I have officially survived having “two under two”. For new readers, I had a new baby (Ted) nineteen months after having my first baby (Angelica) and so, for the past few months, (five to be exact), I’ve had two children under the age of two. I didn’t even know that “two under two” was a thing until people started banging on about it when I was pregnant; I’d certainly never considered that it would be a possibility. It took around six years for me to have a successful pregnancy and so being pregnant again so quickly was never something I’d prepared for!
The weird thing about “two under two” is that it’s so hyped up – or at least it seems to be – like it’s this crazy, mysterious phase that only certain people will experience. It’s true that having a newborn and a toddler – or older baby – at the same time presents some logistical challenges, but I’d imagine that having two or more children with any combination of possible age gaps presents certain logistical challenges. Older children get more jealous, perhaps, or maybe it’s slightly harder if they’re at school because you actually have to drag yourself out of bed (and get dressed, and get everyone into the car) to do the school run twice a day. I don’t know: tell me your experiences in the comments section!
Anyway, I thought I’d put together some ponderings on the matter, now that Angelica has turned two and I’m out of the proverbial woods. Not that anything automatically changes once the older one turns two – I actually think it is getting a bit easier, but mainly because Ted is more awake and is feeding less frequently and sleeping for longer periods. But here are my musings, with a couple of survival tips thrown in, in case you’re in the “two under two” boat. Or about to be. Or thinking of planning it that way. Nutter.
The only way I can really describe having a newborn and a toddler is this: imagine you’re a head chef at two different restaurants in an incredibly expensive hotel. Three Michelin stars for one restaurant, one Michelin star for the other. (Not relevant, but I like to embellish my analogies with a bit of detail.)
One of these restaurants is an Asian Fusion restaurant – there’s lots of wok-frying going on, lots of naked flames setting fire to bits of expensive fish, lots of sharp knives preparing sashimi. This, my friends, is the toddler. Always in trouble, needs constant watching in case your credit card gets posted into the bottom of the sofa – danger danger!
The other restaurant, same hotel, is the one Michelin-starred Italian. The signature dish here is a very delicate lemon, parmesan and white asparagus risotto. It needs constant attention and love, lots of slow stirring. If you leave it for too long, it will all go terribly wrong. The rice will be hard, the sauce will burn, the asparagus tips will go soggy. The risotto is your new baby. Little rice baby in the snug little saucepan.
But how wonderful to be the celebrated head chef of TWO amazing restaurants! The reviewers love you, you have a big flash car to drive and a nice house. You don’t get any sleep (because, two restaurants) but that’s OK because you love what you do and it’s incredibly rewarding.
The one problem is that sometimes you’re the only chef at the hotel. You have to do it all. If your sous-chef is away, as he sometimes is, then you’re absolutely buggered. Half the world wants Asian Fusion, the other Italian. So you’re there flash-frying fresh tuna, but at the same time you’ve got twelve orders for risotto. And the restaurants – get this! – are at opposite ends of the hotel!
That, my friends, is two under two. You’ve got your wok and your risotto, and both need entirely different types of attention. Both are a million miles away, but you still have to perform and meet the expectations of your demanding customers. You can’t let the wok catch fire, and you would hate to leave the risotto, even for short periods of time, so you basically need to run around like a blue-arsed fly all day (and night) making sure it all gets the attention it needs.
My advice for surviving as head chef? Hire as many kitchen porters as you possibly can and keep the menus small! By that I mean (in case you’ve forgotten we’re in analogy land) take as much help as you can find and don’t try to do too much. Just the basics.
And, lots and lots of stair gates. Zone off your areas. Create a series of holding pens for the one that’s walking/running. We have a gate in the corridor between the kitchen and the stairs, so that Angelica can’t even get anywhere near the stairs on her own – or the front door for that matter. We have a door to the utility that can be closed off, and then upstairs we have a lounge with doors coming off it, all of which remain closed for most of the day, and a gate at the top of the stairs. Zoning. It just makes life easier.
When Ted was a newborn, if and when I was on my own with both of them, I just lay on the sofa with Ted and had all of Angelica’s toys on the floor in the living room, and we could while away a few hours like that.
The most difficult times were feeding times and bed times. I suppose that they’re the parts of the day when your toddler would be used to getting the most attention and then, suddenly, you’re there with your baps out and a newborn attached instead. And the thing is, is that if you try to not feed the newborn and deal with the toddler first, the newborn cries and the toddler gets distressed and you want to go and slam your own head between two paving slabs.
The health visitor told me, “always deal with the toddler first”, but I found that having a quiet, fed newborn meant that I could then concentrate fully on Angelica. If I had a screaming newborn, I was not only stressed, I could tell that Angelica was too. So I was a little more flexible with routine when Ted was newborn – if Angelica had to have twenty minutes of Peppa Pig before bed to let me feed the baby and quieten him down, then so be it. Same with feeding: a bit of CBeebies on the iPhone at the table did wonders now and then, if I desperately had to feed Ted but also supervise Angelica’s dinner.
What else? Oh! Don’t try to actually do anything. And don’t you dare feel inferior when you see others doing stuff. You know these people who go out to coffee shops all the time and Instagram it, and then they’re in the museum with the double buggy, before jetting off to Australia for a long weekend to eat mashed avocados? They’re lying. I can barely get out of the bloody door. It takes me three hours to negotiate dressing the toddler. I’m certain that a lot of people just photoshop themselves (plus double buggy) onto various backgrounds. “Here we are at the Eiffel Tower!” “Here we are wild foraging for our tea tonight – I do love a bit of the great outdoors before Baby Yoga!”
If you manage to get them both fed and dressed and you’re all happy and relatively sane by the end of the day, you’ve done good. Even if you don’t feel particularly happy or sane, you’ve still done good. Anything else is a total bonus. A cooked meal is verging on miraculous: a trip to Tesco to buy emergency nappies (hint: use that Amazon fast one-hour delivery thing instead, it’s amazing) is foolish but to be highly praised. Well done you.
When Ted was just a few weeks old, I went back to work. I say “went back” but I work from home, so. Anyway, it was far too soon. I tried to do exactly what I had been doing before, at the same pace, and I think I almost gave myself a minor nervous breakdown. In the end, I realised that I needed to chop my expectations in half, in half again and then divide them by about twelve. My daily to-do list went from ten, fifteen items to ONE. One item per day. I’d put down a work goal (as small as “load images into computer”, which is a ten minute job) and then I’d also, if I could be arsed, write down a domestic sort of task. “Post letters” or – if leaving the house was too much effort – “sort baby clothes”. I liked things that I could do upstairs, in carpeted areas, with the baby on the floor and Angelica clarting about with her toys. And being able to tick things off my list, no matter how small, gave me great satisfaction. If I managed to do actual, proper work that wasn’t on my list, it just felt like the biggest achievement ever. So: reduce expectations, remember that what you’re doing – looking after TWO SMALL BEINGS – is already a massive amount of work. Anything on top is, quite frankly, heroic.
Oh, a note about dogs. Randomly. And cats, but mostly dogs. I bloody love my dog, he’s amazing. I’d be very sad if he wasn’t part of my life and he gives the best cuddles after the babies are in bed. Dexter the dog was in our lives before the babies and, at the time we got him, we didn’t know whether we’d ever be lucky enough to even have a baby. We were sort of at an all-time low about it. So along came Dexter and now, years later, he’s still great – he plays with Angelica, he’s gentle around Ted, he’s generally low-maintenance and gorgeous and we love him. However, he’s also basically an extra child. He needs attention, he needs walking, sometimes he throws up weird shit on the floor that Angelica then tries to pick up… He barks at odd things and wakes the baby, which makes me disproportionately cross, and he chews toys. All the time.
So if you have one baby, and there’s a possibility – even a slight one – that you may have another in quick succession, DO NOT GET A DOG! I promise you’ll thank me when you’re trying to calm a screaming toddler and your newborn is projectiling over the floor and you think to yourself, oh my God, imagine if I had a dog! He’d totally be licking up that baby vom at the moment and then I’d have to let him outside for a poo and he’d pick up a dead blackbird and bring it into the house just as I was about to carry two small humans up the stairs in a possibly treacherous manner!
Ha. Poor old Dex. He and Mr Bear the cat often look at me with great sadness in their eyes: “why is our home filled with chaos?” But they are so tolerant – I don’t know whether we just lucked out, or it’s the gentle nature of Cockapoos and British Shorthairs, or what. They are very much part of the gang, often joining in when things get heated and stressful – sometimes I’ll be preparing dinner and look down and there’ll be a cat around my ankles, the dog dancing about like some sort of demented court jester and Angelica running in circles with her dolly as baby Ted kicks off in his little high chair.
I don’t think I’ve really been that useful here, have I? Survival tips for “two under two”: zoning off areas with stair gates, getting all the help you can possibly muster and smashing your high expectation levels into smithereens. Try to go to bed early, as naps are a thing of the past (they will rarely go to sleep at the same time in the day, and even if they do someone will phone you or knock on the door and you’ll want to kick them in the kneecaps very hard), cook double portions when you make things like pasta so that you have a quick and easy lunch for the next day. I often eat lunch straight from the fridge, standing there with a fork – it’s surprisingly peaceful – so things like pasta salads are ideal.
More tips? In the comments, if you please – and amusing anecdotal material is always welcome here.