I know you are all holding your breath, waiting for me to exclaim, "Yes! Only one more year of this torture and poof, life gets incredibly sane again! You get your body back, only skinnier! You get ample sleep and sex! You become a wonder parent, never relying on TV as a babysitter. Your memory becomes a steel trap, your values an unwavering beacon by which your child navigates all of life!"
Painfully, I have to inform you that, according to a cadre of parents with grade school- and middle school-aged rugrats, the pace does not slacken. Nor is there a reprieve from a social life made up almost exclusively of children's Saturday afternoon birthday parties.
The Wonder Years of Three and Older
However, here are the gains you can expect. At the three-year mark, a child's immunity typically strengthens and there's a reduction in the mucus torrents, ear infections, and resulting sick days. And for those of you who fear that potty training will extend into college, diapers do eventually disappear.
A toddler or preschooler is increasingly able to tell you what she wants and needs, which makes parenting requirements more straightforward. It's also a big coup the first Saturday morning your previously needy morning owl is satisfied with a bowl of cereal and watching cartoons unaccompanied.
By year three, many moms and dads grow accustomed to functioning on less sleep. Moms regain some libido, short-term memory, and mental clarity while reaping added benefits in efficiency, confidence, and creativity. And as you see your little rascals grow, make friends, learn to read, pick right from wrong, make cereal necklaces, and paint flowerpots for you, parenting becomes a richer experience. Your child begins to convey to you and to others the lessons and love you've imparted, his character traits emerging with your imprint.
From Kindergarten On
At the kindergarten milestone, you can raise a glass to the reduced costs of child care, if indeed you've selected a public school. An older child can also go places and take part in activities that are remotely interesting to adults, graduating from the interminable Candy Land to competitive checkers, from eating and throwing sand at the beach to chasing waves and squirting you with a Super Soaker.
As highly touted as Baby's first words or steps, the "firsts" that come in later years are astonishingly meaningful and fun. It's incredible the first time Scotty serves as the accolade at church, the first time Brittany accepts a trophy from her tee ball coach, and the first time Gus reads a book to you. I'll personally never forget how enthralled Patrick was, telling me the story of Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, or how he sang "Food, Glorious Food" for days after seeing his first live musical, Oliver.
Start Over with Another Baby?
'Bout the time you start to adjust, or earlier in the pressure-cooker time frame enjoyed by parents of "advanced age" as obstetricians term those of us over thirty-five the baby urge can get rather insistent.
There are definite advantages to having a second child. The sheer demand for extra arms can force fathers to step forward and share more of the house and parenting work. You'll be more confident with subsequent imps, too, which makes the whole baby stage much more enjoyable. And siblings sometimes do keep each other occupied, although they can also bicker and fight, scream and bite so much you become their full-time referee.
Duke and I decided to have a second child in the most tentative of ways. We knew that our leaky boat could easily give way, acknowledged that parenting baby Patrick had taken us within an inch of our lives, but believed we had enough dogpaddling in us to give our son the significant gift of a sibling. Surprisingly, at least up until his rebellious years, Liam brought healing to our household. I escaped a second stint of postpartum hardships and Liam greeted Duke as if he was only a bosom away from being God's gift to babyhood.
Wrestling over the Number of Kids
Several moms I know have set numbers of children they always dreamed of having numbers that realism has made them relinquish or that they are chugging towards determinedly, without regard for financial or emotional cost. A good friend of mine is abiding by a superstition that she has to have multiple children to compensate for some disappointing her later on. When she complains about her husband's lack of can-do helpfulness, it sounds to me as if she's decided to have children with her nanny, the more faithful partner.
A mother of an eight-year-old offers her wisdom, "I'm a very good mother of one. I enjoy my daughter immensely and spend a lot of time with her. I simply ignore all the talk about 'Who will she have when her father and I are dead and buried?' Because I'm not so sure I'd be as good of a mother to two or more."
A thirty-nine-year-old in my mompool is wrestling with the decision, nine months into life with her very amenable first child. "I can't afford to wait much longer. Listening to those of you who have more than one, I'm apt to think I ought to quit while I'm ahead. Maybe my baby urge will just go quiet."
"Or maybe it won't," says another mom, this one the proud owner of not one but three easy babies. "Nobody else has the right answer for you. You have to weigh the decision you'll ultimately be happy with. Because I've been out with my three children and had people say to me, 'Think you have enough kids already?' Whatever you do, somebody will have an opinion about it."
My friends and I disagree with Dr. Laura about most topics these days even though we guiltily enjoy tuning her in. But as our wise selves and our kids' moms, we do think she's right that when Dad says "no dice," the matter of more children has to be dismissed. Many of us with less than fully contributing partners now appreciate how much a family is handicapped by this. We know now that even the most loving of mothers cannot make up for a reluctant or worse yet, an antagonistic partner.
From What No One Tells the Mom by Marg Stark. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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