As my kids get older, I watch them becoming more independent and self-reliant. I tell myself it's good — it’s what I want for them. At the same time, I'm experiencing deep pangs of sadness as I realise the innocent, early years are behind us.Those first eight years are packaged and sealed — no redos, only moving forward. Recently, I’ve been feeling nostalgic and it's led me to ask myself a difficult question: If I had it to do over again, what would I do differently?
Because I had my kids so close together, I didn’t experience the happy baby glow many mums do. I had twin boys (one with colic) followed immediately by another surprise baby born a year later. My husband and I went from zero to three in 14 months. To say life was crazy is an understatement. It was stressful, overwhelming, and frightening. I never really got a chance to sit back, relax, and revel in the beauty and wonderment of it all.
These days, when I see a calm, smiling, new mama rolling her baby down the street — freshly showered and coiffed, Starbucks cup in hand — I feel jealous. I didn’t have that. I had insanity from day one. And while I wouldn’t trade my children or the experiences of motherhood for anything, I find myself reflecting on what I would change and improve if the older/wiser me was to do it all again. I call it my Take 2.
1. Worrry much less about the milestones
Like many new mums, I paid attention to milestones because I was eager to know my children were developing “properly” — and I inevitably compared my babies to others. My boys were late talkers. As twins, they had their own way of communicating with one another and that served them just fine. We taught them sign language, so they knew how to signal for milk, food, and other essentials. At a certain point, I became concerned that they weren’t yet saying words and we ultimately did speech therapy for several months. In my Take 2, I would let it happen naturally, knowing there’s a huge range of timelines for youngsters and we should just let them be.
2. Feed them like Frenchies
There are certain things the French do better and feeding their kids is one of them. I haven’t read Bringing Up Bébé, but I have enough French friends to know. In my Take 2, I would avoid the “picky eater” trap that develops during toddlerhood and maintain the fresh-and-healthy diet my kids were on when they first started solids. If I’m being painfully honest, I might also avoid ever introducing them to McDonalds or Slurpees, which they have as occasional “treats.”
3. Hit the road more
Travelling with babies can be challenging and sometimes downright disastrous. We flew with our twin boys when they were six months old and after my son threw up on me and the saintly gentleman next to me not once but twice, I was ready to jump out of the plane. Memories aside, I would try to take advantage of free baby flights and travel more before my kids hit age 2 when they have to start coughing up full price for airline tickets… ouch.
4. Snap more family photos
In my Take 2, I would take a lot more photos of all of us — not just the kids, but of me with the kids. All those lovely mother/child photographs I pin on Pinterest — well, I don’t have any. I felt too haggard and worn down to want to be photographed — and if we hadn’t had a nanny who loved to take snapshots, we would have far fewer pictures of the kids than we do. I would also take videos at every stage. I love looking at the handful we have and wish I had more to freeze those fleeting moments of childhood.
5. Ease up on dad
I was rough on my husband. He was an only child and not used to babies, so I constantly worried he was going to drop them, lose them, forget to feed them. Poor guy… he once put several drops of vanilla extract in the babies’ formula to try and make it taste better and I almost took his head off. “It’s got alcohol in it!” I yelled. “How could you?!” In my Take 2, I'd give my husband a break or two; he's a great father and my stress probably did more harm than his vanilla extract.
6. Stop thumb sucking sooner
My sons are eight and one of them still sucks his thumb. I have mixed feelings about it because his thumb is his way of centering and calming himself, but getting him off it is going to be harder than ever now. In my Take 2, I would find a gentle way to wean him off it before age 5. I must admit though, I see him sucking his thumb as he sleeps and I smile because it reminds me he is still my baby boy.
7. Say sayonara to sleep stress
My #1 stress source when the boys were babies was naptime. With twins, you want them to sleep at the same time. It’s crucial because it's the only rest you get. I would become so uptight about whether they were going to nap and for how long — every single day. In my Take 2, I would realise the more relaxed I am, the more relaxed they are and the more zzzzzs we'll all get.
8. Tap into my mama Zen
I would be less stressed in my Take 2 — definitely. That’s an easy one to cop to. Most mums I know wish they had worried less and chilled more. Food spills — like the time both my sons simultaneously threw up couscous all over the kitchen — would be no sweat. I would be like one of those pretty mums in the Bounty commercials, smiling and wiping, smiling and wiping…
9. Always listen to my instinct
One of my sons was in the hospital several times before he turned two. The first was for a hereditary condition called Pyloric Stenosis. The second was for Meningitis. In the first case, the main symptom is your baby spits up a lot — doctors will say that’s normal. At a certain point, I knew it wasn’t normal. My husband had the same problem when he was a baby and almost died because the pediatrician told his mother not to worry about the “normal” spit-up. The condition is very treatable but requires surgery to fix a muscle which allows food to exit the stomach. In the second case, our son had what seemed like a very bad cold. We took him to the doctor twice and were told it was a 72-hour virus. Twice. They never did a single test. After the second visit, I went home, saw my son holding his head crying, and went straight to the ER. I only wish I had listened to my instinct sooner — in my Take 2, I would. Fortunately, we live near one of the best children’s hospitals in the country and when we finally took our son in, the ER doctor did every test imaginable — the last being a spinal tap which revealed viral meningitis. We caught it early enough, but I wish it had been sooner. Don’t ever let go of that mum instinct; it is powerful as hell.
10. Embrace and enjoy
It’s cliché but true… I would take time to enjoy the happy, little moments much, much more. I think I enjoyed them, but so much of it is now a haze. If only I had more photos (see #4), maybe I would be able to remember more clearly!
I don't really believe in regrets and reliving the past, but as a parent I reflect on things more than I used to, wondering if I did the right thing, handled a crisis smoothly, or gave my kids the nurturing they needed. I'm constantly trying to fine-tune my parenting. Glancing backward and asking myself things like, "What would I do differently?" reminds me that my kids are more resilient than I think they are, that I am not as imperfect as I think I am, and that the health and happiness of my kids today washes away a multitude of early motherhood missteps.