Lately I've had lots of occasion to talk to single mothers of one toddler about their desire for a second. All are, as I was, very apprehensive about taking on a second child. And I am far too honest a person to try to bullshit them into it with stories of adorable toddlers holding hands or amusing each other or riding seesaws together. Oh, if it were only that all of the time. But it is soooo not.
As the more jaded of my friends warned me, almost all of your time is spent refereeing fights, largely over toys and who gets to do something/have something first. To be brutally honest, I find I have fallen into the habit of just letting Bobby do things first because it's just easier - Theo doesn't seem to notice or care (probably used to it), and Bobby puts up a royal fight if it goes the other way. Often times I wonder if I created a monster by doing this - but oh my god, the sheer exhaustion of each day, adding into that arbitrary things that are going to cause my soon-to-be five year old to completely freak out, make me have to threaten and/or enact punishments, and invariably make us late for something? Fuck it. Bobby learns all about sharing and taking turns at school. He's awesome with other kids, especially little ones. So I must be doing something right.
I was honest with the women contemplating two children and told them I'm not sure I'd do it again if I knew how hard it would be. This is the ugly truth. It doesn't mean I wish Theo away - he's amazing and lovely and awesome - but parenting two young children alone is fucking brutal and exhausting, and I say this even with preschool giving me much needed free time and at the end of a rare and delightfully illness-free winter.
Of course, I have no idea what my life would have been like with just Bobby. Would I be full of regret that I didn't provide him with a sibling? Would whatever issues I have with him fill the space and be just as exhausting/exasperating as the issues I have with two? Would he be needier or more selfish with no brother? Would I be a different, worse parent?
I mentioned to one friend that I had two mainly so I wouldn't regret not doing it. She made the point that maybe living in fear of regretting doing or not doing things isn't the best strategy, and I have to agree. Then again, many women have confided in me that they wouldn't have had even one baby if they'd really known how hard it is. I believe I fall into this category a lot of the time. Still...I understand the kind of emotional/social/societal/hormonal pressure I was under in the fall of 2010 when I made this grand decision. I couldn't not have done it, really. And so here we are
I once asked my bandleader friend, who was bemoaning his wife's torrid baby fever, "do you have any idea what it's like, being a woman, being absolutely compelled to do something that you know is going to fuck up your whole life?"
I still cling to the concept that children are all about long-term investment. Not much going on in the early years - a whole lot of stress and worry and exhaustion - followed by hopefully the joy of having raised fine human beings who might even bless you with some ego-satisfying grandchildren. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!