Surviving Two Under Two

ruth crilly baby blog the uphill

I have officially survived having “two under two”. For new readers, I had a new baby (Ted) nineteen months after having my first baby (Angelica) and so, for the past few months, (five to be exact), I’ve had two children under the age of two. I didn’t even know that “two under two” was a thing until people started banging on about it when I was pregnant; I’d certainly never considered that it would be a possibility. It took around six years for me to have a successful pregnancy and so being pregnant again so quickly was never something I’d prepared for!

The weird thing about “two under two” is that it’s so hyped up – or at least it seems to be – like it’s this crazy, mysterious phase that only certain people will experience. It’s true that having a newborn and a toddler – or older baby – at the same time presents some logistical challenges, but I’d imagine that having two or more children with any combination of possible age gaps presents certain logistical challenges. Older children get more jealous, perhaps, or maybe it’s slightly harder if they’re at school because you actually have to drag yourself out of bed (and get dressed, and get everyone into the car) to do the school run twice a day. I don’t know: tell me your experiences in the comments section!

Anyway, I thought I’d put together some ponderings on the matter, now that Angelica has turned two and I’m out of the proverbial woods. Not that anything automatically changes once the older one turns two – I actually think it is getting a bit easier, but mainly because Ted is more awake and is feeding less frequently and sleeping for longer periods. But here are my musings, with a couple of survival tips thrown in, in case you’re in the “two under two” boat. Or about to be. Or thinking of planning it that way. Nutter.

ruth crilly baby blog the uphill

The only way I can really describe having a newborn and a toddler is this: imagine you’re a head chef at two different restaurants in an incredibly expensive hotel. Three Michelin stars for one restaurant, one Michelin star for the other. (Not relevant, but I like to embellish my analogies with a bit of detail.)

One of these restaurants is an Asian Fusion restaurant – there’s lots of wok-frying going on, lots of naked flames setting fire to bits of expensive fish, lots of sharp knives preparing sashimi. This, my friends, is the toddler. Always in trouble, needs constant watching in case your credit card gets posted into the bottom of the sofa – danger danger!

The other restaurant, same hotel, is the one Michelin-starred Italian. The signature dish here is a very delicate lemon, parmesan and white asparagus risotto. It needs constant attention and love, lots of slow stirring. If you leave it for too long, it will all go terribly wrong. The rice will be hard, the sauce will burn, the asparagus tips will go soggy. The risotto is your new baby. Little rice baby in the snug little saucepan.

But how wonderful to be the celebrated head chef of TWO amazing restaurants! The reviewers love you, you have a big flash car to drive and a nice house. You don’t get any sleep (because, two restaurants) but that’s OK because you love what you do and it’s incredibly rewarding.

The one problem is that sometimes you’re the only chef at the hotel. You have to do it all. If your sous-chef is away, as he sometimes is, then you’re absolutely buggered. Half the world wants Asian Fusion, the other Italian. So you’re there flash-frying fresh tuna, but at the same time you’ve got twelve orders for risotto. And the restaurants – get this! – are at opposite ends of the hotel!

That, my friends, is two under two. You’ve got your wok and your risotto, and both need entirely different types of attention. Both are a million miles away, but you still have to perform and meet the expectations of your demanding customers. You can’t let the wok catch fire, and you would hate to leave the risotto, even for short periods of time, so you basically need to run around like a blue-arsed fly all day (and night) making sure it all gets the attention it needs.

ruth crilly baby blog the uphill

My advice for surviving as head chef? Hire as many kitchen porters as you possibly can and keep the menus small! By that I mean (in case you’ve forgotten we’re in analogy land) take as much help as you can find and don’t try to do too much. Just the basics.

And, lots and lots of stair gates. Zone off your areas. Create a series of holding pens for the one that’s walking/running. We have a gate in the corridor between the kitchen and the stairs, so that Angelica can’t even get anywhere near the stairs on her own – or the front door for that matter. We have a door to the utility that can be closed off, and then upstairs we have a lounge with doors coming off it, all of which remain closed for most of the day, and a gate at the top of the stairs. Zoning. It just makes life easier.

When Ted was a newborn, if and when I was on my own with both of them, I just lay on the sofa with Ted and had all of Angelica’s toys on the floor in the living room, and we could while away a few hours like that.

Read: What To Do When Your Baby Won’t Stop Crying..

The most difficult times were feeding times and bed times. I suppose that they’re the parts of the day when your toddler would be used to getting the most attention and then, suddenly, you’re there with your baps out and a newborn attached instead. And the thing is, is that if you try to not feed the newborn and deal with the toddler first, the newborn cries and the toddler gets distressed and you want to go and slam your own head between two paving slabs.

The health visitor told me, “always deal with the toddler first”, but I found that having a quiet, fed newborn meant that I could then concentrate fully on Angelica. If I had a screaming newborn, I was not only stressed, I could tell that Angelica was too. So I was a little more flexible with routine when Ted was newborn – if Angelica had to have twenty minutes of Peppa Pig before bed to let me feed the baby and quieten him down, then so be it. Same with feeding: a bit of CBeebies on the iPhone at the table did wonders now and then, if I desperately had to feed Ted but also supervise Angelica’s dinner.

What else? Oh! Don’t try to actually do anything. And don’t you dare feel inferior when you see others doing stuff. You know these people who go out to coffee shops all the time and Instagram it, and then they’re in the museum with the double buggy, before jetting off to Australia for a long weekend to eat mashed avocados? They’re lying. I can barely get out of the bloody door. It takes me three hours to negotiate dressing the toddler. I’m certain that a lot of people just photoshop themselves (plus double buggy) onto various backgrounds. “Here we are at the Eiffel Tower!” “Here we are wild foraging for our tea tonight – I do love a bit of the great outdoors before Baby Yoga!”

Sod. Off.

If you manage to get them both fed and dressed and you’re all happy and relatively sane by the end of the day, you’ve done good. Even if you don’t feel particularly happy or sane, you’ve still done good. Anything else is a total bonus. A cooked meal is verging on miraculous: a trip to Tesco to buy emergency nappies (hint: use that Amazon fast one-hour delivery thing instead, it’s amazing) is foolish but to be highly praised. Well done you.

ruth crilly baby blog the uphill

When Ted was just a few weeks old, I went back to work. I say “went back” but I work from home, so. Anyway, it was far too soon. I tried to do exactly what I had been doing before, at the same pace, and I think I almost gave myself a minor nervous breakdown. In the end, I realised that I needed to chop my expectations in half, in half again and then divide them by about twelve. My daily to-do list went from ten, fifteen items to ONE. One item per day. I’d put down a work goal (as small as “load images into computer”, which is a ten minute job) and then I’d also, if I could be arsed, write down a domestic sort of task. “Post letters” or – if leaving the house was too much effort – “sort baby clothes”. I liked things that I could do upstairs, in carpeted areas, with the baby on the floor and Angelica clarting about with her toys. And being able to tick things off my list, no matter how small, gave me great satisfaction. If I managed to do actual, proper work that wasn’t on my list, it just felt like the biggest achievement ever. So: reduce expectations, remember that what you’re doing – looking after TWO SMALL BEINGS – is already a massive amount of work. Anything on top is, quite frankly, heroic.

Oh, a note about dogs. Randomly. And cats, but mostly dogs. I bloody love my dog, he’s amazing. I’d be very sad if he wasn’t part of my life and he gives the best cuddles after the babies are in bed. Dexter the dog was in our lives before the babies and, at the time we got him, we didn’t know whether we’d ever be lucky enough to even have a baby. We were sort of at an all-time low about it. So along came Dexter and now, years later, he’s still great – he plays with Angelica, he’s gentle around Ted, he’s generally low-maintenance and gorgeous and we love him. However, he’s also basically an extra child. He needs attention, he needs walking, sometimes he throws up weird shit on the floor that Angelica then tries to pick up… He barks at odd things and wakes the baby, which makes me disproportionately cross, and he chews toys. All the time.

ruth crilly baby blog the uphill

So if you have one baby, and there’s a possibility – even a slight one – that you may have another in quick succession, DO NOT GET A DOG! I promise you’ll thank me when you’re trying to calm a screaming toddler and your newborn is projectiling over the floor and you think to yourself, oh my God, imagine if I had a dog! He’d totally be licking up that baby vom at the moment and then I’d have to let him outside for a poo and he’d pick up a dead blackbird and bring it into the house just as I was about to carry two small humans up the stairs in a possibly treacherous manner! 

Ha. Poor old Dex. He and Mr Bear the cat often look at me with great sadness in their eyes: “why is our home filled with chaos?” But they are so tolerant – I don’t know whether we just lucked out, or it’s the gentle nature of Cockapoos and British Shorthairs, or what. They are very much part of the gang, often joining in when things get heated and stressful – sometimes I’ll be preparing dinner and look down and there’ll be a cat around my ankles, the dog dancing about like some sort of demented court jester and Angelica running in circles with her dolly as baby Ted kicks off in his little high chair.

Read: A Day in my Life, Two Under Two…

I don’t think I’ve really been that useful here, have I? Survival tips for “two under two”: zoning off areas with stair gates, getting all the help you can possibly muster and smashing your high expectation levels into smithereens. Try to go to bed early, as naps are a thing of the past (they will rarely go to sleep at the same time in the day, and even if they do someone will phone you or knock on the door and you’ll want to kick them in the kneecaps very hard), cook double portions when you make things like pasta so that you have a quick and easy lunch for the next day. I often eat lunch straight from the fridge, standing there with a fork – it’s surprisingly peaceful – so things like pasta salads are ideal.

More tips? In the comments, if you please – and amusing anecdotal material is always welcome here.

 

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32 Comments

  1. Monica
    June 23, 2017 / 10:06 am

    Love the restaurant analogy! My “two under two” period only lasted 3 weeks, but I think you’ve summed it up very accurately, especially the “any possible age gap combinations”. There is no perfect spacing! Every once in a while I would get a double/overlapping nap and that is the most delicious thing ever. As much as I love being productive, I made myself sit down with a hot cup of tea and read something frivolous when that happened, rather than getting chores done, etc. We’ve outgrown the naps now, but we do get longer and longer periods of sibling playtime where I can have a cup of tea in the next room for several minutes before I need to break up any fights. Almost as good as a double nap.

  2. Frances
    June 23, 2017 / 10:38 am

    You never fail to make me laugh! I have a little boy born the day before Ted I think! He’s brilliant and we had sort of planned – if lucky enough to try again quite soon. All sounded like a brilliant plan before the first was born but now the idea of two so young sends me into a total cold sweat panic! I also have two very large dogs! Clever planning, well done me. How you actually give me hope that it may in fact be ok ..maybe.. haha. X

  3. Jan
    June 23, 2017 / 12:47 pm

    A brilliant analogy Ruth, I think you have summed it up really well. My middle son was 17months when my daughter was born, so I had 3 under 3 and a half. I got a playpen, and whilst it took up the whole of the floor space it was brilliant. It is bloody hard work, but as time went on having them all so close meant that they all wanted to do the same things on holiday. They are now 24, 22 and 21, and they still like the same stuff – a bit more high tech now. Good luck with it all.

    • June 24, 2017 / 8:55 pm

      Yeah, I may have to get the playpen back out actually!! x

  4. June 23, 2017 / 1:05 pm

    I escaped the two under two period by a three weeks, but I think combining a newborn with any kind of other kid that is not able to cook its own dinner is always a stressful task. Especially as my husband is away for work very often, and after days with only these two staying sane is an achievement.

    • June 24, 2017 / 8:54 pm

      You always seem very sane to me, Linda! xx

  5. Liz Cook
    June 23, 2017 / 1:34 pm

    Brilliant Ruth! I’ve got 17month old and 6 week old and would definitely agree about managing your daily expectations. Having a hot cuppa is a mom win for sure!

  6. Hannah Chaney
    June 23, 2017 / 9:36 pm

    From a totally different perspective…my Mum had me and my
    Brother 17 months apart!! My dad was out working and they had just moved to Hertfordshire from London, I mean this is 1981 but still. Oh there was also out springer spaniel I don’t remember being under two .. that would be amazing but my mum has sooo many hilarious stories of us when we were tiny, my brother feeding me worms in the garden and me looking for a knife to cut off his foot when he got stuck in the chair ! Which I was thank god unable to obtain. The story I wanted to make you aware of Ruth was when he used to crouch down as a step so I could get over the stair gate!! So be warned. Most of all we were and still are very close… I mean we used to have full on cage fights which mum just let us get on with as we would be knackered after but it was the best childhood ever :-))) you are by the sounds of it doing an amazing job…. my Mum say’s “enjoy it, they will grow up before you know it! And don’t bother making too many plans any time soon, the little rascals will gatecrash” xx

    • June 24, 2017 / 8:54 pm

      Hahaha, thanks Hannah! God, your Mum had her work cut out! : )

  7. Madeleine Blumgart
    June 24, 2017 / 12:24 am

    I love this post!! Thank you for writing it even though your life sounds hectic.

  8. Ellen
    June 24, 2017 / 8:23 am

    Lovely post! There is a four and a half year gap between my two girls, we “planned” to have another when oldest was 2.5 but the stars weren’t aligned for us, and after two losses we were joined with girl number two. I must say, a four year age gap was amazing! The oldest was so helpful and caring, and now at ages six and nearly two, they can really okay and have fun together. Now girl number three girl is due just two weeks after our little one’s second birthday, so probably no time with”two under two” but it’s still daunting!

    • June 24, 2017 / 8:53 pm

      Wow, so happy for you. Keep us updated on how it is with three! : )

    • June 24, 2017 / 8:52 pm

      Haha!! I think you just end up adapting to whichever situation..

  9. Kirsty
    June 24, 2017 / 8:52 am

    This could not have been more relevant! Currently four days overdue with my second and my little girl is 17 months! Totally burying my head in the sand on how hard it will be, and adopting the “when the baby is here I will just have to cope”. People keep asking if I’m fed up of being overdue and just want the baby here…no, actually, as that it when the hard work begins!!! And like you, I work from home self employed, and will be taking your tips on board about not doing too much, as maternity leave isn’t really happening and the business has got to keep running! Arghhhh!

    Any more tips you think of all welcome here!!! You’re children are also adorable!

    • June 24, 2017 / 8:52 pm

      Yeah, just try and get ONE thing done a day and you’ll feel like you’re winning!! I’m wondering if you now have a new baby in your arms – keep us updated!! xxx

      • Kirsty
        June 28, 2017 / 6:28 am

        Still no baby! Currently 8 days overdue! Deliberating a second sweep or just waiting to see if anything kicks off on its own before induction on Saturday! Flitting somewhere between wanting the baby to be here and wanting to enjoy my little girl just us for a bit longer! Xx

      • Kirsty
        July 2, 2017 / 6:12 am

        And he has arrived! He is 2 days old. Currently sat having cuddles in bed while the big sister (how big she looks now) is just waking up! Right, il probably have time to read this blog in about 5 years, so good luck to you! Haha! I jest, keep all tips coming please! Xx

  10. Nicola
    June 24, 2017 / 2:13 pm

    Hi Ruth. I’m going to be in a similar boat. My son is 7 and a half months old and I found out on Wednesday that I am expecting again. I’m still in shock to be honest as I was told at the age of 18 I might not be able to have kids and we spent 3 and a half years of trying before I fell pregnant the first time. I thought that was a miracle and now here we are again. This time without the monthly tears and pills lol x

  11. Maggie
    June 24, 2017 / 7:57 pm

    Ruth, you rock! One of my friends who also has two under two plus two dogs told me (who at the time had a newborn and a cat that I love but wanted to kill as it kept getting under my feet and waking the baby at random times); “you will love your pets again”. I clung to that, and it’s true. And eventually they get lots of extra love from the little people too. Mxox

  12. Yvonne Lumley
    June 24, 2017 / 9:18 pm

    I had two boys under two for only a month and it was tough and I wish I that I had your attitude and tolerance. That was all 23 years ago and if I could do it all again I would in a heartbeat. They grow up so quickly, enjoy every minute!

  13. June 25, 2017 / 2:29 am

    My little girl was 18 months when my boy was born, not planned that way but I wouldn’t change it for the world! Having two little beings who still need you so much is a lovely (but tiring) experience.
    Highs of two under two: they love each other SO much, baby smiles at toddler all the time and toddler tries to help and strokes his head so gently; actually starting to be confident taking them out; surviving each day and them both being fed and relatively happy!
    Lows: going to pick toddler up from nursery and coming back 20 mins later with toddler’s snot and baby’s sick all down my previously clean top; tandem crying in the car on the motorway. The WORST; finally settling the baby after his last night feed then toddler deciding to get up ridiculously early! Why!

  14. Suzi
    June 25, 2017 / 3:11 pm

    Hi Ruth,

    I had three boys in three years three months & I completely agree with all your advice. Especially not to give a stuff what other people are doing. Although our cats took to living in the utility room for about four years – it was their ‘safe room’!

    Suzi

  15. Ruth Kneeshaw
    June 25, 2017 / 6:54 pm

    My mum had twins when I was 20 months old and her advice was the same – just accept all the help you can get and housework doesn’t matter. She also broke her leg when the twins were about 4 months old, so how she didn’t have a nervous breakdown, I’ll never know! I’m a few weeks away from having my second and my daughter is 3.5 – just using the ‘don’t think about it’ method of preparation at the moment.

  16. Lorna Brady
    June 25, 2017 / 8:27 pm

    My two are 14mths apart, now 9mths and not quite 2. My toddler is a ‘very spirited’ child i.e. Nightmare lots of the time. I also had her in the sleep crutch of being walked for 1hr to sleep. Three times a day. Whilst screaming. My husband has two businesses (away from 8-7 6 days a week) and my parents lived in a different country. We lived in two adjoining rooms by day, I rarely slept, never dressed and lived on chocolate and crisps. It was MENTAL. MMMEEEENNNNTTTAAALLL. I also have 2 golden retrievers just for the shits & giggles. Things are now far better. Toddler started 2 mornings at crèche at 20mths which she loves. I go back to work in 3 weeks. My baby does not take any fluids unless via breast and has only started solids 2 weeks ago. So that’s another worry. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even though I often wonder whether I live in a mental asylum or a zoo!

  17. Kelsey
    June 27, 2017 / 9:35 am

    I feel like this completely sums up my own experience, although my two boys were 2 and a half years apart my eldest behaved more like an under 2 at the time . Utterly exhausting but (THANKFULLY) does not last for ever! You’re doing great Ruth xx

  18. Lucy
    June 27, 2017 / 8:18 pm

    My mum had 3 kids in 2 years and 5 months. Yes like you’re thinking that wasn’t a typo!!! I don’t know how she managed since my father worked crazy hours and she was left with all of us with little help… I’m the youngest and training to be a midwife, and it’s nice to have siblings so close in age to me (sometimes I hate it but most of the time I like it). You seem like you’re doing a brilliant job with it all!!

  19. June 27, 2017 / 8:52 pm

    I had a 3 year gap – it was better because NURSERY but I also had an all night crier (who turned out to be terribly poorly once we got to the bottom of it) but it’s tough. But things don’t change when you’re a mum – I had (last week) a grown up child having a full on panic attack while the dog on my lap also having a panic attack and my husband having his own kind of melt down because the printer broke. It reminded me of when it was all so new and I realise now that what I thought was not doing a great job was actually doing a bloody marvellous job and I can still bring it!

  20. Carolina
    June 29, 2017 / 6:19 am

    Hi Ruth,
    I was just wondering if you could post on what kind of nap/eating/play routine Angelica and Ted’s are on. I am one month in with my two under two and still haven’t sorted my schedule out with the babies.

  21. Happy Mama
    July 1, 2017 / 7:29 pm

    Haha your writing tickles me Ruth! “Here we are wild foraging for our tea tonight – I do love a bit of the great outdoors before Baby Yoga!” As you so rightly said, Sod. Off.
    I remember when my sister had her young two and she said some days managing to unload the dishwasher was an achievement. I thought she was crackers, I mean, how could one simple 3 minute task take ALL DAY? Then I had my own children. Totally get it. Still find it hard though, as a person who likes to get sh*t done to take weeks to achieve things I’d normal do in 5 minutes, but (not to sound too new age hippy about it), I think that’s part of the personal growth of being a mum.
    I also have two cats who were our pre-children fur babies and whose noses are still bent out of shape about the two noisy, grabby imposters in their midst. They have taken to extreme attention seeking behaviour such as getting in numerous scraps necessitating vets visits, trying to get our neighbours to adopt them by strolling nonchalantly into their houses and bringing home a live mouse every day last week (or sometimes just a tail!). Bless them.
    Keep up the good work, you’re doing great. X

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