Room for two?
Parenting one child is our most challenging undertaking to date
Friday, April 18, 2008
My suburban town swings with minivans. At grocery stores and playgrounds they unload, three, four, five or more youngsters spilling out of vehicles to be first in line for the swings or the whale-shaped grocery cart.
My son is 4, an age where most of his peers have already become older brothers or sisters. But Ben has remained the lone kid in our family of three, a situation that seems to elicit many comments.
"Just the two of you?" the cashier chirps as she checks us in at the local children’s museum, sets of twins and triplets stacking up behind us. "Is he your only one?" is a familiar icebreaker from neighborhood parents while waiting for the swings to empty at the park.
People can’t seem to get their arms around the fact that I have just one child, as if I’m dabbling in parenthood, a hobbyist in child rearing. If parenthood is a club, I’m starting to feel like somewhat of an imposter—the book group member who is still reading the Berenstein Bears while everyone else has graduated to adult novels.
Having one child is a great option, the right choice for many families. The fact is, we’ve wanted to become a foursome for some time, but biology hasn’t complied. Until now.
Now we find ourselves both pregnant and in the middle of completing an international adoption. And I have to admit, somewhere in the middle of all the excitement, I’m a little bit scared.
I call it the "Just Wait Until You Have Another One" lecture. It’s a variation of the "Just Wait Until You Have Kids" lecture, but instead of new parents, the target audience is a parent with one child.
"Very nice," says a friend, admiring the homemade Spider Man cake that kept me awake until midnight the eve before Ben turned 4. "But I ordered mine from the bakery. Just wait until you have two. You’ll never have time to make a cake again."
My own mother admits her most vivid memory of the period after my younger sister was born was an extended crying jag on the living room sofa interrupted only by desperate calls to her own sisters to come lend a hand.
Some parents swear two was their undoing, while others are certain they held it together until their children numbered three. "My kids have been fighting all summer," observes a mom at playgroup who has three. "I can see how people slip into four or five kids. Once you have three you’ve already lost all control. What’s one more tagging along?"
Whatever the fatal number, their words leave me awash in self-doubt. What if I can’t do it? Between us, my husband and I have run marathons, completed law and graduate school and survived two cross-country moves. But I dare say parenting one small human is our most challenging undertaking to date. What will two—and three—be like?
I can’t help but wonder how a new addition will affect our day-to-day lives—what already feels like a meager allotment of time to complete an overwhelming number of tasks. Soon we’ll be faced with nutritious meals, doctor’s visits, themed birthday parties and creative Halloween costumes times two and three.
When I was pregnant—and even before—friends seemed all too eager to share their reproductive horror stories: The 48-hour labor punctuated by a C-section in which the anesthesia wore off. The 2-year-old who vomits repeatedly in the back of the grocery cart while waiting in line for a prescription at the pharmacy. The way that those tightly swaddled bundles of joy signal the end of movie viewing, book reading and most other enjoyable human activities.
They were right about some things, but mostly they left out the good parts: Shared stories on the family room couch before the sun comes up. Family walks around the block in the fading light of summer. A tiny, sticky hand reaching out to hold your own.
I’m starting to understand a bit. The sweetest of stories about our tiny loves would likely come across as treacle in the line at the supermarket. Even those parenting horror stories echo with a faint ring of pride. Their underlying message might be, "I survived this. I must really love my kids to endure and to thrive despite the hardships."
I guess I’ll find out for sure in a couple of months.
Kari Richardson is a freelance writer who lives in Naperville.