A Dad's View 19: Will my clothes ever be clean again?
A second child teaches you that kids are tougher than you first thought. But they can still alarm you, Tom Dunmore discovers
It's a cold and bright winter's morning and I'm sitting in the kitchen, sipping coffee and shooting the breeze with my wife, when I hear a bang in the garden.
'Where's Erik?' Lise asks.
'He's upstairs with Ava,' I reply. 'At least, I think he is'.
And then it strikes me that things have been quiet for at least five minutes. Deliciously, but suspiciously, quiet.
The peace is rapidly shattered by another bang from the garden, and this time we see something white and fist-sized bounce up from the ground, rapidly followed by something distinctly washbag-shaped falling from the sky and bursting into pieces on our decking. We run as fast as we can up the stairs.
Sure enough, there is our 18-month-old boy, standing on tiptoes on the toilet and dropping the contents of our bathroom shelf out of the window while his sister – undoubtedly the ringleader – attempts to hide in the airing cupboard.
'Erik!' puffs Lise, relieved to see our little boy still on the inside of house.
'Ava,' I chide, 'you should know better than letting Erik...'
'Tom!' interrupts Lise, pointing at the window I left open after my shower. 'It's not Ava's fault!'
Erik leans a little further out to survey the debris. 'Down!' he says. 'Uh-oh!'
The truth is that recently I may have become a little too laissez-faire in my attitude to child-rearing. This is classic second-child syndrome: after walking on eggshells for three years, doing everything in my power to make sure my little princess doesn't graze her knee or poke her eye out, the pendulum of vigilance has swung the other way with child number two. It's partly because he's a boy, I suppose, but it has far more to do with the inability to double the amount of energy you expend on protecting your children.
My friend Rob, a father of four, put it this way: with number one, your entire focus is on your child. After number two, the priority becomes your own survival. That's why the clothes will eve'r be move from one to two is such a gear change – and Rob reckons you barely feel three and four. I'm not sure his wife would agree, but I get the point. A second child forces you to make some tough decisions that are easier to avoid when you only have one baby – like knowing when to surrender.
Since I gave up on the mad notion that I could stay in control of my kids, life became a lot more enjoyable. For example, I discovered toddlers are meant to fall over – and can get back up without your help. That's how they learn they don't need to turn every minor setback into a major crisis. I also learned that it's easier to house-train a child than childproof a house. I discovered that mealtimes become a lot less stressful when you stop caring whether your clothes will ever be clean again (they will – in a couple of years).
Most important of all, I found that night-time awakenings become less frequent when you stop immediately jumping out of bed and reaching for a bottle of milk. In fact, I've begun to think that parents who claim their babies sleep through the night are simply deeper sleepers – better able to block out the coughs and whimpers that turn into fully fledged screams when regularly treated with tenderness and milk.
Learning when to stop worrying is a crucial stage of parenthood, however many kids you have. Second-child syndrome simply forces your hand. So if you only have one child and you want a fresh perspective, I'll happily lend you one of mine. But I will want them back. Eventually.