BABY | TODDLER

DESK OR CRIB?

I have been working on this post all year. Not because I was hesitant to share, but because its existence in draft form has allowed me to keep coming back to it, revisiting my feelings and tweaking. In fact, there was a point in the spring where, if I had hit publish, the ending would have been totally different. It tells a story about our den, about how where we live has had an impact on our plan for our family, about how our children truly are our best teachers and about our commitment to a simple lifestyle. Thanks for reading this one!

When we bought Oak House in early 2017, it was the largest of any house that we had viewed or considered in Victoria. It had the two bedroom, one bathroom floor plan that we wanted, but it also had a room at the front of the house, an extra 120 square feet that we honestly didn’t know what to “do” with. We had one child (and no plans for more) and we had us and we all had somewhere to sleep. I was planning to work from home, but also knew I’d very comfortable in the sunny, bright dining room, with my computer and notebook stored in the dining room built-ins.

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This extra room sat empty for over a year, sort of necessary anyways because it had a drop ceiling, wood panelling on the walls, gross flooring, etc. It wasn’t an inspiring place and we didn’t have any furniture or function for it. We started calling it the den — figuring it could eventually serve as a cozy extension of our living room, with maybe a futon for occasional overnight guests and a work space for me. At some point last fall, we started thinking, very tentatively, hesitantly… maybe it would be a nursery? This thought shocked me because I have always always pictured my family as a family of three — mom, dad and (ideally) one precocious little girl. She ride the subway, visit museums, travel to a dozen countries before she turned 12 and I would never have to say, “Just a minute” while I attended to her brother or sister’s needs. (Or, more realistically, “Can you give me one fucking minute?” while another child pulled at my leg, shirt or hair).

Around the same time that this “nursery?” thought was pecking at my heart and womb, the group of small family home bloggers that I write alongside did a post about home size and family size. The topic was actually my suggestion. When I suggested it, we had just purchased Oak House, our second house with two bedrooms. In choosing to live small again, we were renewing our vow to be a family of three. And it felt like it would be an interesting post to write and to read about how others felt. Did your home size have anything to do with the number of children you decided to have? Or would you have the number of children you wanted and squeeze them all into bunks if that was necessary? But then I didn’t even write on the topic that I had suggested. I couldn’t without revealing that I was maybe changing my mind about our family size and I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure. Having a one-child family felt central to my identity — in the same way that living minimally in a small home feels like an important part of who I am — so changing my mind felt like a pretty big deal.

There are many reasons why I have always pictured myself parenting an only child. Wanting to provide that child with the best possible life (from an opportunity/attention standpoint). Balance in my own life (Saturday morning yoga, part-time work) and marriage. Long-term financial goals. Work flexibility. My own experience with sibling rivalry. Knowing that I tend to play favourites. Hating sharing and not wanting my child to ever have to. Introversion (and so my need for a lot of alone time to recharge). Seeking a smaller environmental footprint. Age/health/vanity reasons — I only just started to feel like “myself” again around Frankie’s second birthday and had no desire to box up my wardrobe again. Freedom to travel — we can almost taste a child-free trip to Sonoma. Relative ease of eating out/getting around. Sleep.

But.

It’s sort of impossible to explain the love you feel for your own child or to know the wonder that is pregnancy and birth before you’ve been through it (and recovered from it). As frustrating/annoying as it was, I sort of understand, now, why people (strangers!) said, “Oh, you’ll change your mind” whenever I informed them that Frankie Rose was (and would remain) an only child. Living in Victoria has done wonders for our quality of life. We are so much happier here, with the beautiful weather, lower cost of living, flexible work schedules, the ocean and mountains right there — and our house, through no plan of our own, had an extra room. A second child, which we never even considered back in Toronto, started to feel like a possibility here. A blessing rather than a burden. Especially because a small family living on an island — well, that gets a little lonely. The cousins and close friends who I imagined Frankie growing up with — no need for siblings with the packed social calendar that comes with having family and lifelong friends nearby — they don’t exist here, at least not yet.

After about six months of anguished back-and-forth consideration on my part, in January of 2018, we actually made the decision to go for it — the den was going to be a nursery! (Once it was renovated, of course.) When that drywall was going up, I was thinking baby, baby, baby and picturing a crib on the far wall.

And then, Frankie and I both got the flu so badly — Pierre was away — that I had to call 911 and have us both taken to the hospital by ambulance. I was so dehydrated that I was unable to open or close my hands — they were paralyzed into these little claws — and the lower half of my body was tingling so badly that I couldn’t walk, let alone take care of a toddler who had been throwing up since 9:00 am herself. I felt so vulnerable — there had not been one single person (besides the paramedics) who I could call on to help us. (And before you think I’m friendless and alone here, I’m not — but it takes longer than a year to build the sort of friendship where it’s okay to cry and/or puke in front of someone.)

When Pierre got home five days later, I was wanting to reevaluate the baby question. He still had 18 months left in his contract with the mine and dealing with what I had just (barely) dealt with felt like it would have been impossible if I’d had two children to care for. But, it turns out, I was already pregnant. I welcomed the news with a lot of anxiety and a tiny bit of excitement. We were making progress on the den (nursery!) and thinking baby, baby, baby. I was having so many doubts, but trying to focus on the times Pierre would be home to help rather than the times I’d be juggling two young children on my own.

I don’t know if it was the terrible flu or if it would have happened anyway, but I lost the pregnancy really early on, around five weeks. I felt alternately disappointed and relieved about the loss, totally unsure about what that meant and swinging wildly between wishing I was still pregnant to feeling like I dodged a bullet.

We decided to sit the next month out, to try and figure out what I really wanted to do, and, in that time, Frankie went through a terrible sleep situation. Separation anxiety? Two-year sleep regression? Molars? Who knows — but I basically didn’t get any sleep for over two weeks and I was suffering. I couldn’t help but do the math — I should’ve been eight weeks pregnant at that point — and anyone who has ever been eight weeks pregnant knows how exhausting that is, all by itself. Forget the toddler who is insisting you sit by their bed for all hours of the night.

Work continued on the den — it felt strange to keep calling it the nursery — and my one month pause turned into two, then three. I bought (and read and agreed with a lot of) the book One and Only by Lauren Sandler. I read this article about a dozen times, basically every time I felt myself wanting to drift off to babyland again. Several months after the pregnancy loss, I found myself back in the “one and done” camp. It was almost as though the adrenaline rush of finding out about the pregnancy, that week spent thinking we were going to be a family of four and then the emotional drain of losing the pregnancy sated my desire for a second, at least temporarily.

Looking at that back wall in the den, the image that my mind’s eye conjured up kept changing — should we buy a crib for a new baby or a desk for me to grow my freelance business? It felt like whatever choice we made — as inexpensive/impermanent as a crib/desk purchase is — would be us choosing our path.

Were we going to be done with the infant/toddler season and enjoy the freedom and independence of having just one, older child (travel, work, etc.) or were we going to double down on parenthood, accept that this season of life contains many sacrifices that are worth it in order to feel that immense, unconditional love for a child? Would having another child really help root us to our new home and community? Did I want to give birth at an idyllic midwifery farm in Strawberry Vale and be a family of four more than I wanted to keep going to Saturday morning yoga and working a little bit and enjoying every moment with my daughter and not feeling stretched to the point of breaking?

I bought a desk.

And I spackled the cut-aways that would allow a door to close the den off from the living room. I ordered shades for the den — not the black-out kind. I gave a big box of Frankie’s 12–24 month clothes to our plumber. And I talked a big game with Pierre — we can go to Hawaii (alone) for our ten-year wedding anniversary! We never have to buy another $35 box of diapers! We’re almost done with teething forever! My clothes all fit again! I gave a big sigh of relief.

And then I changed my mind again.

It’s a huge compliment to Frankie that, before having her, I vehemently, outspokenly wanted only one child. Even as a child myself — nine, ten years old — I really couldn’t understand why anyone would “shackle” themselves with multiple kids. I hated sharing and told myself (and any adult who would listen) that my own child would never have to. But, two years after becoming a mother, I thought about having a second at least twice every day (mostly while my only child was sleeping). The one thing I didn’t understand about motherhood before I became a mother was, well, how intoxicating your own babies and children are. Frankie turns 2½ in a few days and she’s a walking, talking, climbing, singing, funny, little girl and, as challenging and exhausting as it all is, it’s also magical in its own way. As wonderful as it is to be done with food all over my floors, it’s also a little sad — the days are long, but the years are short, as they say.

We keep family photos on our fridge, some of our favourites from our newborn shoot with Edmonds and McKinlay Photography, and most mornings we look at the pictures and point out details and people together. On Mother’s Day weekend this year, Frankie pointed to her (two-week-old) self and, when I asked, “Who is that?”, she replied, “Sister.”

My daughter is her own person — she’s not me (who would have thrived as an only child). She’s kind, selfless, sweet, gentle, quick to share (yesterday she gave her only sticker to another child who had fallen at the park), loves being around other children. She’s never once grabbed a toy from another child, shoved or pushed anyone that I’ve ever seen. It look me a long time to get here, but, when I put myself aside (something I’m not great at doing), I realized that giving her a sibling would really be just that — giving, as opposed to the “taking away” that I had always associated with having more than one child. All those reasons that I always pictured myself as the parent of just one child? They were all about me. And if being a mother has taught me anything it’s that you will always, always put your child ahead of you.

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I have buried the lead a little bit here (thanks for reading this far), but we’re going to be welcoming a new baby Landry to the world in late January. I’m still a little anxious, but working towards excitement. True to our personalities, Frankie is so ready to share me with her “baby sister” (we don’t know yet) and I’m not quite ready to share my love for her with anyone else, but her excitement is contagious. How funny that she’s the one convincing me that it’s all going to be okay as opposed to the other way around. How much I still have to learn from her.

The den is going to be enjoying a few more months as an office/playroom and then it will become a nursery/playroom until both children are sleeping well enough to share, at which point I plan to revert the nursery to a flexible family space that everyone can enjoy. Our 1177 square foot, two-bedroom home is not going to get “tight” because of our new addition, but we are going to be squeezing a sort-of unplanned-for human into our small space, which will mean reinvigorating our commitment to living simply and owning less.

As for my office,  we’ve decided that I’ll stay home full-time for as long as it feels right to do so this time — no “back-to-work” date decided ahead of time. With Pierre still planning to work at the mine for as long as it feels right for him to do so, I’m taking the pressure off myself to define what and when back-to-work looks like for me. After all, that’s what minimalism is all about — figuring out what’s important to you and then saying “no” to anything that detracts from or overwhelms those things. Freelancing has been a wonderful way for me to have my cake and eat it too, but, between all the home renovations, weekly airport runs, homemaking, self-care and having just 12 hours of childcare/week for Frankie, it often felt overwhelming to me to work even part-time, as much as I enjoy what I do. Since I’ve added pregnancy (i.e., appointments, fatigue) to my plate, I’m planning to wrap up all of my contracts over the fall months and trust that I’ll figure it out when it comes time to look for work again.

 

I would just love to hear your thoughts on this — it has obviously taken up so much space in my heart this past year. How many kids do you have/want? How did you decide? Did you ever debate adding a child to your family? Any regrets?

Photos in this post by Rachael Alexandra co.

 

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14 thoughts on “DESK OR CRIB?

  1. I can’t remember how I found your website, but I love your writing and all the nitty gritty details on the whole process of how your living space transforms. Thanks for sharing.

    I really relate to your situation (except I as a woman am the one working rotations). I also grew up near where you had your Toronto house! It was fun recognizing the neighbourhood. The decision to have a child is very heavy as it has so many career/lifestyle implications. So I’m still on the fence for now.

    1. Hi that’s so interesting and thanks for reading. Do you still live in Toronto and rotate out of there? My husband used to do a 28-28 rotation Toronto to Suriname (pre-baby), which was very hard.

  2. Well – congratulations!! You’re in for a wild ride!! What a lovely honest and moving post! It spoke to me a lot because I also worried about having a second. I was “of an age” where I didn’t have time to waffle and I was one of my first friends to have a baby. So I had no idea what I was getting into. I had envisioned a daughter my whole life – so with one adorable son I thought “yes” to a second. A girl! The ultrasound technician reported “it’s another boy”. Ha! I found I would forget I was pregnant that second time – I was so enthralled with my 2 yo son. I worried I wouldn’t feel the same for another. I worried a baby would “get in the way”. My toddler seemed suddenly so big when his brother arrived. He was very excited to have a brother – but after a week did ask to return the baby to the hospital. I think 2 is a naturally selfish age with big “feelings”. It’s a tough time to get a sibling – 3 is supposed to be ideal (so you are in luck!). The second baby had colic. It was 2-3 months but it felt endless. My husband, bouncing a squalling baby, looked at me and said “We did this to ourselves! We ruined our life!” I can honestly say a colicky baby is hard to like. You love them viscerally but I didn’t like him – he was just a miserable thing that upset my toddler and cried from 7 to 11pm every night. BUT! He did right away sleep better than the first. I wasn’t as sleep deprived and he was an easy-going napper (I don’t know if it’s because of birth order, more confidence in the parents or just survival of the species – but second babies just tend to learn sleep better… I think you just don’t have time to fuss as much – and they just learn to self-soothe… and I had to do things with the toddler so into the stroller he’d go and would sleep on the go)… anyhow – then there was that magical day when my fussy little baby cracked his first smile at me. Love! And that very magical day when I made a tea and hung the baby up in the jolly jumper. He was very young (3-4 months?) and wasn’t good at it – just a few tentative bounces. My toddler was playing with one of those toddler toys with beads you push around… he looked over at his brother, dragged the toy over and started chatting and playing with the baby. The baby beamed at his brother and grabbed on with clumsy fingers. And that was that. A new emotion for me – a surge of love seeing my babies love each other. And I had my first hot tea uninterrupted in 2.5 years. They have been best buddies since. It’s a nice feeling – that they have each other. And I think you eventually get more time for yourself with two kids. Not always. Man – do they fight sometimes! But while young kids do need to be supervised of course – they do get a bit older… and they do their own things together. I find friends with one kid are busier – being a playmate and keeping the older child entertained. And while I thought I wouldn’t be able to love my second as much as my sweet, gentle first – you do. He’s a feisty and very different little human. His incredible capacity for joy and the intensity of his love has brought so much to our family dynamic. My boys love each other. They like each other and sometimes they hate each other. They are family. And I love them both separately and individually and completely. I’ve never regretted having another baby. I know 2 is my limit though! It’s a cliche – but the time goes so fast. Mine are 10 and 8 now (which I couldn’t imagine in the “baby years”). I left working full-time last year. I was the big career in the house and the one who left before everyone and came home at 6. Generally choosing to live “smaller” and under our means (and some tremendous Toronto real estate luck) gave us some options. My husband has work-life balance with his career. So I am taking a break. It’s been good for all of us. It’s taken me a year to be comfortable with not working (and not calling myself “unemployed” because taking over the primary care of the home and family IS a job). And maybe we didn’t go to Aruba this winter… but I find myself watching my boys run down the RC Harris hill to a sparkling beach on a regular Tuesday afternoon on a sunny day and it’s not a bad compromise. I get time with them now while they are little. I only have a few years left. And people tell you and I now know it’s true: “It goes so fast.” It’s gone forever when it does. So hang in there and enjoy and know even the worst days with your babies will be precious to you for the rest of your life! And there will always be work and there will be time to travel again. Although we’ve done quite a bit of travelling with two kids since they were little. It’s not that hard (just more expensive- so you get creative – book places with kitchens and eat out less). You end up seeing things you wouldn’t bother if you didn’t have them. It just becomes natural. Within weeks wrangling two kids around becomes so normal – you forget how it was with one. You’ll be fine. And your daughter will thank you for her sibling for the rest of her life. I know I do for my brother. My wonderful awesome younger brother! My mom wanted an only child – I know he was partially for me. The best gift ever. For her too.

    1. Hi Jenifer and thanks so much for your response… how encouraging that you feel two has all been worth it, even though it was difficult at the beginning. Truthfully, it hasn’t even crossed my mind that I could have a difficult second baby — all my concerns about managing two are there assuming baby no. 2 is just as easygoing as Frankie was, uh oh!

      Her excitement is contagious, though, of course, she has no real idea of what a new baby in the house will truly mean for her. She loves looking at the ultrasound pictures and we’re planning to pay for one of those 3D ultrasounds this time just so she can come (as she isn’t allowed to attend any actual medical ones).

      I hope they will be good friends to each other! Thanks again for sharing.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions. I was a “one and only” or is it “one and lonely?” And it is true that there are opportunities and advantages in being the only one, but also disadvantages. I got all the love, but also all the blame as there was no one else to point a finger at.
    I’ve enjoyed following your story. We also put in time in Toronto and Ottawa before returning to the west coast. Victoria is one of my favourite places and our daughter has settled in Sooke. Your stories are just as if we were neighbours sharing a cuppa tea.
    Many thanks, and many wishes that all your dreams and plans are fulfilled with that which you need.

    1. Hello there and thank you, both for reading and your perspective as an only child.
      I say I would have thrived as an only child, but that’s really because my best friend (another girl, six months older) lived right next door. I imagine I would have been quite lonely if I hadn’t had her AND I hadn’t had a sibling. One of the reasons we chose our house in Victoria was for the boy/girl twins who live next door (3 months younger than my daughter). They are her playmates for sure, but they’re also twins with a special bond (and busy schedules) of their own.
      How great you get to visit your daughter in Sooke — a beautiful spot for sure.

  4. Congratulations! I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with the nursery.

    I always thought I wanted at least four children. I’m one of three. I begged for my little brother, who was born when I was four. Then I begged for more siblings for years. I gave up in high school, but my parents did end up informally fostering a few of our friends.

    So naturally, I ended up being infertile. My husband and I were able to adopt an absolutely wonderful little boy, though. The adoption process was so consuming and emotionally taxing that we were hesitant to undertake it again. So we were wrapping our heads around having an only child. But he was really enough. How could we love another kid as much as we loved him? I read that One and Only book and thought, yes. This isn’t the life I had planned but I love it as much as if I had chosen it.

    So naturally… I ended up pregnant. This was after eleven years of infertility, so we call it a Biblical level surprise. When our eldest son was four, our second son was born.

    They are so close. They are 6.5 and 2.5 now. It’s wonderful to watch them together. They share a room, which is going almost miraculously well. The first few months were rough on me. The boys were fine. It’s just a lot to take care of a newborn plus another kid. Get as much help as you can. But it gets a lot easier. And in my very limited experience, the younger one strives for independence earlier to keep up with the big kid.

    1. Well congratulations on your miracle pregnancy and family!

      Thanks for your encouragement. Your youngest is the same age as my daughter and I do try and look ahead to the time when she’s the older child, when I’ll have two aged 5.5 and 2.5 and I can picture how much fun that will be. I also feel like it’s harder to have one 2.5 yo than to have a 2.5 yo who has an older sibling — surely they can entertain each other a little bit, while right now I’m my daughter’s main playmate and 2.5 feels like a lot of work.

      I’ll definitely be sharing updates on the new nursery, but I’m so content to wait until much closer to my due date to set it up this time. I think my daughter’s was all ready by August (born in January, haha). We’ve at least done the heavy lifting of floors and walls, but we do want to add a door and get some curtains.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your story!

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