In the beginning, and yes, there was a beginning, I was the father of a single child. I moaned and complained about the difficulties and boredom of being a parent. I made excuses for why I didn’t have enough time during the day, why I didn’t get enough sleep, why I had every reason to be depressed. When the second kid came along, I paid for all those earlier lies, and I paid mightily.
Early on, people often asked, “Is two harder than one?” And I would laugh and say, “Not really.” It was the truth. Aside from the sleeplessness involved with a newborn, taking care of one isn’t all that hard. The kid doesn’t do anything, doesn’t require much attention, can’t get up and make a suicide run at the basement stairs. In the beginning, things weren’t so bad.
But babies grow into demons (note: I apologize to anyone who might take offense at my generalization, but I stand by it nevertheless). Soon, that newborn develops a sense of itself, a sense of the world around it. That newborn becomes something other than ‘it.’ He or she learns to cry for reasons other than hunger or discomfort. She discovers her instinctual ability to have her way with the big people. She points, she whines, she plops down on her rear and waves her hands in the air, demanding attention. As she gets older, she finds new ways, albeit ones you’ve likely seen before, ways that have served children well for thousands of years, to bend the wills of those around her, to trick them into fulfilling her wishes. In essence, she becomes a demon.
I suppose other words come to mind: Dictator, Emperor, Master, Toddler, etc.. They all denote the same idea: selfish, totalitarian control over one or many subjects. In this case her parents.
And so you take a fairly well mannered three-year-old whose demonic impulses were mild at best and quite scarce, and you toss in a wild-child toddler demon bent on exercising her free will and power, and suddenly your days aren’t so uneventful. Not so boring. Not so quiet. Cats and three-year-olds run from Smiley-Demon like residents of Pompeii fleeing an unavoidable death. The cats leap over gated obstacles, instinctively forgetting Smartypants in pursuit of survival, deaf to her throes of agony, ignoring her shrieks when the dirty, saliva-drenched fingers of her sister yank her hair from behind. The cats almost always escape. Smartypants is never so lucky.
And so now you have two children to safeguard. You spend days ensuring they eat and drink well and don’t play with electrical devices near a toilet. You bow at their feet and then wash the dirt off them. You no longer have time to be exhausted, to close your eyes, to write that post for your blog. The world, your world, is nothing more than a few rooms of your house. Beyond those scant square feet, all you know of life comes from CNN or the Disney Channel. The walls rise up and you’re a prisoner, kept alive by the whims of mad children, forever indentured to a life of servitude, a life sheltered by massive walls of stuffed animals and broken crayons, of half-digested fruit snacks and the dreams of children who can’t yet dream.
You begin to wonder when the world changed so drastically. When did eating healthy become apple dippers at McDonalds instead of fries? When did cleaning the house become picking up children’s toys but nothing else because that first part took so darn long? When did simple math become complex algebra? Because having one child and then another child is not equivalent to having one child and then one child again. The differences are exponential. Children compound on themselves. Kids as a whole demand more than the sum of each child.
So, in the case of parenting, two is way more than one plus one.
This was originally posted June 21, 2005 on my at-home-dad blog, The Daily Writer. I’m posting here for multiple-reasons. To create a single repository for my writing. To reflect, a decade later, on those early parenting days. And because so many of my friends, who were childless party-goers when these blog posts were written, now have kids of their own, making these words more relevant. To all those raising small children, you’re not alone. Many of your struggles and joys are common experiences shared by many, but the specifics belong solely to you and your child. No one can take them from you. Thankfully, the memories are more wonderful (and less stressful) in retrospect.