It has been nearly two months since Alex and I walked off that airplane and into the waiting arms of Brad and Matthew. Through my tears, (of exhaustion, relief, and love for the four year old I had not seen in nearly four weeks), I took a long look at my family. Alex was sitting happily in the hip carrier, not even bothered by his new older brother practically standing on his head to get to the mother he hadn't seen in so long. Even though it had only been two weeks since I last saw Brad I couldn't take my hand off his arm, as though I was worried he might wander off. I remember sitting on that bench in the arrivals hall of the Columbus airport, hanging on to Brad on my left and Matthew on my right. And my front. All while protecting Alex from getting smothered as Matthew clung to me. Even after "giving birth" in a foreign country, amid red tape and anxiety, twice, I still have to say that that moment in that airport, on that bench, was one of the most emotional moments of my life.
After the jet lag wore off and the four of us were beginning to get settled in as a family it started. The joy of becoming a family. And I had a front row seat.
Bringing home a newborn is challenging, I am sure. While I was up frequently throughout the night with Matthew when he first came home, Alex settled right in to his sleep pattern. I am not making formula or washing bottles, like I was with Matthew. But try bringing a two year old into the mix. At least with a newborn the older child has a chance to get used to the idea of a sibling before that sibling starts stealing his toys. In our case the two year was stealing toys from day one.
With a newborn there is no highchair at the table. No extra food to prepare. No fighting over who has more mandarin orange slices or more apple juice. There is no jealousy over who got strapped into the car seat first or who gets to stay up later. Adding a two year old to a home with a very set in his way four year old is not as easy as it sounds. But is sure is fun.
Amid breaking up fights and measuring out exact amounts of apple juice I have been able to watch the four of us learn how to be a family. All of our routines have changed. No one sits down at the table for dinner until the food is actually served on the plates and the baby is strapped into the high chair. Otherwise, Matthew will eat all the fruit off the plate before he has even said grace. The baby's food is cut into small choke free pieces before I call the boys to the table or else Mommy doesn't eat anything while it is still hot. Even with these precautions I am still usually the last one at the table, trying to finish the meal long after the boys, all three of them, have wandered off.
Bedtime has become a one on one defense, with each parent taking a child. Unless it is bath time, when they can be tossed in together. But even that is a learning experience. The four year old has to get in first or he will pout. He has to sit closest to the faucet or the two year old will keep turning on the water. And they both better have plenty of toys. Reading bedtime stories together is totally hit or miss. Sometimes both boys will sit nicely on my lap in the comfortable recliner in Matthew's room. Sometimes Matthew will sit nicely while Alex wanders around the room. And sometimes, more often than not, Alex will start in my lap, pull at the book repeatedly, resulting in managing to hit me in the head with it while Matthew complains. Loudly.
My older son will no longer drink out of anything resembling a sippy cup. Which is a problem, since he really still needs to use one. He won't wear the swim trunks with Elmo on them, even though the Baby Elmo doll is still a bedtime staple. He is suddenly a "big boy". Watching his little bursts of independence popping out due to his little brother's arrival has been amazing.
And watching Alex learn new things has been so joyful. He spent a lot of time in Russia watching an Elmo DVD about cats, his favorite thing. (Did I mention it rained every day and we were stuck in that hotel room a lot?) So he watches it now on the laptop in the kitchen. Yesterday he was playing near the front door while Sesame Street was on the TV. The "Elmo's World" segment came on, and he heard the theme music. I have never seen him move so fast. He raced into the living room, ran right up to the TV, and just stood there, amazed. He pointed to the TV, he squealed. He pointed to the computer. He was totally amazed. And I was overjoyed at witnessing this learning moment.
A thousand times a day there are these learning moments. Alex learns something new about life in a family or life in America. Matthew learns something new about life as a big brother. And Mommy and Daddy learn something new about parenting two small boys. It is awesome!