Why Having “Only” One Kid Is Harder Than It Seems

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Recently a very sweet reader commented to me that she only has one kid, but can still really enjoy all the stuff I write about on my blog. ONLY one kid, she said.

My kids are about three years apart, so I had “only” one kid for a while myself, and let me tell you, having one kid is not necessarily easier than having two. It’s probably not even much easier than having a whole litter of ‘em, actually.

Now that I have two kids, a nice chunk of my day is admittedly spent prying my children off of one another, mediating arguments prompted by such pressing matters as whether it’s time to watch Princess Sofia or Scooby Doo and who gets to eat the last package of fruit snacks. But I have to say, in between those annoying moments of fighting, my home is constantly filled with the joyful sounds of children playing together. Frequent fits of giggles and shrieks of laughter, freckled by mischievous moments of quiet scheming, then followed by even more explosive laughter– these are the sweet, sweet sounds of siblings getting along. And to me, they’re some of the most beautiful sounds you will ever hear.

I think that if you could bottle the blissful sound of children’s laughter, it might just cure every illness under the sun.

Just to clarify, I’m not implying that having one child will leave you with a dull, laughter-less home. Not at all. Every kid is hilarious in his or her own little way. But we do tip the laughter scale around here a lot more than we used to before my daughter came along.

Particularly for a new parent, caring for “only” one child can be one of the loneliest feelings in the world.  In fact, I was extremely depressed for most of the three years I spent as a mother of one child. The door would close in the morning as my husband headed off to work, and the seemingly endless hours of loneliness would begin. I’d look down at my little guy, and he’d look up at me, his eyes as big as his expectations for the day, and I knew that keeping him content for those long hours was all on me.

It’s a pretty big job, and not an easy one.

Fact: there is really only so much coloring, finger-painting, and shape-sorting you can do before you start to lose your ever-loving mind.

Some moms like to fill their toddler’s schedules with exciting play dates and Gymboree classes. And that’s great. But what about parents who, like I was, are new to their neighborhood and don’t have a ton of mommy friends with whom to set up playdates? And the Gymboree classes? Um, have you seen the pricetag on these freaking classes? I can roll a big ball around and sing The Wheels on the Bus to my kid at home for free, thankyouverymuch.

Another problem I had when my son was an only child was the sharing thing. At home, all of his precious toys were his and his alone. Without the frequent wails of “but it’s MY turn!” from a jealous sibling, sharing was a foreign concept to my little guy. So you can imagine that play dates were a BLAST back then. I’ve always found it an awkward situation when your kid has engaged in a knock-down, drag-out, tug-of-war match with another kid over some shitty toy, and the parents need to step in and encourage the angry toddlers to “take turns” with said shitty toy. Either no one listens and the match rages on until the toy is removed and both children are sulking, or the other kid hands it over and your kid ends up looking like the jerk. Nope, my kid was never the one to hand it over. Not back then, anyway.

So moms of “only” one child, do yourselves a favor and give a little (or a LOT) of credit where it’s due. Raising kids is tricky business, no matter how many you have.  Every type of parenting comes with its own set of challenges- one kid, two kids, ten kids, twins, triplets, whatever.  The bottom line is that you are raising a living, breathing, human being who is depending on YOU to keep him or her thriving and well, 24/7. It’s a big damn responsibility. And I think that, even for those parents raising a whole boatload of kids, we’re all just figuring out this parenting thing as we go.

Although for the record, I do NOT want a whole boatload of kids.

An Ode to the Dishwasher…Sort Of

I’ve picked on laundry. I’ve picked on grocery shopping. Kids clothes, playgrounds, social media, assholes, the Tooth Fairy— I’ve bitched and moaned about it all (side note: click a few of those links for some of my whiniest/funniest blogs, and don’t mind my shameless  self promotion). But for some reason, I’ve never really tackled the wretched task of doing dishes. At least not at length like these other topics. And doing dishes is one of the most loathsome daily rituals of all. I’m really not sure how it has escaped my wrath all this time.

Well, that ends today.

My dishwasher was a birthday gift from my husband three years ago. Some might find a dishwasher to be a rather unconventional gift, but I thought it was a fantastic idea. After all, all the jewelry in the world won’t reduce the spread of bacterial growth while leaving your cups and glasses with a streak-free shine.

Not that I have anything against jewelry. Because I don’t. Are you listening, Big M? Nothing at all.

Anyway, the day that the dishwasher was installed was probably one of the best days of my life. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but I assure you, it most certainly is not. Because owning a dishwasher instantly improved my quality of life.

Prior to having a dishwasher to call my very own, I had spent countless hours of my life slaving over the kitchen sink, washing dish after dirty dish, bowl after dirty bowl. So many glasses and plates and coffee mugs and UGH, the horrible never-ending silverware. An endless supply of utensils in every shape and size littered my sink every single day of my life. Not to mention how much precious time and elbow grease was wasted scrubbing away at dirty pots and pans on a regular basis.

And the baby bottles! Ugh! So many pieces! Why all the pieces, Dr. Brown’s? Avent? Playtex? Why do you hate parents? Why??

For some reason, my family produces an astonishing amount of dirty dishes every day. No amount of paper plates or plastic silverware seems to even slightly reduce the mounds of dishes from piling higher and higher with each passing hour.  The kids seem to really enjoy taking a tiny sip of water and immediately tossing their cups into the sink, and then repeating that process every half hour. I can’t believe I actually used to hand wash something like THIS every day:

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And it isn’t just about saving time, either. I’ve actually lost layers of skin on my poor little hands from all that scouring and harsh water, leaving them constantly cracked and bleeding and swollen and just totally gross.

So yea, getting the dishwasher was one of the best things that ever happened to me (my life sounds pretty exciting, huh?).

Now don’t get me wrong. Owning a dishwasher doesn’t alleviate ALL of the pain associated with doing dishes. It doesn’t load itself. It doesn’t empty itself. Sometimes it ruins shit (why do they even still make things that aren’t dishwasher safe?) It certainly doesn’t have any clown-car-like properties that enable you to easily place every single item inside before slamming the door, hitting the power button and sitting down with a nice glass of wine. Sometimes I spend more time mashing and maneuvering than if I would just whip out the old dobie pad and get the job done with my own two hands.

Sometimes I spend so much time mulling over which configuration of dishes will leave me with the least amount of leftover items to wash by hand that I forget there was ever a time when I didn’t have the luxury of that decision to make.  Which is really not cool, because it’s really important not to forget where you came from (in this case, that would be a dishwasherless home).

I do get kind of pissed at my dishwasher whenever there is an excess of tupperware hanging around my sink. I’m sure we can all admit to “accidentally” tossing some innocent pieces of tupperware in the garbage once in a while just because it’s such a pain in the ass to clean. It takes up too much precious space on the top rack of the dishwasher, has all kinds of edges and hard-to-reach spots, and always ends up with that inevitable greasy film that’s impossible to get rid of. I guess my qualms should really be more with the tupperware than the dishwasher here… so screw you, tupperware. Just screw you.

It also sucks when I’m emptying the dishwasher and come across a pair of cooking tongs harboring crusted breadcrumbs from last night’s chicken cutlets, or a rogue spinach leaf clinging to a fork, or the worst– hardened cereal bits glued to yesterday morning’s bowl of raisin bran. Like what’s the point of using a dishwasher if you have to rewash some of its contents anyway?

Still, although it doesn’t perfectly clean every dirty dish in my life, nor does it grow a pair of extendable arms that reach into the cabinets and put away the clean stuff for me (are you listening, KitchenAid??), I love my dishwasher simply as much as one can adore any inanimate object that makes life a thousand times easier.

And all that time I save on washing dishes frees me up to complete other important tasks, like helping the kids with homework, cooking healthy dinners, folding loads of laundry, and of course, pouring myself glasses of wine.

 

A Sea of Despair: Postpartum Pools of Pain

A few months ago I wrote about my struggle with depression and anxiety, and I was taken aback by the overwhelmingly positive response I received afterward.  It took me a long time to work up the courage to tell my story; I was admittedly afraid of what others might think of my decision to publicly reveal such a personal experience. But the kindness and support that followed was so moving that I’ve decided to revisit the topic today.

When I wrote that post, it was intended to be a one-time thing.  I don’t typically take myself too seriously, not on this blog nor in real life, and I’d rather others do the same.  But then something happened that I didn’t expect. Many of you reached out to me after reading my story to tell me how much my words had spoken to you, and that you understood everything I had gone through because you, too, had dealt with a similar struggle. It seemed that, like with many other aspects of motherhood, the difficulties I had experienced were also felt by many others. Apparently, I wasn’t as alone as I’d thought.

According to the American Psychology Association, up to 16% of new mothers experience postpartum depression.  Frankly, I think their numbers are off.  Perhaps a mere 16% actually report their feelings to a doctor, but I’m willing to bet a nice chunk of ladies simply suffer in silence.

With so many of society’s misconceptions about motherhood, it’s easy to see why so many women find themselves adrift in a sea of despair after becoming a parent for the first time.  Having children is rarely all you think it will be and more.  Sure, the highs are high and they feel amazing.  But the lows? Are so very, very LOW.  And you’ll find that these lows often fill the extra-wide gaps in between the fleeting, infrequent highs.

It seems like every time I flip on the TV I see some sappy diaper commercial featuring a mother tenderly singing her little one to sleep, humming soothing lullabies and swaying gently in a pastel-colored rocking chair. Unfortunately, those commercials are total crap.  Because they never show the four hours leading up to that endearing moment where the baby has finally drifted off—you know, the part where mommy’s  precious little angel was screaming and crying inconsolably until mommy “tenderly” considered chugging a fifth of vodka and sawing off her own ears.

For me, the hardest part of becoming a mom was learning to adjust to how shockingly different life becomes after having kids.  I got pregnant in my mid-twenties before I got married, and it was very unplanned.  While some women feel they are ready to settle down and start popping out some little people at that age, I was definitely not one of those women. 

Before I got pregnant, life was like standing on the roof of Rockefeller Center and looking down at the world below—breathtakingly beautiful, wildly exhilarating, enchantingly romantic.  Oh, to be young and carefree, just dreaming all day and playing all night.  Such blissful endless freedom. Nothing but opportunities at your door and time on your hands.

Until one day you pee on a stick and your life changes forever.

It took me such a long time to adjust to my life being so vastly different after having kids that I never even realized I was depressed.  The transition was happening at such a snail’s pace that I didn’t know it was actually changing me, like as a person.  For years I was just living my life in robot-mode, going through the motions, completely unaware that I was dying inside a little more every day.

From the very beginning I should have known I was in trouble, because when they tried to hand my son to me a few hours after my c-section I didn’t even want to see him.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love him or want him, I honestly just didn’t know what the hell to do with him.  What did I know about babies? I was practically still one myself. And that instant connection parents always describe?  That immediate gush of awe and amazement that everybody talks about after they’ve given birth? Yea well, I didn’t get it. Not right away, anyway.  I loved my little boy, of course.  But the fear and confusion and pain in my head were clouding the feelings in my heart.

I got the hang of motherhood quickly, I think.  A lot more quickly than I thought I would, at least.  There are women coping with such severe postpartum depression that they can’t even take care of their children.  Thankfully, that wasn’t me (and my issue technically might not even fall under the actual definition of “postpartum” depression, but who gives a shit about definitions?) Like I said, the depressed feelings I had were growing very slowly over time. Little by little, I was falling deeper into my own sea of despair.  And I was totally unaware that those feelings would culminate after a miscarriage and eventually bring me to a debilitating breaking point.

Some women don’t ever have a real breaking point. In some ways, a “nervous breakdown” is almost a luxury, as long as you bounce back from it. Because it takes you to such a low point that you literally have nowhere to go but up. And then it motivates you to stay up.

Motherhood is hard.  Like, crazy hard.  Every feeling you experience as a parent is magnified exponentially.  You’re not just tired; you’re exhausted.  You’re not just scared; you’re terrified.  You’re not just confused, you’re helpless. You’re not just lonely; you’re the last person on earth!

I wish I could say I had advice for those of you who are still drifting in your own sea of despair.  All I can say is that it will get better eventually.  I’m living proof of that.  Eventually, you will begin to feel more comfortable in your own mommy skin.  Someday you will start to realize that, even though the bad feelings are horrible, conversely, the good feelings are great.  The love you feel is unconditional. The pride you feel is insurmountable. The bond you feel is unbreakable.

Actually, I do have one piece of advice.  Whatever you do, don’t lose track of YOU.  I know that’s easier said than done, because becoming a parent takes over virtually every aspect of your life until you are pretty much unrecognizable to yourself.  But try hard to hold onto as many pieces of yourself as you can, and then use them to make you whole again when you find yourself falling apart.

Because your baby needs you. And in the end, the only one who can really save you…is you. ❤

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**Update** It has been pointed out to me that I should mention if you are feeling this kind of depression that you should see a doctor.  This is absolutely, 100% true.  I didn’t go for a long time, and I probably could have saved myself a LOT of pain if I had.  While I do believe that you’re the only one who can save yourself, I think professional help will pinpoint how to do that.  And sometimes you may even need the help of medication because you can’t really do it on your own–this was the case for me at my lowest point. And it’s perfectly okay.  There are a thousand excuses not to go, and I’d know because I used them all.  But you’ll only be fooling yourself.  Thanks to aviets at Mom Goes On who pointed this out to me!