Why you need more than one child

Stunned, I sat in silence behind the closed bedroom door. My youngest girl, a kindergartener, picked up every last Barbie shoe, scarf, perfume bottle, fork (Do you know how small they are? About the size of your pinkie fingernail.) from my office carpet and put them in the designated storage box.

I asked her to do it and she did it. Just like that.

Huh.

It actually works sometimes, doesn’t it?

Had I stopped at one child, I would not have experienced the sweet beauty of this moment.

How did this happen? I’ve not deviated too much from the parenting manual I used for the first child.

It just worked this time.

Or maybe it’s just that each child is wired differently.

Or maybe it’s because I stayed home with her. (And, no, this isn’t a post taking a position on stay-at-home motherhood over working mothers. I’ve been both.)

When I was a working parent, my only child knew how to manipulate me. She knew how and exercised the option often. Inadvertently, I gave her loopholes. I was also much younger, a fist-time parent, and very worried about anything threatening my job.

I had a flashback moment today at the bus stop, as I watched a young mother dressed for an office job frantically wheeling her baby’s stroller along the slippery sidewalk. The tot inside gurgled and kicked his feet, while his big sister grimaced and dragged at least five steps behind. The mom barked some threats at her, coaxed, and finally pleaded with her to step forward and get on line for the bus. Each day this scene plays out in some fashion.

How many times in my young motherhood was I that woman, one eye on my wristwatch and the other on my girl, who either cried and clawed at me to stay or arrived at day care in her nightgown because she refused to dress for the day?

Child No. 1 never did what I asked on the first, second, even third request. Always there were threats and consequences and then the dreaded follow-through. She always pushed it to the edge with me. Then, we had the ‘tween years. I was all out of ideas and so full of frustration I decided to resign my position to attend at least in part to her needs. Now, that firstborn is almost an adult; the game is a bit different.

Having two children or more gives you a chance to get some perspective on human nature and chance. If you have an obedient, people-pleasing first child, you may think that’s how all children are and arrange for more. If you have a difficult, defiant, march-to-the-beat-of- a-different-drummer first child, you might hold out hope that statistically you’ll draw the obedient card the second time around. Maybe you’ll get yourself fixed.

Every parent, if they are going to have more than one child, is bound to get at least one “challenging” child. To have a brood of challenges is unfair. To have an army of Stepford children is also, well, freakishly unnatural and only occurs on TV.

Right? Tell me this is right.

 

 

Why can't I say good-bye to you?

Photo by MZ

One of my friends is dying.

I think.

Doesn’t that sound odd?

I don’t know what is going on for certain. I rely upon e-mail and Facebook updates. My friend is a former co-worker, someone with whom I’ve worked off and on over the course of two decades. We kept in touch after I left my job. Until she got sick. Then she went underground. Or her family sequestered her for their own reasons. Whatever the story, I can no longer reach her by phone or e-mail or Facebook or through written requests sent by U.S. mail.

At first I was hurt. Then I brushed away my feelings, realizing that I was being self-centered. What did I know about terminal illness? Would I want a parade of visitors, no matter how well-meaning, filing past my sick bed or the sick bed of a loved one? Would I feel added pressure to somehow put on a brave face, have coffee and snacks available to feed my guests, worry about my house being a mess or about how everything appears to the uninitiated? My only experiences with death so far have been of the swift-moving type. Here today, gone tomorrow.

However, I know how comforting it was to have friends and family and acquaintances stop in to visit, drop off a cake or send a card after our family’s loss. So, I project this feeling on my friend’s situation. If I were dying and  no one called or wrote or tried in any way to visit me, wouldn’t I feel even worse? Maybe I wouldn’t know. Maybe the sharp edge of pain or the dulling effect of medication would keep me oblivious.

If  a long, wasting illness is how I exit this life, it will be my call how to handle it. This is her wish, or by proxy, her family’s call.  I must accept it no matter how much it tears at me.

Cancer isn’t discriminating. It sharpens the arrow and aims it toward any moving target. There aren’t any bull’s-eyes on the bad folks any more than there are protective shields on the good guys. I’ve watched as so many good-hearted, clean-living, health-conscious people in my life have stepped into its trajectory. I also marvel how others who seem to have a death wish just chug along, dodging all of death’s fast-moving arrows.

As crazy as this sounds, I sometimes dread logging on to my Facebook account and seeing that I have a message. The last one said: “She’s in hospice. It could be any time.”

How the hell am I supposed to react to that? My urge is to find her and rush to her side, to give her hand a squeeze, to tell her how thankful I am that she took me under her wing when I was a cub reporter, that she had my back, that she played a motherly role in my life when I needed it the most, that she made me laugh harder than just about anyone else on Earth, that I think she is one of the smartest, toughest, most caring and diplomatic people I’ve ever known.

I suppose the next time I see her will be at her funeral. I hope I’m wrong.

One of my friends is dying and I’m sorry I didn’t have one last chance to tell her how I feel.

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