I used to always think that I would probably have two kids. Two parents and two kids seemed like the “perfect” family unit, balanced and lively yet manageable, without necessarily requiring the purchase of a minivan. I grew up with a sister, and although we fought a lot (we are a year and a half apart, and many of our spats ended in fear-inspiring threats like, “You can’t wear any of my clothes anymore, ever!”), we also had lots of fun together. We understand each other on an intrinsic level because we grew up in the same environment under the care of the same people. Being an only child always seemed so… lonely. Only children might grow up to be more… self-centered, or demanding, or possessive of their things. Well, even if these aren’t true (in fact, siblings might feel more of a need to establish their personal territory), I still always felt that two was better than one.
But now that I’m the parent of a toddler, I see things a little differently. It’s true that I still see families of four (or five- but five’s the limit) eating crepes, drinking coffee, and reading the paper and picture books together on Sunday mornings at the café, and think how great that would be to be able to go on family outings someday where everyone will be entertained. But then, during the week, I see mothers pushing their toddlers in a stroller, while also carrying a baby in an Ergo and walking the family dog, and I feel a kind of empathy for them. Or is it pity, born of thankfulness that, no matter how tired I am, at least I’m not them? I’m sure that they treasure their family and that this may very well be the cozy family unit that they’ve always dreamt of, and yet, no one can deny that these full-time mothers shoulder a heavy load.
Mostly, I have embraced my initiation into motherhood over this last year and a half, and I have been grateful for my ability to stay at home with Cedar while he is so young. And yet. I have also acutely missed my loss of time—namely, to write and pursue my career. Because so much of the work that is involved in being a writer is unpaid, we cannot afford to hire a regular sitter so that I can go sit in a café and write. Instead, I depend on the two afternoons a week of childcare that my mom provides, or my weekend morning respites care of my husband—and inevitably, half of “my” time also gets funneled into the mound of dishes, laundry, emails, or chores that I haven’t been able to get done while I’m with Cedar.
Recently, as my son has grown older, I’ve slowly started to claim back little pockets of time to write, not to mention to begin to consider pursuits like teaching and publishing again. And despite what can feel like painstakingly sloooww progress, chipping away at a long list of goals, it has also been hugely satisfying to begin to inhabit the larger spectrum of my creative and professional identity again, even as I remain a “stay-at-home” mom. Don’t get me wrong, I have only the fullest respect for stay-at-home moms—I know how hard they work (for no pay, for often under-expressed thanks from their partners, and for a sliver of respect from society), and I also know what a joy this occupation can be. But I resent feeling like I am “just” a stay-at-home mom in the eyes of others, I resent the distinct ‘demotion’ that this role occupies in our society, and the way that it’s demands usurp all other aspects of my identity.
And so of course I am excited for each new stage of independence that my son moves into—whether this was his ability to be away from the breast for longer periods, or, his ability to go to preschool for several mornings a week in the not-so-distant-future, during which I can dive into my projects all the more. Even if we’ll have to find the money for these additional school hours, this spending will feel more ‘justified’ since it’s good for Cedar to be exposed to other children and creative environments. This investment will be “for Cedar” and not just me, even if I will reap just as much—if not more-- satisfaction out of this new routine.
So with this new phase of motherhood on the horizon, it’s hard for me to feel eager to get pregnant again and to plunge all over again into that altered, caring-for-a-newborn state of mind-- only this time with a toddler to chase after simultaneously. If I’m so tired and desperate for more time with just one, how on earth will I be able to do anything else but care for my children if I have two? Of course, I realize that eventually when they go to school you gain some of your time back. But I don’t think I can handle waiting the four or five more years that that it would take (if say, I got pregnant today) to come back to the state of equilibrium that I’m only just reclaiming now.
Right now, I’m thinking that having just one might be good enough. He can play with his neighbors, cousins, and friends. He can be assured of always having plenty of attention from mom and dad. And he can more easily be schlepped off to the grandparents or brought with us on airplanes when mom and dad regain their ability to go out more and travel (even if this feels like a distant fantasy). Also, having just one will help my husband and I regain some of our own time together, something we desperately need, as opposed to taking away even more.
Maybe if we were rich, some of these factors wouldn’t be quite so relevant. We could hire a nanny, go on regular date nights, both feel intellectually engaged by our work, and still have energy left over to shower on our kids. But we aren’t rich, and when one half of the family income comes from a writer, we probably never will be. So although a lack of money alone wouldn’t stop me from having another kid if I wanted one at all costs, in our case, it’s definitely a factor worth considering. With just one we aren’t quite as pressed to tackle the expensive remodel that our humble cabin requires if my husband and I ever hope to have our own bedroom again. And with just one, doing something drastic (however unlikely) like moving the family for a year to live in China feels slightly more within reach, whereas everything feels that much more daunting with just one more child’s future to worry about.
There’s something to be said for making life a little easier. I know that some people say that with two they can entertain each other, but mostly what I hear from the buzz on Facebook and the like is that having two young kids is definitely harder. Perhaps it’s a selective memory of the early years (not to mention an intense love) that leads one to proclaim that more is easier. I don’t know.
I do realize, of course, that in another year or two I might take all this back as I’m seized by an irrational desire to have another baby. Even now, as I encounter the newborns of friends, I have small flutters of longing to hold and remember the essence of one of those mystical beings. Those first months are such a blur of hormones, anxiety, and sleepless nights that it’s already hard to recall what it felt like to be privy to care for such a being, but I know that, once again, our selective memories can help us to block out the hardships and to instead pine for the fleeting, yet nonetheless very real moments of joy that come with caring for a baby.
And yet, I fear getting sucked even deeper into the maternal world of diapers, playdates, doctor’s appointments, online shopping, and conversations centered around breastfeeding and sleep. I fear getting sucked in so deep that it will feel insurmountably hard to reemerge into the adult, work world. And this is in part because I am acutely aware of how much work it took me to get to where I am—and I’m not even satisfied yet; I still have greater goals. And the longer you set those goals aside, the harder it is to dig back into them. Not impossible, never impossible. But hard.
Baby lust. I know it might still hit me. I know some of you out there might be thinking to yourself, yeah, I remember feeling that way… just you wait another year or so, and I concede that I’m still hanging on to those bins of baby clothes up in the attic, just in case. Yes, there is a part of me that would be excited again to go through the ripening journey towards birth again, with the ultimate climax that comes from meeting the new mystery that life has sent for you. But I have also not yet forgotten just how hard this first year and a half has been. These last twenty months have shown me how strong I am, how much I can shoulder when called upon, at the same time that they have shown me my limits and where I need to set the boundaries when it comes to my own needs.