Splitting myself in two

Neve and I preparing for a Halloween event this past weekend. She’s a cute little elephant, no?

It’s almost midnight on Halloween, 2012, and I just crept from Neve’s room, where she’d cried out moments ago. Though she was mostly still asleep as I stroked her hair, I heard the strange crinkle of foil as she shifted her body against the crib’s bars.

It took me a moment to figure out what I was hearing. But then I remembered Joe telling me that Neve had insisted on taking a granola bar – given to her by a neighbor during her inaugural, miniature trick or treat adventure – to bed. And as my eyes adjusted to the room’s dark, I started to see the baby monitor’s blue light reflecting off the foil package gripped in Neve’s fist.

Seeing that light sparked a new, small pang of sadness in me. I’d missed Neve’s first trick or treat outing – missed seeing her dressed up again in her little elephant costume – because I was accompanying Lily and her friend as they exuberantly worked the neighborhood.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my time with Lily. I had great fun with her. It’s just that now, with two children, I often feel that when I spend time with one daughter, I’m potentially missing out on some great moments with the other.

Sometimes I just want to split myself in half, or clone myself, so I can be both snuggling in the living room with Lily while reading books or watching “Winnie the Pooh” AND playing with toys in the basement playroom with Neve simultaneously. Neve needs more attention and supervision than Lily at this point, so I feel Lily gets shortchanged often, left alone to entertain herself for significant segments of time; but then when we’re all together, Lily stands in the spotlight, full of charisma and ideas and motion and words, and I worry that Neve feels overlooked and forgotten. It’s a classic lose-lose.

And things like this Halloween thing drive me batty. Because had I known that Neve would be remotely interested in dressing up in her costume and trick or treating, we could have all gone to the houses on our street together, as a family, and I would have missed nothing. But a photo taken of Neve in her costume at daycare suggested she hadn’t cared for the experience one bit (she’s weeping and looks miserable – the saddest little elephant ever), and she’d been a bit sensitive since I’d picked her up (I got the stiff backed, screaming car seat revolt, where I couldn’t buckle her in, and she was touchy during dinner). For these reasons, I thought, as much as I’d like to dress her up and take her out, I don’t think it’s in the cards.

So what happens? Lily’s friend and her dad arrive; we get ready to leave and head out the door. At this point, Joe reports, Neve acted like she wanted to go out to, and pointed toward her elephant costume on the floor. Joe asked if she wanted to put it on, and she nodded. Once dressed, they hit the surrounding houses, where Neve wasn’t smiley or effusive – more tired and ponderous – but still seemed quite set on being a part of things.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed my time with Lily. To every neighbor on our street, she called in a loud voice, “This is my friend Sovay from my school!” And the two girls ran and giggled and screamed across yards and sidewalks. She had a ball, and I was glad to finally witness this myself, since Joe had taken her out the previous two years. (I had beaten myself up about “missing” a memorable moment of her childhood each time, of course.) So it’s not like I didn’t have a good time where I was; and as Joe pointed out, he missed out on seeing Lily dash from house to house. (Damn his logic.)

Ultimately, it’s impossible to be present for everything, even when you have one child. But I feel so torn in two sometimes that it hurts. I want to encourage and read to and love and snuggle with each one as much as I can, and I want to try to give them equal time, when we can’t do something all together. But it never feels like enough.

The differences in their ages, when they’re so little, is part of the problem. At this point, I’m starting to take Lily to shows with me, when appropriate, as well as movies. Neve’s not there yet, obviously. So I fear she’s getting the shaft.

Perhaps this is why – as much as I, as a lifelong night owl, rail and rage against it – a small part of me had made peace with the fact that Neve wakes up a little before, or at, 6 a.m. every day. (I write this while calculating that as I wrap this up, I’ll be awakened in about 5 hours.) Joe is usually showering and shaving then, in order to get some work done at home before he goes in, so it falls to me to whisk Neve’s little standing, crying form from her crib. It’s dark as night still, but I can see her arms upstretched in silhouette.

We head downstairs to the kitchen, where I fill her favorite sippy cup with whole milk, not turning on any lights, and tote her to the dark den, settling with her on the couch. She usually burrows into me – sometimes snoozing – and after cuddling for while, with just the light of a nearby streetlamp seeping through the room’s windows, she reaches for the milk and drinks it down. Then we go play for a while or eat breakfast before waking Lily at 7:30.

In these times, I’m glad for the rare opportunity for some one on one time with Neve. She’s had only a fraction of the time Lily had with just me, of course. But then, I remind myself how much happier and more engaged she is for having Lily around to watch and play with. Still, holding Neve in my arms for a while at the start of each day grounds us both, I think, and prepares us for the day ahead.

Yes, I’m nonetheless hounded by fear and guilt about the following things: while I read to Lily all the time when she was a baby, and took her to library storytimes, opportunities to do either with Neve have been far scarcer; as the cliche goes, we have considerably fewer photos of Neve than we did of Lily as a baby/toddler (I’M a second child – how did I let this happen??); because Lily’s allowed a small allotment of television per day, Neve’s been exposed to that a bit earlier than I would otherwise wish; about a month ago, Neve attached herself to a stuffed dog from Lily’s closet (because just about all the stuffed animals we have are Lily’s – more guilt) and hasn’t let go since, making me think that the toy is a more dependable companion than me (admittedly, this is a super-neurotic stretch); and when both Lily and Neve demand my attention, I feel anxious and deflated – like I’m utterly failing them both.

But I can’t be in two places at once. And while that means I’ll inevitably, sometimes, miss nice moments with one child while focusing on the other, I have to accept that.

Somehow.

Preferably, soon.

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One thought on “Splitting myself in two

  1. Wendy Fuller says:

    I understand EXACTLY how you feel! With 14 week old Lexy and 1 19 month old Zoey, I feel like I am in triage mode, going from one to the other handling what HAS to be handled. There is a LOT of guilt there. However, when I see Zoey kiss Lexy. or Lexy smile at Zoey, it makes my day and the guilt subsides for a brief moment.

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