So Josie’s getting a sister in October.
We’re thrilled, if still a bit discombobulated. Suffice it to say that, compared to the laborious overland journey required to make Josie (you remember we called it the Bataan Sex March), this pregnancy happened, um, instantly. Back in January, on the way back from the corner bodega, a thought (“Wait a minute…when did I last…?”) suddenly dawned. I whipped out my Palm Pilot, poked around the calendar, and realized, “uhhhhhhhh.”
It’s interesting how different it is, expecting number two. Nothing like expecting number one, when every symptom of pregnancy was utterly fascinating. Last time, I rushed out to a maternity store with a girlfriend and tied on the little model belly pillow, and we hugged each other and cried. It was just like trying on wedding gowns, only I was trying to look fatter instead of thinner. Then I bought a bunch of adorable Liberty-print shirts and long 1960s-ish shorts that I never wore. (Why is it that during your first pregnancy, your normal fashion sense evaporates and you become Doris Day? During your second pregnancy, you wear your real clothes until your belly is applying for its own ZIP code, then grudgingly go to Old Navy and try to spend $12 for a pair of maternity black yoga pants and seven boring tank tops.)
Last time, I luxuriated in every ache and pain, rubbed Amikole butter into my belly, took regular prenatal yoga, read Web sites about uteri obsessively, sent off e-mails detailing when the fetus was developing fingernails. Now I only think about how the baby will affect Josie. How will Josie feel when she discovers the world doesn’t revolve around her? How will our baby sitter, Rita, manage two rugrats? How will I manage to write and nurse and spend time with my big girl? When will I sleep? (The British writer Rebecca Abrams calls bedtime with two children “the arsenic hour.”) And how in God’s name will we afford two kids in the city?
When a friend of mine was hugely pregnant with her second, she cried on my shoulder how she was secretly terrified that she could never love another child as much as she does her first. I don’t have that fear. But now that I have this lively, mouthy little toddler (on Monday, when we ordered her to stop whining and rephrase that last kvetch in the form of a question, she whined proudly: “But I’m so gooood at whining!”), a newborn doesn’t seem quite… human to me. More like a pet. Make no mistake, I’ve always loved my pets; I’ve spent more on the medical bills for Sebastian, our 26-pound elderly diabetic cat, than I have for Josie. I tell myself: “Hey, viewing a newborn as a gerbil equivalent is better than regarding it the way a recent Psychology Today article did: a screaming meatloaf. And hey, I’m sure I’ll eventually see the baby as a human being with an actual personality.” But that time seems pretty far away.
Truthfully, I think of the baby as a civilization workshop for Josie. She’ll learn that she isn’t the center of the universe. She’ll start preschool in September, and her life apart from me will blossom even more than it already has. Which is scary. I’m scared of Josie feeling bereft, scared of her having to deal with cliques and mean girls and math, scared of her growing away — even though I know that’s in my job description as a parent.
Now that I’ve started to look like a planet, we have broken the news to Josie. Her response: Hurling herself dramatically to the ground, she sobbed: “I don’t want to be a big sister! I want to be a big brother!” (And here I was thinking that her admiration of her pal Raphael’s penis wasn’t a problem.) But I think she’s coming around. She’s been raising her shirt and rubbing her belly, saying: “Ooh, look how big my belly is getting.” Or putting a balloon under her dress and waddling around, cooing: “We’re gonna have a baaaybeee!” We’ve been reading “Julius, the Baby of the World” and other books about siblinghood. She’s been spending a lot of time with her pal Maxwell’s baby brother, kneading his meaty thighs and murmuring: “Look at this cute chunk of delicious baby!”
It helps that suddenly, gazillions of our friends are expecting. Josie must think the entire universe is pregnant. Two of my closest girlfriends are pregnant with their firsts; three of Josie’s playmates will have new siblings this summer and fall. (A single, 20-something female friend of Jonathan’s, who came over to find our living room full of giant bellies and screaming toddlers, backed away slowly, saying: “Remind me not to drink the water around here.”) And Josie doesn’t miss a trick. A few months ago, our baby sitter, Rita, asked me: “Is your friend Gayle pregnant?” I asked: “How’d you know?” She said: “Josie must have overheard something. She just told me, ‘Gayle has a baby in her belly, and her boobs hurt.’” A few weeks later, when Gayle asked Josie what she should name her baby, Josie yelled: “Cream Cheese!” (But only if it’s a girl. Her suggestion for Raphael’s new sibling: “Rice Cake.”)
We’re making headway on getting Josie physically, if not emotionally, ready. Toilet training is, knock wood, going great. (Having a child who is heavily motivated by food and fashion is a good thing. Between the lure of Dora the Explorer underpants and the promise of M&Ms — aka “Emma Ems” — we’re so covered.) Knock wood, I’ll only have one kid in diapers. Josie’s sleeping in a big-girl bed. Alas, she still takes a bottle at bedtime and naptime (my secret shame as a parent), but you can’t have everything.
To some degree, I’m choosing to live in denial. If Josie starts defiantly peeing on the floor and demanding to nurse, we’ll deal with it. If I once again can’t manage natural childbirth, so be it. If I have more trouble nursing, I already have the lactation consultant’s phone number. If we have to eat ramen until the kids are in college, OK. For now, I’m just focused on getting as much work done as I can before the new kid gets here.
I do let myself think about the fun stuff of having a second, including picking a name. I’m spending too much time on the Social Security Administration’s baby name Web site. (Did you know that in 2003, the 969th most common name for girl babies born in the United States was “Baby”? Who are these morons?) So far, all I know is that we intend to follow the advice of Bill Cosby: Always end the name of your child with a vowel so that when you yell, the name will carry.
And I’ll quiz anyone with an older kid about how to make things easier. (Put the big sibling’s picture in the bassinet at the hospital. Let your spouse be the one who holds the baby when you walk back into the house. Make sure that guests who come to coo over the new arrival also talk to Josie — about something other than her sister. Check.)
And I worry about how all this will affect my relationship with Jonathan. But hey, I keep telling myself that now, we’ll each have one to push our wheelchairs.
Write to Marjorie at firstname.lastname@example.org.