Building Our Village
I used to have a go-to joke about why my parents stopped at one. I even told it on dates and learned the hard way I should probably stop doing that. “Any siblings?” he asked.
“Nope!” I chirped. “My parents stopped when they got it right.” I’d grin, congratulating myself. “You?”
“I’m the oldest of six,” he said, not amused. It got…awkward.
Thankfully for my dad humor, I married another only child. He likes the joke. Thinks it’s funny. Adopted it as his own.
Now we have a toddler and I understand my parents’ reasoning better, beyond the lines they fed me:
“We didn’t want to pay for two in daycare.”
“You said you didn’t want one.”
“You were a lot to handle already.”
That last one is totally true, I still know. But I was also very self-contained. I entertained myself well. I might have left them completely alone if I had a younger sibling. WE’LL NEVER KNOW.
When I think back to my life growing up, the bulk of it was spent in Olympia, where my parents moved for my mom to start a big job as the Director of Safe and Drug Free Schools for the Superintendent of Public Instruction (this means I watched videos after school about how to say no to drugs and alcohol as her one-person focus group. I took it very seriously). My dad worked in the boating department for Washington State Parks. They were government bureaucrats, as my uncles over the mountains all liked to say, and I was a “yuppy puppy,” spending my after school time and summers at a daycare in a sports club close to where they worked. They had no family, a handful of friends, but no easy sitters (and trust I didn’t make it easy for sitters, or for my parents after the fact). Their village was extremely limited, and that makes things tough in the child-rearing department.
Even with two of you and an upper-middle-class lifestyle in a city full of resources, raising a kid is HARD. Really hard. Even a kid in school who has after school care. If I were in their position, especially as the age gap widened between me and a potential sibling, I wouldn’t have done it either. Even if they did make beautiful, smart, driven, kind, funny, fantastic, genetically-rich babies.
I don’t care who you are or where you live, if you’re raising your kids mostly alone, it is a unique challenge and you HAVE to find ways to give yourself some extra hands. Even if you just have one baby. Even if you have lots of money and a nanny and whatever you need to keep up. You can work your life around one and somewhat manage that small person between the two of you. Your career gets back on track. You find your flow. More babies mess with that.
Because I’m running a little business from home and also running after a toddler whose favorite word is “NO,” I’ve started to feel really burned out. On all fronts. And since I know he could use extra stimulation and some baby buddies, I found a wonderful in-home daycare to send ODP to three half days a week. I have mixed feelings about it—sending him there forces me to admit that I really can’t do it all and that I’m not built to come up with stimulating activities for us every day. It puts my child’s livelihood in someone else’s hands. It forces me to trust and to give up control. It exposes him to other kids, who could be assholes.
But that’s the world, isn’t it? Assholes are everywhere, and I trust he has the combination of charm and boundaries to deal with them. And if he doesn’t, he will.
For those of us who don’t have family all around and spare grandparents who can take a day here and there to let us mommies and daddies feel like real humans once in a while (and to those of you who have that, please trust I know it’s still hard for you, too!), we have to get more creative. We have to build our village more intentionally, and sometimes we have to start it all over. We have to find resources and kindred spirits and people to drink about it with.
I totally understand why I ended up as an only, now more than ever. It’s tough out there. I will probably never realize my dream of becoming The Bravermans, but I’ve come to grips with that, too. Almost.
Babies, man. The hardest and best job there is.