Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

The second second trimester

Sometimes life rolls along such that Jon and I do not even realize how different it is to live with a child who can communicate her needs and understand that others around her have their own. We get up in the morning, pour her a bowl of cereal, and settle in for a peaceful breakfast, forgetful that a few years ago the same half hour was spent not in pleasant silence but in screams, wild gestures, puddles of juice, and tears because not everyone in the house used the same language. We spoke in English. She spoke in Utter Discontent, a cacophonous dialect of Fuck You.

And then days like yesterday happen when she is so physically and emotionally tired from having played with her friend for most of the day that the portions of her brain in control of language are too fried to make connections, too spent to send the right word down through her mouth and the only thing that makes it out is a cannonball of indiscriminate consonants. And what should have been a pleasant dinner together was instead a good hour of CANNNNNN’T! WONNNNNN’T! to a hearty rhythm of DONNNNNN’T! All because a bean was touching a piece of cheese, and in case you didn’t know, such is the recipe for the end of the world.

I will admit to resorting to this kind of behavior when I am that tired, but the difference is that the adults around me are more than welcome to tell me to shut up. As her loving and doting parents, we are discouraged from using such language with Leta, and so we have had to get a little more creative: “stop it,” “cut it out,” “if you don’t stop screaming I’ll staple your lips together.”

The frequency of these types of tantrums has decreased dramatically in the last year, but when they do occur Jon and I experience an uncomfortable yet familiar panic, and one if not multiple parts of our bodies will twitch with the memory of those endless nights spent pacing the creaky wooden floors of our old house, of not knowing if the screaming would ever end. Sometimes they give me full body shivers that start at the top of my neck and move slowly down through my toes, a physical manifestation of the realization that somehow I made it out alive having lost only a few gallons of blood.

And yes, I know we’re headed right back into those endless, sleepless nights, but ah hah! I am now fluent in Utter Discontent! I can conjugate the verbs and assign the right pronouns! And there is even the tiniest possibility that this baby might not be as skillful a screamer, which sort of brings up all sorts of things that might be different this time around. What if this one actually likes dogs? What if she eats food? What would it be like to live with a kid who likes to be cuddled?

Conversely, what if this one isn’t as good a sleeper? What if this one likes to climb furniture? What if this one is actually curious about light sockets?

Of course, we have no idea, and such is the risk and adventure of parenthood. But these risks and these sacrifices, I think, are a fundamental component of this unique experience that has given me more insight and understanding into other human beings than any other of my life. And all of this is to say thank God we chose to have children. Thank God for those endless, sleepless nights. Because I now know what I know. Because raising Leta more than anything else in my life has helped me piece together the puzzle of what it means to be human. I understand my own childhood so much better, understand my own parents so much better, and there is so much about myself that I have tried to improve that I didn’t know I needed to improve until I was reduced to a late night pair of pacing legs.

So much more makes sense now, and I don’t know if there is any other way I could have gained this type of insight into life. And I think this is what a lot of us are talking about when we say it feels like we were let into a secret club, a club we didn’t know existed until we got here, like we had no idea there was this much to know until our children showed it all to us.

  • Sue

    So, speaking as a mom whose first unsleeping, still-relentless child (who may be part demon, but hubby and I are still arguing over whose side of the family that comes from) you quite possibly will have a second child who is sleep, food, and dog loving. For me, it was hard not to imagine my second child as anything but a carbon copy of my first. But even though they are of the same parents, gene pool, and all of that – they are two very different kids.

    Still wishing you all the best!

  • Heather, this speaks so much to my experience of becoming a mother and then subsequently becoming a whole(r) person…and the horrible, awful, pit of despair (refiner’s fire?) that journey was. I would *sheepishly* like to share with you what I wrote about it…although, I will warn you, it is in a letter to my daughter, in a format which is 100% stolen from you and your wonderful letters to Leta. [as a sidenote, I think it is a wonderful, beautiful, helpful and healthful thing to do, and I hope many more mothers and fathers steal it as well.] http://tigerbug.blogspot.com/2008/10/new-adventures-in-growing-up-dear.html
    Thank you for being a good mom, and for helping the rest of us as we all create our own journeys. I have no doubt that, whatever struggles your new little one will bring, you, and your whole family, will be just fine.

  • Perfect description of an indescribable experience. Parenthood has thus far been the most amazing, most difficult most emotionally charged and draining experience I could never have imagined until I went through it. I love everything about her, every minute of every day. Even the screaming and scratching. Amazing. Congratulations on Girl #2!!

  • Katie

    Thank you for saying what is quite often hard to describe to non-parents.

  • Kris

    I’m stuck in the early stages of the screaming that never ends, with a very colicky 5-month-old child. We affectionately call him The Tyrant.

    Here’s wishing you much rest with baby #2.

  • I have the answer to your musing about light sockets. If she is curious about light sockets, your husband will most likely let her stick a screwdriver in one not once, but twice in a half-hour period. Yeah.

  • I remember having that moment of revelation regarding my mother. “Oh, she was just a woman who happened to have kids…I see.” It was so liberating to let her off the hook as I struggled communicating with my son who was fluent in Utter Discontent. He still is sometimes, but he is 15 now, so I can communicate more clearly with him, if you get my drift!

  • I am three weeks into life with my second, and BOY did I need to hear this.

  • Anonymous

    As to this “secret club”… I suppose the same could be said of my husband and me and our situation. So many people HAVE kids that by NOT having them, we’ve become part of a much more exclusive secret club. One that affords just as many, if not different, opportunities to learn, grow, and change.

  • Thanks. I needed to hear this!

  • For me, parenthood crystallizes the idea that all the crap I used to worry about is just that: crap. It’s not important, it’s not CRUCIAL, it’s not life or death. It’s minutae, it’s myriad details of daily life and I simply cannot fathom how I ever lived giving them so much importance.

    My girls, my husband, taking a walk on a crisp fall day, playing a game of Uno, buying a box of Strawberry Shortcake bandaids because they are the cure for everything. THESE are the things that matter.

    You are an amazing mom and an amazing writer. Rock on.

  • My two boys are four years apart and get along great 95% of the time. That’s saying a lot because one is 9 and the other is 13. They prefer to play with each other over friends many times.

  • boy, you’ve got a way with words.
    our little bean also speaks the language of utter discontent. only, i’m not very fluent in it.
    yes… the pacing- how will i ever forget those hours??

    but even moreso than your way with words is your ability to grasp your life. that last paragraph & 1/2 had me speechless. and jealous. i am so very not introspective or insightful. and this whole mothering gig hasn’t hit me quite that way. she’s 6 months old and i’ve heard people say that type of stuff. but i have yet to feel it.
    but it’s awesome that you are coming out so ahead.

    The Mr. & i have said on several occasions that if people had first children like our littlebean, there would be a lot less kids in the world.
    but i’ve read about leta & see that you had some very similar issues with her. so i look very forward to reading about princess aurora. kudos to you guys for making your family that much better.

    i hope she’ll be a wonderful & seamless addition to your lives. and here’s hoping she’ll be a calm baby who enjoys sleep!

  • This post is so true!

    You think being a parent is great though, just wait until you are a grandparent. It just doesn’t get any better!

  • My first was a lot like Leta. He made me wait nearly five years before having my second. She was so fun that I had a third about 20 months later. Either the babies are getting easier, or I’m becoming a better parent and completely fucked my oldest kid up. Jury’s still out.

  • Heidi

    Believe it or not…the second one teaches you things too. They are different lessons, but still very good ones.

    My second time around was much breezier (not sure if it was my improved mental state or my second’s easy way), but it erased a lot of bad memories I had with my first. In a way, it eased the pain and disappointment I felt having not “enjoyed” my first child’s newborn days. It gave me new perspective, and made me think back on those early, fumbling days of parenthood more fondly.

    I’m hoping you and Jon are just as lucky the second time around!

  • Sherri

    I had never thought about stapling my son’s lips. Hhmm…it just might work. I have a five-year-old son and a 21-month-old daughter. Other than the obvious, they are nothing alike, and you’re right: children help make sense of this whole crazy life thing. When my son was three, he announced, “Uncle Craig, I Has Angst.” Yes, at three he was already internalizing his emotions. My daughter is much more palm side of her hand up in your face and “STOP IT” when you tell her that knives are not toys. And your stories about Leta always reassure me that my son is normal. For the first time ever yesterday, he did not freak out in a restaurant because THERE. WERE. CARROTS. ON. HIS. PLATE. Thank you Dooce for contributing to me being a happy Mom! I wouldn’t trade this first job for anything in the world.

  • Oh, you almost changed my mind—in favor of having kids. Almost…

  • Beautifully said, Heather!

    Just think how much MORE flexible you will become after baby #2.
    Best wishes to you and Jon.

  • Amy

    What a great post. I’m dealing with my own emotions of being a parent for the first time and this helped put some of those into words. Best of luck with the rest of this pregnancy.

  • Erin

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – ‘Raising children is like being pecked to death by a chicken’. Amen.

  • After an especially trying day with my 3 sons all I can say is /cry!

  • Mother Nature never ever gives you the same thing twice. Of all the families I know, I’ve never seen it any other way. If you had a good sleeper the first time around, you’ll get an insomniac for Round 2. If you have a tough child the first time around, the second one will be easier.

    My first was a crappy sleeper, but an easy toddler. My second was practically narcoleptic, she slept so much. That’s because she was storing energy for her second year of life, when she damn near killed herself about a dozen times. I started going gray during one particular six week period when my #2 almost drowned at the beach (in spite of being attached to two adults), nearly ran off the edge of a mountain (again, attached to at least one adult), and ran into a field where a large pissed-off bull was hanging out.

    Never again.

  • Heather, there’s going to be a baby boom shortly after your second daughter is born, because I am pretty sure you are giving all the women reading your blog baby fever.

    I know I have it.

  • As so many have said … you really nailed parenting through the toddler years. I am going through the screaming part of toddler life and am I ever learning what real patience is. To top it off, I am 25 weeks pregnant and experiencing a lot of discomfort, illness, and lack of patience mixed with mood swings. My first pregnancy was a breeze … but then I didn’t have a toddler at that time. Thanks for sharing. It encouraged me and reminded me I am not alone.

  • Amen!

  • Wow. I’m pregnant (13ish weeks) with number 2 as well except number 1 is only 15 months (am I out of my mind?!?!) and I have these horriying glimpses into sleepless nights, crying, etc…and I think…what have I gotten myself into again?
    But as you said, becoming a parent comes with a whack load of insight into…um…pretty much everything.
    I concur with this post.

  • Tori

    Babies can smell fear I think that’s how the first one gets the best of parents. I think this new little girl will be a polar opposite of Leta. You’ve already experienced the worst of the worst. You’re medicating yourself this time around and I doubt you’ll be contemplating the same things you were after Leta.

    That’s the best thing about babies is that you have no idea what your going to end up with. If the second is a cool cucumber then Leta will pick up on it. She’s not going to have a complete personality change but she will calm down.

    I can’t wait to see what happens.

  • Suzanne

    Wow Heather… thank you for that. As a young woman who is grappling with whether or not I’m ready to have kids (or whether it’s worth it to have them at all), this post was somehow enlightening. I think I want to be a part of that secret club now (but maybe not for a couple more years ;D).

  • I wish I was going to get to have kids. sigh.
    Congratulations.

  • Tarynn

    Beautiful words Heather. Being a parent is the most difficult, most rewarding job in the world. I think the thing that amazed/continues to amaze me the most is how completely different my two boys are. I expected so much more similarity and it was/is almost shocking how night and day they are in attitude, behaivor, the way they communicate with others. And then there are the lovely, touching moments when their “brotherness” is so apparent–when they curl up for a movie on the couch and tell each other “I love YOU the first most-ess,” No, I love YOU the first mostn-ess” and I am so grateful for the beautiful boys they are and all the joy they have shown me was possible. I am so happy for you and your family and the wonderful adventures ahead…and so thrilled that you get to watch Leta spend her life with her new best friend. Lots of Love and Light.

  • kym b

    Heather, my 1st was like Leta…and is no less difficult at (almost) 8. My 2nd is infinitely more laid-back and never had those multiple-hour-long screaming jags as a baby.

    There is hope.

    We have 3 now. Kids are awesome.

  • Kerri

    Our first born was just like Leta…the first 4 years of her life were pure torture for her (and us) and it was completely unnecessary for us to child-proof the house. But at 5 it seems a light bulb went off and now she is calm, inquistive, & a general pleasure to be around. She still enjoys the occasional meltdown but the way we view it is she will be a strong & willful woman. Our second born is the complete opposite…a cuddler to the point of smothering, constantly telling us he loves us and we’re his best friend. But the child is constantly in trouble. Yesterday he smeared half of his bedroom wall with 4 tubes of his sister’s Chapstick (just because he wanted to). Good luck with number 2!!

  • I very excited to be joining this ‘secret society’ soon. Three days til my due date. Oh my.

  • aimee

    thank you for this. i am just entering this tricky territory with my 18 month old. i was having so much fun with him and now, frankly, i’m not.

    i needed to hear what you had to say today, heather.

  • Lori McBride

    Love it, love it, LOOOOOVE it!! You will be able to enjoy this little one so much more than Leta..NOT that you love her any more or less, but you will be “comfortable”. You know that you really can’t break them, and you also know that the long, endless nights of pacing will END, and that there is so much more on the other side of it…..It’s a scary proposition, but all worth it!!! 🙂

  • Mrs Smith

    I’ve got two kids, three years apart. Number one son never slept, nursed constantly but today eats fewer than six different foods. He’s super-active, needs constant supervision (even now, at 10) and is smarter than Einstein, which is what his first grade teacher called him. He never left my side though and I could always find him. He’ll probably live with us the rest of his life.

    Number two daughter slept beautifully, never wanted to nurse, but today eats a variety of foods (at 7 years old) that would impress a Michelin-starred chef. She’s already snarky and I’m guessing probably smarter than number one. She walked out of our house one day (at 18 months old) chasing a neighborhood cat and crossed a major highway without blinking. I’m guessing she’ll move out before she hits high school.

    It’s frightening, it’s scary and honestly, it’s not a matter of easier or harder, it’s just a matter of different. Funnily, we somehow survive and we love em all, just the same. Good luck, you’ll be fine.

  • having endured a horror morning (the third of a planned week of five)of the three-year-old refusing to move into the next level of swimming group which does not involve me revealing the undulating folds of my skin to the world but the nubile body of some young swimming instructor, I think I needed you to post something like this. I’m on the fourth round of child rearing and you speak the truth.

    If only those blazing tantrums of ignominy didn’t make me feel like producing a bit hot steaming bowl of gut soup – the chunky kind – victory would be mine.

  • Canuck

    Our first was an easy kid, for the most part. Hard to get started nursing, but after she sorted that out, it was easy street. She’s 14 now, and she’s still an easy kid. Our second wasn’t so easy, but that was largely because the third came along 10 minutes after the second. Profound, chronic fatigue ensued for about 18 months. It wasn’t pretty. But the fourth and last came by herself, and she’s been the most fun of all. Easy kid, and the bearer of more joy than one could have ever believed. So yeah, it’s easier after you have some experience. You know the ropes.

    Good luck!

  • Amy

    First born was a nightmare baby and far harder than the twins that came after him. There is hope. All the best to you all.

  • meara

    I have three, all wildly different. The oldest just got acceptance letters to his top two choices for college….much rejoicing for all!

    But in the dark of night, I realize, my baby will move out. And I will miss him, and his wise, quiet peacefulness. He was such a great starter-baby… we tell him he tricked us into thinking we were great parents.

    You may think you cannot love the next baby/babies as much as that first, but it’s not true. In fact, your heart just gets bigger.

    great post.

  • I guess this is why my mom always says just wait until you’re a parent.

  • My first child did nothing to prepare me for my second child. There are so different and I was not prepared for the difference. I thought how hard can a second one be–I have it down for one.

    Ha, the joke was certainly on me. Our second puts everything in her mouth–or son didn’t. Our second is a complete daredevil–our son wasn’t.

    So, while you speak Leta’s language be prepared to have to learn an entire different one. And, I can’t wait to read about the lessons.

  • Thanks Heather – I’m going to have to print this out and put it on the fridge. My husband and I are both on the fence about getting pregnant, and though we are definitely on the road to parenthood, I already have those chills and rigors of terror, not even knowing what the first baby will be like!

  • Erica Hennings

    Cheers to that! Juice of course…..

  • Thank you for this. i am just entering this tricky territory with my 18 month old. i was having so much fun with him and now, frankly, i’m not.

    i needed to hear what you had to say today, heather.

  • Catherine McP

    I’ll tell you, I was so busy with my first “busy” daughter, 3 at the time her sister was born, that the second daughter, from the day of her birth just was content in the corner of the couch watching us freaks. She just watched everything barely uttering a word! To this day she is the WAY mellow of the 2! She got use to the no attention! BUT we sure love her for that reason alone.

  • Geri

    She will be her own, individual person.

    And . . . it will be messy.

  • Our 3-1/2 year old, Eleanor slept like a dream from week 8, loved books from the get-go, and was the most non-snuggly baby I’ve ever held. Our 1 year old, Josephine still won’t sleep through the night, and uses books as weapons. But, she is so cuddly that you’d think snuggling was an Olympic sport.

    You will be amazed at how two completely different humans can be made using the same basic recipe.

  • Kids are the test to see if you deserve the unspeakable joy that is grandparenting. Good luck and I sincerely hope that this one is a cuddler, because that is heaven on earth.