Happy Birthday to Henry, Happy Time to Us
A little more than a year ago I wrote a post called “On This, Your Last Night of Being One.”
Henry turned three a few weeks ago — well, slightly more than a month ago, but I’ve been occupied with other things — and I want to memorialize this period of time in a similar way.
I cannot believe how much a kid can change in so short of a time. I also cannot believe how much cake he believes he deserves on a daily basis, regardless of birthday status.
Ivy was born in late January, and while we were in the hospital, Henry, who has a great passion for cooking, made a birthday cake for his gummy, squealing, 3 days old sister. Chocolate with white icing and a big R written in dried cranberries on the top. (The “R” stands for Rainbow, which is what we called the baby when she was gestating. It is also admittedly what we often still call her. (What’s the baby’s name? someone will ask Henry. Rainbow and Ivy, Henry will reply.)
He and his grandmother made the 2 layers of the cake into 2 cakes, actually: one had an R and one had an H: Henry’s own birthday would be coming in a few weeks. We sang to a dozing Rainbow and Henry blew out the candle. I figure that any celebration that your new sibling is alive should be seized upon.
Henry, at 3, sweet and stompy and bursting with stories and new vocabulary words and some misused vocabulary words, makes me happier than I would otherwise be every single day.
Lately, he’s faced his new challenge with real grace, knock on wood. Becoming a big brother has been, in a way, a pile of presents and praise and pancake breakfasts during which we all wore crowns we’d made, but in another way, it means that Mommy has other priorities and is generally sleepy and bleary. Recently he climbed on top of me one morning when I was sleeping and said “Mommy, can you have open eyes and be in the kitchen now?” A reasonable request, but no, not really, I’ve been up all night with your sister, who sleeps in a carseat stuck in a cosleeper facing me so she can be sure that I am there, at her service, all night. She is a dear baby but a noisy one, and the sounds of her underdeveloped trachea make her hick and hitch and whistle and wheeze. Her father clamps an extra pillow over his head. I sit bolt upright and worry.
We’ve divided childcare by gender. Matthew has been doing the lion’s share of the care of Henry, and Rainbow is like a new appendage for me. Henry goes to bed early but gets up early, too. Rainbow will sleep in if she goes to bed late, and I put her to bed when we go to bed because it’s what is working for me, and this time around I am less concerned about what baby books say and how we will almost certainly ruin the baby if we don’t do what they tell us.
And should we ruin the baby, I feel more confident that we will be able to fix her.
We realized at a certain point, though, that Henry became hysterical if his father so much as held Ivy, and he was downright rude to me if I tried to come into his room with her.
“DO NOT COME IN HERE WITH MY BABY.”
Or, “DADDY DON’T HOLD MY BABY: GIVE HER TO MOMMY!”
He had written me off as a parent and was depending wholly on his father. It hurt my feelings, and made me cry to have him say “don’t come in here with my baby.” But we fixed it, I think:
You see, we were granted the gift of an amazing paternity leave. My husband was able to take eight weeks off. It’s almost like we are happy go lucky Canadians. Oh no wait, they get two years. Not quite Canadians. But still, for Americans, what a cozy time we’ve had! It’s allowed me to have a lot of alone time with Henry, once we realized that we really needed me to have a lot of alone time with Henry, just like he has been accustomed to. (And frankly, just like I have been accustomed to.) Trips to Fairway, the playground, errands, lunches out after I pick him up from preschool: just like the good old days. We even went to a marionette-style puppet show together, though we left 10 minutes in after an ogre scared him sufficiently.
Today will be my husband’s first day back at work. After school pickup at noon, I’ll be alone with a threenager and an often smiley but just as often colicky seven week old until after bedtime.
Clearly, I can do this. Lots of people do this. But with a young baby who won’t consent to be put down and a three year old who is used to the undivided attention of one (or more) parents, I am gearing up for it to be like when I was a receptionist at a huge architecture firm when I was right out of college, responsible for I think it was 27 phone lines, and sometimes the entire board would be lit up with flashing, every line either on hold or ringing, and I needed to just take a moment and take a breath and take in the lights and laugh about it all, knowing that I would screw some calls up but that I’d just try to keep my cool and apologize when necessary.
I often joke that I was better at being a receptionist than I’ve ever been at any of my other myriad jobs. I act like I’m kidding, but I’m not really kidding. I really was good at that job. I begged to be transferred to something editorial at that company, something with more status, that required more brain power, and that would yield higher pay. But it was hard to get someone to fill the desk well, and they gave me the pay I wanted in order to keep me there.
It will be my strategy to think back on the pressure of the flashing switchboard and laugh when everyone at once is crying. I know I’ll lose my cool sometimes, but I am prepared to apologize when necessary. I can do this.