When our children reach a milestone, Dave likes to tell me what percent done we are with raising them. Yesterday, Jude hit his six month birthday. As we sat on the couch, watching people die brutal deaths on “Criminal Minds” and reflected on the past six months, Dave smiled and said, “We are three percent done raising him.”
I responded how I usually do, by physically assaulting him. Dave likes to use math to ruin my fun. On a nice summer evening as we relax in our Adirondack chairs, he’ll turn to me and say, “Summer is 80% over.” And he does it with the kids, because it kills me. More than bloody violent TV shows or apocalyptic soothsaying about the GMOs in my food, telling me that I might be done raising my kids cuts me to the raw center.
He’s wrong. I know he is. You are never done being a parent. Even when you want to be. Even when your children do leave. You never finish. (Also, he’s the man who says our kids will never leave the state for college because they will miss him. So, I know he’s messing with me.)
But Jude is 6 months old and we are three percent done.
These past six months have been some of the hardest in my life. Not because of my children, but because of me. I’ve seen myself do things I never wanted to do–placate my children with sugar and television. Yell. And yell some more. And all of you “I don’t yell” people, if you have a better way of getting your two-year-old to stop feeding the baby peanuts right this second, I’d love to know. Because when umbrellas and wands are flying, I don’t have time to say, “Hey sweetie, could you not do that around the baby?” before someone dies.
Every time my voice gets sharp these days, Ellis likes to wag her finger and say, “Dat’s not how we make fwends, mom. We have ta talk in a nice boice.” Then, I say, “I’m not your friend, I’m your mom. And if you shoot the baby with your cannon one more time, no princess dresses for the rest of the day.”
70% of my life right now is threatening people. The other 30% is spent wiping shit.
It’s a hard reality and not because I don’t like it or love my children, but because all of this reduces me to my raw center. I’m tired. I can’t remember my kid’s birthdays. I have oatmeal cemented on my sweater. And when I hear Jude merrily babbling in his crib in the morning, I feel guilty that I’m not just as happy to wake up as he is. He is such a happy baby. Born in July with a little piece of sunshine in his heart. He is so easy going (unless you try to give him a bottle, then, watch the hell out). He loves to sit and watch his sister dance and twirl. He loves to wiggle on the floor and stretch and stretch for that shiny crown. And when he finally grabs it and shoves it in his mouth, Ellis cries, “No! Crowns don’t go in moufs! Dat too ‘pecial for spit” Then, he laughs.
I love this kid.
I fear this kid.
When we sit on the couch, he loves to dive for Ellis’ hair. He grabs a golden fistful and yanks. She yells. He laughs. I have to explain to him, “Buddy, we don’t pull hair.” He laughs again. He’s probably a sociopath.
He also likes to screw with me. His night sleep still isn’t consistent. Some nights he sleeps 11 hours straight. Sometimes he wakes up at midnight and then three. When he wakes up, we give him the pacifier and let him find his way back to sleep. The sleep books say this should train them in a week. We’ve been doing this for a month. Jude doesn’t let you train him. He trains you.
If this had happened with Ellis, I would be freaking out. I’d be consulting friends and family. Desperately Googling, “Why won’t my baby just learn things?” But what I am learning is this: It won’t last forever. None of this does. These daunting mountains of this week are soon forgotten by the valleys of the next. When Jude is refusing to potty train, I’m sure I will only vaguely recall that he didn’t like to take a bottle or patently refused to roll from back to belly (what can I say? I make lazy babies).
It’s a trite lesson. Akin to the advice that makes me cringe: “Oh just snuggle them.” As if snuggling them magically gets you rest or unlodges the pieces of toast from between your toes. But I think what it means is this: Today won’t decide the rest of your child’s life. I think a lot about all the anxiety I had about Ellis’ naps at this age. Would she ever learn? What should I do? I bought black out curtains and sound machines. I tried Ferber and crying. Every time she slept on me, I thought, “This is it. I’m ruining her.” And maybe I did. She’s still a terrible napper. But stillness comes in small moments. I wish I would have rested in them more.
This is the blessing of the second child. You don’t get all the developmentally appropriate books. Your parents don’t spend hours teaching you what the Emu says. But you get more patience. More eye rolls and smiles. More let-it-go, let-street-justice find it’s way. More donuts for breakfast.
Speaking of which, it’s worth noting that Jude’s second bite of food was pie. He loved it. Second babies win.