Awaiting the arrival of our second child, I cradled my belly and wondered what we were in store for. Our firstborn is a happy, curious, but cautious, little boy. For the most part, he’s what you would call “easy” — at least, as easy as a child who needs you for absolutely everything in their life can be.
It usually only took explaining the dangers of a situation to him once to trust that he wouldn’t venture where he wasn’t supposed to. Baby-proofing our home consisted of three haphazardly placed outlet covers and a baby gate that was more for our dog than for him. He doesn’t run from me in public spaces and still needs to be sure of the factors that may guarantee his safety before descending the slide at a playground.
My son is not a climber or a leaper. I can rely on him to stay put in front of his favorite cartoon while I take a shower. I figured our next would be a little different and maybe need a little more supervision and protection. But hopefully, she would follow her brother’s example and we would luck out with another fairly easy baby.
Thanksgiving 2015 was the last time I entertained that idea.
My daughter started crawling at 6 months on Thanksgiving day. It wasn’t long before she was darting across the room before I could jump up to grab her. Once she had a taste of mobility, she wanted as much as she could get and at the maximum speed she could manage it.
We quickly learned that crawling and walking were not the only things to watch out for. Soon, we realized they were just her means of transporting herself from danger to danger. Our house quickly became covered in bumpers to cushion the corners of tables, locks and latches on cabinets and toilets and drawers, furniture anchored to every wall, and child-safe outlets that I shoved outlet covers into for extra peace of mind.
Some parents may fear their child swallowing a small Lego or some spare change. I’ve pulled a pencil sharpener out of my daughter’s mouth. She has held knives no less than seven times. She grabs strange dogs by the face to look into their souls and tell them she loves them.
One day, as I was loading the car with our diaper bag and stroller, I sat the kids on the front porch for a moment. When I pulled my head out of the car after the two seconds it took to place the items inside, I turned to the porch and only saw my son. My head snapped around in the opposite direction, and I found my 15-month-old daughter, smiling in the middle of the street. She had to walk right behind me to get there and had picked those two seconds of a life lived with the volume turned up to 11 to stay perfectly silent.
In a lot of ways, your first child prepares you for your second. You have a base of knowledge to work with by the time you welcome baby No. 2 into your family. But besides knowing how to change a diaper or how to effectively suck snot out of a stuffed-up infant nose, everything I knew before has been rendered useless. This is now the Thunderdome, and my daughter is intent on shit going down.
Instead of keeping some distance and letting my son explore a playground with some independence, I keep as close as possible without stepping on my daughter. I stay alert, ready to catch her should she decide to swan-dive off of the highest point on the jungle gym. After a few too many instances of her wriggling her hand out of mine at the wrong moment, I now hold onto the back of her shirt and pretend no one notices that this is a leash without a leash.
There is a moratorium in our house on board games with small pieces after finding colorful plastic bits in her diapers. In the groggiest parts of my mornings, I fight with our pantry door before I remember that I put a lock on the top of it to keep her out of the dog food. At 20 months, I still wear her when we go somewhere crowded — not to promote closeness and snuggles, but to keep her from hauling ass across a parking lot.
You hear from other parents how different two children can be, but they never get more detailed than that. It’s not until after you have your own that you find out that “different” can mean one likes to play quietly in their room and the other spends their days playing “How can I scare my mother to death?”