And then there were two

The idea of having two kids (or more) has always scared me a little. I’m an only child, so the prospect of having just one baby has never seemed “lonely” or “selfish” to me — things I’ve heard applied to the only child situation — just normal. 

And since I have no personal experience with sibling dynamics, I was concerned about how that might impact my ability to parent two kids. My husband often credits my inability to understand “playful” fighting or competitive banter to my only-child status. If I were to witness my two theoretical children in some standard-issue sibling argument, would I just stare at them in confusion, unable to comprehend it and respond appropriately? 

But then I became pregnant with a second child and I thought, “Well, why not?” Our daughter Lydia was almost a year and a half old when we found out, so the newborn days were well behind us. Lydia was sleeping well, generally jolly of temperament and had seemed like an actual little person (instead of a perplexing baby) for quite some time. Although in some ways it seemed “too soon,” and I could definitely remember the trials of the newborn period, I figured I could handle another child.  

My first surprise came with the onset of the first trimester. Although my first pregnancy was relatively easy, the second one was much more difficult. (See my November column, “What to expect when you’re expecting…again,” for more about that.) Add to that the fact of having to care for my active toddler, and I basically felt done-in before the contractions even started. 

Of course, the real surprises surfaced when we brought little baby Felix back from the hospital. At first, things at home seemed relatively calm. Lydia had been in a months-long “daddy phase,” so my husband Nick was able to seamlessly take on most of the toddler care with little drama. I, on the other hand, took on baby duty, dutifully getting up with Felix every three hours or so to address his hunger, diapers and so on. This went on with little incident for a day or two.

Then Lydia became significantly ill for the first time in her young life. Throwing up, a fever, coughing, and so much more. Since she suddenly refused to sleep alone in her crib, Nick shacked up with her in another room, staying awake all night long while Lydia coughed and moaned beside him. Meanwhile, the relentless, 24-hour newborn schedule started to seriously take its toll on me. And then, of course, we all came down with Lydia’s illness in the days that followed. 

Many parents of two have described the aforementioned “divide and conquer” coping strategy for handling two kids, and it made logical sense to me. I was expecting to fall into that dynamic, at least at the beginning. 

What I wasn’t expecting was how weird this would seem in practice. “It’s like we’ve split off into two new couples,” said Nick, and scarily, he was right. Instead of Nick and Shannon, it was now Nick and Lydia and Shannon and Felix. One day I heard Nick saying something to Lydia about “mama and Felix’s room.” I was reminded of a quote from the movie Before Sunset: “I feel like I’m running a small nursery with someone I used to date.” 

That said, I’m writing this while only a month into our new family situation, so we’re bound to get a babysitter and go out for dinner one of these days. And I have faith that Felix will eventually learn to sleep and move into his very own room, just like his sister before him. The newborn phase is a dire, but temporary, condition. 

Meanwhile, I’ve generally found that the transition from one to two kids isn’t quite as rough for me as the switch from none to one. Like my friend Jen said, “With the first one, there’s this existential crisis — who am I now? What’s happened to my old life?” Whereas with the arrival of a second, it’s all about the logistics — can we wedge another car seat into our 20-year-old Honda? How will I mix this mac and cheese while simultaneously bouncing a screaming baby? Is there time to watch another episode of Boardwalk Empire before the baby wakes up howling?

Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband
Nick and two children. Send questions or comments 
[email protected].