By Jessica Wall
My daughter Abby had it all. She and I used to spend hours rocking in the rocking chair, reading books together, making cookies, swinging at the park, going for walks, and painting her tiny little toenails. We went out for coffee (me- a coffee, and her- her own little handmade chocolate milk with whipped cream and chocolate sauce), went shopping all the time, and generally enjoyed a fun and carefree lifestyle. Then something happened… something that ROCKED her world. Her baby brother was born.
My husband and I read every piece of literature we could get our hands on to prepare her for the arrival of her new sibling. We scoured the internet and talked for hours about what life would be like with two kids- and how things would change for the youngest member of our family. We explained things to her in the best way we knew how to, and read her children’s books about new siblings when we were at a loss for words. We knew it would be tough at times, but we had no way of knowing just how incredibly challenging those times would be.
Some friends of ours watched Abby while I was in the hospital with the baby. She had a great time at their house, playing for hours with their kids. When they brought her to the hospital to meet her baby brother (the day after he was born), we sat down on the floor with him in our arms and had her sit down with us and look at him. She was grinning from ear to ear, and kept saying “baby brother” as she gave him kisses on the forehead. We couldn’t be happier. Our hearts were overflowing with love and joy, and that moment will always be one of my all-time favorites.
Fast forward a little bit: I now have a two year old who does not understand why I will not let her climb into my lap with 20 books for me to read her while brother is nursing- it’s as if she simply cannot comprehend that baby brother does not want to be covered in books while he tries to eat. She has never had to share her toys before, and now brother wants to play with them. Once brother started becoming interested in solid foods, giving him a bite of her cookie or a drink of her chocolate milk has resulted in a complete meltdown. While this is all part of growing up with a sibling (and clearly needs to be addressed as she is learning how to deal with her emotions), it has been extremely difficult as we try to navigate our new family dynamic.
It’s not just chocolate milk and cookies- the issue here is the same for every child in a similar household- she now has competition; for her things, and for our attention. This is not only hard on her- but immensely hard on my husband and me. There are only so many hours in the day. There is housework to get done, errands to run, jobs, and countless other things that consume our lives- in addition to our children. Life gets a little bit hectic sometimes, and sometimes it feels as if we’re simply going through the motions without actually being connected to one another. That attention that she is looking for, sometimes feels impossible to give or maintain.
I can’t tell you how many times a day I say “no/not now” or even “maybe later,” and just how often I wish I didn’t have to mutter those very words. It’s always another book that I cannot possibly read, or another game that I do not have time to play. Despite my best efforts, a toddler has such a small capacity for understanding the why behind many of those responses. Unfortunately that’s life however, and we all must adapt. I understand the necessity of teaching children patience, but sometimes there has got to be another answer.
In an effort to reconnect with my little girl, we have recently instated “mommy daughter days.”.Daddy takes care of little brother (Logan), and Abby and I go out and spend some much-needed quality time together- no yelling allowed, no shifting my attention between the two kids, just pure 100% Abby indulgence. One might say that this is perhaps spoiling her, and I can easily understand the sentiment. However, I believe fully in occasional one-on-one time. I believe it has the power to renew and rejuvenate both of us, as well as erase the frustrations that so can easily consume our time together. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the day with Abby, and every second was bliss. We started our mommy-daughter-day by going to coffee, where we sang “the wheels on the bus” over chocolate milk and cookies. There was no screaming infant in the background, and I was able to concentrate on simply being there for her. Next I took her to the local aquarium where she got to explore every nook and cranny on her own time and agenda. She especially loved pointing at the octopus and squid and counting their suction cups and tentacles. It was so simple, yet so perfect. I could see her eyes filled with wonder, every time she said, “look mommy, look!” After spending the day watching penguins, petting stingrays, and watching fish, we left and went to get some ice cream. We finished the day by watching the sun go down over the ocean and running in the sand by moonlight. As I tucked her into bed that night, she gave me a big hug and kiss. My husband came up and said goodnight to her, and afterwards he came into our room and told me that the last words she uttered were “mommy daughter day” before rolling over and closing her eyes. She still had a smile on her face. Nothing could be more perfect. I went to bed that night with tears of happiness in my eyes, and a new perspective. I vowed right then and there, that I would make this consistent. Our “dates” didn’t have to follow a specific schedule- I would just know when we needed to get away.
Reconnecting with our kids is important. There is so much that absolutely consumes our lives, and often-times we are not even aware how distant and unattached we can quickly become. It seems like every other day, there is a new study being released about parents being too busy- too consumed– to really be present for our children- and they’re paying for it. Sure independence is important, and so is learning how to share and interact with other kids, but there has to be some give and take in the process. We cannot expect our children to easily understand the complexities of major changes when all they know is that their lives have been turned upside down. All those emotions- big and small- must be addressed as they present themselves.
One on one time is so valuable, as it gives us the chance to tune out the world and simply enjoy one another’s company. It doesn’t have to be expensive or even time-consuming. It just needs to be a break; a break from the normal routine, a break from the guilty feelings every parent of multiple children feels, a break from the hectic- the mundane- the monotony. The kids need it. We as their parents need it.
That day I spent with my daughter was so refreshing and so very, very needed. It gave me the renewed spirit I needed to be fully present and understanding. Something as easy as coffee and watching sea-life truly had the power to bring our hearts back together in a meaningful and profound way. To see her genuinely smile, and to actually be able to sit there and truly listen to her stories and babble- without distraction- was exactly what I needed. Life will never be the same for her as it used to be, but that is ok. We all learn to adapt in our own ways throughout life, and the foundations we can lay now as parents of little ones have the power to shape how our children deal with adversity- both now as children, and later as adults.
As we move through life, often merely going through the motions, it is vitally important to remember that we must slow down and take a deep breath. Take a day together. Invest the time to truly watch your kids’ faces light up again. Spend some time tuning out the rest of the world, and simply be. Share coffee (or chocolate milk), and listen to their laughter. Sing songs. Just be present. As our lives become more and more scattered and we’re torn between more and more obligations, it’s the least we can do for our children- and ourselves.
People are always telling me how fast these years go by, and I am certain that there is infinite wisdom in that sentiment. These are fleeting moments, and we will never have them again. As I try my best to be the best mom I can (to both of my children), I must consistently remember the importance of spending quality, one-on-one time together. I must be willing to put aside the daily distractions on occasion, and show my children that they truly are special to me- regardless of how busy our lives are. Sometimes all it takes is something as simple as a day of coffee and tentacles to show our children that they really are the most amazing things in our lives.