Everything Happened | vol. 214
Three kids, six months in: a review
I wish I could buy back the time and psychic currency that I gave up obsessing about whether our family was “complete,” to borrow the language of cringe momfluencers. What a luxury to worry at all about something like this! But I did. Ask any of my irl friends. I’m sure they all were eventually like, please, I’m begging you, do it or don’t, and leave me out of it.
When you want something you can’t have, it chases you everywhere. When you’re broke, everyone is chartering a boat in Capri on Instagram. When you’re trying to get pregnant, every last bitch on Earth, from your personal nemesis to the Jiffy Lube technician, is rubbing a taut, round belly. For me, during those years, I saw only families of five. In airports, in restaurants. Every actor whose Wikipedia page I found myself on while semi-watching some streaming show: father of three!
Only a few of my friends have three or more kids, and all of them told me to just go for it. Of course they would! They’d already ruined their lives! They wanted to pull me down with them. A drowning person who drowns their rescuer by climbing on them.
I noticed that the friends with three or more kids had at least one of two things my family didn’t: one parent who cared for the kids full-time, or a lot of money. The first thing wasn’t an option, and the second thing wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon without wishing on a monkey’s paw. I looked around for someone’s paper to copy off of and couldn’t find it. Everyone else seemed to know their limits: physically, financially, emotionally. I’ve never known mine.
When I think back to the time I was mentally wearing a circle in the grass like a chained-up dog, my fears were reasonable. My second pregnancy was difficult and the idea of being pregnant again made my vision tunnel. I felt certain that Nick and I would never again have a night away, let alone a whole trip. Who’s going to watch three kids? We live hundreds of miles away from grandparents, whose health and abilities could decline sharply. There was a particular block about airplane tickets. Buying four, sane. Buying FIVE?!!!
These smallish fears were legitimate, but also they were gnats. They swarmed, they annoyed, they were distracting, but ultimately I could crush them all with the palm of my desire to do it anyway. The Big Fear for me was just the not knowing. Smart people stopped at one kid. Many people seemed to agree that two was nice. What did they know that I didn’t? What was I refusing to see?
When I gave birth to my first child, I fell through a trapdoor into a different dimension. Everything looked new: crisp, bright, fragile. I was sure that one more kid would send me hurtling through space once more. To how many universes can someone, especially a slacker someone, adapt? I don’t even like when my municipality changes trash pickup day.
I fell through the trapdoor last year. There were moments last spring in early pregnancy when I was seized by…not a negative emotion, and not quite a positive emotion. Let’s call it “ecstatic dread.” I cried a lot, and only partially because I was overdosing on HCG. I remember Nick saying, gently, “you’re crying….because there’s going to be a baby?” I was.
When you have your first baby, it is a 24/7 obsession. You are basically in active addiction. There is nothing else happening, everything orbits around your ability to keep your baby alive while not dying yourself in the process. It should follow that this repeats each time. But for me, subsequent babies are not an addiction. Life cannot stop in the same way, and so it doesn’t. Someone has to pack a stupid little daycare lunch the morning after you give birth. (But hopefully, not you.)
The week after I had Polly, we were doing the typical Thunderdome thing that happens on weekdays between 4 pm and 8 pm in a house with small children. And it occurred to me: it’s literally just another person. She’s another person who lives here. That’s all. That’s what having a third kid is. What had felt inaccessible to me about that knowledge? Other people weren’t doing it because they couldn’t or because they didn’t want to. Not because doing it would unleash a swirling black gyre of regret.
I say all this, and yet Polly is getting close to crawling. That will change everything. Last week, she rolled off the bed onto the hardwood. The worst sound in the world. I held her little skull in place as they did a baby CT scan. She was fine but it was agony. Caring for young children can be all-consuming. It was all-consuming before I had this new one, too.
My mom says she can care for all three for a stretch once Polly is out of diapers. That’s a few years away, but a few years doesn’t feel like a long time to me anymore. I don’t need to rush these next years along. I’m doing this part for the last time. In just this one arena, I know my limits.