to carve out time individually with each of them. I know that one day, I’ll be able to finish cleaning up the kitchen without taking a break to separate them.
And I’m learning to take the good days and good moments without being stressed about the future or feeling guilty. This, perhaps, is a lesson for all of motherhood.
The other day, we got home from our typical grocery shopping. We couldn’t keep the baby awake, but I carried him in and miraculously, he stayed asleep in his crib. My son asked, “Will you build a racetrack with me?” and though I craved rest, I said, “Yes. For a little while.”
My son cheerfully agreed, talking a mile a minute as he does when he’s excited. But I didn’t feel pure joy as I expected, I still had to focus, to stay engaged in the present, to enjoy him rather than feeling nervous about when his brother would wake up.
But in the end, it was worth it. And a few days later, we had the opportunity again. These times are short. I have to stay engaged, stay cheerful, and be creative.
I know that this is just a season. I know it’s not a problem that can easily be solved by advice from moms in a forum or a board game from Target. I know we're doing the best that we can and that ultimately, it is good enough. As all seasons do, this season has some especially beautiful parts too. I love seeing the growing bond between brothers. I love how we're learning to play together and how much I cherish individual time with each boy.
And I believe there will come a season of board games, too.