I had the pleasure of joining three coworkers for lunch this afternoon in the park just South of the Art Institute. While shoving my face full of home-cooked stir fry, one such coworker turned to me and asked, “Do you feel like your life changes after you have kids?”
It seemed to me like she was already aware of the answer. And, secretly, I was as well. But for some reason, I couldn’t say it.
I struggled. I began saying ridiculous and hypocritical things. I muttered something about how you don’t have as much time for yourself, but that there are other [er] things and [uh] when you’re at work you [uh] think about work and things and stuff and [um] kids are [uh] it’s like when you [um] I mean things don’t change but they [uh] do [hehe] of course [ahem] uh (begins furiously munching on a tough piece of bok choy).
Obviously, amends must be made. Of course I spent the better part of the evening agonizing over this missed opportunity. To explain how incredible it is to have kids. No, I mean, to explain how horrifying it is to have kids. Wait [er] I mean [uh] like how when two things are good but then you have that thing [uh] where it’s like if you were going to…
Fuck, of COURSE things are completely different. Universes apart. Of course they are. Why couldn’t I just fucking say that?
And in this moment I realize the reason. I have struggled since the birth of my first son with the idea that it’s nothing. That everyone has their own unique life and having a child is no different than getting a new puppy, or a new job, or a shiny new appliance. That I could have just as easily NOT had kids and things would be the same.
But I have been lying to myself and those around me now for almost four years. I have been pretending that I do not agonize daily over the lack of “alone” time, that I don’t panic at the idea that every night I have just one hour to spend with my wife before we both pass out from exhaustion, that I don’t miss playing video games or writing or playing music or making a split second decision to go to the movies or see a show.
Of course I fucking do. But the one thing that I have repeatedly stated that I know holds true for me is that having children did not stunt my creative drive or ruin my “artistic life.” My creative drive was just as unpredictable and sloppy and un-regimented then as it is now. The difference is that before kids if the mood took me I could toss everything else aside and sit. I could jump on a creative impulse instantaneously, even if it only happened once a week or once a month.
Now, when the impulse strikes I am generally not near the tools I require, nor do I have the freedom to drop a child on the floor and fly forth with abandon to the office.
Even now as I write this I had intended to be in bed. I wasn’t going to come down here to write this. But I have learned that if there is even a remote chance that my time will not be interrupted by a night terror screaming through the monitor, or a barfing cat, or a loud neighbor, I have to take it.
So here’s the thing: Tonight I came home from work in a bit of a daze. I had fallen asleep on the train. I’ve been operating on 4-5 hours of broken sleep a night for the past several nights and with two feverishly ill children it’s only a matter of time before I develop a version of whatever it is they’ve got. I am anxious. I am worried I will get sick and begin the cycle all over again. I am worried I will let down my wife when I know she has a tough week ahead of her.
I walk in the door and chit chat for a brief moment with our nanny. As the door closes, my little one gestures to the stairwell where whisps of her ghost slowly descend the stairs in her wake and he looks miserable. His muse has left the building.
Quite quickly after that, the near-4-y-o begins squealing in between wheezes and plans a pounce on daddy. That same moment the toddler bursts into tears and throws himself back on the couch. Within a matter of five minutes of entering my home I am simultaneously warding off Batman blows from the preschooler who shouts “Ya!” and grits his teeth, attempting to pull out my hair at the root, while with the other hand I am soothing the sobbing, sleepy, toddler who pushes back tears to plug himself up with a pacifier before miming that he is ready for bed.
Ten minutes later, bottle-fed and sleepy, I lay him down in his crib and head downstairs to put the big one to bed. I am coming back to the surface, gradually. I am not thinking. I am not agonizing over bills or work or even a late night with the kids. I am thinking of what book I am going to read to him and what scheme I will use this night to get him to bed.
We wrestle some more, he puts on his jammies, brushes his teeth, poops, pees, and finally settles in with his stuffed turtle, burying himself in the pillows, ready for storytime. Tonight he decides he will read to me. So, I relax, watching him gently turn the pages, true words like “bullywog” and “chee-tah” and “salamander” intermixed with the usual gibberish suspects, the pleased near-reader relishing each flip of the page more than the last.
Because my wife is a sucker and secretly wishes our oldest would sleep with us every night and because he now has a “big boy bed” I am forced to lay down next to him while he falls asleep. I am instructed to turn over while he spoons me, draping a lazy arm over my shoulder and then whispering “this is so coooozy.”
Within a few minutes I am restless. Ready to feed the cats, feed myself, and go to bed. He whispers something to me again. I don’t catch it the first time so I ask him to repeat it:
“You’re a rock star.”
“Wha — who told you that?”
I smile. With my face half smooshed in truck-linens I chuckle. I feel almost… happy.
(this post is for Della)