It’s in these terms, coined with both humor and a certain provocative sense, that Kristin van Ogtrop, editor-in-chief of Real Simple magazine and author of Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom, defines something that I’ve been more or less consciously worried about for the past three plus years:
Accounting error: The irrevocable mistake you make when you decide to have one more child than you can actually handle, which pushes the parental sanity balance sheet from the black (a place of comfort, if occasional boredom) to the red (excitement, panic).
Now I know that two children is not exactly a house full of them, not in the sense our grandmothers thought so anyway. I’m well aware that to some people (one of my friends is currently thinking about having her fourth) it may seem like a ridiculously low number of children to feel overwhelmed about. And it probably is, I mean, chances are, like everyone else, we’ll manage and love it and even forget how it was before.
But when people ask me why I was so reluctant to have another one, why the first few weeks of my pregnancy have been so emotionally difficult, this is what comes to my mind. I’d rather tell you that I don’t feel the number of children we can actually handle was in fact one, but I still have some sort of a gut feeling that maybe it was, or rather more like a fear that it proves to be, only too late. Not too late in the sense that we’ll have to return one of them to the store, but rather that we simply won’t be able to provide all the attention and support and time and affection that they both need.
Yeah I’m overthinking right now, as I often am. And yeah some people have scornfully told me that they thought having a second child just so your first one has a sibling was a ludicrously bad reason. (It’s not only for that we decided to, obviously, even though it kinda was the argument that tipped the scale). But then, these same people tell me that they want other ones because they want "a princess to go with their future NHL star", or simply because "they like little babies too much". And this makes me think WTF? So these reasons are good ones? I don’t hate little babies, and I have very fond memories of the wonderful, complete, unspoken closeness you can have with them, although I tend to be one of these people who appreciates it more as they grow and do actual stuff. But it’s not even the point: what if your princess turns out to be another boy (or a boy that wants to be a princess)? And will you just keep on making babies so you never have to stop smelling them, regardless of whether or not you can actually care for them once they become less new? Because that’s the thing about babies: as addictive and intoxicating as they can be (despite the nonstop pooping and crying and burped sour milk), they tend to grow up on you (and really fast, at that). And unfortunately your job doesn’t stop there. I do look forward to the baby stage, especially since I know this will be my last time, but I also see that I'll suddenly have this whole other human being to responsibly care for and safely bring into adulthood to become a well-adjusted citizen. And, gulp, it's big.
Someone knowledgeable on these things, whom I really admire and trust recently told me that you should be able to give 15 minutes a day to each of your children, as a minimum amount of time they need to thrive. At first I thought that this was really, really not much: I mean, even on workdays we do spend at least 4 hours with LP. But she specified: 15 uninterrupted minutes when they have all your attention, when you do whatever they want, and when you’re not distracted by anything else (if you get up to answer the phone, the timer resets). So I started thinking about it. On most days, we do have that (plus some other little closeness moments like bath time or storytelling in bed). And even though it seems like it’s not that long for a 24-hour day, it does seem to be fairly enough for LP to feel secure and loved, for us to reconnect after a day apart. But it’s still an effort to fit it somewhere, and it’s not even always possible. If we have to run errands and arrive home later than usual, for instance, it’s pretty much rush dinner/rush bath/lights off. And we have a night owl who goes to bed around 8:30; when I talked about it, some people whose kids go to bed at 7:00 told me they just basically never have this kind of time together. So I know that two kids is doable, but I still also figure that it has to be more difficult, not easier, because this time will suddenly have to be multiplied by two.
What would be the solution? I don’t know. Work fewer hours could be one thing, I’ve said it before. I love working and it’s important for my own balance, however I’d still prefer some sort of a flexible/part-time schedule to a 9 to 5 full-time one. But would it really make it perfect? Probably not. Even up until last summer when I had an extra hour a day with LP, I felt our balance was better, but then again an hour is still just an hour and there were often things coming up that meant he didn’t always have my full attention. And this does not guarantee that both parents do spend time with their kids, which is a little sad. Sleep fewer hours? I suppose it comes with, as does becoming an über-organized, multitasking genius (or else perish). Worry a little less and simply hope they will turn out fine? Highly desirable but a lot to ask of me, my friends.