About three weeks back, a good friend of mine asked me how it was going.
“How you coping with two kids? Hair gone grey yet? Do you know the expression from one to two, from a dog to a zoo?”
I’d never heard it before, but after just a week of being a dad of two little monkeys, with only 18 months apart, I knew exactly what he was going on about.
As a dog owner I can safely say that looking after a westie is no comparison to trying to manage two kids. Westies don’t interrupt your sleep, they don’t need burping at 5am after a bottle of milk, and when hungry they don’t scream as if you’ve just dipped their toe in a boiling cup of water.
I’ve been to a few zoos around the world, but I’ve never been drawn to the idea of feeding penguins for a living, running after giraffes in the evening to get them back in their tall houses, or having to clean out monkey cages. I guess it’s hard to compare my new life to one of a zoo keeper, but I reckon a zoo keeper probably has it quite easy.
There are certainly moments in the day when I think back to when we decided to have another baby so quickly after the first, and wonder whether we actually thought it through. Did we consider the fact that our first would still need a lot of time and attention? Did we expect him to miraculously turn into a perfectly walking, talking obedient lad, who only needs help with his homework? Did we think about the logistical nightmare of bathing and feeding a toddler while having a new born baby screaming in the background? Definitely not.
All we wanted was that our son could have a brother or sister to play with. We are both from a family of three siblings, so we knew how important it was for him to have a play mate, and a lifelong best buddy.
The first couple of days seemed relatively easy and we picked up from where we left off with our son. It was no sweat to prepare a bottle of milk, we knew winding tricks, and we were aware of some glorious drops which ease babies burping process. Our nappy changing abilities were far more advance than with the first as well. We didn’t even have to buy much extra stuff; we had the bottles, the steriliser, and the essential handy hot water flask. But there were a couple things to suggest we have indeed gone from a dog to a zoo.
Our son wasn’t a screamer. I can only remember once being in a real rush to get a bottle ready for him. We were Christmas shopping and had been out all day and ran out of clean bottles. He put up with his hunger pains for a bit, but soon he was howling like a desperate wolf cub lost in the wilderness. I bombed it through the busy streets of Sevilla while he screamed his head off and soon he was knocking back the sleepy juice.
But this little lady has a right pair of lungs on her, and no amount of cooing, bouncing round, or making funny faces will calm her down. She wants to eat and wants to eat now. I can handle it in the day, well, to a point, but it’s at night when it’s a worry; in case she wakes up our son. So now when we hear the slightest sign that she’s awake, we leg it downstairs and prepare a bottle before the screams start ricocheting off the walls, and we both have to get up.
Play time with our first is more restrictive now, especially when we are on our own and feeding the madam. It’s frustrating because I can’t roll about on the floor, pretend I’m a tiger, or have car races any more (at least not with a baby in my arms, but I’m working on it. I have learnt to feed a bottle with one arm though, which took bloody ages). Luckily he seems to have realised that when baby needs a bottle, baby needs a bottle, and even he would prefer to play on his own for a bit than have to listen to his sister wailing.
If I felt self-conscious while walking about on my own in those early months with my son in Sevilla, then bumbling up the road with a pram’s equivalent of a limousine definitely draws attention. It’s not just the stares but the comments: ‘Wow, nice bus,’ ‘Does that thing weigh a lot?’ ‘Look at that trailer’ ‘Oh my god, there are two in there.’ And this is what people say, so imagine what they must be thinking. Most people we pass either give us a look of sympathy, especially when she’s screaming, or one of shock, which I’m not sure is because of the pram, or the fact that we had kids so close to each other. I have to say though that local Sevillanos are quite understanding, especially on the metro and they normally shuffle about so we can squeeze in the beast.
As brother and sister they are already ganging up on us. At least two or three times a day they both kick off and start crying, moaning, or having a rant. It’s funny, but it’s always around lunch time, in the evenings, or when we need to leave the house. They both want our attention, and now. Several times we’ve both been sitting on the sofa giving a bottle in the mornings, passing nappies to each other while we change them both on the bed, and slowly lifting them each to bed. Sure there’s plenty more adventures to come.
It’s tricky communicating to an eighteen-month old and warning him how fragile a baby is. He doesn’t know yet that squeezing her nose might hurt, or that her eyes aren’t actually able to come out, or that it might hurt if he throws a car at her head (it did miss, luckily). He is naturally quite gentle with her though, when he doesn’t have anything lethal in his hands, although, admittedly he did throw a cuddly owl on her head last night.
We’ve had so many beautiful moments with the two already that being a zoo keeper is well worth it. Watching our eldest point and mumble ‘baby’, having the two next to each other in the cot in their pyjamas, and watching him give her a gentle kiss on the head. These are all reasons why at the end of the day, when we are both knackered, falling asleep on the sofa on a Saturday night at 11.30pm after a glass of wine, or when I get to work on Monday and realise I’ve only actually had about eight hours sleep over the weekend, that I just laugh it off and hope that the animals in the zoo will gradually become independent enough for us to sit back, watch, and have some fun.