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And Then There Were Two

Becoming a parent is kind of like coming down with a severe case of amnesia: You have no idea what just hit you (because you can’t remember anything, duh) or what life was like before you had kids.

Life with a first baby? It’s also like the first-ever case of requited love: You give of yourself completely, and lo! The feeling is reciprocated at long last!

When my older daughter, affectionately known around these parts as Petunia, was born nearly four years ago, my husband and I were chronically, helplessly and hopelessly head over heels. We doted on her nonstop and tended to her every shudder, sigh and bowel movement as if the entire future of the Smithsonian depended on us documenting and preserving each soiled burp cloth.

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We now know from experience that Peony won’t break if we don’t wash her pacifier every time it falls to the ground.

To be sure, mistakes were made along the way, much to our hysteria as well as the dismay of our pediatrician office’s after-hours answering service. But we were determined not to break, chip or bend her. Petunia was our own personal Messiah, and we made daily offerings to her feet (ensuring, of course, that even the tiny pinky toe’s nail was tenderly clipped) without fail. Everything we screwed up was noted guiltily but dutifully to ensure our next baby, Messiah Part Deux, would not suffer the same fate.

The irony, of course, is that when you finally have that second child, you do exactly none of that. Or anything else, really.

When our younger daughter, whom we lovingly nicknamed Peony in utero, was born at the end of last summer, it never even crossed our minds to do any of the stuff that we did — or didn’t do — with Petunia. It wasn’t for lack of love. It was for lack of time. Because, frankly, who has the time? We have a preschooler who requires more maintenance than the Gardens of Versailles. We’re lucky if we remember to take Peony with us when we leave the house (she’s awfully quiet and we always seem to be in a giant rush); fussing over packing up spare diapers and wipes is the last thing on our mind.

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Plus, the cat’s out of the bag: We now know from experience that Peony won’t break if we don’t wash her pacifier every time it falls to the ground before it goes back into her mouth. If she only gets bathed once a week, who’s it hurting, really? (She’s a baby; the only odor she emits is that of rainbows and shooting stars—both of which totally mask the four-day-old dried food hiding in the folds of her neck.)

She doesn’t know the difference between the new stuffed animals she received as baby gifts and the second-generation ones that her older sister abused, battered and quite possibly peed on before being tossed into our storage room. If she’s aware that her clothes were worn by three of her cousins and sister before they crossed the threshold of her torso, she’s declined thus far to indicate that she’s on to us.

Strap her into the high chair? Why? Because flying monkeys might come along, sink their claws into her tiny shoulders and carry her off to meet her doom at the Wicked Witch’s castle? Take video of her rolling over for the first time? Pshaw. (Oh, wait, we actually kind of wish we’d done that.)

As the younger of two children, I always swore I’d document my kids’ infancy equally. My sister’s baby book was the size of the entire Encyclopedia Brittannica collection. Mine was the size of a gonorrhea pamphlet at the gynecologist’s office.

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Petunia’s baby book is a glorious creation, really. The story of her conception is lovingly documented (although not in a TMI kind of way. OK, maybe there’s a little too much information). My pregnancy cravings are noted liberally (hey, I was pregnant and hungry). There are flattering photos of my burgeoning belly. The ultrasound pictures are shown in logical progression, the best from each session lovingly applied to the pages.

Peony’s book will be just as lovely, I’m sure. That is, if I ever get around to doing something about it. The book is sitting in my office. The eventual contents of the book are sitting next to it. Since neither Harry Potter, Harry Houdini nor osmosis have stepped in to make the two factions unite as harmoniously as Simon and Garfunkel (on stage, not off), I still have to do the work to put it all together (and I have friends well-versed in Photoshop at the ready to create new photos of me looking pregnant since we kind-of, sort-of failed to capture any images of me during my entire pregnancy with Peony). Which I just know I’ll do. One of these days.

When I have the time, that is. In fact, I expect its completion will coincide nicely with Peony’s college graduation. It should make a nice gift. You know, assuming I remember to bring it with me.

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