I remember when I had my first baby, my still single brothers and friends used to ask me, “So, what do you DO all day?” And I could hear in their voices the “doesn’t all that lying around in your jammies eating bon-bons, rocking your infant and watching sitcoms get old after awhile” that they weren’t saying out loud. I mean, what does a mother DO? And it amazed even me to discover the inverse relationship between how very little a mom accomplishes in a day and how utterly shattered with exhaustion she is at the end of it.
When you add another child to the mix I have found it gets simultaneously harder and easier. Let’s start with the good news: it gets easier. I realize that may sound counter-intuitive and just plain whack! But it’s true, nonetheless. Your first child is a boot camp experience of marine corp proportions. You have to be weaned of layers of selfishness you heretofore had no idea even existed. You are suddenly at the utter mercy of someone else in such a way as to make a mockery of anything you have done up to this point in time that you considered “selfless.”
I start to cackle with maniacal laughter at the memory of who I was before Jackson came along and showed me who I really am. I like sleep. I like spending hours reading books, alone, in perfect quiet, in a pool of sunlight on a late fall afternoon. I like a clean and tidy house. I like to eat food while it is still hot. I like clean clothes. I like to brush and style my hair in more than 2 minute increments. I like to concoct bowls of ice-cream delights liberally topped with chocolate sauce, strawberries, and powdered sugar that I do not like to share. I like to use the restroom ALONE.
More significantly, however, I like to help, volunteer, listen, visit, sit up with, comfort, grocery shop, cater, clean, share and generally be when it is convenient to ME.
Babies are the fastest way I know to break you from your self-focused paradigm. And, mind you, they don’t just break it – they use a 50 pound sledge hammer and crush it to powder. They use that and endless nights of sleep deprivation, dirty diapers, hospital scares, booger suckers (if you don’t know what these are yet – thank your lucky stars and, if you ever plan to have kids, brace yourself), golden curls, soft milky breath, and smiles that can give you goose bumps all the way down to your pinkie toe.
Right now you’re thinking, “wait, I thought you said something about easier,” right? Well, all that crazy above, that’s why the second baby is so much easier. Because the first has broken its parents utterly of their formerly hard-to-relinquish habits so that by the time the second one arrives, they have less to be weaned of and more to offer.
Suddenly you find that getting up 5 times a night comes naturally and you actually, unthinkably find yourself cherishing those moments because you know how fast they will be over. A cataclysmic shift of focus away from yourself and onto someone else has taken place. And, accordingly, you are liberated to enjoy the baby-phase in a way you never could first time around. At least, that’s how it went down for me.
In three short months Micah, my second-born, will be two. And it pains me. Almost as much as the first three months of his older brother’s life pained me. Because this time around it went head-spinningly fast. I have loved it. Every beautiful, exhausting moment of my second baby. The irony is that he has not been the easier baby by any stretch of the imagination. Jackson is as laid back as Jimmy Buffet at a beach side margarita bar by comparison. Micah is hot-blooded. There is nothing lukewarm about him; it’s either passionate affection or passionate rage. The difference has been me.
I feel all stretched out, softened and squidgy around the edges of my temperament. I am learning to live in peace amidst the chaos of a house torn a muck by raucous boys. Laundry is rarely put away, but rather retrieved straight from the dryer. My favorite books bear the marks (often in purple or bright green sharpie) of my boys. Sunlight is not for catnapping in, but rather for tearing through the backyard en route to slaying dragons and rounding up the herd. Any food, treat, ice cream or drink is considered fair game by my boys and often makes me think twice about what I plan to snack on. Everything is an educational experience. Yes, even using the restroom.
But I tell you what, God sure knew what He was doing when He thought up the process of parenting. Because never have I been closer to a glimpse into the Father’s love for me than when I am lying in the pre-dawn dark, next to a nearly-two-year-old who has wrapped himself around me for comfort and fallen into a deep sleep. Forget spooning, Micah and I love to pretzel. And when Jackson sneaks into the bedroom to cuddle up on the other side of his dad and I lie listening to him chug down his morning sippy cup of milk as warmth sneaks inbetween our blinds, my heart aches in ways I can’t describe.
And right there, that’s the harder part of having more kids.
Forget the extra work, laundry or mess. It’s that additional achey-breaky feeling that renders you utterly vulnerable to what might become of them. It’s dangerous business, parenting. You will lose yourself and then be put back together in ways you wouldn’t have expected. It hurts. The kind that’s good for you. Like taking your kids for a shot. Yea, just like that.