Tess and Nate look a lot alike. Aside from the fact that Tess’s clothes all look like a pink highlighter exploded in the wash and Nate’s clothes all had baseballs and soccer balls on them—are we a sexist society or what?—their baby pictures are nearly identical. Many of them even feature a very patient Wally waiting for food to drop from the highchair. Five years later and that dog has aged well!
But that’s about as far as the similarities go for Nate and Tess. First child versus third child? Totally different upbringings! And the more kids you have the more disparate their upbringings get.
This topic has been exhausted by parenting experts and mom bloggers #wehavetounionize! so I won’t waste your time with the rationale behind the phenomena and the pros and cons of each situation.
Instead, I’ll waste your time with some very specific details from our life.
I changed Nate’s crib sheet every other day—only the cleanest of slumbering nests for my baby! We structured our entire weekend plans around Nate’s nap schedule, and if some event was happening during his naptime, we just DIDN’T GO. I had an illogical, inconsistent internal timer for how much time he should sit in his car seat per day. I read books to him several times a day, and I actually think he stored his first sight words into his memory at seven months. I counted out every morsel of food he consumed and agonized if he woke up even just fifteen minutes earlier than usual. I vacuumed our house every day so that he would have a clean space to learn to crawl.
Meanwhile, at the same stage of life, we have Tess. I changed her crib sheet once, when we moved three months ago. Tess naps in the car on the way to pick her brothers up from school or in her stroller at her brothers’ soccer games. The only value Tess has found in books is that they seem to taste good. Wait until she finds out there are plots and compelling character arcs! Example: the tale of Elmo trying to outsmart the babysitter at bedtime is a real page-turner! So far, Tess’s edition is coated in drool.
Tess is learning to crawl, but she needs more practice. There’s just nowhere in our house to do it. The hardwood floors are slippery, especially since we don’t always have time to change out of her fleecy PJ’s—another reality of third child syndrome. A few rooms are carpeted, but they have other hazards.
One is covered in dog hair and I log very little vacuuming time nowadays. The dog hair adheres to the gelatinous food residue stuck to her face, knuckles, and aforementioned PJ’s.
Another carpeted room is obscured with Legos, the very same Legos that impale bare feet and choke infants. Nate and Sam have successfully booby-trapped that room. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some strategically placed IED’s just inside the threshold. They’re crafty like that.
A third room that boasts a nice soft carpet, perfect for a tumbling infant is the guest room and WE DON’T GO IN THERE! How many times do I have to say that???!
So, we often resort to the second floor hallway that connects the bedrooms. I throw toys at one end and cheer her on as she races—at a snail’s pace—to get them. Basically, I play fetch with my daughter.
The other night, just before Tighe arrived home from work, Nate joined Tess and me in our game of fetch in the hall when we heard a scream from the third floor Lego room.
Obviously it was Sam. Screams are always Sam. Unless we’re on a plane—then it’s Tess. Unless she’s asleep—then it’s Sam again. Because he needs more Skittles. #airplanesnacks
Anyway, already exhausted from whatever malady Sam was about to throw at us, Nate, Tess, and I turned our attention up the steps—also carpeted.
“What’s wrong, Sam?” I said in my most cheerful, maternal voice. Sometimes I like to pretend that it’s not the witching hour, that it’s happy hour.
“In the toilet?” I was so hopeful. So naïve. I mean, there is a bathroom up there, so it’s possible.
“Nooooooooooooo! In my pants!”
“I didn’t know it was coming!”
“Okay. Did you think it was just a fart?” We were still sitting on the plush carpet, calling up to Sam as he clunked down the steps. And my patience was still intact.
“Yes, I thought it was just a fart coming! And I touched the pooooooooooop!”
Hmm. The situation was starting to get more sinister, the tiniest hairline fracture in my patience was starting to show. Witching hour.
“Why. Did. You. Touch. The. Poop.” Did I really want him to answer that?
He landed on the last step and from our fortified position eight feet away, I got a clear visual of the situation. His Ninja Turtle underwear and his Adidas track pants were tangled in some sort of inside-out knot wrapped around one of his legs. He had apparently dragged said knot down the steps with him. His blue, long-sleeved Superman shirt was still on, but I could already see some brown… fecal gobs stuck to the sleeves. And his left index finger was lodged in his nostril.
“Stop. Right there. Do not move!” My voice was calm, but authoritative. Poop is a dangerous thing, and I wanted to make sure he really heard my instructions so we could work together to minimize the damage.
“I hate you!” That’s pretty much his go-to response.
Okay, things were escalating. But though I just upgraded my status from Patient, Loving Mom to Hostage Negotiator, I was still in control.
“Well, I love you, Sam. Now, walk into the bathroom and remove your underwear and pants. Lay them on the tile, not on the rugs. I’ll meet you in the bathroom and we’ll clean this up together.”
I still hadn’t moved from my #safespace, but I could now see some feces smeared on his inner thighs.
“No, I hate you!” Motherhood is a special gift from God. I’ll have to thank Him when I land in Heaven some day.
My knees creaked as I unfolded them in a reluctant effort to stand and rendezvous with Sam in the bathroom. By the time I got there, he had managed to smear some poop on the bathroom rugs and inside the sink. He was rinsing his hands with as much of our most expensive hand soap as he could coax out of the bottle and was gleefully singing the alphabet. Apparently, he had forgotten that he had just professed his hatred for his mother, the poor woman on her hands and knees violently scrubbing his legs with diaper wipes, in an ill-fated attempt to sanitize him.
I instructed Nate to lure Tess into her room, a relatively #safespace. When she ignored him, he went behind her, lifted her at the armpits, and dragged her there. She shrugged and let it happen. Let it be noted that the same motion would have sent an 8 month-old Nate, the little prince, into hysterics.
By the time Tighe got home a few minutes later, Sam was luxuriously paddling around in the tub, scooping large cups of water onto his head and into his mouth as he commented on the particles of poop that floated by him. Why do these things not bother him?
I handed Tess to her alleged father and announced that I had some poop to clean up. Because the situation was worse than I originally thought. Upon closer forensic inspection, it was evident that Sam had tracked poop down the carpeted steps and hallway—Tess’s once beloved racetrack. Oh, and on the walls somehow. But she can’t reach that high yet. And at this rate, she never will.
For Tess, there are no safe spaces in our house. She’ll never master crawling, she’ll have to learn to run first.