Tuesday, July 15, 2008

One Kid Is A Hobby

Let the flack begin.

I say it anyway.

Parents who have an only child are just playin' at it.

Last week when I was lunching with another Late Blooming Mom who has two kids under the age of five, we started talking about how two kids are way, way, way harder to manage than one. We compared notes about how when we're out and about with just one of our children, we feel like we're on vacation. We figure it's because a kid who gets one-on-one parental attention doesn't feel the need to act out to compete with his or her sibling for that same attention. We also know that it's much easier for us to be patient, understanding, and more easy-going with just one kid in tow.

Those trips to the restroom are a walk in the park compared to the usual chaos that ensues with two. Keeping one kid entertained at a restaurant is easy peasy. Keeping track of one kid running around a large, crowded playground couldn't be simpler. My friend was actually able to shop for a new dress to attend a wedding, even though she had her two-and-a-half year-old with her (she found her daughter some beads to play with and all was peace and harmony).

Another friend, when she just had one kid, used to marvel at how I managed to be so organized (always bringing food to snack on, water to drink, plenty of diapers, wipes, and extra clothes). In truth, I was in survival mode. I would've packed enough for an Everest expedition if it could avoid a potential meltdown. My friend was then contemplating having a second kid, and mentioned to me what her mother had told her in Korean-accented English: "One child like no child."

Before I get lots of hate email, I admit that's a huge exaggeration: any mom or dad who's had to stay up into the wee hours and calm a fussy, colicky baby on very little sleep, or wear down a strong-willed toddler having a kicking, screaming fit, knows just how challenging parenthood can be, even with one child.

But there are some crucial differences once the ratio of kids to adults changes: for one thing, it's way way harder for a parent to get a break. Watching over two kids close in age -- or in Late Blooming Mom's case, watching twins -- for more than two or three hours without anyone else to help can wear a parent down much faster. Trying to get two or more in bed reasonably close to whatever you've designated as official "bedtime" -- after baths and tooth-brushing and PJs and bedtime stories and yet another drink of water -- is akin to herding cats.

Moms and dads of more than one simply have to trade off for brief periods, so they each get a break and some totally kid-free time, or at the very least, they must divide and conquer. In our house, we try to do that at least once a week: mommy takes a kid somewhere on an "adventure," and daddy does the same. If we didn't, we'd be grumpy, irritable, obnoxious, short-fused, and generally impossible to live with. Basically, we'd turn into toddlers. And we've already got enough of those around here.

So yes, I think one kid -- at least compared to two -- is just a hobby.

Then again, I remember when friends of mine who already had a toddler then had twins. They informed us their strategy became what's known in basketball as the zone defense, since man-on-man was no longer possible. I wonder if they think I'm the one -- even with multiples -- who's merely got a kid hobby.

I think of my grandmother, who grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and then Brooklyn, in a small apartment, one of eight kids. They shared beds and slept in shifts. Though my grandmother was Jewish, she sometimes attended Catholic mass with her Irish friends: anything to get out of the house.

All I can say to those of you who've already got two, and are contemplating having more, is this: are you so sure you're ready to be outnumbered?


Gentle Reader said...

My husband always says when we went from two kids to three we went from a man-to-man to a zone defense. Ours are spread out in age, so that makes it a tad easier having three. But if you're contemplating having a second or third, don't kid yourself that your older child will be a help with the younger--my older ones are going in too many directions to be much help. If anything, the poor third one spent more of her infancy in a car seat while we chauffeured the other two around!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great laugh! I have 19 month old twins and I could have written this myself. I have a very basic short term goal in life right now and it is to survive a playground visit, just me and the boys, that lasts longer than 20 minutes and that does not result in an injury to one of us.

mrs.izzy said...

I am a mom of a 3 year old boy, and 14 month old identical twin girls. You are absolutely right in that we are doing a man-to-man defense over here and just always in survival mode. I am a stay at home mom.

I just went through 6 weeks of physical therapy for my knees and always had my twins with me (big bro goes to preschool). And when we go, I have tons of snacks, drinks, diapers. I would not dare get caught galavanting around without essentials!

As far as 1 kid being a hobby, I agree with you in general. But then there is our case... our 3 year old is a lot more challenging than the twins. Yup. So when I'm home with the twins and big brother is at preschool, I actually feel like I'm on 'vacation'. :-) When all 3 of them are home with me while hubby is at work, then I go mad.

Anyway, I love your blog!