The transition from a family of three to a family of four can often be extremely difficult. New bonds need to be formed, new patterns established and a new personality accommodated in the already complex dynamics of a thriving household. It is no wonder that two children can seem exponentially more challenging than one. But eventually there comes a moment when all the stress is forgotten.
Those first few weeks as a family of four were extremely difficult.
My daughter, who by now at 21 months had started to mellow, became very volatile again and her sleep was disturbed.
Regardless of the amount of care we put into carefully introducing my daughter to her new brother, jealousy still reared its very ugly head.
And while my son was a very laid back baby, going back to a few hours sleep a night was very difficult for me to do.
And my son’s crying used to wake my daughter.
And she became tired and cranky
And as a result we all became tired and cranky.
It was intense.
Every day was just a relentless process of giving. Giving every last bit of myself to little sponges of seemingly infinite need.
And the nights were worse.
No respite. Night after night of bleary eyed wake ups.
A feed would finish and just as quiet returned to the house, and I began to feel the warm embrace of sleep, a whimper would start up and within seconds crescendo, jolting me into reality.
The days and nights merged into one feverish process of giving.
Giving to my children. Giving to my wife. Giving to my job.
And it was the depths of mid-winter. The joys of autumn and Christmas long gone, the promise of Spring not even signalled by a snow-drop.
The days short, dank and cold. The nights long and claustrophobic.
It was a harsh winter.
Barbaric temperatures and rain and snow kept us all indoors and behind bars.
The screaming and crying began to echo off the walls, a stereophonic reminder of the responsibilities of fatherhood.
And then I became sick. It was inevitable.
It was winter. I wasn’t sleeping. I was stressed
It was probably just a normal virus, the kind of winter sickness as a young single man I would have cast off within days.
But in this new state it lingered. For days. For weeks. For months.
I eventually began to shake the virus off and we moved into Spring, my son getting stronger, the night feeds becoming less, my daughter becoming more accepting.
It was still incredibly difficult, harder than I ever thought it was going to be. But there were signs that things were changing.
I once caught the two of them sitting and giggling at each other. It lasted a full four minutes. Four minutes of beautiful, unreserved joy.
I stood and watched and listened, daring not to move, lest the spell be broken, letting the beautiful and heart breaking sound of their euphoria break over me.
And this summer, a brilliantly tempting vision of a potential future has started to shimmer, mirage-like, on the horizon.
With the weather getting better and the back door frequently open they have both started piling outside together; a little crackling ball of fizzing energy, rampaging around the garden, pulling up flowers, eating worms, falling over, getting up, noses in EVERY corner.
No stone unturned.
Six months ago, they were screaming and crying and hanging off my legs and ankles, demanding attention, demanding time, demanding food, demanding love. Now there is occasionally peace.
They will be reading together
They will be in the sand pit together
They will be hunting for slugs together.
My daughter always initiating, my son the little wobbly accomplice.
And just this week an event happened that inspired this whole post. An event that is still as poignant now as it was all those days ago.
I was upstairs in the bathroom, facilitating the bedtime routine. It is easier these days.
But this night the kids disappeared. I heard joyful giggling. I called out to them to come.
Nothing. Just giggling. Lots of giggling.
I called again.
Nothing. More giggling.
I started to get annoyed. That familiar feeling of bedtime routines coming back, the knot of tension building in my chest. I strode into the bedroom ready to admonish.
I stopped in my tracks. I paused. And then I let out a huge belly laugh.
In front of me were my kids. They were both stood there, cheeky grins on face, staring at me, waiting for my reaction.
Because on her head, my daughter had her clean knickers, her pigtails sticking out of the leg holes. And on his head, my son was wearing his trousers, the legs of which were dangling down like giant dog ears.
There was something about this simple moment that levelled everything.
In my laugh, months of stress and tension had been unleashed.
And when my kids saw that I was laughing they both burst into hysterics. My son laughed so hard he fell over, the trousers falling further over his eyes. More laughter.
They had planned this together. They wanted to entertain.
That moment made me realise that the crying and screaming and jealousy and tantrums that used to echo around the hollow chambers of my mind, are gradually being replaced by giggles, laughter and squeals of delight.
I can see them every day, forming bonds, entertaining and looking out for each other. They are little buddies.
And that is why tonight I am sitting on the decking writing this post.
Both my children are bathed and washed and safely in bed. They sleep through these days.
And I am looking out over my garden. I am remembering the trousers on head incident and I allow myself another chuckle.
It is a warm, comfortable evening. The sun is setting and the smell of summer jasmine and honeysuckle is carried by a gentle breeze. The shrill cry of Swifts echoes overhead. A lawnmower burrs in the distance, providing a gentle backdrop to this perfect scene.
I have a cold beer.
Tonight I am happy.
Tonight I take a drink to the power of two.
This post originally appeared on the Daddy Cool Project website. The Daddy Cool Project (DCP) is a London-based voluntary organisation which aims to help diminish negative stereotype of dads in the UK. It also highlights the importance and positive impact of fathers and male-role models living and working in today’s society. They do some really great work – go check them out at www.daddycoolproject.org.uk and follow on Twitter @daddycooluk