I remember the moment. I was walking down our New England driveway with my friend Trish, who had five children compared to my one toddler. And she said, quite casually, “Sometimes I think having one kid was hardest. You’re just alone all day and you feel like you’re talking to yourself. Once there’s more, they’re never all going through crises at once. Maybe one is going through a really difficult phase, but another is just learning how to read or asking really interesting questions. One doesn’t nap, but one does. And you have someone to talk to all day.”Read More »
Once a week, Pippin has a music class in the evening, to which J takes him because I am a musical dunce. At first, this weekly event devastated Scout. Why can’t she have a music class, too? (Well, because she is three, for starters.)
So we tried to give it a spin. Ah yes, we said. Your brother is going to a music class, but you, my tiny friend, you get Super Special Girl Time.™ You and your sister get special time with Mama. (It has not occurred to her yet that 98% of her week is time with Mama.)Read More »
(NB: This is one I listened to as an audiobook so I couldn’t mark it up or copy down passages quickly enough. So quotations here were either hunted down online or are from excerpts and interviews that jive with the book.)
This fall as I slowly set out on running again after a long pregnancy/physical therapy hiatus, I listened avidly to Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear. I found the book by turns mesmerizing, validating, challenging. In an NPR interview this summer, author Kim Brooks argues:
“We read, in the news or on social media, about children who have been kidnapped, raped and killed, about children forgotten for hours in broiling cars. We do not think about the statistical probabilities or compare the likelihood of such events with far more present dangers, like increasing rates of childhood diabetes or depression. Statistically speaking, according to the writer Warwick Cairns, you would have to leave a child alone in a public place for 750,000 years before he would be snatched by a stranger. Statistically speaking, a child is far more likely to be killed in a car on the way to a store than waiting in one that is parked. But we have decided such reasoning is beside the point.”
So, last month I finished On Pilgrimage, the first book I’ve read by Dorothy Day. If you’ve read it, you know it’s a weird experience — like if I printed out a year’s worth of blog posts, interspersed them with my diary entries, stapled it together, and called it a book. But only if I was as insanely interesting as Day, even at her most scattered.
One page struck me especially. We have a new tradition of mother’s blessings here, where we gather to pray for and encourage a friend as her pregnancy comes to its end, and maybe that’s why this passage struck me particularly.
I have friends who cosleep with their kids till they’re two. I have friends who spend a stretch each evening stroking a child’s hair or singing her songs till she drifts off.
I am not that mom.
I was a good student and a good librarian. At best, I feel like I’m a tolerable stay at home mom and a lopsided housekeeper (maybe better than usual baker? Worse than usual mopper?).
But I’m reminded of what I heard a priest say this All Saints, while I wrestled my toddler in the back pew, still seething at the preschooler is left with his merciful papa: “God doesn’t ask anything of us we can’t do, but he also doesn’t ask any less.”
I had heard the old cliche first part before, but never stopped to consider the second part. Easy isn’t a sign you’re doing things right, that you’re basking in God’s favor.
I feel like I’m pretty bad at being pregnant. On the one hand, I’ve brought two babies successfully into the world and so far things look good for this one. But the process is violent and draining for me and I can’t do anything much else while I’m brewing a baby and I certainly don’t make it look elegant or even desirable.
But I’m not sure being good at something is the point. When I was a kid, I took the classes I was good at, and hated and avoided the subjects in which I lacked aptitude (looking at you, geometry). But then I grew up (well, a little) and met this handsome boy not afraid to suck at things. He’d fearlessly invest time and money in a new hobby, limp along, and figure it out.
We see this throughout the Bible, too. Moses, for instance, was a terrible public speaker and still got recruited. And I’m not entirely sure sanctity is about efficacy, either.
My husband is a polymath, so the odds are stacked in his favor in a way they probably are not for me. (I’m not sure there’s enough practice in the world to help me understand Euclid, and he still laughs at that time he walked in on me doing a pregnancy exercise video.) But I came to admire that willingness to be bad at something, and even to imitate it a bit: in Uganda, where you were expected to just improvise and figure things out; in homeownership, where my dad cobbles together brilliant solutions and learns on the job; certainly in parenting where I find myself hitting Wiffle balls and doing funny voices while I read and trying not to be so damn self conscious.
Life is more interesting, for sure.
I have a confession: In my life right now, I have an easy kid, and a not-so-easy kid.
At the moment, it’s not evenly distributed — not as if one sleeps better and the other eats better, or one has fits about x while the other throws tantrums over y. One kid is just mostly sunshine and the other…is not.
I feel bad admitting this, but let me tell you what it doesn’t mean: I don’t have a favorite child. Instead, let me argue this:
Easy really only means easy.
Think of some of your favorite children of history and literature. Anne Shirley? Probably a tougher child to raise than Diana Barry, even before you factor in the damage done by loveless years, but whose favorite is Diana? Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer also provided more than their fair share of irritation to their caregivers, but there’s a reason most of us prefer the spice of Jo to the purely angelic Beth, even if one was probably a much easier child to raise for Marmee.
Or think about it another way: I can’t imagine raising Jesus was an easy prospect, especially for Joseph, tainted like the rest of us fallen parents with original sin. Knowing it was always your fault? Probably not a comfortable situation to experience with your six-year-old. I think most pint-sized saints would have been a similarly challenging undertaking.
Easy also doesn’t mean much in the long run, I don’t expect. Will I have a closer relationship with my easier child when everyone’s grown up? Who knows! Will the stormier kid grow up to create a more lucrative, successful or rewarding life? We’ll have to see. Stubbornness and feeling things deeply and getting fixated on interests and failing to learn social skills as quickly as their peers — these are all tropes we are familiar with from the biographies of the kind of people of whom biographies are written.
In the meantime, I just try to make sure I’m not doing anything on my own part to contribute to an easy/tough dynamic: I try not assume that the shrieker is always the victim, and try to look for points of connection with my thornier babe.
And I wait it out. Because this, like so many perplexities in parenthood, is probably just another stage.
If you want to become dead to me, go ahead and tell me Scout’s hair won’t always be curly.
And yet, I know it’s true. It’s strange to consider, because right now it’s what people comment on most about her, her identity to the world, having finally left behind her newborn bug eyes.
When she’s running wild in just her diaper, her scrawny 23-pound-frame and giant halo of golden curls make her look like some sort of fairy child, 90% uncontrolled hair. She is my faerie second born.
When Pip was a very small baby, I misread a label on one of his onesies as “Just One Year” instead of “Just One You” and thought with panic, “Just one year? It feels like eternity.”
Probably one of my favorite pieces ever published on the internet* compares babies to cake: it’s a sweet, rare, special time, sure, but awfully rich, and sometimes overwhelming. If you haven’t had cake in years, you long for it; if someone’s forcing you to wake up every two hours for cake and expecting you to enjoy every slice, it’s pretty frustrating.
Maybe it’s that I’m almost five years into motherhood now, or two kids deep, but I think it might be Scout’s curls that finally helped me to start concretely savoring these little years as such a brief season. Scout’s hair will certainly darken and possibly straighten in coming years. Someday, soon, Pippin will lose his last, delicious, babyish hand dimples, and stop wanting to snuggle me, as oppressive as snuggles from a sturdy preschooler can feel. Soon we will have the delight of this new little girl, yet unknown to us, but it will never again be just Pippin and Scout, squabbling in the backseat and making uncouth poop jokes.
Summer and second trimester are coming to their respective ends and change looms: heartburn and homeschool and potty training and so much I can’t yet anticipate. So for now I’ll run a hand through these unkempt curls and try to enjoy what we have in this single, unrepeatable moment.
*I can’t find it. I’m sorry. Anyway, you’ve probably seen it: it goes around facebook constantly. I’ll add the link when it reappears.
I really really wish I felt better while pregnant. There are pregnant women being Wonder Womanly and kicking butt at tennis and for a very long time, just existing is a pretty major accomplishment in my book.
I’m finally some better, but in that long hibernation space, I felt like the kids were mostly just watching tv and mainlining Goldfish. As it turns out, though, Pippin was developing newfound independence and a willingness to help.
In the past few weeks, he’s started pouring his own milk (if we keep a small bottle filled for him), feeding the dog, checking the mail, keeping an eye on his sister (who he endearingly and mysteriously calls “Sweet Pete”), helping me put away groceries and helping more consistently with baking.
It’s grand. It’s a reminder for me of a couple things: first, I should keep an eye on my kids’ development and give them chances to try new tasks. And more importantly, I’m learning that even in a season of seeming stasis, the kids are growing all the time. They are not (just!) developing complexes from me repeating, “Please don’t touch Mama, please go watch more Daniel Tiger” — maybe the boredom and benevolent neglect even hastens these leaps.
Well, Sweet Pete, looks like Mama’s not getting around to it anytime soon. Should I try?
This is a hard post to write, because it’s a hard thing to admit:
Sometimes I forget to even try to enjoy my children.
On the one hand, this is good. I give myself permission not to treasure every moment, and it’s a relief not to feel guilt when I can’t feel joy. Some things just aren’t better with small children. (Stomach bugs, for instance.) Some stages are particularly challenging. That’s ok.
But there have been times when I’ve hardened my hearts to my children, just seen it as my work to shape these little people into likable humans (a task Jennifer Senior explores in the really fascinating All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood). It’s true they are my 9-5 grind, but seeing them that way means that they’re just obtrusive work emails, obnoxious take-home work, standing in the way of my real fun when the weekend rolls around. I end up like Marilla Cuthbert, vowing grimly, “But I’ve put my hand to the plow and I won’t look back.”
So it was kind of a wakeup call to me this winter, reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids — a book with a truly embarrassing title. (Peaceful sounds like hippie nonsense and happy doesn’t feel like it’s in my control, or necessarily the point.) Still, it was the only parenting audiobook available from the library at that frustrated moment, and something needed to change.
And the book doesn’t come right out and tell you to enjoy your children, maybe because, duh, everyone else is doing that already. But it reminds you that a kid can tell when he’s delighting you, and reminds you that connection builds a basis on which you can strengthen your relationship and influence in your child’s life. When a child can tell she’s pleasing you, she wants to please you more.
This is pretty self-evident stuff, but for me, it was revolutionary. Now when we argue, I try to return us to equilibrium, hugging or offering genuinely kind words or initiating an activity we both enjoy, like the 500th game of Octonauts UNO. I’m trying to remind us we like each other, and you know what? It helps. Good feelings encourage good feelings and soon we are both trying to say “yes” to each other more often.
There were other helpful things in this book — particularly parts where Markham points out that a lot of the anger we feel towards our children is motivated by fear triggering fight and flight responses — but the book, despite its occasional flaws and genre-typical ramblings, is worth it for this small epiphany alone: Enjoy your kids.