When T was almost exactly six months old we took him for a day out at Chester Zoo. That's him in the top picture, in the backpack carrier. I remember that we swapped him between us a few times that day, posing for pictures in front of the elephants, giraffes and lions. Looking back, we were immensely proud to be enjoying a family day out, Mummy, Daddy and son. I thought he was so grown up and that the hours spent peering through windows at everything from snakes to apes were 'educational' and crucial in his early development. I remember getting stressed at the end of the day because he was getting tired and grumpy and we hadn't yet seen everything. We trudged to the far side of the zoo to look at Przewalski's horses, disappointed that as we carefully explained about endangered species to our precious firstborn they actually looked pretty much like any other type of horse.
As I look back at the photographs I realise how ridiculous this all was. At six months old T was a baby. We might as well have strapped him into the carrier and walked him around Tesco, he'd have been just as entertained by the colourful creatures wandering up and down the aisles and we could have done our shopping at the same time. Like all parents, we've striven to give him the very best in these early years, but as yet he hasn't shown any childhood genius in taxonomy. Should we have given ourselves a break from the hectic new parent do-it-all schedule of days out, exposing him to sights, sounds and colours, and taken it easier?
Last week, on a particularly sunny spring day, we went back to Chester Zoo. Daddy was at work this time, so a friend and I were both solo with our two children. That's T in the second picture, very taken with the penguins. C was six months, exactly the same age as T on his first zoo trip. So where is she in this photo? She's in the buggy of course, my much loved parent-facing pushchair, which gives a great view of Mummy but achieved a remarkable feat in whisking her around the zoo without seeing a single animal. Oh no, I tell a lie, there was a particularly vicious duck which attempted to steal our picnic lunch from the hands of the older babes. She might have caught a glimpse as I abandoned her midday breastfeed to help shoo the predators away from toddler fingers.
Two years ago, keeping my six month old son awake to see a horse was the holy grail, this time it was getting my six month old daughter to sleep. As I lifted her brother to get a better view of the elephants, she watched a school party walk past in a crocodile of pairs. As I took the penguin photo above, she chomped on a teething ring and listened to the sound of her brother and his friend screeching with delight.
Coming to terms with giving your children different experiences is remarkably hard. It's taken me six months to realise that not doing with C what we did with T doesn't mean I love her any less or care any less about her development. Two and a half years of parenting has taught me that often less is more when it comes to babies. As her brother rests his tired legs in the buggy she absentmindedly chews one of the straps on the sling and I celebrate the fact she's enjoying quality Mummy close time. We walk past the sign for Przewalski's horses and I kiss her soft downy head tucked six inches underneath my chin. I'm still doing my best, but my best has changed.