Thursday, September 05, 2013

A Tale of Two Kiddies

My article this month in the Spark magazine comes from my experiences as a parent of two young kids. If you have been in the same boat, hopefully this will resonate with you as well.

Here is the link to the original publication:

Reproducing the article here for your reading pleasure

A Tale of Two Kiddies

Parenting is not a perfect science. However, if you survive raising an infant (and the measure of the success is that the infant survives you to become a boy or a girl), you’d say to yourself: what is one more thrown into the mix? My wife and I are blessed with two young boys. Let’s call them A and N. This article is to talk about the joy of handling two young kids. There is no pre-requisite that you need to have two kids in order to read and enjoy this piece, but those with two young ones will hopefully relate and learn from this. Since I claimed that parenting is not a science, nothing in here has to be empirically proven for more than one family. I will claim to be an expert parent. So is the chap next door.

Here is a little back-story to set the stage. Our first-born, A, arrived into this world in the last legs of the year 2008. They say the birth of a child is a life-altering moment. You know it’s coming, but you can’t gauge how it will shake up your world. Imagine yourself driving around the freeway on a cold morning in Chelyabinsk and you see this flash of light across the sky. You know that something huge is happening, but it is only when the shock wave blasts the glass off windows and knocks you off your socks that you know it has hit you. Baby. Meteor. Same thing.

A is a fantastic son. He has to be. He has our genes in good abundance. Through his initial years, he was a guinea pig and a teacher for his parents, helping them find their way to through the maze of parenting choices. And then, just as life with A settled into a steady manageable rhythm, N arrived. That was completely antithetical the arrival of the first born. Everything was well prepared, everything was in order. The first might have been as tense as landing a spaceship on an asteroid. The second was as smooth as landing an airplane at Dubai. A year has passed since we moved on to this four-person dynamic in the family. It has had an interesting effect on all concerned. Here are some learnings for parents who choose to go through this experience.

Welcome to single parenting
While once you were two parents doting on one child, you now have the distinct pleasure and privilege of managing two kids, turning you into a single parent for large stretches of time. While as a husband, you might have pampered your wife to no end in the first pregnancy, during the second stretch, the pampering you might manage and be valued for is taking extensive care of the first child. While as a wife you might have worried during your first pregnancy about the shape and state of the life in your belly before it pops out, you now partition that stress into accounting for how your older one will cope when the baby arrives.

It will all come back …
…, like a splash of cold water on your face. Almost everything that you knew about handling a baby comes rushing back to you the moment they hand you the baby at the hospital and wish you good luck. The chaos, the twenty-four hour routine, the nights, oh yes, the nights where sleep is hostage to a seven pound bundle of unpredictable behaviours.  When it does come back and you are back to your own familiar and ‘experienced’ ways, you’ll reach the conclusion that with two kids, the stress levels aren’t as high as it was when you had one child, but the amount of work to manage two will shoot through the roof.

The second one is anything but the first!
As the younger one grew to an observant young fellow, we started realizing that all milestones were being hit with a lot of alacrity. Walking, talking, eating seemed to come to N more naturally than they did to A. N also turned out to be quite independent. Is it a matter of survival for the second ones? Unlike their older siblings, they never will get the 1:1 attention of their parents. When left to fend for yourself, you tend to grow your skills faster.

Get the whistle out
The younger one might spend the first year in absolute adoration of their role model. At some stage, adoration will be replaced by imitation. What the older one does, the younger one attempts. And soon, what the older one has, the younger one wants. Thus it begins, leading to the parents spendinga lot of time  in resolving conflicts. There is a saying that with one child, you become a parent and that with two kids, you become a referee. We have our whistles firmly in our lips, ready to call foul at the earliest.

The seven stages of adjustment
The presence of a younger sibling can incite jealousy and can incite protectiveness. Different kids take it to different levels. At the beginning though, there is little for them to be peeved about. Everyone is calling them a ‘big brother’ or a ‘big sister’ and even though they may not understand the privileges and the challenges that come with that title, it ‘feels’ and ‘sounds’ good. Not to mention the various gifts that they get at the birth of their sibling, either out of guilt or nicety or parity. Since the number of hours in the day don’t go up from twenty-four to forty-eight, it is a reality that the time available for them with their parents has reduced and so is the focus that they need to contend with. Some act out, some act in, some simply ignore it. If you have got the timing right and they are at the age when they are marching towards independence, they cope much better.

Obi-wan Can-I-Be?
“You should eat your food. It is good for you”. The moment I heard A pass on this excellent piece of wisdom to his younger brother, I was convinced that you have certain privileges as an older child that can’t be denied. That piece of wisdom came from a boy who has never eaten food unless he is constantly hounded by his parents. But that clearly did not stop him from taking on the role of the elder. The protector. The entertainer. It is a metamorphosis worth treasuring.

The curious case of the little ones
What must it feel like to arrive in a world where three people dote on you? What must it feel like to be in a world where you’ll never get to be the only one your parents focus their energies on? Young ones arrive in this world with this dichotomous conundrum to solve. The young ones get half the attention, half the paranoia, half the pressure and half the experimentation that the older ones were subjected to. You can’t possibly follow their milestones with equal microscopic focus, you don’t fuss about their eating or sleeping to the same degree, you let them cry a bit longer than you did your first born until you are certain they are crying because they mean it and you certainly won’t let your hands singe away to ensure that their things are sterilized to the nth degree. The second ones aren’t the same as the first, and they benefit and lose something by that measure.

The answered prayers
When you have gone through the experience of one child and have had your share of the struggles, you intuitively wish for it to be easier the second time round. If your first one did not eat food easily, you wish the second one will comply. If the first one gave you sleepless nights, you wish the second one will sleep better. Rest assured, your prayers will be answered by the second one. Of course, there is no guarantee whether they will do the things that the first one did well. Never challenge nature’s sense of balance.

The story of parenting two kids will have its own shape and form as time evolves and the two kids grow up from being infants, toddlers, kindergarteners, make their way to school and college. Each episode will bear its own stamp and re-forge each equation. Until then, here’s hoping that your adventure with a pair of kiddies is an equally fun ride.