I chatted up a friend from my graduate school days who now has two kids the same age as mine and who works full time at an advertising firm. She revealed that she now has three hired help at home: two nannies to take care of each of her kids and one all-around housekeeper to do other chores like cleaning, cooking, and laundry. It never occurred to me that I was doing the work of three people. “I don’t know how you do it,” she said. I always wondered what my value was. Now I can tell my husband I have proof that I am worth at least three paid people.
I read somewhere that when you have a child, you’d wonder what you did with all your free time back when you were by yourself. And when you have two kids, you’d wonder what you did with all your free time when you just had one. I must admit though that having two kids is much easier than I expected. My husband hears this and using his logic says, “Hon, then we should have another. You probably would not notice the difference.” Not only does he lack the experience of childbirth, he has the logic of a man.
My two kids don’t go to daycare or pre-school. I cook most meals from scratch and manage to churn out ‘extras’ like cookies, cakes and breads every now and then. The house is reasonably clean, laundry (which includes washable diapers) always fresh, and the kids mostly happy (it is good to disappoint the kids at least once a day, as my husband would say): all this with a broken night’s sleep, thanks to a still waking-up-to-breastfeed baby. Along the way, I have learned these truths to help me get through the day till bedtime, with my humor intact.
I keep my diaper bag really, really small. It is essentially the same purse I have been using before the kids came along, except now, it has diapers, a bib, a pack of wet wipes, and a small container of nuts and raisins for when we get hungry before meals. Because we don’t use a stroller, we manage to get through all kinds of terrain without worrying about ramps and elevators. Our two-year old gets a lot of exercise walking as much as we do. We don’t bring a host of toys to entertain the kids. I found that their boredom threshold is pretty high*. They can amuse themselves watching and interacting with other people, looking out the window, and talking (sometimes singing) to us. I wonder if parents are afraid their children might become restless without distraction. But I have found they do just fine interacting with the world around them without my constant input. The world is so much more interesting from the fresh eyes of a child. That’s why my daughter, when left to walk at her own pace, would do so slowly, picking up leaves and marveling at their color and shape.
I am human
Even before I had kids, I am the sort of person who prioritizes food and sleep above many things (Ask my husband who is the complete opposite in this department. That man could eat the same meal five days in a row and five hours of sleep is just about right). I firmly believe that there are very very few things that are so important that they can’t wait after I finish my meal or restful night’s sleep. I can feel myself get weak, faint, and cranky when I don’t have enough of either, so everything else suffers. I am not afraid or embarrassed to let others know that I have these needs because in the end, it helps me to be more present to them.
I am most conscious of the truth that I am human when I’m sick, paralyzed by fever, and feeling trapped in a body that is weak, in pain, and failing. When this happens, I tune out everything, turn inward and try to find relief in sleep. These moments remind me of how important it is to take care of myself first before I can take care of the kids. I used to avoid taking painkillers but with two kids, am eternally grateful to whoever invented them.
At the same time, being human means being honest enough to admit that there are days when I don’t like being with the kids, when I just want to be deaf to their whining, when I just want to fling them against the wall. I know I have horrified other people by being so forthright about this. Truth be told, I think they’re mostly people who a. don’t have kids, or b. have kids but have other people who take care of them. Of course, one, I have never flung the kids against the wall, and two, I feel absolutely crappy after realizing that I feel this way. Thankfully, I found parents who have experienced the same thing and still have a sense of humor about it. I just love these cartoons by Amber Dusick.
This won’t last
My husband and I were talking about how lovable our daughter is. Just when we were about to break out into collective sighs of “Awww…”, she marches up to her baby brother, smacks him on the head for no apparent reason and makes him bawl. As we ushered her into her time out corner, my husband said, “Isn’t this what parenthood is? One minute you feel tender towards your child. The next minute you want to tenderize her!” Or sometimes, I hear my husband say in frustration, “Ruby, why do you act like a two year old? Oh yes that’s right, you are a two year old!”
But nothing lasts. Not the exhausting things, not the exasperating things. Sooner than I expected I stopped having to make mashed food for Ruby. Sooner than I expected I stopped having to wash poop off her diaper as she learned to poop in the potty. These things might even be remembered wistfully later on. In Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, a friend told her, “Whenever I get annoyed by the mess stuck to our refrigerator door, or about having to keep a stroller in the hallway of my apartment, I remind myself that these are the good old days.”
Frankly, I love my kids. I love them with an ache in my heart. I love what I do and can’t see other people doing for my kids what I do for them. I have the best job in the world.
* I suspect that this is partly because we don’t have a TV at home and I limit the videos that they watch online. On this, pediatrician Dmitri Christakis talks about how exposure to the rapid image changes of most TV programs (even those for kids) preconditions children’s brains to expect high levels of stimulation in everyday life, thus the boredom.