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imagesI realized recently that Zeke has a different mom than Zoe did. Certainly I gave birth to both of them. I remember both days clearly. But I have come to understand that I am a different person than I was seven years ago, and that it is impossible to be the same mother when you have two kids as you were with your first. And they are totally different human beings, so you can’t really parent them in the same way.

Does this seem totally obvious? Perhaps it is, but it just occurred to me the other day, and Zeke is almost 13 months old. I realized as he was lying on the rug in the kids room, crying and gently rolling back and forth, that I have a much higher threshold for crying than I did with Zoe. Not that I enjoy hearing Zeke cry, but it is usually clear to me that he’s not breaking or broken, especially when he’s lying on the floor crying and doesn’t want to be held, and that he just needs to get over himself. Zoe did not have tantrums, except for a couple months at bedtime when she was giving up her afternoon nap. Apparently we were extraordinarily lucky in that regard. Zeke has already started these microtantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. I just look at him in disbelief, like “you are not doing this. I refuse to acknowledge your behavior.”

I used to worry before Zeke was born that he wouldn’t get as much attention as Zoe did when she was little. If anything, he gets more. It’s hard to ignore a baby. And truthfully, impractical and unwise. It’s much easier to make the seven-year-old do her own thing, which thankfully she is quite capable of, but doesn’t always enjoy. And Zeke has two parents and a sister to chase him around. He is not hurting for attention.

At the same time, I definitely let him do things I would never have let Zoe do. I don’t know if this is because I am 40 and tired, more distracted–and sometimes trying hard to pay attention to Zoe, especially when she’s playing soccer, practicing martial arts, or doing homework–or more relaxed. Or if it’s because he’s a boy or because he has an insane amount of energy and doesn’t seem to mind diving headfirst off furniture. You would think this last one would make me pay more attention and that would be something we would not let him do, but he is fast and determined and very rubbery, it seems. During Zoe’s soccer practice last week Zeke was furiously climbing up a hill, into the trees. He was fine. There were many parents and other siblings there who I’m sure saw him. Would I have let Zoe out of my site climbing through nature for even one second when she was one? Unlikely. I am hoping this means I am just more chill and not actually negligent.

So my attitude and my attention span have changed, but I also recognize that Zeke’s adventurousness and mischievousness demand a different parent than Zoe did. I don’t know if this is because he’s a second child or a boy or just the happenstance of his personality, which is already joyfully and exasperatingly abundant. But I know what worked with Zoe won’t necessarily work with him. He is going to make me develop some new skills, which is not a bad thing, but I’m sure won’t be easy. Being the mom of a seven-year-old requires different skills than parenting a four-year-old for sure, so clearly I am a work in progress already. Even at this moment I can feel my tolerance for dirt increasing dramatically.

When I arrived at school yesterday to pick Zoe up after her last day of kindergarten, I found her, fully clothed in her Abingdon t-shirt (“I want to wear it on the last day to show everyone how much I like Abingdon,” she said) and some shorts, sitting and splashing in a baby pool with several of her friends to cool off. She was soaked. And why not? What else is there to do after the last day of school? Apparently water games were part of the last day carnival that the extended day teachers creatively and generously put on for the kids but Zoe neglected to tell me about it the night before. Whatever. It’s the last day of school! Getting wet in your clothes makes it easier to not be too sad about the end of a fabulous year.

I saw Zoe’s wonderful teacher in the hallway as I was wheeling Zeke through the school to find Zoe, and thanked her again. Part of me wanted to hug her, but I knew if I did I would cry and I didn’t feel like she needed to deal with me crying. I did tell her, despite myself, that I found out I was pregnant with Zeke on the first day of school. So somehow the last day of school seemed like my little baby bubble was popping. I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of help and support from family and friends over the past eight weeks to make life easier for me and to allow me to focus on Zeke. Randy has driven Zoe to school every day since Zeke was born, which has been huge. On Monday Zoe will start camp which, thankfully, begins an hour and a half later than school starts, so it will be once again up to me to take charge of things in the morning. I am confident I can handle this, but I’m a little sad for the end of my morning repose with Zeke.

But I digress. While Zoe finished splashing with her friends, I nursed Zeke in the hallway, briefly chatting with the strings teacher, greeting other teachers who walked by, and meeting the technology teacher when she came by to admire Zeke. I saw tonight that she had posted a video of the Big Wave, an Abingdon tradition where all the teachers and staff sing and dance and send off the kids on the last afternoon. I love this school. Throughout the year, and especially over the past few weeks when it would seem all learning had ceased, Zoe did so many fun and interesting things at school. Her teachers and the other kindergarten teachers found creative and enriching activities to keep them engaged. She learned about Betsy Ross, magnets, the different between needs and wants, and introductory economics using musical chairs. The extended day teachers brought in a DJ for a dance party and hosted a slumber party. Field day was apparently the most fun Zoe had ever had in her life. Last night we went through a variety of workbooks and projects that Zoe brought home. She read us her end of the year book. She thoughtfully completed the final few pages in the My Kindergarten Year book that we gave her at the beginning of the year. Tonight we took her out for dinner at the restaurant of her choice (Lost Dog) followed by dessert of her choice (Dairy Queen) to celebrate her accomplishments during kindergarten and today’s tae kwan do belt ceremony where she broke her board (on the second try!) and earned her green stripe belt. We made toasts to each other.

Afternoons managing two kids are challenging, and this year has not been without its tough spots, including Zoe’s surgery, a rough pregnancy, and the trying minutiae that gets magnified and seems to consume us sometimes. But it’s lovely to end the year on a good note. We have a delightful rising first-grader and a cute baby boy who now often greets us with smiles. So what if the air conditioner is broken. We are lucky people. Let’s go jump in the baby pool.

I often think about the parents I know who have a bunch of kids. Three or more is what I consider a bunch. I know a few families with five or six or eight. I don’t think this is good or bad, I just don’t understand how it works. As someone who was an only child until the age of seven, and then a proud big sister of one, and as a mom of an only child for nearly six years eagerly anticipating a baby, having so many children seems like an impenetrable mystery to me.

As it is, I’m having a hard enough time dealing with the transition from one to two even though number two won’t be born for a couple more months. And in case you didn’t know, number two was and is extraordinarily wanted. There is no question about that. And even number one has articulated her desire for a younger sibling for several years. She’s wanted it as much as we have. And even now she hugs and kisses my belly (and her brother) good night every evening. She talks to him and feels him kick and helps pick out clothes and toys for him. You couldn’t ask for a more devoted big sister-to-be.

But what’s proving difficult for both of us is–as much as the size of my belly increases daily–there seems to be less and less of me available to her. It’s nearly impossible for her to sit on my lap, which makes both of us sad. It is sometimes excruciatingly painful for me to sit on the floor with her. Even snuggling with her at bedtime is a challenge. I take up too much room in the bed and it’s difficult and painful for me to get up and down so I am less willing to rearrange, hand her the cup of water, or generally comply with what used to be routine requests.

I have been told by more than one person–both medical professionals and compassionate friends and family members–that she just has to deal. This is just a preview of what’s to come in terms of her having to share me and my attention with her brother. Of course I understand this is true. But that doesn’t make it easy. This is the child to whom I have given my whole heart and my whole self for several years. It seems cruel and selfish to feel like I’m holding out on her. Yes, I understand I’m not actually being cruel or acting selfishly, but that’s how it feels. Do you get that?

I know it will all be worth it and that the joy and adventure of having a sibling will be fantastic for her, and our new family composition and dynamic will be wonderful, however it plays out. But it’s a big freaking change.

Friends keep asking me if I’ve wrapped my head around the idea of having a boy. This is something I was previously worried about, which now seems very silly to me. Now what I’m trying to comprehend is just how different this baby’s existence will be than Zoe’s. Not better or worse, but different. We’ve been invited to participate in a loose group of new and expectant parents, most of whom are first-time parents. There was a lot of discussion about when to have an initial meeting, and several couples said they couldn’t meet until after a certain date when their kids had received shots, or after a certain number of weeks, because they weren’t supposed to be out of the house, or around people. I just had to laugh. Maybe we were the exact same way when Zoe was born. Truthfully, I don’t remember. But this time around, probably when he’s a week or two old, I will be taking this boy with me to pick up Zoe from school, to take her to tae kwan do, and basically anywhere else Zoe needs to go, and just hoping no one sneezes on him. This is reality. And clearly zillions of other parents do this all the time. Most parents in the world don’t have the luxury of cocooning themselves and their babies in germ-free isolation until a specified date. And I’m not asking for that. But just envisioning how much the baby’s schedule will revolve around Zoe’s, perhaps until he’s old enough to have his own schedule, is hard to absorb. I know it will be fine. I know we’ll figure it out. But we are spoiled by what we’ve dealt with for the past several years in just one child. And that’s been complicated enough.

We will probably buy a mini-van. Someday, hopefully not in the too far distant future, we’ll move from our townhouse to a slightly larger single family home. But in the meantime, our kids will share a room. Life will change. And we will adjust. I know there’s plenty of love in my heart to go around. I just wish sometimes that there was more lap.

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