Toddlers on the run
Is three much harder than two? This is a question I always ask myself before we watch my niece, Autumn. Just adding another toddler to the chaos, right? We’re already overwhelmed, frazzled and perpetually on our toes. The house is baby-proofed. We have plenty of milk, Puffs and purees. The DVR holds nothing but cartoons (and “This is Us”).
Surely one more kid can’t undo much when there is so little left to undo.
My sister and brother-in-law celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary last week. It’s wild to think that many years have passed since Katie and I planned our nuptials, tying the knot just five weeks apart.
Life looks decidedly different (and Elmo-infused) these days. We’re fortunate to live close to each other and our extended family, and Katie and Eric have been a huge help since Oliver was born. I can remember afternoons they’d come by after Spence and I had traded a screaming Ollie off and on all night, and I’d wave mutely while stumbling upstairs for an hour of shallow sleep. Other times they brought food, or cleaned, or simply kept us company.
Eric and Kate have bailed us out, helped us out, and altogether cared for us during some challenging moments. Seasons, really. When their daughter Autumn arrived in 2017, eight weeks to the day after we welcomed our second child, I felt guilty that I couldn’t offer the same level of help with my own babies at home.
But my husband and I have tried to be a resource whenever we can. I love being an aunt, and Autumn is a delight.
My daughter and niece spent their first year celebrating all the holidays and many milestones together. They’ve worn matching outfits for Christmas photos that we’ll break out at their high school graduation parties. Their little personalities have been apparent from the beginning, but are really starting to shine. Hadley and Autumn have been “in class” together since the summer, attending the same day care, and definitely recognize and respond to each other now.
So with the girls’ arrival, Ollie gained two playmates . . . and competitors. As I recently shared, the sibling rivalry is intensifying at our house. If our three-year-old and 18-monthold aren’t arguing over a toy car, tractor, baby doll or . . . you know, just the spotlight, it’s probably because they’re asleep.
And cousin rivalry is a thing, too. Hadley has always been territorial when Autumn comes over and takes “her” seat (wherever that seat may be), but we try to distract and compromise. That has prevented (most) meltdowns, but we’ll soon be entering the terrible twos.
Autumn arrived at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, smiley and brighteyed, and I braced myself for a day of nonstop activity. I didn’t bother putting on makeup that morning, and chose clothes solely for comfort. My sister has watched all three kids on many occasions — and how many people have three, four, five or more children? It’s possible, of course.
Also, I had backup. Spencer and I sipped from full cups of coffee, carefully placed where no little hands could pull them down. Two adults caring for three children isn’t the ideal 1:1 ratio, but it’s certainly better than going it alone.
Compared to her cousins, Autumn was the portrait of serenity last Sunday. I chalked it up to being in a different place without her parents. While figuring out the lay of the land, my niece was content to watch Hadley and Oliver squabble while crunching on Veggie Straws. She was thinking. Biding her time. Then she’d take off chasing Ollie, or Ollie would tear through after her.
By contrast, my ears were ringing from Hadley’s happy squeal. She “found her voice” and has no trouble using it, making all sorts of requests and her now-constant demand: “sit!” She loves to perch where she really shouldn’t. Oliver enticed the girls to plunk down in the wagon attached to a tractor he drives around the living room, then left them high and dry as soon as an interesting show came on TV.
It was milk, snacks and “A Goofy Movie,” followed by milk, lunch and “Sesame Street.” I did feel rather accomplished when both girls fell asleep and Spence took Oliver outside to ride his bike around the driveway under crystal blue skies. I had a whole 20 minutes of quiet before Ollie got bored. Bliss.
It wasn’t necessarily harder having three kids age three and under at the house, but it was exponentially more tiring. I rarely sat down. Spent all morning and afternoon counting the three of them to make sure no one had disappeared from view. By the time my sister and brother-in-law came back, I could have legitimately taken a nap before dinner.
But it was worth it. Just as I hope we’re fostering a strong friendship between the siblings, I’m also hopeful we’re creating a bond between cousins. The best way to do that is to spend time together.
And chasing each other totally counts.