By Christina Schmidt
When we had our second baby, I secretly feared we'd made a terrible mistake. My older son had just entered the notorious Twos. The new baby demanded constant attention and required maddeningly little sleep. I'd wanted my children close in age so they would be friends, but I often doubted we would survive to see that day.
As the months passed, I anxiously awaited any sign of sibling bonding, but for the most part my older son regarded his baby brother with nothing more than curiosity, boredom, some jealousy, and occasional disdain. I'd envisioned the second baby bringing us into balance as a family, and imagined all the wonderful things my two sons would experience together. What I got was extreme sleep deprivation, resentment, and excessive guilt, as I struggled to meet everyoneis needs and to remember why this had once seemed like such a good idea.
Finally one beautiful autumn day, as we were picnicking at the park, I caught a glimpse of our life to come. As I helped my newly-toddling baby go up the steps to a slide, another little boy shoved past him to use it first. Immediately a streak of blonde hair flashed by as my older son came barreling from across the playground to confront his brother's assailant. "THAT'S MY LITTLE BROTHER!" he bellowed in the boy's startled face. "SO DON'T YOU PICK ON HIM!"
I was completely taken aback. My older son was quiet and easygoing, generally appearing oblivious to his surroundings and the activities of others. Not to mention that up until this point, there had been no outward sign that this baby was special to him. Yet there he was: blue eyes raging, face contorted with fury, tiny body poised for attack. While I'd like to claim that what made me step back was the profound significance of this protective display, in truth it was simple surprise.
As the conflict continued, however, my decision to withdraw was conscious. I watched in awe as my son stood his ground, and stayed close in case it escalated to blows. The ensuing argument became as heated as one can when the two participants are verbally limited and socially inexperienced. At last I pulled my son away, discreetly praising his actions and bursting with pride at his brotherly instincts.
At ages five and three, my sons are now regular playmates and my role these days involves vastly more refereeing than caregiving. Watching their relationship evolve often makes me ache with joy and frequently sends me running for chocolate. Some days I still yearn for the peaceful afternoons when it was just my first baby and me engaged in an uninterrupted conversation of coos and giggles, followed by a nap together with him curled up on my chest.
But I've learned to appreciate life as a mother of two and the chaos that naturally follows. You have to be more observant -- the joyful moments are usually brief, unexpected, and tucked obscurely within everyday life, but invariably they are off-the-charts adorable. One minute I'll be thinking that my children are aliens bent on the destruction of mankind and all I want is to beam them back to their mother ship. Then suddenly they'll trot down the hall with their arms around each other, singing and laughing together, and I marvel at the magic of their interactions.
It's these simple moments that give me strength to endure the trying times and bring me the most pleasure as a mother: The baby squirming inside me in response to his brother warbling "Twinkle, Twinkle" into my belly button. My older son replacing his infant brother's pacifier and consoling him with, "it's okay, Bubby's here." A glimpse in the rearview mirror of my two boys, buckled into their carseats, holding hands. A spontaneous hug between the two of them, even if it does end in a wrestling match. And a few minutes on a playground when I first realized that it was all worthwhile.
Christina Schmidt is a freelance writer in the St. Louis area and a stay-at-home Mom to two boys, ages 5 and 3. Her work has previously appeared in American Baby magazine.