I'm Going to Tell You the Exhausting Truth About Raising Two Kids Under 2

mom holding pregnant belly beside child
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The day I found out I was pregnant with my second baby, I quickly ran the math in my head. 

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We hadn't been trying, but we hadn't not been trying, either, you know? So it was a little unexpected, and when I figured out my oldest son would only be 21 months old when my second son was born, my response wasn't joy. I literally said, "Oh f-ck."

I'm a few years beyond that moment and I have survived. Sort of. If that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, bear with me. It wouldn't be fair to tell you the joy outweighs the terror of two kids under two without first being honest about the terror. So here's the unvarnished truth (expletives redacted).

People are the worst, sometimes.

When you have your first baby, it seems like the whole world is excited for you. Everyone wants to see the baby! Strangers coo and smile at you! Everyone tells you motherhood is wonderful, la la la! Then you get pregnant with a second baby and it all goes to hell.

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One day you find yourself standing in the queue at Starbucks with a grumpy toddler wrapped around your burgeoning girth and people -- strangers! -- give you The Look. Their gaze goes from the toddler to your belly and, I swear, eyebrows creep up into hairlines. It's almost as if a thought bubble pops up over their head that says, "What were you thinking?"

And yes, oh yes, sometimes they actually voice their thoughts! I swear, friends and strangers alike looked me square in the eye and said, "Was it planned?"

One guy actually gestured to my 18-month-old son and my 7-months-pregnant belly and said, "You do know how that happens, right?"

Other times, I was my own worst enemy.

I spent my pregnancy in a state of near-constant panic. It was impossible to accept that my life -- the one where I was only just getting used to having one baby clinging to me all the time -- would soon include two children in diapers.

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I'd like to say that the minute my second baby was born it was as if the clouds parted and the angels sang, but I'd be lying. Those early months are such a blur, I can't tell you much of anything except that a lot of my misery was self-induced: I vacillated between feeling guilty that my first baby was being neglected and knowing my poor newborn wasn't getting as much attention as his big brother had at the same age.

This kind of exhaustion is in a class by itself.  

Some days I could barely crawl out of bed to entertain the toddler because the baby had been up so many times in the night. More than once, I attempted to put the toddler's diaper on the newborn. 

My exhaustion was a big pink elephant in the room, without the benefit of alcohol-induced fun the night before. I read every parenting hack I could find. Truth? There is no hack that takes the exhaustion away.

As soon as it gets a little easier, things change.

The parenting articles always say you'll "find your rhythm," but what they don't tell you is that the rhythm of life with two under two is sort of an avant-garde jazz piece as performed by monkeys. The minute I felt like I'd hit my stride, one of my boys would make sure I knew who was boss -- and it wasn't me. As soon as my newborn was sleeping through the night, my toddler would cut a tooth. As soon as I got my toddler into bed, the baby would cry and wake him up.

Balance doesn't exist when you have two little ones, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself it does. It's like thinking you're over that inner ear infection, and then you stand up and realize nope, it's still there. I felt like I failed more times than I succeeded. I needed to believe that one day soon, it would get better.

It gets better than better. It gets amazing. 

Look, I haven't lied to you up to now, so trust me on this. Having two so close together turned out to be the best thing in the world. It was amazing even during those early months. I was just too tired to realize it most of the time. It's like celebrating your birthday at Walt Disney World: chaotic, emotionally overwhelming, a constant whirlwind of activity, no time to really enjoy and embrace the current moment because you're onto the next moment before you can blink. No doubt, it is pure, literal, breathtaking madness, but it's the best kind of madness I know.

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Thinking about watching my toddler rest his hand on his little brother's head, smile, and say "My baby" will always make me cry. (There I go again.) Seeing the two of them bond over Sesame Street, watching the infant scoot his way across the room to his big sibling, seeing how much they look alike and yet so different -- these are moments I wouldn't have experienced with just one child, or even two who were born several years apart.

Every sleepless night, every failure, every time I managed to convince myself I was screwing it all up -- the kids, our family, my own goals for the future -- have (mostly) dissipated as I've watched them grow into the best of friends and confidants. 

Last night I listened to my two little boys take turns reading a book together and giggling as they tried to figure out the words they didn't know. It was all worth it, I thought to myself. I love that they will never remember a time when they didn't have each other. 

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