The children were quiet. Too quiet…
I walked out of our bedroom to peek into Nathan’s room, expecting to see them both dead on the floor from some sort of karate move gone wrong, but – instead – I see this picture:
Isaac, 6 years old and learning to read, sitting on the floor with Nathan, 20 months, on his lap. Isaac holds Goodnight Moon – aka “Moo Book” – and is intensely trying to sound out the words to Nathan, who stares at the page, enamored and riveted. He points to the bunnies and the different things in the room and looks back at Isaac with his trademarked, “hennghh??” And Isaac says, “yes, Natey that’s right!” because that’s exactly what Rachel and I say whenever Nathan says “henggnh,” as if “henggnh” is the most profound observation of the universe a human has ever expressed. Which, of course, it is.
I took a moment to endure the cuteness-overload that flooded my brain, and then went to Rachel and made her look at what was going on.
She looked in and tears welled – joyful tears, tears that come out only when you see these moments that seem to make everything worth all the screaming and crying and mess and sleepless nights. Then she grabbed her belly: “Oh my god, my ovaries.” She wants another kid, and somehow – in those moments – I do too.
HERE is the the joy I was promised, I thought. Such delight. Such love between the two humans we created, the two babies for whom we have sacrificed and slaved for all these years, and for whom we will continue to do so until we die, even if it is this very sacrifice that will be cause of our deaths. Here is the wonder and happiness and pure, unencumbered joy that comes with being a parent.
But then Isaac saw us watching, and he got up and wouldn’t put his socks on. Nathan – livid that his 352nd journey through the Great Green Room had been left unfinished – started screaming something a lot less cute than “henggnh” at his older brother, who was now ignoring him.
We had to leave, so I asked Isaac once again to put on his socks, although the actual reaction was probably more along the lines of: “PUT YOUR SOCKS ON NOW OR I’M TAKING AWAY YOUR POKEMON CARDS!” to which he responded by bursting into tears and running into his room, which led to another Rachel EyeRollÔ and a very concerned look from Nathan, who suddenly smelled very bad.
As all parents know, these moments of pure happiness followed too quickly by abject rage are pretty much a daily occurrence. It’s stressful, and the extent to which you are able to cope with that stress is the number one indicator of your happiness as a parent.
Several times a day, I ask my older son what he wants to eat. Without fail, he replies that he doesn’t know, so I list some options, ranging from scrapple to duck l’orange, each of which is met by an emphatic “No.” I then give up and insist he decides, and the reply comes: “I just want something that I want that’s good.”
What the hell does that even mean, you incoherent spawn??
At this point, I have three options:
- Decide for him, then when he starts screaming that this isn’t what he wants, calmly explain that he wasn’t being clear so I was forced to make the decision, and offer to have a fruitful discussion about communication.
- Tell him I will be ignoring him until he decides, then refuse to engage even when he start shattering glass with his screams and end up an hour later with a still-screaming child who’s even hungrier and no closer to deciding what he wants.
- Scream at him to just tell me what the fuck he wants, for the love of motherfucking GOD, then run upstairs and angry-cry into my pillow.
Though my responses have always shifted between A and B (yes, this conversation happens several times a week), I admit that there are more and more days lately in which C is my choice, albeit without actual F-bombs.
Clearly my children are the reason I had cancer and heart disease.
I’m kidding, of course, but when you find the baby drawing on the furniture even though you were sure you put the markers out of reach, this is an easy trap in which to fall: It’s all their fault. If only I had chosen to not have children. If only I had chosen to stay single and un-tethered to anyone or anything other than my own happiness and ambitions. There’s no way I would have gotten cancer and heart disease had I chosen another path, one paved with fewer diapers and less stress.