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I'm Ashamed of How I Made My 1-Year-Old Behave

Photograph by Jill Simonian

I don't have many regrets about my motherhood experience so far. But, I do have one thing I'm somewhat ashamed of. Something I did when my daughter was a mere 1.5 years old.

I fear I made her grow up too fast. At the time, it was my only viable option. As all moms know, we must do what is necessary. (The tears are welling up as I write this and see my own words typed in black and white on the screen, FYI.)

When my first-born was about 9 months old, I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter. Surprise! I never intended to have back-to-back babies, but there I was. My husband and I announced baby No. 2 was on the way at my daughter's first birthday party. A part of me panicked: How would I handle two babies?

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A little over five months after our news-breaking announcement to family, my second baby arrived. With my parents living out of town, my husband's parents working and unavailable and no real option to hire any consistent nanny-type of help, I knew I had to suck things up and handle two babies under the age of 1.5 pretty much on my own. (My husband is amazing, but his professional schedule is not conducive to waking up in the middle of the night, preparing meals and/or taking over with daddy-duty in any kind of major way. He changed diapers and helped with baths, and for that I'll always be grateful.) I was cool with it. I could handle it. So I did.

I could handle it because, in my mind, I had a teammate. A cheerleader. I had a built-in best friend at home with me every day who I'd spent the last year and a half with laughing, giggling, playing and getting to know each other in the most bonded way possible. My first-born would be my helper. Solution granted. That's what big sisters do, after all.

I think back to asking my wide-eyed 1-year-old to "help mommy" and my own eyes get all watery. I'm almost ashamed that I put so much responsibility on her at such a tender age.

A few months before my second daughter arrived, I tried to stay ahead of the game and enlisted my barely-a-toddler into what I coined "Baby Boot Camp." She picked things up like a charm and we had a blast.

After Baby No. 2 was born, I'll never forget how shocked I felt to see my 1-year-old for the first time: She seemed so much more mature ... more grown up ... bigger. She marched into my hospital room with a hot pink pantsuit, light-up sneakers, a jean jacket and pigtails in her hair for the very first time (thanks to my mom). "What a big girl you are!" I said. She was fascinated by our new baby and couldn't stop staring, smiling and pointing at her. "This is going to work great," I kept thinking.

Life at home resumed with a newborn while I semi-depended on my 1-year-old for support. "Can you please hand Mommy a diaper for your sister? Can you please be a good big sister and bring me a blanket from across the room so I can keep our baby warm?" I never hesitated to ask my big girl for help. Because she always helped. She was a big girl mommy's helper and so good at it. So I kept going ... and kept asking.

I considered myself lucky (I was so proud of her!) and life continued as usual. All things worked out as I'd planned. Big sister helped get me through the tough newborn phase and my two girls are now as close friends as sisters can be (minus the natural bickering about toys and who gets to wear certain dresses these days).

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But as I've been out of the baby fog for a few years, I now feel like I required my first baby to grow up too fast. She'd become a big sister so early in her life, and there I was asking her to do things to help us. I think back to asking my wide-eyed 1-year-old to "help mommy" and my own eyes get all watery. I'm almost ashamed that I put so much responsibility on her at such a tender age.

At the time, it was survival. I know that. "Do what you've got to do as long as you're not hurting anyone else," I always offer to new moms. I didn't do anything wrong, but my memories don't feel quite right. Damn you, hindsight: You've made my first baby's "baby-ness" fade from my memories. Or maybe I'm just nostalgic for that sweet first year of brand new motherhood that seems to have passed too quickly and the sweet 1-year-old who was there to lift me up and encourage me to keep going when I most desperately needed it.

I only hope I'm returning the favor to her each and every day.

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