It has surprised and alarmed me to realise that I don’t really have many solid memories of my middle child’s toddler days.
What was he like? What things did he used to do that made us smile? It’s almost like there is this big blip between Rory as a baby, and Rory as he is now – a walking talking four year old.
What about the time when he was largely non-verbal, just as Otto is now, but full of character and making a huge lovely mark on our shifting family dynamics? Why can’t I remember the shift from having a baby and a preschooler, to the beginnings of Arlo and Rory’s relationship as it is now? Now, they are equals in their play, and have the closest brotherly bond.
I think I can’t remember the days before then because I was somewhat overwhelmed with learning how to parent two children rather than one. Because having a toddler and a preschooler, with me 90% of the time, was one of the busiest points of my parenting life so far. It took all my energy and focus.
It’s not the same with Otto. I have one toddler, and two children at school. My children aren’t as intensely intertwined in my life as they were when it was me and two under threes at home all the time. But as a born memory-maker, it fills me with anxiety to think that I may not remember Otto as he is now. There are so many lovely things to say about Otto in this moment in time. I don’t want to forget.
Where do I begin? Otto is such a happy, easy going baby (can I still call him a baby??) He’s confident. He is the child who will come up to your table in a restaurant and say “HELLO!”, despite not having a clue or a care who you are. He jumps up and down with excitement when family come to babysit. He cares not one bit when he sees his mama and dada putting their coats on to go out, and will wave us off cheerfully as if he can’t wait for us to go.
At bedtime, he plays happily in his cot until he falls asleep by himself (this is HUGE for our family. We’ve never had one of these at such a young age).
When Otto comes home from a whole day with his childminder, he rarely seeks reconnection time with me. Instead, he’s far more interested in what his brothers are up to, or catching up with his beloved trains.
Yes, we have another train fan in the house. Otto has fallen in love with the wooden train set and collection of Thomas trains that we have left over from his eldest brother’s obsessive days. Otto calls his trains “Baba” – a mispronunciation of Thomas. He carries them around and insists on sleeping with them in his cot. He thrusts the remote into my hands and demands Thomas and Friends on the TV. He brings me his Thomas board books, reverses himself into my lap, announcing “BABA BOOK.” (He also does this with Arlo, now that he’s cottoned on to the fact that Arlo can read to him too, it’s very sweet).
I didn’t really imagine I’d be revisiting these Thomas days again. It’s weird, in a full circle kind of way.
I do get some good cuddle time with Otto at bedtime. But most of the time, he has little need to be physically close to me. The intense, all-encompassing one on one relationship between mother and toddler is one part of toddlerhood that I do remember vividly. And I can’t quite work out whether I miss it or not.
Honestly, Otto’s independence from me astounds me. But it feels like a happy balance for both of us. Perhaps it’s because he weaned from breastfeeding much earlier than his older brothers, perhaps it’s a pack mentality / third child thing and his brothers are simply far more exciting than me, perhaps it’s with the benefit of my prior parenting experience, perhaps it’s just his easy going personality. Whatever the reason, he gives us a very easy ride, and Sam and I always talk in disbelief about how seamlessly it’s been adding a third child to our family, and how quickly we’ve moved from non-sleeping child to sleeping child, compared to our eldest two.
I am completely besotted with Otto and the cute things that he does. I will often find myself welling up with tears at the thought of the finiteness of whatever stage he is in. I can appreciate all the more how quickly it all goes.
It’s a different experience to the one I had with my older two at this age, where I felt I was battling with the balance and never getting it right. This phase is not my favourite in many ways – toddlers are FULL ON. As a work from home parent, I’m either 100% with him, or 100% working, there is no in between at this age. No fobbing them off with 5 minutes of TV so I can quickly bash out an email. No hope that I might get half an hour of independent play out of him so I can meet a deadline.
The privilege of being able to have childcare for Otto, where we couldn’t afford it for our older children, has had an immense impact on my own happiness, and I know it allows me to love on him all the more because of the headspace I am able to give myself. Having time apart directly correlates to the amount of times I say “OH MY GOD LOOK AT THAT CUTE THING HE JUST DID!!”
I wish I could have had this balance earlier. I wish it hadn’t taken until my third baby to achieve. There are so many knock on effects to do with our financial situation and my mental health in our first few years of parenting that are only just starting to come to light. I still have a lot to process.
Toddlers can be draining. They sleep less and they need you more, something that I have struggled with each time. On the other hand, this stage is my absolute favourite in many ways. Save for a few words, Otto can’t talk. Which he makes up for by being so animated to an often comedic degree. The heightened emotions of a toddler, their stubbornness, combined with their conviction that they know everything about the world and can do everything themselves, is downright hilarious at times. I love the glimpses of their future character and personality that you get at this age.
Unlike the baby days, Otto makes his presence known, that’s for sure! Every time I see him playing with his older siblings, doing the same thing that they can do, it makes me suddenly realise “Oh yeah, I have three children!!”.
Perhaps the real reason that I don’t recall the point when my babies went from just starting to toddle, to actual talking people, is because that line is so blurred, so fleeting and transient. There are really only a short few months between the two points.
In three months Otto will be two, no longer classed as a baby. Having older siblings means Otto will grow up even faster. At 19 months he could dribble a football, shoot, and shout “GOOOOAL” like no other toddler I’ve seen. Over the last few weeks, he has started to copy new words at a much faster pace. He is on the cusp between baby and child.
In a few short months, I bet I’ll no longer feel surprised to say “I have three children”.