A while ago, someone asked me to write about how we keep balance in our lives, as two lawyers with four kids and three pets and two houses. The answer is that we don’t.
The big one has just started her senior year. This means ACTs, college applications, a job, 5 AP classes, cheerleading, and a driver’s license. She needs our help with almost all of these things.
Boo has started her freshman year of high school. She has a set of friends that are all a bit entitled, and a bit fast. The kind of entitled and the kind of fast where they are allowed to traipse around New York City at 14 years old with no adult, after having each received $100 of spending money from their parents. She recently burst into my office while I was working, without knocking, and said, “Can you give me some money? I’m in a hurry.” I did not give her money. She needs to learn to navigate these friendships without becoming an asshole. She needs our help with this.
Our older youngest boy is in 7th grade now. We don’t think his reading and writing are where they should be, and he is having a hard time making friends. He seems lonely, and he seems sad. He needs help figuring out why the reading and writing still haven’t clicked for him, and he needs to find his place in the social nightmare that is middle school. He needs our help in this hard time, or at least some extra attention and love.
Bumby is 2 and a half. He starts preschool tomorrow. He alternates between shouting “I don’t like you mama! I can do it ALL BY MYSELF! GO AWAY!” and crying, clinging to my legs, and swearing his love for me, begging me not to leave him with Dada (his babysitter). His language is so developed that it is hard to remember that he has no logic and no impulse control. He is afraid of being dropped off at school; he is afraid of new friends. Sometimes he wakes in the night and calls for us, just to know we are there. He needs our help.
My wife’s job has been all-consuming for about the last year now, as she works in a highly regulated industry that has become incredibly unpredictable under Trump. She has been working late, and when she isn’t, she basically talks about nothing but her job. She needs mental and emotional support, and doesn’t have much capacity for the day-to-day house chores.
I have been picking up lots of slack, and feeling under-appreciated. We have had two toilets break in the last week (Bumby was very excited to tell the plumber that the toilet was “TOTALLY FREAKING OUT”). A friend has gifted us a piano that they no longer use, and I have to find someone who can move it to our house but also our credit cards are up to the max and we can’t afford to pay someone $500 to move a free piano right now, and yet I very much want to get Bumby lessons next year so we should take advantage of it (first world problems, I know). I got slammed at work on a deal for a European client, meaning lots of early morning conference calls, and my wife can’t help me cover the childcare because of her own demanding job.
For example: During a conference call last week, while I had no childcare and had plopped Bumby in front of PJ Masks on Youtube, the plumber left to go get parts and water started pouring through the ceiling from the broken toilet upstairs. I put the phone on mute and mopped it up, and put a bowl under the leak. As soon as I sat down again, I got a text from the school that it was on lockdown due to a “suspicious person attempting to gain admittance.” I frantically tried to reach the kids to make sure they were okay while also actually paying attention to the work call, which was actually kind of important and required me to speak and take notes. (The kids are fine, the person was caught by local police.) Bumby hit a button on the computer that caused his show to minimize, and started shouting for me. Also the dog had refused to poop that morning and started barking at the door for a walk. I got an email at the end of the call from my boss that said, “Will you follow up on all open points, please?”
We are drowning.
We had our 5 year wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. Through various complicated logistical arrangements involving 4 different childcare providers, we cobbled together a way to have a night away, sans kids, for the first time since Bumby was born. It was heaven. We were us again. We window shopped, and went on a sailboat ride, and drank a whole bottle of wine before dinner even started. We ate at 10pm in a restaurant that did not have high chairs. I felt like I looked at my wife at one point and felt like, “Who are you? You look vaguely like the woman who has been living in my house, but you actually look at me, and see me, and smile at me.” I’m sure she felt the same. In a way, this has made it all worse, because the contrast is so stark.
We need to figure this shit out, starting with ourselves. Long, long ago, before Bumby, before the dog, when we had only one house and thought our life was so fucking complicated, we were lying in bed one weekend morning (HAHAHAHA your life is not complicated if you can lie in bed in the morning!) and we said to each other, with solemn straight faces, that our relationship was the most important part of our life. The parental relationship, we told each other, is the bedrock of the family. The kids feel okay when the adults feel okay. You can’t take care of them when you’re not taking care of yourself. All of those kinds of things. And for those reasons, we were not going to give up our date nights, even though her ex was telling the kids that the fact that we left them with a babysitter once a month meant we did not love them.
This past weekend was like a record-scratch. We remembered this moment, and this conversation, and the sad, trite truth of it. We worked all day on closing up the beach house for the season while bickering with each other over details and alternatingly disappearing for an hour or so to go manage our jobs, and after Bumby went to bed, we poured ourselves glasses of cheap red wine, and we talked to each other.
We sorted through lots of tangled up crap and hurt feelings, and put our date nights back on the calendar. The entitled middle child is going to babysit for us — at a discounted rate — and that will be the only spending money she gets. Grandma is going to tutor the big brother, giving him adult attention and help with his writing at the same time. The oldest one is going to have to do some of this college stuff on her own, because for god’s sake she’s about to be living by herself in less than a year. Also, we will suggest she drop one of the AP classes so she can actually have some sleep and some fun her senior year. We will put Bumby to bed earlier so he is better able to cope with the changes in his life, and give ourselves some more time together in the evenings. My wife is going to take Bumby to school on Thursday mornings so I can go into work early, and do a few loads of laundry each week. We budgeted a way to pay off our credit cards just in time to rack them up again for Christmas.
Then we went to bed ourselves, with dishes stacked in the sink and 37 unread emails. Things looked a bit better in the morning.
Which is of course about Trump, right? It’s all we read about, think about, talk about. What will the madman do next? How will we get through it? Nevertheless, I am here to interrupt this newsfeed with something else entirely.
Bumby is TWO. On his birthday, we went to the American Museum of Natural History. I don’t know why I never remember that Bumby does not actually like outings that last more than 2 hours, but I don’t. Anyway, my parents were in town, and my sister came, and Mala came (that is what he calls my mother-in-law) and all of our millions of children. We had two cars full. Which means of course we left at 10:30 instead of 9 am. I wanted to leave at 9, so that we could maximize our time there before nap. Wellllll yeah no. Not with that many people.
The dinosaur bones were boring, but Bumby liked running up and down the small inclines between the rooms, and he liked all the taxidermy animals, which I weirdly did too until I realized that in order to have a stuffed baby gorilla you had to have killed a baby gorilla. Then they all made me feel a little sick. Anyway, Bumby doesn’t know about killing of baby gorillas, so he loved them of course. He ran up to each one and said, “Hey, monkey! Come on out! No jumpin on the bed!” and then searched around in vain for a handle or a door or some way to open the glass case and free the monkeys (which were, of course, not actually monkeys, but gorillas and lemurs and other such things). Here is a blurry photo as an example:
After doing this for a while, we moved on to the Native American exhibits, where he pointed out “This one’s a mama, and this one’s a mommy.” Haha to my wife, all the “mommy” ones were actually men. She is not masculine, by the way, at all. Then he spotted a fellow toddler and raced over, screaming “NEW FRIEND.” He aggressively hugged him until I pulled him off, because the parents looked vaguely horrified and the kid was about to cry.
He then gave himself a time out. When he was a little younger we noticed he would get over-stimulated and bite his siblings, so we started taking him aside for a time out when this would happen. Now he gives himself a time out when the stimulation is too much. After about 5 time outs, we decided he needed to just go. Everyone except my sister and I left to get a table at the pizza place, and my sister and I went to get the coats. We went through the ocean exhibit, where he was fascinated by the “big baby beluga” which was actually a blue whale. We waited in line for coats, and he blew his nose on my face (my grossest parenting moment yet, actually).
After going home and taking a nap, some friends came over and we drank wine and ate cake and everyone gave him presents except for us, because ours were ordered from Amazon Prime and were late (of course). He still does not have them, because we’re trying to space the new toys out a little. And that was that – a day off from the chaos that is swirling around us on a daily basis. A little reprieve, courtesy of the boy who taught me to slow down and take a break in the first place.
Yesterday, my wife and I woke up grouchy. We were trying to pack away a million Christmas decorations and do approximately 950 loads of laundry and had to shovel the walks and it was cold out. Also, I wanted coffee and Bumby insisted on helping me make it which of course meant half the water was dumped in the coffee part and half the coffee grounds were on the floor. When my wife came in from walking the dog, she snarked about the likely-gross Bumby coffee. I snarked back about something, I don’t know what. And this continued for a bit until I got a little mean and made my wife cry. She went upstairs. I thought I would give her some space, but really it is more likely I didn’t want to admit I had been an asshole.
But Bumby. Nothing gets by him.”Mommy crying.”
“Yes. Mommy’s crying.”
“Well, no. I mean, she might want a nap. But she’s crying because I hurt her feelings.”
He hopped down off the couch and grabbed my hand. He started dragging me toward the stairs. “Mama. I’m sorry, Mommy. Gentle gentle. I’m sorry.”
This is what we tell him when he hits or scratches or otherwise attempts to injure us or his siblings when he is frustrated. You say you’re sorry, and show the person you know how to be gentle in your touching. So, right. Also with feelings.
We walk upstairs and find Mommy at the computer reading about Trump. (Hard to see how this would make her feel better, but to each her own, right?)
“Sorry, Mommy,” says Bumby.
“No no. You didn’t do it. I hurt Mommy, not you. You are fine.” He looks at me expectantly. So I say to her, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” She looks at me a bit skeptically but gives me a hug.
“Gentle,” prompts Bumby.
“Yes, gentle. I will be gentle with them.” The hug becomes real, and we go downstairs.
The coffee was not ruined after all. We ate toast and cleaned house and played outside and watched the Steelers pommel the Dolphins. It was a really good, tiring day. Sometimes when you hurt someone, it’s best to apologize like a toddler, to just say you’re sorry and promise to do better, without explaining your side or making a lot of excuses or discussing who started it.
In 2009, my wife and I talked about having babies. Specifically, I informed my then-girlfriend, who was already the mother of three, that if she did not want to have more babies, that was it. It was a deal-breaker for me. “BABIES,” I said, “plural. Not BABY.” I wanted, specifically, two babies. Also, she had to want the babies, not just be willing to go through it for me. Because babies should be wanted, all of them, each of them. There is a big difference between wanting a baby and agreeing to have a baby because the person that you love wants one. She did not answer right away. She said she would think about it, and come back to me. And she did. A day or so later, she said she was in. Whole-heartedly in. Babies I wanted, and babies I would have.
And then, you know, life happened. For one reason or another, it wasn’t time to start trying to conceive until late in 2013. Then it took us nearly a year to get pregnant. So it wasn’t until six years after that original conversation that we had our first baby together.
By the time Bumby was born, the other kids were kind of… old. The next-youngest was 9, and the oldest was 14. Having another child when your next-youngest is 9 is very different from having another child when your next-youngest is 3. To further complicate matters, the Big One was decidedly moody about the topic of adding a fourth child to our nest, and made those moods known throughout the entire experience of talking about a baby, getting pregnant with a baby, being pregnant with a baby, and having a baby. It was, frankly, rather miserable for my wife and me. Although Bumby and the Big One are fast friends now, it is far from clear that she in particular, or any of the older kids more generally, would welcome another addition with open arms.
Then there is my wife. She agreed to babies, this is true. She knows she agreed to babies. But she has reneged. She is happy with our family of six. She is not getting any younger, and although she loves our children fiercely, she also looks forward to our empty nest years (as do I!). She would like to have those empty nest years when she is still young enough to do fun empty nest things and does not have to take too many prescription medications. Before I ever got pregnant with Bumby, she made it clear. She wanted this one more child very much, but only this one more child.
So that leaves me. I wanted babies. I have been quite clear on this, always. I did not want just one pregnancy, just one baby. But I agreed to stop after one, because I still feel just as I did in 2009, that each child should be wanted by its family. Knowing how the rest of the family felt, I almost hoped that being pregnant would not live up to my expectations. Maybe I would feel about it the way so many women do — it is acceptable as a means to an end, but not altogether a great experience in and of itself. I may even be miserable, or have complications. It is weird to almost hope for these things, but I wanted it to cure me so that I would not yearn to go through it again. So that I would be content with just one baby. No such luck. I had an easy, uncomplicated pregnancy. I was at home in my body for the first time since puberty. I felt beautiful. I marveled at the changes and adored having Bumby close to me and with me, always. I wasn’t even really uncomfortable until around 37 weeks, and slept well. Something about the pregnancy hormones agreed with me, and I was just happy the entire time. I can count on one hand the number of times I was angry or sad for the entire pregnancy. Then, I had an uncomplicated vaginal birth just one day past my due date.
After which, I met Bumby. I fell in love with him, hard and fast. Postpartum came with all the rawness and separation and plummeting hormones that it always does. Sometime in those early weeks, I became furious with my wife. How could she, knowing how amazing it is to have a child, knowing how fast and fierce and primal the love is, how could she say I can’t do it again? When I agreed that maybe just one baby would be enough, I didn’t know what I was giving up. But she has been through this before. She knew what she was asking of me, and she asked it anyway. How could she? She didn’t answer.
I cooled off, and my hormones balanced out. I still wanted another child, but I stopped being mad at my wife for being done. She could not make herself want another child any more than I could make myself not want another child.
My confidence as a parent grew, and I found I can actually manage four kids on my own, while my wife works or has a late dinner. I make decisions about the older kids that I previously would have deferred to my wife. I love them more, and have more patience with them. Bumby started sleeping, and I started getting my life back. I went back to work part-time, and found a work/life balance that works for me. Bumby started walking, and talking, and making jokes. I went from staring at him adoringly, to interacting with him. The love grew. I got my hair cut, without Bumby in my lap. I left Bumby with the sitter so I could go to the 5th grade science fair with his big brother. I started planning our spring garden, now that I have a fun toddler to plant it with, instead of a baby who won’t be set down long enough for me to plant even one tomato plant. I became me again. But now, me with Bumby.
And you know what? I can’t imagine having another baby. I sometimes would like to have an afternoon of baby Bumby back, where we just nurse and nap and I eat strawberries in the sunshine while he stares at his own hand. My pregnancy and our first year as a family of six were the hardest and most wonderful months of my life, and I will remember them forever. But I don’t want to do them again, and I don’t want to do them with another baby. I am done, with one. I am sure that I will still have my moments of longing, but in the main I am, shockingly, at peace with this.
Before Bumby was born, we were a blended family. A family, yes, but there always seemed to be shifting alliances — me on the one side and my wife and the kids on the other, or the adults on one side, and the kids on the other. Various divisions. Bumby has brought us all together. We have gone from a collection of people, to a whole family. One family. We are all brought together by loving this little guy more than we thought we ever could. We don’t need another baby, because we are complete now. I don’t need another baby, because I had the baby I was meant to have. Thanks, Bumbs.
A while ago, I mentioned that we had bid on a house and our offer had been accepted. It’s a long story, but what basically happened is that after accepting our offer, and after we paid $1,300 for an inspection, the sellers informed us that they had actually received another, better offer that they had decided to accept instead. We pushed ourselves, upped our offer, and were again out-bid. Imagine our “surprise” when we later learned that the same agent was representing the sellers and the new buyers. In other words, the new buyers knew exactly what we bid each time, and out-bid us by the bare minimum amount. Legal, yes. Ethical, not so much.
So there we were, one Wednesday night with a bottle of wine, an internet browser, and a lot of disappointment. We looked at the other houses on the market in our town. A few piqued our interest, so we decided to e-mail our agent and set up time to go look at them. We weren’t set on moving, but since we had started the process, we thought we might as well explore our options. When we lost the other house, my wife had a rant that lasted about 5 minutes about all the things she hates about our current house, and none of them were changing any time soon. Plus, it is now or never with the move. The Big One will be a junior next year, so if we’re moving, we’d like to do it at a time where she can really settle into the new house before going off to college, so that when she comes home, she really comes home, not just back to her parents’ house that she never actually lived in.
We saw a few houses. Some were too small, some needed too much work, some had the master bedroom on the first floor, which doesn’t really work when you have small children. One had leopard carpet. Then we got to the last house. It was five bedrooms, plus an office. One of the bedrooms is really small, but one of our children is also really small, and by the time he cares about the size of his room, the Big One will be about 24. The yard is huge, and awesome. The layout is better than what we have now. It was built in 1910 but has been well cared for all along, so it is full of charming details but not run-down. The first floor has French doors between many of the rooms, so we can keep Bumby in eye-shot without having baby gates all over the place. We fell in love, and when we brought the kids back, they did too. It’s only a tiny bit bigger than our current house in terms of square footage, but the layout gives it more usable space. We wanted to make sure that if our offer was accepted, the sellers would want to sell to us, rather than someone else. So when we put the offer in, we wrote a heartfelt letter about why we thought this was the perfect house for us. Each of the kids contributed a paragraph (except for Bumby who cannot read, write, or speak).
Long story short, we got the house. We put ours on the market immediately, and after three stressful weeks, it also sold. YAY, we’re moving.
When we told the kids, the Big One said, “Well, you know how I feel about this. I don’t want to move,” and left the room. We were stunned. We actually did not know how she felt about this, since she seemed totally excited when we looked at the new house originally. Boo was excited (the new house is three doors down from her best friend) but said, “We have had seven Christmases in this house.” The Big Brother acted like we hadn’t said anything, and Bumby obviously had no idea what was going on. It was…. anti-climactic. What happened between writing a letter about how excited we were to buy this house, and selling ours three weeks later? It’s hard to say. All we can come up with is that to the kids, they were separate events. Getting a new house is exciting, but leaving the old one is sad. Also, the Big One realized she would have to share the bathroom with her sister. I actually don’t know a single teenager with her own bathroom, but this has become monumentally important to the Big One for some reason. We were really disappointed that the kids were no longer excited. It took the wind out of our sails.
So we scheduled time to go see the house. My wife and I have been back a few times for various reasons, and each time we get more excited. In our contract, we’re allowed to come in to “take measurements” so we thought we would bring everyone back, walk room to room, and talk through with them how they wanted to set up their bedrooms. They could remember why we were excited about this house in the first place. We went to Home Depot and got paint cards for them to look at in their rooms. We were psyched up.
When we got there, the house was TRASHED. Apparently, the seller is preparing for an estate sale, so there were card tables set up all over the place with knickknacks on them. Every room was cluttered with half-packed boxes and the whole house smelled like mothballs from the stuff that had been dragged out of the attic. There were dirty dishes in the sink, and every inch of counter and table-space was just covered in crap. The floors were dirty and there were crumpled up paper towels all over the bathroom counter. The master bedroom closet looked like it had been hit by a tornado. There was a half-eaten bowl of rice on the desk in Big Brother’s room, and none of the beds were made. On and on, each room more disgusting and cluttered than the last. Our trip to get the kids excited about the move had backfired spectacularly. Now even Boo, who was the only excited one, was disappointed. It was so hard to see past how dirty and cluttered the house was. It felt small and dingy even though it’s actually bigger than our house now.
We were all worried about how cramped it felt. And all the French doors on the first floor, which at first had seemed like a dream come true, now seemed like a nightmare as Bumby ran from room to room, careening around card-tables covered in tiny breakable things, slamming the original 1910 glass doors into the walls. It turns out he is already tall enough to reach the handles.
I was angry. How could they have left the house like that? We couldn’t even get the measurements we needed because there was so much stuff in our way. We couldn’t see ourselves living there at all. It seemed, frankly, like a shithole. When we got home, my wife announced that she thought the whole thing was one big mistake and locked herself in our bedroom. I felt the same, minus the locking myself in the bedroom, because it was already taken.
I know that the house was just dirty. It obviously won’t be full of all that crap when we live there. We will come in, with our paint samples and our mops and brooms and our cute furniture and we will make it our own. It is still charming, it still has amazing views and a great layout. It still has an office and a bedroom for each of us. But… if even the adults are having a hard time maintaining any enthusiasm after that experience, how are the kids supposed to feel about it?
The one silver lining is that I really got the opportunity to explore the yard. There is a perfect spot for the vegetable patch — bigger and sunnier than what we have now. There are at least three spots that are completely hidden from view if you are in the house or on the street, perfect for secret kid-stuff. There are steps and rocks and flowers everywhere. It’s perhaps the most amazing yard I have ever seen. I am hanging onto that, and trying to get us moved in with enough time to plant our summer vegetables in the spot I have chosen. We will have to push through the disappointment we all feel, because it is what it is. We have sold our house, and bought this one, and now we’re moving.
With the first nice weather for the spring, and a budding toddler who loves to play outside, we took a couple of walks to the playground this weekend. In our sexist town, we were literally the only moms there with our kids. Don’t get me wrong, the playgrounds were packed. But all the other kids were there with their dads.
“But how BAD did you pee your pants? …. Oh, that’s fine. We can stay, then.”
“I SAID YOU DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG. BUT YOUR SISTER GOT KICKED IN THE FACE. SO WE HAVE TO GO.”
Most of the dads were engaged and having fun, playing with their kids. We even had a nice chat with the dad of a two year old and a four year old who will eventually be at the same elementary school as Bumby.
I know that Bumby is really lucky to have two moms who love him so much. But for the first time, I was a little sad for him that he won’t also have a dad. Probably I will lose my lesbian-card for saying that, but there it is.
I can’t quite put my finger on why it matters. My wife is amazing at sports. I can fix things around the house. He has a great male role model in his older brother. I logically know there is no reason for him to “need” a dad — we can provide him with all the stereotypically masculine skills he needs, and big brother can instruct him in how to make his penis blow up like a balloon by holding his foreskin shut while he pees (this is a real thing that boys do). I guess I just don’t want him to miss any experience in life, or be left out in any way, and he will be. I wish I could protect him from feeling different, even while I know that being a little different will make him a stronger, happier, better-adjusted person than walking through life with no adversity at all.
If we believe that our children are our teachers, the lesson that my children are teaching me is one about letting go.
We are moving. There is a house about three streets away from our current house, that has always been our “house.” You know what I mean. We walk by it and say, look at that house. It’s so great! Wouldn’t it be fun to live there? And then… it came on the market. It turns out it had actually been on the market for a year, then they re-listed it this January at a reduced price, which turned out to be one we could actually afford. It’s MUCH bigger than our current house, gets better light, has an office for me (a room of my own, so to speak) and a huge, amazing kitchen. It happens to be near a parkway, which, if you’re not from around here, is kind of like a freeway but quieter because there are no trucks allowed, which keeps the price down into our range. It also has a postage-stamp sized yard, which is actually totally fine with me. I love being outside, but not really so much lounging around my yard. More like hiking, and skiing, and going to the beach. I don’t do these things in my back yard anyway.
The new house is great. But it’s not the house I brought my baby home to. It’s not the house I was pregnant in. It’s not the house where the kids have spent the last seven Christmases. It’s not the house I moved into when I was finally ready to let go of the apartment that had sat vacant on 10th Avenue for months before I finally admitted that I really lived with my now-wife in the suburbs. It’s not the house where our dog was a puppy or our big kids were preschoolers. It’s not the house that has seen two kids off to their first day of kindergarten and two kids off to their last day of fifth grade. It doesn’t have the nursery that we lovingly prepared for our whirlwind of a baby.
Leaving our house feels like leaving Bumby’s babyhood behind. He walks now, and points to things he wants, and says, “Mama” at me. He laughs when he farts. He does busy baby work, putting the dishtowel in the dumptruck and his shoe in the dog’s water bowl. He’s already not that squalling lump of blobby babyness, all breastmilk poops and kittenlike cries. In fact, I like him so much more now. He’s fun. He’s smart. He enchants every stranger he meets. He enchants me, on a daily basis. But I’m sad that he’s no longer my Blobby, spending long afternoons with me skin-to-skin.
Moving feels like leaving the big kids’ childhood behind. We cleaned the house up last night to get it ready for its listing photos, and every room was a box of memories. Remember when the kids’ friends hit the wall we had just painted with a ping-pong paddle, and the kids made them scrub off the mark because they had worked so hard painting? Remember when we forgot to open the flue when we were watching Jaws, and the fire department burst in to respond to the smoke alarm? Remember when one of the kids fell while climbing the front window and had to get stitches? Remember when I threw a whole gourd into the compost bin, and we went away for a week in the summer, and when we came home a gourd-plant was taking over our entire deck?
Now they are big, all of them. Even little Bumby feels big. I know that the new house will be its own box of memories, but it’s so hard to let go. And yet, holding onto the house won’t keep Bumby a baby, and it won’t keep the kids small. The big one will leave for college in 2 years, whether we move or not. The little guy will start middle school next year, whether we move or not. Bumby will stop nursing and start nursery school, whether we move or not. So we decided to move – forward.