Attention Whiplash

NOTE:  I’m taking a little break from Internet Land this week (sorry, Orangette, but I will return to your lovely recipes that I probably won’t make soon), so I’ll leave you with a couple of posts I did in the beginning…you know, like 9 months ago.  I’ll see you next week.)

Saoirse decided to spit out a taco onto our dining room floor this evening.  Wait, that’s not right.  She didn’t so much spit it out as lean over her chair, open her mouth, and let the entire half-chewed black-bean-tortilla-and-cheese contents fall out onto the rug.  Appetizing, right?  Wait, it gets better:  as soon as it happened, I launched into the standard reprimand/discipline routine that was clearly ineffective, because the instant she had my attention, she grabbed a big gulp of milk, looked at me with that defiant look only a child knows how to give, and let it all gush out of her mouth, down her chin and onto her shirt.  And then she asked for a cookie.  It was one of those priceless moments that makes me think that sometimes my life would make an awesome reality show.  Seriously.  I’d call it TrainWreckTV.  But you want to know why she did?  Have you guessed already?  Yep, that’s right:  we were paying too much attention to her little sister.  And by paying too much attention, I mean we spent all of 30 seconds (okay, maybe 45) encouraging Quinn to coo to us.

Before Quinn was born, I spent a solid three months freaking out about introducing another child into the happy little dynamic created by our relationship with Saoirse.  Here was this dear child who was an absolute joy to be around, and I was convinced that we’d be scarring her for life by giving her a little sibling.  I worried that we were hands-down the cruelest parents to have ever existed.  That we were turning her world upside down and would have to pay for years and years of intensive psychotherapy before she could ever come to grips with the change.  My friends said that they felt the same way, too, when they were pregnant with their second children.  My husband, David, told me that I just needed to relax.  And my retired neighbors looked at me like I was some new-agey, wishy-washy, emoting nutjob (which I was, but that’s beside the point).  But I was really quite scared.  Saoirse was such an amazing kid, and we had such a solid, bonded mother-and-child relationship working that I didn’t want to mess it up.  I didn’t want to lose her trust.
Well, enter the Mighty Quinn.  Within six seconds of Saoirse walking into the hospital room after I’d given birth, I knew that trust had gone the way of my waistline.  She was angry with me.  She was confused–that was made obvious when she backed out of the room like a dump truck out of a construction zone, eyes wide, head shaking in denial, the instant she saw me lying in the hospital bed and spotted Quinn in the basinet.  I’d gone ahead and screwed up our happy little family.  I knew it.  My friends, my mom, had all told me that once Quinn was born I’d see that all my months of worrying were silly, hormonal.  That I’d be overcome with emotion seeing the two together and realize we’d given Saoirse the best gift a girl could get.  Well, dear readers, they lied.
Here’s the deal.  I am so madly head over heels in momma love with my little Quinn.  She’s more talkative than Saoirse was at this age, but also a lot calmer.  She wakes up cooing for attention, giggles at shadows and will crane her neck to watch any of us enter or leave a room.  And Saoirse has proven to be an especially attentive sister.  She’s the one who tells me to try burping Quinn if she’s fussy.  She’ll dab at Quinn’s chin to wipe away spit-up, and happily give me a running commentary on the color, content and consistency of baby poop.  She’s precious.  But what has been even more difficult than I’d anticipated in the throes of my hormonal worrying is splitting my attention between the two girls.  I know already that Quinn’s not getting enough one-on-one attention from me during the day because I’m so worried about the effect it’ll have on Saoirse–or the effect on my mental health when Saoirse starts acting out in response (see abovementioned taco-barfing).  I find that if I spend x amount of time cooing at Quinn, I make darned sure that the next instant I’m giving Saoirse a hug, or singing with her or promising to take her outside to play.  It’s driving me crazy.  I’m so hyperaware of my actions–and their potential ramifications on my little daughters’ psyches that I’m getting what I call attention whiplash:  whipping my head back and forth so quickly between the two of them I look like a cartoon character in a chase that can’t decide if he should jump off the cliff or get run over by the tank.
I sound neurotic.  I know I do.  I think I’m just a little grouchy that I can’t spend as much quality time with Saoirse as I’d like, and that I can’t just sit down with Quinn for a good chunk of time to make all those funny noises and goofy expressions that make her laugh so hard without making someone else jealous.  Does every parent struggle with this with some point, or do I just need to lighten the heck up and get over it already?  And if I freak out this much over just two children, what will happen to my fragile, eggshell-thin composure if we have more?  I guess we should find that therapist now…for me.
Right now I’m trying to balance it as best I can.  Amid all the laundry and cleaning, errands and mommy-and-me classes, I’m trying to just spend some one-on-one time during the day with Saoirse while Quinn naps, and then goof around with Quinn (I admit, I still tend to keep my voice down lest Saoirse hear me paying such loud attention to her sis.  I can’t help it.  We have thin walls.) during Saoirse’s afternoon siesta.  Dave tries to do the same when he’s home, but at least I’m there to hang out with the other child while he does some daddy-daughter bonding.  It’s hard, though.  Especially when you see your children as such individual, special little creatures.  You just kind of want to soak them up as much as you can.  I don’t want to miss out on any detail of their growing-up (except maybe those first few days of potty training.  That’s just kind of a slapstick nightmare of tears, stinky laundry and upholstery cleaner), because I’m already realizing how quickly these girls are growing up and out of my arms.  I know that what I’m really trying to do is make them feel secure in my love for them.  And I realize that I don’t need to break my neck in order for these girls to grow up confident and appreciated.  But as I scrub avocado out of my dining room rug, it’s sometimes kind of hard to believe it.

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