When I was pregnant with Henry, I did a little interweb searching for blogs about having closely-spaced siblings ("Irish twins," depending on your definition). I was looking for advice on how to manage caring for two very little littles. Even before we knew that they would both have special needs we knew we were in for a challenge.
This post is about things that help/helped. My two littles aren't like typical closely spaced sibs. It will be much longer before they are both walking and talking. But I think a lot of our experiences are relatable. I'm not saying I'm in any position to give out advice. But maybe there is another mama out there trying to carry her 13-month-old alongside a 7 month baby bump and looking to read about how someone else survived :)
1. I set up a "baby station" in the living room.
For the first few months after Henry was born I kept our Pack N Play set up with the infant hammock in the living room. In it I kept a stack of diapers for both boys, wipes, and a burp cloth. Henry was not the kind of baby who would chill there happily by himself but it gave me a safe place to put him down where big brother couldn't poke him if I needed my hands free to do something. It also served as a 2nd diaper changing station and Henry could take naps in there.
2. I embraced "Babywearing."
I also wear Henry around the house when he is fussy, but I need to do things (laundry, dishes... etc.).
At the playground the Ergo is a must because Calvin loves running around the play structure and climbing and sliding, and though I don't like to get all helicopter-y, he's a teeny guy and he still needs a spotter and maybe someone to play with and show his proud smile to. I can't just leave Henry in the stroller on the sidelines (for one thing, he would probably cry his face off), so Henry stays nestled in the Ergo while I follow Calvin around.
3. I try to be early so we won't be late.
This was especially helpful for those first few ventures out into the world when I didn't have a grasp of exactly what it would entail to make it out the door with both kids and all our stuff. So if we were going out in the morning, I would just start getting ready as soon as we were up. I'd get them dressed during those first diaper changes. I'd start packing the diaper bag as soon as I had my hands free. We'd get in the car as soon as we were ready, and since they were waking up at like 6am, even if it took us 2 hours to accomplish getting dressed, fed, and packed, we were still out the door by 8! Which meant I could make it to gym classes or play dates at 9 or 10. And when we arrived early, we'd just relax. Have a snack. Calvin would play or we'd walk around, depending on the destination.
I do this less now, and as a result we are late more often! I needed to remind myself of this one! It is also nice to do outings just by myself with the boys because then we're not trying to coordinate schedules with anyone else and no one is depending on us to be on time.
4. I joined a gym with a daycare.
A friend of mine talked me into it and I'm so glad I listened to her. I will say that, as with any child care option, it makes a difference if you like the babysitters. I have had only good experiences with the women who work at my gym daycare and they genuinely seem happy to see my kids when we roll in, so I feel very lucky and I feel totally fine leaving them there for a couple of hours while I work out and shower.
That's right! I get to shower without Calvin standing outside peeking into the curtain, and without worrying that Henry is crying in his crib. A yoga class and a shower in peace while someone else takes care of my children. #yesplease #itsthelittlethings
5. I found kid-friendly places where I could bring both boys.
Sorry Calvin... no more Gymboree or swim lessons... until you're 3 and you can take the regular class instead of the "Mommy and Me" class. If I can't bring baby brother, we're just not doing it.
So we got memberships to the California Academy of Sciences and the Bay Area Discovery Museum, both places with interesting things to see and learn about as well as toddler play spaces where both boys can play. We go to the zoo where they can both enjoy seeing the animals. We go to the playground, even though Henry isn't big enough for playground play. Believe me, he's more than happy to be snuggled up in the Ergo enjoying the ride. We visit friends' houses. We go to kid-friendly restaurants.
Getting out of the house keeps us all from being bored and gives the boys a chance for some learning experiences and social interaction outside of our little apartment bubble. Also I get to see grown ups :) It's definitely worth the effort it takes to make it out the door.
6. We bought cloth diapers with adjustable sizing.
Though potty-training Calvin has not been a walk in the park, I am glad to be using (and washing!) half as many diapers! For $$ reasons, we chose to buy cloth diapers which we wash ourselves, though we use disposables for night time and outings. I bought a boat load of Bumgenius diapers used on Craigslist and refurbished them myself. Since both boys could wear the same diapers, it didn't matter which diaper I grabbed, I just snapped it to fit whichever tushie needed diapering. We didn't have to sort the diapers.
7. I shop online.
I would love to be the kind of person who gets out there and supports small, local businesses consistently and maybe I can be that person one day, but for now I need Amazon Prime! I do run errands with the boys, but since each outing is kind of a big deal, I'm not going to just run to Babies R Us for one specific item. If they don't have it at our usual stops, then I'm going to go ahead and let Amazon Prime bring it to me in 2 days rather than planning a trip to an extra store.
Also, Amazon's "subscribe and save" program has been great for buying wipes and disposable diapers. We have a delivery scheduled for every other month so our supply of diapers and wipes just shows up without me having to remember that we're running out.
8. I made The Binder.
This one is more about having special needs kids. I use a binder to keep track of all their appointments, therapies, and medical notes.
9. We do "toy rotation."
Here's an article that I used to help me wrap my head around how to do toy rotation.
There are a few reasons that I like organizing our toys this way.
- Calvin really does more focused play when he has fewer options.
- The mess of toys on the floor is bad enough with a limited number of toys. If we had all our toys in the room.... OMG.
- It makes old toys feel like new when they get brought out after being out of sight for a few weeks.
- I can pull out a "new" toy as a Hail Mary if I need to keep Calvin entertained and he's bored with what he's got and I don't want to resort to #10.
10. I sometimes let Calvin watch TV.
I wouldn't recommend this one, but I'll admit to it. I generally keep it to one episode of either Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Sesame Street a couple of days per week. Most often I play the TV card to get Calvin to stay in the living room and stop throwing toys into Henry's crib while I am trying to put him down for a nap. Sometimes it's because it's late afternoon and we're all tired and cranky and we all just need to chill out before dinner (read: I need to chill out before I can manage to get dinner on the table.) I know that TV is not a healthy solution, so please read on to #11.
11. I go for stroller walks.
This is actually my new solution for the late afternoon crankies: I put them in the stroller and go for a walk. Canky Calvin gets to rest, cranky Henry gets to nap, and cranky Mama gets to walk it off.
Another mama once said to me "If they're strapped in their car seats, even if they're crying, you know they're not hurting themselves so just drive!" She was talking about going for drives to regain her own sanity when her littles were making her crazy. Stroller, or stroller + baby carrier, can do the same kind of trick.
12. I try to get them to nap at the same time at least once a day.
It doesn't always work out. But once Henry's naps emerged as a pattern I could kind of control what times to put him down. So I do my best to make it so that Henry's middle nap overlaps with Calvin's only nap. Even half an hour of peace when both my children are asleep and I am alone can be glorious. I love them. But a mama needs a break.
13. I take help where I can get it.
Calvin and Henry's grandparents are on the opposite coast, as are all their aunts and uncles. But we are lucky to have some awesome cousins and friends nearby who are happy to help us out.
My cousin Hartley lives right upstairs, so some days he will just drop in after work to say hi to the kids and see if I need a hand. He'll play with Calvin or hold Henry while I cook dinner, he will even feed Calvin dinner so I can take care of Henry and he will even help with bedtime if James isn't home yet! That is a huge deal for me. Hartley also babysits once a month so James and I can have a date night.
Another cousin, Pam, lives down the street, and our good friends Ben and Rachel live around the corner. Pam and Rachel are sometimes free to watch Calvin during the day, so if Henry has a doctor appointment I can sometimes leave Calvin with one of them so he doesn't have to be bored and stuck in his stroller at the doctor's office. This is also a big help! And it was especially a big deal when Henry's appointments were getting very stressful and upsetting regarding his diagnosis with Dup15q.
We don't have a nanny, and I choose not to put them in daycare (except for a couple hours at the gym a couple days a week). I always wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom. I love it and I'm so grateful to be doing it! But a mama needs help once in a while, so I am glad to have these important people who love my kids and are there to throw me a rope. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
It's crazy and it's hard, and it's only the beginning! But there's also plenty of fun and joy and love. And I know it's only the beginning of those things too.