I have a lot of Mommy friends on Facebook, and a lot of them had kids before I did so I was up-to-date on their lives before I had my boys. I have seen plenty of movies and sitcoms where people have children. The women in my family frequently tell (and re-tell) stories about motherhood and their children. I knew there would be sleepless nights, runny poop explosions, crying, and love that makes my heart expand so much my ribs hurt. But there were a few things I didn’t know about.
REPETITION: It would be extremely helpful if our whole family could live on a compound together, so that when Jackson fixates on someone and relentlessly asks where they are and if we can go visit them, I can send him next door and put an end to his badgering. Once, on a ride home from school (approx 30 min that day), Jackson asked if we could go to Grammar and Doc’s house 26 times. As in, I stopped counting after 26 times. Now, we love Grammar and Doc, but they live three hours away and we can’t just drop by on a Monday. This particular Monday, my inlaws weren’t even home, they were on vacation in Colorado. I thought that would soften the blow, rather than just telling him we couldn’t go visit, if I explained that they weren’t even home anyway. “I’ma go to Hollowahdo see Grammar Doc!” Toddlers don’t understand plan tickets, geography, time, traffic, work schedules, or anything other than their desire to go see Grammar and Doc immediately. Same with my parents. “I’ma go wakehouse (lakehouse).” “We will go to the lake house in 15 days and see Nana and Baba.” “OK, five more minutes then wakehouse.”
When the parenting books give advice, they don’t really paint the whole picture, and neither do the phony parents on Facebook. ‘If your child hits his brother, pick him up and remove him from the situation and have a time out to halt the behavior’. OK, done. According to parents on Facebook, they are so awesome at being parents they only have to do this once and then their perfect snowflake never misbehaves again. If the behavior continues, clearly you disciplined him incorrectly, or worse, your child is ‘spirited’ aka will need medication and Mommy will need one of those wine delivery services. Personally, I think there’s something wrong with YOUR child for not pushing back against your silly attempts to tame him. Maybe he’s boring or a push-over, right? Well, apparently, if you read between the lines the advice is to repeat their discipline tactics until the end of time/your child finds a new way to bother you. I didn’t know to switch on my black light so I could see the secret truth scrawled feverishly across the pages. You’ll be screaming WE DONT YELL in public for years! Time-out only works for kids who have previously sat still for 2 minutes, not for energetic wild boys. POTTY TRAINING CAN TAKE YEARS. The horror….
ILLNESS: Jackson started attending school last summer for two days a week, and in December we bumped it up to three days. He has been sick since September 24, the day before Archer was born. His nose is perpetually running, he coughs every night, and he has been to the emergency room three times in six months, including last Thursday evening with his first asthma attack. He brings home germs so often and passes them around our family that we rarely get to visit GG, my Grandmother, because we don’t want to bring germs to her and the other folks at the retirement home. She has hardly seen Archer in his nine months of life.
We can’t go places with other kids, because I would have some very hateful language for a mother who brought her kid with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease to the toddler room at the museum, and I don’t want to be That Mom. Even though I really, really, want to be, because I’ve come to rely on his school days to get other things done while I’m only in charge of one child. I can’t send him to school sick because they will notice and make me come get him and I’ll die of shame and have to get him into another school so I don’t have to look them in the eye after purposely sending my highly contagious but still rambunctious child to spread his snot on the other students. Even though obviously some other Mom sent their own boogery brat to school and that’s how my perfect little angel contracted HFMD in the first place.
It seems like one very long illness, but there have been a few days where he wasn’t noticeably sick, so I know he is just contracting all the diseases his school has had since it opened in the 90s from his runny-nosed friends. In fact, one day when I dropped him off he walked into his classroom, said hello to his classmate Henry, and Henry reciprocated by reaching up and picking Jackson’s nose. This greeting is the cause of many contagions. Jackson didn’t get more than a brief sniffle before he started school, but Archer is getting an onslaught of germs from his in-your-face brother.
Now, some people have recommended we keep Jackson away from his brother and away from us when he’s ill. While this may seem like good advice, it isn’t practical for us. First, Jackson is still wary of his little brother and we want to encourage gentle interactions between them. When we firmly tell him not to hit his brother, perhaps he will eventually (age 25?) learn not to hit him. If suddenly we are firmly telling him not to give him kisses or tickle his toes, he is confused and obviously hurt that A) we are always yelling at him and B) he isn’t allowed near his only buddy in the house. How will they ever learn to play if we badger Jack about going near his brother? I don’t want to hurt his feelings, and we try to explain that wiping your nose on your brother’s face is not cool, but we have a small house and the baby is sometimes the most interesting thing in it. It’s hard to keep them apart.
As for us, if my miserably ill child is hurting and itching from the crusty, oozing scabs of HFMD and he offers me his sore hand to “kiss it better”, I’m kissing that hand. I know it’s gross and gives me a 99% likelihood of contracting the scourge that is HFMD, but I can’t refuse kisses to my son under any circumstances. It hurts my heart and his. And Robby lets his son sleep next to him when he’s sick, which results in mouth-breathing into Rob’s eyes and drooling in Rob’s ear among other disasters. What is he going to do? “Ugh, you’re sick. Stay in your room and don’t touch us until you’re better.” Yea, right.
FATIGUE: I almost forgot the third thing because I’m so frickin tired. I’m tired down to my bones. I’m so starved for “me time” though, that I don’t just pass out when the kids finally go to sleep. I stay up and read books or watch travel and cooking shows as a more preferable form of escapism to, say, intravenous drugs. Mostly, it’s my brain and heart that are tired. There is no rest for a parent’s mind. I could go get coffee by myself on the weekend or get a pedicure, but I wouldn’t enjoy it. Not fully, anyway. I’m sure this will get easier as my children are older and more independent, but as relieved as I am that someone else has taken over their care for an hour, I immediately miss them and worry about them when I walk away. Did Archie eat enough this morning? What if he’s hungry sooner than I planned? Jackson had a red mark on his face after lunch. Is it a new allergy? Should I have stayed by his side for 12 hours just to make sure it wasn’t hives? How many EPI pens do we have at home? Are they expired? Would our care-giver feel comfortable stabbing my son with a needle in an emergency? Would I? When I get the call that Jackson has hives and needs me immediately, who will watch Archie? Should I take him to the hospital with us? What if he catches something at the hospital? Do I call Robby before we go or will we be in such a hurry I won’t be able to call him until we get there? Did they sterilize these pedicure tools before they used them on me?
Some day I’ll sleep again, and peacefully. I don’t know when, because I can’t possibly worry LESS if they are in college making bad choices on an adult-scale, and then if they are anything like our generation they will only move back in with us after college where I’ll worry about their career prospects and how they’ll ever save enough to retire.
I’m exhausted just thinking about it.