This week I returned to work after spending the past 10 days at home on paternity leave after my wife gave birth to our second child — another son who has a head full of black hair, and the jaundice that also afflicted his older brother. My life during these 10 days was spent playing soccer with the four-year-old, cooking food, and not combing my hair.
For almost two weeks, I was in this insulated world of my family, and the occasional visiting friend or family member. After spending a couple of days back in the “real world” of the office, I may have made a shocking discovery. People congratulate you based on their own status as a parent or non-parent.
It does actually make a lot of sense, but I was definitely caught off-guard by the different ways people will congratulate you the second time around. After the birth of our first son, the congrats were either a “Welcome to the club” from other parents or “WHOA! A BABY!” from your friends who then asked if you wanted to go to the bar. This time around, there appears to be some definite changes to the tone of the congratulations.
People without kids didn’t really change. They’re still super excited for you, but that’s just because they have no clue. They tell you how awesome the baby’s name is, or ask if you’re going to have a third kid. They also ask about sleep, and you want to punch them because they weren’t sleeping in a twin bed with a toddler who didn’t understand why his younger brother was crying.
Sure, they probably have a niece or nephew. But the niece or nephew will go home at some point. They’re not waking you up at 3 a.m. crying because the niece and nephew think staying at Aunt Joan’s is awesome! I mean, she does have Cheez-Its and lets everyone sleep on the couch.
Obviously, you lie to the people without kids because you want them to join you in your misery. You also need more people with kids to be friends with for play dates, excuses to have someone over to watch football, and another person to discuss potty training with.
The second group is people with one young kid. They congratulate you, but they’re also searching for information. Fooled once, they want to make sure having another kid isn’t going to mentally destroy them after only two weeks. Instead of asking about the baby, they ask how you and your partner are doing.
They also ask how your other child is handling having a sibling. This is life-altering stuff for a toddler, so you let them know that sleeping hasn’t been easy, but thankfully, your other kid has stopped asking to go back to his grandparents’ house. You also throw in a few words about it being a teaching moment for the older sibling or some other similar crap.
You’re not going to be able to gloss over having a kid to the people who already have one. They can probably also tell that you’re totally lying to them, so it might be better to just tell them the truth about having a second kid in the house.
Those parents with two young kids know exactly what you’re going through, so they probably have the most sincere congrats of anyone you will speak with during the first few weeks. They know that the older kid is going to have their issues, and that you’re running around all day and night trying to make everyone happy.
They also let you know how it went for their kids, and that the craziness isn’t going to stop anytime soon. Essentially they’re straight shooters because they have nothing to gain from lying to you about the whole experience.
Parents with two young kids are my favorite group with one exception: Parents of older kids who don’t want to give me advice. Pretty much, this group congratulates you, gives you a hug, and tells you it’s all over too fast so enjoy it. Simple and honest, they’re great.
They’ve been through it all, and know about the ups and downs you’re experiencing, but also the ups and downs yet to come. It’s almost as if they’re some sort of sage sent to keep your sanity in place for what will surely be a difficult journey. They’re like Obi-Wan Kenobi.
I’ve been congratulated an unknown amount of times over the past few weeks, and I really do appreciate all the kind words that have been sent my way. It’s definitely a better feeling than nothing being said — even if I’m a sleep deprived, heavily caffeinated dad desperately trying to keep a four-year-old from putting his baby brother in a trash can.