Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I Think My Body Wants Another Baby

(This essay, originally titled "Do I Really Want Another Baby?" was originally published on Role/Reboot.)

My husband and I always knew we wanted two kids—no more, no less, just two kids. Two kids that would always have each other; two kids that we could afford to feed and clothe and educate and take to gym class; two kids that would comfortably fit in the back of a family sedan. When we found out that we were having identical twins, we were, um, excited, but really more like, “Holy crap, we’re screwed! How will we ever survive?” Once the sleep deprivation and mind-numbing craziness of the newborn stage was over though, we fist-pumped and chest-bumped and went, “Phew, thank God that’s over. We never have to go through that again.” We had our two kids and, to quote one of their favorite cartoon characters, that’s all, folks.

Of course, as any parent will tell you, the further away you get from those first few months with a newborn, the foggier the memories get. I forgot about the eight-times-a-day double feedings—both breast and bottle—or the way they used to wake up every half hour starting at 2 AM. I forgot about how hard it was just to get them to burp or to give their slippery little bodies a bath. On the one hand, I assumed it must be some sort of coping mechanism, a mental block so I could move forward without resenting those little suckers. Really though, I knew in my heart that it had to be some kind of evolutionary response for child-bearing types. Biology somehow helps us forget the difficulties of labor and the newborn stage to ensure that we have more kids. So as time went on, I actually started to believe that caring for newborn twins hadn’t been all that tough. In fact, I even told couples expecting twins that it was easy. Easy! I said that. Oh, those poor, poor unsuspecting families-to-be.

Still, even though those newborn days got fuzzy, I still didn’t want another child. I love our little family of four (plus doggy) and thought I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I would see pregnant women with their gorgeous glows and big, round bellies, I felt so happy and hopeful for them, nostalgic for my own blissful pregnancy. (Go ahead and hate me—yes, I’m one of those women who loved being pregnant.) Did I want to do it again though? Nah, that’s alright. When I would see tiny babies, I’d think, “Ah, sweet, how wonderful.” Did I want to take those precious peanuts home with me? No, not really. I’d always steal a little cuddle and get my fix of that sweet smell. Then, I’d give him or her back, wipe some spit-up off of my shirt and grab myself a soda.

Since my babies have turned two though, something strange has happened. When I hear that someone is pregnant with second or third babies, I get these little pangs of jealousy. It’s that specific. Sure, I’m happy for their growing families, but I have this weird sense of loss for myself. Maybe it’s wistful feelings about that third child I’ll never have. Maybe it’s sadness because my own sons’ baby days are over. Or could it be that on some deep, subconscious, pure-heart level, I want another child?

I mean, I’ll admit that I do get weepy thinking about how these sweet toddler times are just flying by. And I have started to wonder what another child of ours might look like or be like and even, well, if that baby would be a girl. I’m even a little more, ahem, amorous than usual. So, feeling a little confused, I came clean to a friend who always allows me to come clean (PS, I highly recommend getting yourself one of these friends.) Her kids are the same age and, like me, she has firmly committed to just two kids. So imagine my surprise when she said the same exact thing is happening to her! Which means that there’s either something in the water around here or, really, very simply, it’s just biology. That’s what my friend theorized at least.

It makes sense. How many siblings do you know that are about three years apart? It’s just good logic—your toddler is becoming more independent, you’re getting more sleep, and you’re starting to get a solid handle on this parenting thing. Seems like a good time for #2. I’m thinking though that something else must be working on a hormonal level, some switch that gets flipped right around the time your child turns two that gets you thinking, “How’s about another?” Even though I really know otherwise, it’s like my body hasn’t gotten the memo. My brain says we’re done, but my ovaries are going, “You sure about that?”

The irony is that it was a bitch trying to get pregnant the first time. Maybe just like I forgot the newborn struggles, my body forgot that I’m not so good at getting knocked up. Of course, there’s a part of me that wonders if this is my body’s way of telling me that even though I feel like an achy, creaky 36-year-old, my reproductive organs still feel young and healthy and down to procreate. I find something comforting in the primal instinct of it all, that fertile, maternal biological drive to have more children. It’s almost this feeling of pride, like, hey, I still got it.

Still, I’m not going to listen to all of the hormonal chatter because I really am happy with just two kids. (I said that already, didn’t I?) As much as I love this adorable age, I wouldn’t have another baby just so I could do it all over again. That’s not a good reason. (I’m not saying that it’s most people’s reason for having a third, but it would probably be mine.) Babies are only little for so long. Ultimately, they go to school, learn new things, spend weekends with friends, more than family. They say things like, “Mom, stop,” and “God, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” They leave the nest, they explore the world, and they start families of their own. Of course, they’ll always be our babies, whether they realize it or not. As for the “what ifs,” I’m going to be alright with that too. Would the next one be a girl or another boy? Would the next baby have my dark features or be fair like his brothers? What would it be like to care for just one baby at a time, rather than double duty? Sure, I have all of those questions, but so what? I’m sure I’d still keep wondering about the next, whether I had three kids or twenty. I guess you can’t help thinking about all of the amazing people you could make or mold. Still, I’m going to tell my ovaries to simmer down, ask my uterus to hush up. I’m so glad they have such faith in us and I’m sure we’d be able to create someone great, but this body is closed for business…………..right?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Best Work I'll Ever Do

(This essay, titled "What's So Bad About 'Just Being a Mommy'" was originally published on Role/Reboot.) 

“So, what are you doing these days? Are you still working or just, like, being a Mommy?” he asked, lifting his shoulders, almost implying the snuggly adorableness of it all with one little shrug. I know that my old boss—now a best-selling author on a national book tour—meant nothing by it. He wasn’t being condescending or insulting. In fact, I think he was almost giving me an out, so that I didn’t have to explain why my byline wasn’t still all over the major women’s magazines anymore, or why I still hadn’t written that novel I always talked about. Still, despite his benign question and reasonable assumption, I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. I quickly went into how I’ve been freelancing still, when I have my sitter, but not doing as much as I’d like to because, yeah, I’m a Mom to 2-year-old twins. How they’re keeping me busy, sure, but yes, I’m totally still working.

As I later waited in the audience for his book reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about what that meant: “just being a Mommy.” I felt embarrassed. I felt small. Once upon a time, in a concrete jungle far, far away, I had been an ambitious, creative twenty-something who believed I was destined for greatness. I was someone who probably would have written that oft-discussed novel already. Now, as I sat there with clean hair, heeled boots, and my only bag that didn’t have cheese crackers crushed at the bottom, I wondered what had happened to all of that drive and spark and confidence. It couldn't be gone for good, could it?

Truth is, I jumped off the fast-moving career train long before I even got pregnant. As soon as I got married, I started working from home, eager for the freedom and the creativity that would surely flow outside of the office. And it did—I got more done in that first year of freelancing than I did in eight years on staff. I also became, in many ways, a housewife. With my husband working full-time, it became my responsibility to do the grocery shopping, cook dinner, stop by the drugstore, and pick up the dry cleaning. Even though I was busy with my own lucrative writing career, I had a second job as keeper of the home. As I inspected produce or called my husband from the drugstore to find out what kind of razors exactly, I felt my skin crawl.  Many women would have killed to be in my position. So what if I had to do a little housework and run a few errands? Cue the violins and feel free to drop kick me in aisle 9.

If my pre-child days were any indication, being “just a Mommy” was never going to be enough for me. I never wanted to be that frazzled, ragged SAHM with baby puke on her leggings, who would tell me through gritted teeth, “it’s the best job in the world!” Oh reeeaaally, I’d think, taking in the visible bags under her eyes. Well, then you might want to work on your pitch, my friend, because you’re not exactly selling it. Once my babies were born, work inevitably moved to the back burner, although I kept it at a slow simmer. Despite my lack of time and the lack of work out there, I’ve held on by my fingernails to the writing career I spent years cultivating. It’s nowhere near as much as it once was, but I’m still in it. And I love it, I do. I love working and writing and the pride I feel after spinning the perfect sentence. I love having this thing I do, this other thing I do, outside of being a Mommy.           

At the end of the day though, I’m really more of a stay-at-home Mommy than anything else, uniformed in comfy Croc flip-flops and yoga pants stained by that morning’s flying breakfast shrapnel. The majority of my time is spent tending to my toddlers. I take them to gym classes and playdates and preschool. I’m always busy, I’m always tired, and I often feel like I’m just dog-paddling to stay afloat. That’s just how it is. Especially with twins. Sure, I’m writing a few days a week, but it’s from my bed, in my pajamas, while my boys are in another room with the sitter.

These days though, it’s starting to hit me—how fleeting this time is. Since my boys turned two just a few months ago, everything’s been moving at warp speed and I can’t slow it down. My little babies are now “beeeg boy-yas” as they like to tell me. They can “do myself,” and tell me to “stop it, stop it,” when I try to cover them in kisses. The times that once felt so overwhelming and exhausting now just feel short, too short. I don’t want to miss anything—not one new discovery, not one new friend at the park, not one funny observation. I can decipher their toddler speak and non-sequiturs, not only because I’m their Mom, but also because I know that little girl they’re so smitten with at school, and I was there when we saw the “sca-wee baby” d├ęcor at the Halloween store. I know that song they’re mumble-singing because I was there when we learned it. When we walk around the neighborhood, I know they like to point out the doggy weather vane and pet the little horse head sculpture. I’ve been there for all of it so far and, right now, nothing is more important to me than being front-seat for the rest. How could I turn back now?

I made a choice to work from home, and I don’t really want to reenter office life yet. It’s that simple. The choice was mine and I’m so lucky it was even an option for us. At this point in my life, no, I don’t have much career ambition. There, I said it. It’s just not in me right now and I’m okay with that (I think). Motherhood is no excuse—it’s me. So why should I feel embarrassed about being a Mommy then? Since when did being a Mommy become a bad thing? And more importantly, if someone thinks that’s a bad thing, why do I care? They either don’t know any better or are simply justifying their own decisions. I don’t judge other’s lifestyles as long as they don’t judge mine.

I have friends with these amazing, mind-boggling careers, all achieved before and since becoming a Mommy. These exceptional women are proof that you can be a devoted parent and a kickass career woman. It’s hard, but they do it well. Still, despite all of their professional success, they all say that their children are the best thing, the most important thing they have done or ever will do. Being a Mommy is their highest achievement, their biggest source of personal pride. For those who choose to be a parent, it’s the best job in the world.

In a few years, I’ll probably reenter the workforce…if they’ll have me. And maybe some day, I’ll even write the great American novel or a book of short stories or a how-to guide on wearing sensible shoes with style. When that time comes though, my kids really will be beeeg boy-yas. Their squooshy toddler days will be long gone and I know I’ll miss it like crazy. Recently, a woman with a grown daughter said to me that she would pay $1 million to have just one day with her toddler again. Just for one day. That time for me is right now. If I’m spending these precious minutes worrying about what I’m doing with my life, then I’m just going to miss out on theirs. Besides, they are my life, aren’t they?

So no matter what happens with my career, I know that my kids will always be my very best work. They’re the coolest little people in the world and I’m so proud of every little thing they do…even if it’s figuring out how to open the child-safety latch to access sharp, dangerous objects. If I’m going to take pride in my children though, doesn’t that also mean that I should take pride in being their Mommy as well? I think it does. So I’m throwing out whatever script I had in my head, the one that told me that the life of a Mommy isn’t much of a life at all. I was wrong, wrong, so wrong. That “Mommy” title is one I’ll wear with honor, along with my yoga pants and frizzy bun and even those damn Crocs. I don’t need an award or a pat on the back or a letter of recognition. Nothing in the world could make me more proud than when my kids grin at me after accomplishing some toddler feat and say, “My did it, Mommy! My did it!” Yes, I tell my sweet boys, I saw the whole thing.