“Feels like old times doesn’t it?” I asked my wife as she walked out of my son’s room. I was sitting in an awkward semi-upright position on the couch in the living room. It was 4 AM. I was not happy to be down there.
“Tell me about it,” she responded after her initial surprise at hearing my voice through the darkness. This was more than just your standard middle of the night deja vu. It had been awhile, but we had in fact been here before. Getting woken up by your crying kid in the middle of the night is something that you never get used to, no matter how comfortable it starts to feel once you’re out of bed.
First comes the unceasing cry from the baby monitor. The startling first few seconds of consciousness give way to anger after you look at the clock. You try to decipher the wail and assess the urgency of the situation. You hope it goes away. Then comes the standoff. You pretend you didn’t hear it. You lay as still as possible. You hope it goes away. It doesn’t. You try to wait it out until your spouse gives in and goes downstairs. You succeed and listen as the scene unravels in the monitor, your body trying to convince your mind to just turn it off and go back to sleep. Yeah, you’ve won, but you feel guilty so you follow suit downstairs a minute later anyways. After all, there are no winners in these trying moments of parenting. You lose together or you’re doing it wrong.
If you don’t somehow end up in an argument before you get back upstairs, you bond over the shared shittiness of your situation and wordlessly renew your alliance in the dim green light of the microwave display as it obnoxiously reminds you of the current time. You complain with each other, not at each other. You laugh off your need for sleep as a team. Oddly enough, those are the times that I feel closest to my wife. Those are the times when it becomes blatantly clear that we are still in this together. And those are the times that I realize that I couldn’t do this without her. Shared desperation breeds lasting bonds. There have been countless moments like this, at obscene hours of the night or inopportune minutes of the day, where it’s the two of us dealing with the one him. This was one of those times. This was one of those moments. Yet, this still fucking sucked. We gave each other a tired sideways hug as we headed back upstairs knowing that we both had a tough task ahead of us; falling back asleep after our rude awakening before our son woke up again.
We hadn’t dealt with many late night team building exercises in quite some time. A combination of a final round of teething and a bout of fever teamed up to change that trend, again. This was the second night in a row. If there’s one thing we’re proud of as parents, it’s been our success in the sleep war. We’ve dug the nap trenches. We’ve held the bedtime line. We’ve been to hell and back. We were not expecting another tour of duty. We thought we had said goodbye to four in the morning forever. We wouldn’t go back there. We couldn’t go back there. Not again. Not after all that we’ve been through.
We’ve rocked grooves into the hard wood floors, we’ve comforted in closed closets, we’ve let him “cry it out.” We’ve blacked out windows. We’ve worn out two CD players from repeatedly playing a Pixies Lullabies CD night after night. Those songs now drone on incessantly in our souls as well as in our son’s bedroom. We’ve forced ourselves into seclusion in our upstairs bedroom. I’ve fucking pissed in a makeshift bed pan in said bedroom so as not to wake him up by sneaking down the loud and creaky old stairs above his bedroom to use the actual bathroom right outside his door. I’ve also failed to properly hide that fact resulting in an awkward exchange between my wife and one of our friends. Try explaining the necessity of a piss jug to someone. It just doesn’t sound right no matter how you spin it. But hey, it’s our fucking reality. Needless to say, it’s been a pretty “whatever it takes” sort of vibe to get him to fall asleep when we want him to and stay asleep for enough time to keep us all sane.
Shit, this whole stay at home Dad experiment, this entire parenting trip for that matter, has a pretty consistent “whatever it takes” type of vibe to it. As they say about the unpredictability of the NFL: Any given Sunday, baby. Except, it’s every damn day. I knew this instance was merely a random momentary setback, but it was still disheartening to two parents who struggle with sleep as it is to be up two nights in a row with the kid like we were back to week three and breastfeeding was still in the picture. Plus, we were trying to fight off the virus our kid brought into the house from one of those walking petri dishes he hangs out with. And, maybe we stayed up too late the night before doing Mommy and Daddy things. You know, the return of the perfect shit storm. You come across them a lot as a parent. Especially when you live in the Great Plains.
It’s those four AM nights that you thought were over, the seemingly never ending bouts of teething, the sleep war, and all the rest of the milestones that you’ve struggled to reach and pass that really make me wonder why anyone ever wants to do it all over again. Another kid? Holy fuck. You’ve got to be kidding me?! Why on earth would you want to add the trials and tribulations of those first days, weeks, months, and years to the new found challenges of an older child? No sir, it’s not for me, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Sure, maybe I’m weak, maybe I’m selfish, maybe I’m lazy, but I would prefer if my son was an only child. To me, that’s just being rational. If I’ve learned anything from my first year and a half of being a dad, it’s that I don’t ever want to do it again. It’s hard enough getting it right the first time. It’s okay to stop there, isn’t it?
It seems like from the moment I cut the cord, people were asking us when we wanted to have our second kid. It’s like if you have one, people automatically assume that that’s all you want to or can do. The pressure comes from everywhere and it’s enough to make you want to perform a do it yourself vasectomy. We weren’t really sure we wanted one kid, nonetheless a quiver full. We never had some weird reproductive plan. We never had any preconceived desires for a family of a certain size. Surprisingly, at least to me, there’s plenty of other people willing to carry the torch of conception for the rest of us. I barely know anyone with just one kid anymore. It’s really quite the bandwagon. I’m good with waving and smiling with my wife and one child as it drives by. Hopefully they throw out some candy.
The parents with the multiple children are always the ones that want you to have another kid the most. After my own parents, they’re the worst offenders. But, I’m on to them. My time with the MorMoms and their stables of children combined with a few instances of simultaneous babysitting for friends and neighbors have only confirmed my stance. I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to run errands and try to keep tabs on three kids in the grocery store. I’ve witnessed the rudimentary jealousy in the reaction of a child you’ve said “no” to as you say “yes” to another. I know how taxing it can be to try to get two toddlers to nap at the same time on different floors of the house. It wasn’t one of my better Tuesdays.
The parents of multiple children love to rattle off a laundry list of advantages to having that second or third or fourth child. But the advantages tend toward sounding a bit more like justifications when added to the myriad of negative aspects of having more than one child that they must think I don’t see, hear, or remember. According to my research, the second kid always comes a long and stirs shit up. What once was Camelot is now the beginning of the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. There is all sorts of bitching and comparing and complaining about the new kid. If you ask my friends, all of their first children were practically perfect. Their second ones not so much. I get the texts and listen to their stories. I read their Facebook updates and their faces. There’s proof of this shit.
“She’s nothing like my Jack was,” my friend Stacy, a very early proponent of multiple children said to me over my last visit to Chicago. “She’s a holy terror!” she continued while I laughed, “Be glad you don’t have two.”
“Oh Jason, you’re no fun!” my neighbor Lisa said to me the other day as she reprimanded the youngest of her two daughters while we were at the park. I was “no fun” because I didn’t want to have another baby, even though she had been dealing with her unruly second child all afternoon while I supervised her oldest and my only.
“No, that’s no fun,” I said with a smile, referring to her almost constant frustration with her second child.
“I never had this problem with Gracie. Gracie was perfect,” she countered, dragging her youngest to her third timeout of the hour.
“Exactly,” I responded, smiling in the solace of watching my own perfect little angel eating sand.
Sure, I know the benefits of siblings. I love large families. But, in this day and age I also know that you don’t need to produce kid after kid just to reap those benefits. My son is being raised in a very social environment. Our large family is made up of not only relatives, but friends and neighbors and all of their respective offspring. My son will not be lacking in role models, playmates, cousins, or friends. He’ll be able to enjoy all the possible benefits without all of the certain negatives. He’ll be an only child, but he won’t be a lonely child. That’s the plan anyways.
Make no mistake, I love being a Dad. I love being a Stay at Home Dad even more. Hell, “love” isn’t even a strong enough word. There is no word. But, I can’t guarantee that I’d feel the same way with another kid in the picture. I can’t guarantee that I could even find the proper patience or balance to deal with not one, but two kids and a life at the same time. When it comes down to it, like most parents, I just want what is best for my child. When you’ve got a good thing going, it’s asinine to gamble on messing with it. Know when to walk away and know when to take the money and run, as they say. I’m good with that. I’m also good with retiring that damn piss jug for good. I’ll forever raise my glass to those parents that raise more than one kid and succeed. I’m fine with being your biggest fan, your shoulder to cry on, your ear to complain into, and occasionally, your babysitter, just as long as your fine with those of us who only want to have one.