by Jennifer Sey
I want a baby. I am 41 years old and have two kids already. Ages 7 and 9. They can do most things for themselves these days including but not limited to: fixing their own breakfast (cereal), wiping their own butts (mostly), and putting themselves to bed, albeit past their bedtime. It’s not that things are easy. As all parents know, the hard stuff just changes as kids get older. When they’re babies it’s all about figuring out what’s causing the seemingly unprompted bawling. The surefire go to is always the boob. Whip it out, shove it in. Problem solved, mission accomplished.
By two or three years old it’s tantrums in the grocery store. Or at the park when it’s time to leave. At the top of the slide, he stomps his feet and refuses to come down. You might insist, you might scream and then you might bribe him down with sweets. But he knows what you’re up to. After downing the cookie, he grabs on to a bollard with heretofore unseen strength. And you are forced to drag him from the playground while he screams as if he were being tortured in a Turkish prison, under the glare of the hippie moms who negotiate these transitions far more calmly. At five, learning to read might cause frustration and book hurling. But at least everyone is sleeping through the night.
Of course, I’m told the hardest stuff of all is yet to come, during the fateful teenage years. Carousing, sneaking out, “experimenting” with everything from liquor to sex to
“I hate you!”. Knowing this tumult is not so far away, I take great solace in the next five peaceful years stretched before me. I’m in that sweet in between space smack dab in the middle of a child’s helplessness and his aggressive individuation. My kids are relatively independent but not rebellious. They like hanging out with mom but don’t need me to carry them, feed them, or console secret unspoken pains. The school yard has not yet divided into cool kids and nerds or Emos or whatever outcasts are called these days. They aren’t yet desperate to fit in, adopting new fashions or behaviors with the capricious whimsy once reserved for food. They like going to school, they don’t even mind homework. And I’m still able to help them with it, though I’ll admit I’ll be hitting my limits soon once we cross over from 4th grade division and percentages into middle school pre-algebra.
In the heart of all this calm, am I nuts to want to go back to all that babyhood? Sleeplessness, diapers, sore boobs, having a constant appendage in the form of a tiny person, hours upon hours spent rocking a cocooned infant only to have him break free from the super blanket sleeper hold, punch himself in the face and have to start the wrestling match all over again. At 2:30 in the morning with the alarm clock’s harassing buzz set to go off in just four short hours. The diaper bags, the never leaving the house without being fully armed with a day’s worth of snacks, a few bottles, his favorite toys, an extra change of clothes, 3 pacifiers, wipes and God knows what else. Now I can walk out of the house with my kids and nothing but my keys and a few bucks in my pocket. It’s liberating.
My husband treasures this freedom. He stays at home with our kids so when I went back to work after maternity leave, much of the tedium of child care rested with him. I took over on weekends. And absconded with both boys the minute I got home from work. And I usually started things off in the mornings before I left. But my husband, understandably, does not want to go back to the early days. “It just might kill me,” he says.
He doesn’t really mean that. But I do get what he’s imparting. It might kill the new man he’s becoming. The one who creates art and writes programs for clients again. The one who has time every now and again to meet friends for a beer. The one who enjoys time alone without a baby bjorned to his belly. I get it. I do.
Still, I get ruffled, the baby want intensifying with every tick tock of the clock. “It’s not like I’m denying you a baby. You have two already!” True. Tick tock. Tick tock.
The heart wants what the heart wants. And in this case, I suspect the body has something to do with it. My body is electric with “Last call!” flashing lights. Every hormone is sliding its glass across the bar and begging for one more draught before the night is over. Before there are no more beers to be had. Before bed time. How do I fight this?
Rationally, I know it doesn’t make any sense to have another baby. Life is good. The kids are self-sufficient. My job has intensified since they were both infants and it’s okay. I don’t have to worry too much about having to travel, though I miss them when I’m gone. I can write without a baby on my lap. In fact, I can sit and write in the room with them while they read, or draw, or write tales of their own. We have a salon of sorts in which we create and learn together. It’s lovely. And quiet. They are intriguing conversationalists. I recently spent a Friday evening with my oldest, Virgil. We went to the movies and out for dinner to a steakhouse, his choice. I didn’t order a steak and he insisted on giving me some of his. When he offered me a second bite, I said “no thanks”.
“Why do parents want to give their kids everything, mama?” he asked. “Why do they give up everything for their kids?” He was talking about a bite of meat. I think.
“I don’t know, love. We just want our kids to be happy.”
“But what’s the point of your kids being happy if you aren’t happy?” he pondered.
“I’m happy,” I squeaked, my eyes welling.
He’s endlessly riveting. I could talk to him for days on end. We just completed a list of synonyms. “20 or more words for poop.” We’re on to its complement: “20 or more words for pee.” Good times. Scatological, but good.
And yet, for all the comfort and ease and joy of pre-adolescent boyhood, neither of my babies coos anymore. They don’t fit on my chest, soft head buried under my chin, for an afternoon nap on the couch. They don’t smell like baby.
I have a tendency towards want. Once I achieve a thing, accomplish a challenge, I want another one immediately. I’ve often kept many irons in the fire, thinking not all of this can come through at once, but at least I’ll have something. Something’s got to come through! And one year, it all came through at the same time. The job, the writing (a book), all on top of the family. Maybe I’m getting to this comfortable place and I’m on to the next want out of habit rather than actual desire. I can be overly desirous. This I know. Not of things, but of experiences. And challenge. And love. And babies are love.
I think I’ll wait this out, this urge that seems to be intensifying as it becomes less likely, rather than abating. The chaos in my body is numbing at times. Almost deafening. But I have faith that it will pass. And I’ll have two raucous teenagers making me grateful I’m not also chasing a toddler around. I hope.