Round Two is a series of posts about having that second kid. 


If you think this post is bullshit, check out The Second Kid is Easier beacuse 
WE'RE BOTH RIGHT.


When it comes to the question of whether the second kid is easier or harder, nobody ever gives it to you straight. Everyone's all like well it depends on the kids and it depends on you and spiritual hoodoo and misty woo-woo and you do you and no matter what just try to stay present...

Everyone hedges. Except me. I'm here to tell you the truth about having a second baby. For I am a truth-teller. It's a blessing... and a curse.

Ready?

THE SECOND KID IS HARDER.

Why?

Glad you asked.

This Debate, About Everything

Buster threw up at 3:45 am.

Chicken has school at 9 am.

COMMENCE DEBATE:

If Buster barfed this morning, Chicken will be blowing chunks sometime in the next 12-18 hours. 
Chicken shouldn't go to school.

No but he's fine right now. It doesn't make any sense to keep big bro home just because little B tossed his cookies. 
Chicken must go to school.

Just because he looks fine doesn't mean he is fine. He's an incubator of viral plague. 
He shouldn't go to school.

If Chicken stays home from school I'll have to deal with a sick Buster and a stir-crazy Chicken all day long. 
He must go to school.

What if, on the way to school, Buster barfs in his car seat? 
Chicken can't go to school. We can't go anywhere except in machine-washable things.

I have been awake for 5 hours and it's not even human breakfast time yet. I have to sleep.
Chicken must go to school.


This is just one example of the spirited internal debate you must have about everything when you are taking into account all of the following:

1. Your older child's activities and needs
2. Your younger child's activities and needs
3. What shoes you can find for the children to wear
4. The shit you actually need to get done today
5. The weather
6. How to prevent your children from becoming THOSE PEOPLE.

It wasn't so hard with one kid because you usually knew where his shoes were. But now? In your whole house all you've got is a single sharky rain boot and another single Old Navy flip-flop that's one size too big. And they're BOTH RIGHTS.

This debate puts a fresh spin on the maxim, "damned if you do, damned if you don't." It's a terrible burden to bear, to weigh each of your decisions while staring back and forth between two sets of eyes that assume you are always going to be right about everything, while remembering everything people have told you about how to be a parent, while recalling your own grocery list, setting back to tomorrow, again, a walk in the sunshine.

I actually said to Chicken the other day, "I'm just trying to make the best decision I can for you and me and your brother and our family and the future of our country and the planet." 

I wasn't even exaggerating, you guys. 


picking soup is really hard




THE SEAL IS BROKEN
I REPEAT
THE SEAL IS BROKEN

Everything your first kid did, your second kid will do sooner, harder, and with less fear. The first child was born into a paradise of gradual discovery and wonder; the second child was born in the thunder dome, and with a single purpose: GET THAT BIGGER KID AND GET THE THING HE HAS.

Chicken slept in a crib until he was 3.

Buster climbed out of his crib at 16 months.

There was a 26-pound man-baby on the loose in that room climb like a mongoose, bite like a badger, and make reasoned decisions like a chicken. NOBODY and NOTHING was safe. 

Here is a list of words and phrases that Buster learned before the age of 2:

No
Now
Fuck
Stop
Mad
Want it
Mine
Hit
Kick
My turn

See? THUNDER DOME. First kid broke the seal; second kid breaks everything else.


The Math Adds Up

Don't worry. Your heart will expand, warm, and somehow produce another impossibly decadent slice of love pie for every one of your children, no matter how many you have.

Love is infinite.

But there are only ever 24 hours in a day.

But you will only ever have two hands, one brain, two ears that can only hear one voice at a time. You will only ever have 100% of your patience to give.

Once you have your second, you will love both of your children more. You will be able to show it less. It's the meanest inverse ratio I know.

There's just not enough time to give each of your children that luxurious, top-shelf "only-child" experience.

Good news: you will become a love ninja. When one of your kiddos is hurting, you will know how to love him to fucking death in like 3 super-fast moves so you can advance to the next level of parenting, which is always some version of "I TOLD YOU TWO TO TAKE TURNS. OKAY, I'm setting the timer."

Good news: you are not the only person in your family with hands, brains, ears, and patience. Buster smacked his face on his bed frame and Chicken ran to get him an ice pack, a cup of ice water, and a book. It was so sweet, the way he held that ice pack to his brother's nose. Even when Buster started fighting for air, he never let go...




OK The Food Bills Tho

Not immediately, but shockingly quickly after baby #2, you will find yourself buying the same things at Costco as the overburdened after-school program or the mother of seven that you assume is devout but might just be horny. Let's keep open hearts and minds, guys.

Costco used to be a four-stop shop: olive oil, coffee, wine, and diapers.  But after second baby, mark my words, you will buy everything there.

Of course you'll bulk-buy dry goods like crackers, cereal, rice, and soup. But stay with me, you will also be purchasing PERISHABLES by the crate and vat-load.  And you won't have a second fridge- you won't need one. That shit just vanishes as soon as you bring it in the house. Cheese, 4 gallons of milk, a 40-pack of yogurt, fruit and vegetables by the 10-pound, 148 artisanal sausages (assortment) (you only like 2 of the 3 flavored but) (still a deal), rotisserie chickens the size of golden retrievers... You will get two of them. And they will both be picked clean in under 24 hours.



Toddlers Are Still Harder

Unless your newborn baby has colic, or your toddler is a bonafide European, your toddler is probably still going to be harder than your baby.

Baby has frequent and urgent needs, but the needs are simple, physical, and easily met. Once fed, changed, burped, or napped, Baby typically resumes watchful vegetation.

Toddler has frequent and urgent needs, but the needs are complex, emotional, difficult to articulate, and often impossible to meet. Toddler loves independent achievement. He wants to climb the ladder. Toddler is too small to climb the ladder. Toddler will not accept help climbing the ladder. Toddler is stuck on the bottom rung of a ladder, screaming "CLIMB" and also screaming "NO" when you extend a hand for a boost. No, Toddler does not want to do the slide. Toddler is not a peasant. Toddler is frustrated and disappointed. Toddler wants to burn this mofo to the ground.

Toddler needs patience and insight, emotional energy focused on helping him to understand his feelings, that those feelings are always okay even if they're unpleasant or scary, and that he is not alone as he rides out this storm.

Baby needs milk.

Now you have to do both.



Toddlers Are Still Babies Too

When you bring home this teaspoon of a child and lay him on the changing mat and HIS WHOLE BODY FITS ON THE CHANGING MAT with 10 inches to spare, you look at your toddler with his entire shins dangling off the end of the table and you're like Damn, son! You are a BEAST!

It's sorely tempting to watch your toddler holding the infant, and see a child holding a baby.

What you're seeing, though, is a baby holding a baby.

The appearance of a newborn does not accelerate the development of your toddler's social skills, patience, kindness, impulse control, language skills, potty training, sleep... let's try this another way, actually.

The appearance of a newborn ONLY accelerates the development of your toddler's interest in the texture of the human eye.

I used to get so furious at Chicken when I'd be trying to put Buster down and that kid would just bust into the room like Denzel Washington in every Denzel Washington movie including Philadelphia because he opens doors like he motherfucking means it. Buster would snap awake, begin to scream, and Chicken would jump up and down in the doorway, flapping his arms, saying something like "but can I play the fishy game on the iPad you said I could play the fishy game on the iPad later and now it's later," and I'd be like "DO YOU SEE WHAT I AM DOING RIGHT NOW," and he'd be like, "you're putting Buster down for a nap," and I'd be like, "Correct. So what does that mean I need you to do?" And he'd be like, "be quiet and wait for you to come out," and I'd be like, "correct again," and he'd be like, "I FOUND A KAZOO!"

And boy howdy, can he play a kazoo.

He understood what was going on and could recite the right answers to my questions. I'd drilled him well, and often, on naptime procedure. But that didn't change the fact that he was still a baby, bursting with excitement when he remembered that "later" was coming, could even be here already!

That was hard. Trying not to take it personally. Trying to see my child through eyes that err on the side of understanding and not resentment. Reminding myself that he isn't picking a fight on purpose. It's still hard.



It's Baaaaaaaack...

PUMPING.

YEP.

Pumping is a thing again.

At least the first time was a little bit thrilling, like "ooooh! Look at meee! I'm pumping! Tee hee! What a miracle my body is! Isn't this funny? Take a picture of me pumping. This isn't that bad!"

Yes, the first time out pumping started as an adventure. But then you realized what the breast pump really was: the machine from the Princess Bride that straps you to a table and sucks years of your life out of your body.

Second time around there's none of the novelty, none of the sense of pride you get when you hold up the warm bottle of creamy you, filled to the top in 8 minutes flat.

It's just... fuck it, we just used formula the second time around.




This Ain't Deja-Vu

Second kid does not equal first kid + experience.

Second kid equals a whole new mammal.

You might have been a parent before, but you've never been THIS parent before. Not to THIS kid. I spent 2 years drafting an encyclopedia of hard-won wisdom on "how to raise a son of mine and Ryan's." And then Buster popped out and set 90% of the damn thing on fire. 

Buster: Where's the chapter on biting?
Me: Oh, we don't need that. 
Buster: You sure?
Me: Absolutely. Chicken was never a biter.
Buster: Great! Is that your earlobe?
Me: I'msorryI'msorryI'msorryohGodI'msorryforwhateverIdid

Me: Buster, I am here to strap you into your car seat. 
Buster: Okay.
Me: I've done this a few times, so you're in good hands here. We're gonna get through this.
Buster: Cool.
Me: Step one: CALM DOWN.
Buster: Aight.
Me: I WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND THAT NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU FIGHT ME I WILL STILL CLIP YOU INTO THIS SEAT BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND IT IS NOT OPTIONAL.
Buster: No but I'm good tho.
Me: NEITHER SLAPPING NOR KICKING NOR WRITHING NOR SCREAMING WILL... wait. This isn't a thing for you.
Buster: Nah.
Me: You're totally fine with the car seat.
Buster: Yep.
Me: (Sets one year of previous experience aflame)

Your two children are guaranteed to diverge, so no matter what you will find yourself in uncharted territory on the second go-round.

Luckily, you're already pretty much unpacked in "I don't know what the fuck is going on-istan," so even if your first kid's experience is only parenthetically helpful to you on this second go-round, at least you know that at this stage of parenting, "doing great" looks exactly like "hanging on."



AMNESIA. It's not just a river in Egypt.


In the library of your mind, the "Newborn Baby" wing looks exactly like the one where the Beast keeps his magic rose.

You start creeping up the stairs and you pause by a portrait. There's something familiar about this, you think. You hesitate. You want to turn back. And yet you must find out what else is hidden in these dark and musty corridors.

I'll tell you what's hidden there.

A shit in every diaper, that's what.
Umbilical cord stump care, that's what.
Crossed eyes, that's what.
Sleep laughing. Hand expressing. Breast pads.

What was the 5th S again? Swaddle, Shush, Swing, Side, and... Squeeze? Is it squeeze? I'm gonna squeeze. Nope, wasn't squeeze. Babe, can you get a towel?




You Love Them Both, Unlike Some People

People compare your two kids now, which is as gutting as listening to strangers discuss which of your attributes is more pleasing: your muscle tone, or your complexion. No matter which way they land, your feelings are gonna get hurt.

It's not the comparison that irks me. Let's be real: I compare my two kids. One is hardier, one is more delicate; one is happier, one is moodier. One is always hungry, the other sips milk as gingerly as a baby squirrel whose mama raised him right.

What's hard is when society in general (and by society in general I mean high school friends from Facebook and strangers in public) deems one of your children better than the other.

What's hard is when you know that the world looks at one of your children with adoring eyes, and merely takes note of the other.

Buster is a charmer, round-faced and flirtatious. He waves, says hi, bye, blows kisses, dutifully giggles and tucks his chin into his shoulder when an adult plays peek-a-boo. People want to eat him. I do too.

Chicken is an old soul, often standoffish with new people, serious, and stonefaced when a stranger makes a silly face at him. He is spookily well-spoken for his age, emotionally intense. People fear that he has powers. I do too.

The world looks at Buster with a honeyed glow and Buster wraps himself in it; Chicken arouses curiosity and amusement, but from a distance.

It's okay that the world sees them that way - I expect nothing less. It's okay for people to connect with one child in particular - I expect nothing less.

Just don't, like, tell me about it.

Don't toss off a token compliment about Buster and then dive into the wonder that is Chicken. Don't say, "Chicken knows a lot of words! But BUSTER... God's heavenly light shines through that child's perfect beauty and I would not be surprised if he is, himself, Jesus."

When people do that it forces you to say, "Well, Chicken could be Jesus too," and then there's this weird double Jesus tension between you guys and pretty soon you're not getting a Christmas card anymore.



Holy Shit

The two of them



Are just



I can't


Spontaneous cardiac immolation is not outside the realm of possibility.



You Might Become An Asshole

There is a tiny asshole in my brain.

Wait...

Nope, I'm just gonna leave it there and keep moving. 

SO! There is a tiny asshole in my brain and every time I hear a parent of one child talking about how hard it is to take their kid to the grocery store or shoe shopping or bedtime, while most of my nice person brain is genuinely like "that sounds so hard, I can totally relate," Tiny Asshole in my brain is like, "You think your shit is hard? Do you want to trade kids for 15 minutes and see what it's like in the jungle, hoss?"

When I was a mom of one I don't remember having Tiny Asshole in my brain. I was lost and trying to laugh at my situation, alongside so many other women who were lost and trying to laugh. I'd see other moms who had Tiny Assholes (you can always tell because they nod sympathetically when you talk but they also smile patronizingly like the Queen of England and then immediately start telling you how to fix your problem) and I'd think, "hey, man, nothing to win here. Just be nice, okay? We're all on the same team, right?"

Now that I have two kids, I also have a Tiny Asshole. I shout her down. I beat her back. I smother her with silence. But no matter how much I loathe Tiny Asshole, she is always there.

No matter how much I love and respect the mom who is having a hard time with her one kid, Tiny Asshole is there.

Tiny Asshole believes that if I can prove that I have it harder than other moms, then I win... something.

Tiny Asshole believes that other people don't have the right to complain about their hard stuff because my stuff is obviously harder.

Tiny Asshole is always right.

Tiny Asshole competes with other moms, as if there were only room for one of us at the top.

Tiny Asshole is the dark side of pride in your work, confidence in your judgment, certainty of your expertise.

If you have a Tiny Asshole, two things:

1. Don't worry - everyone has a Tiny Asshole about something. Tiny Asshole only gets bigger if you feed her. It's okay to have smug thoughts about first-time parents who are worried about stuff that you know they don't need to worry about. Just keep that shit to yourself. Nobody wants to meet your Tiny Asshole, okay?

2. If anyone knows how to get rid of Tiny Asshole for good please share it with the class.


All The Other Stuff

No blog post about the second kid being harder would be complete without a few other mentions, runners-up if you will. These are all things that I found harder about having the second kid, but I didn't have like a philosophical treatise to write about them.

- Back pain

- They run in opposite directions. It's not a myth. It's not because you're a bad mom. They do it every time and you just have to stay close enough to one of them that you can scoop him up and chase down the other one before he eats that dude's popcorn.

- Your you-time is a shadow of the shadow of its former self. Haircuts, exercise, hobbies, friends - you get to pick one. A day. A week. A month. Depending on how everything is at home. It's a blessing to have precious free time; it's a curse that all you can summon the will to do with that free time is look at unfolded laundry and drink. (Good news: Your friends can probably summon the will to come over and look at your unfolded laundry and drink with you!) I hear this doesn't last forever. They tell me I will miss it.

- Friends and relatives cut back on the free babysitting. We don't blame them. You have to start paying for that shit. And it costs MONEY.

- It's much harder to be a cool mom of two kids than it was to be a cool mom of one kid. I don't know why. I suspect it has something to do with the dearth of time for personal grooming.

- It looks like you live in your car. And you could. If you don't mind eating Cheerios that were one crispy but then sat on the floor mat so long they became stale and then had chocolate milk spat on them and became soggy and then sat on the floor mat some more and soaked up all the milk in the puddle and became kind of gluey and gray.

- You're like Dory the fish when it comes to giving your toddler chances to be adorable with the baby. It doesn't matter how many times the toddler lies down on the baby's face, if there's good light coming in through the window you'll be like, "Chicken? Want to come snuggle with the baby?"

- Sometimes they both scream at the same time and you become a monster. Here's how I get through it:

1. Try not to black out.
2. Apologize when it's over.

Chicken: We do bees go from flower to flower?

Me: To pollinate.

Chicken: What's pollinate.

Me: (sigh) (coffee) WELL. It's like if you were in the sandbox, okay?

Chicken: Okay.

Me: And you were playing, playing, playing, in the sandbox, but then you saw another sandbox and you decided you wanted to check out that sandbox. So you left the first sandbox and ran to the second sandbox, but when you did that you had sand from the first sandbox in your shoes and hair and clothes and stuff.

So when you got to the second sandbox, that first-sandbox-sand fell into the second sandbox, and then as that first sandbox sand was falling into the second sandbox, while you were playing in the second sandbox I mean, you also got some sand from the second sandbox in your shoes and clothes and hair and stuff, along with maybe a little but of the first-sand-box-sand that's still on you.

So then when you went to the third sandbox you were dropping off sand from the first sandbox and the second sandbox in the third sandbox, but not all of it, and also collecting sand from the third sandbox to bring to the fourth sandbox.

All this sand exchange is what keeps the sandboxes healthy and happy.

So basically flowers are sandboxes and you're a bee. Got it?

Chicken: Um.

Me: Eat your oatmeal.

that doesn't make a lot of sense mommy
because
bees don't like sand

Me: Guys? I'm tired. Let's do something easy. Let's watch a movie while daddy picks up dinner.

Chicken: YAAAAAAAY!!!

Buster: YAAAAAAAAY!!!

Chicken: Let's get the movie basket!!!

Buster: ELMO!!!

Chicken: No, Buster, you don't want that one. It one has Mr. Noodle.

Buster: (looks up at me with terror in his eyes, whispers) No... no Mr. Noodle...

Me: How about this Road Construction one! It has trucks!

no but you should have heard the way i said trucks
it wasn't like
trucks
it was like
TRUUUUUUCKS!!!

Chicken: Nah.

Buster: Elmo!

Me: The Lion King?

as soon as i said it I was like
oh shit
please
please no


Chicken: Nah.

Me: Good call.

Buster: (opens Elmo dvd case)

Me: Baby? Remember, that one has Mr. Noodle.

Buster: (drops DVD case, dives under a blanket)

me: how about this magic school bus one? it has
A BUUUUUUUS
and
STAAAAAAAARS

Chicken: Mm.

Me: Garbage Monsters?

Chicken: Nghth.

Me: Is that a no?

Him: Pthlblb.

Me: Despicable Me 2?


Buster: Yeah!

Chicken: Not enough animals.

Me: Finding Nemo?

Chicken: Too scary.

Buster: Elmo!

Me: Cars 2?

Chicken: Too sad.

Me: (cracks a 40, sparks a blunt)
Chicken: Oh! Hey! let's watch Up.

WHAT

Me: Wait. So Cars 2 was too sad.

Chicken: Yeah.

Me: but Up is not too sad.

Chicken: Yeah! Up!

Buster: Up! Up! Up! 

Me: Chicken, Cars 2 is about a redneck tow truck with a catchphrase that blunders through Europe as an accidental spy. Up is about loneliness, mortality, and dreams that will never come true. Up the saddest movie ever made.

Buster: Doooooooown...

Me: Chicken, do you remember Up at all?

Chicken: Yeah I do!

Me: Tell me. What's Up about.

Chicken: (looks at case) Um... It's about... A guy who wears glasses... And a funny kid...

Me: Kinda, but nope.

Chicken: ... and dogs and birds and balloons...

Me: Nope.

Chicken: It's about squirrels.

Buster: Squirrels!

Me: Nope. Mom veto. Sorry kiddo.

Chicken: Ok. Then I pick Elmo.

Buster: Elmo!

Me: Wait but this one has Mr. Noodle. Is that ok, Buster?

Buster: Yeah yeah yeah yeah!


turns out
it was not okay
And the moral of the story is...

NEVER GET TIRED BECAUSE NOTHING IS EVER EASY.

And the other moral of the story is...

MOM ALWAYS GETS THE DINNER.
Round Two is a series of posts about having that second kid. 


When it comes to the question of whether the second kid is easier or harder, nobody ever gives it to you straight. Everyone's all like well it depends on the kids and it depends on you and spiritual hoodoo and misty woo-woo and you do you and no matter what just try to stay present...

Everyone hedges. Except me. I'm here to tell you the truth about having a second baby. For I am a truth-teller. It's a blessing... and a curse.

Ready?

THE SECOND KID IS EASIER.

Why?

Glad you asked.


TERROR ALERT: meh.

First kid spits up onto the floor:

OH MY GOD DID HE JUST THROW UP? 
How can you tell if it's spit up or vomit? 
It smells like stomach acid! 
IT'S TOTALLY VOMIT. 
Oh my god I had cheese for lunch. 
He's allergic to milk. I read about this on BabyCenter.
Oh baby I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to poison you with my cheese milk. 
I'M OFF DAIRY FOR ONE YEAR STARTING TODAY. 
AND LET'S GO TO URGENT CARE. 
YES, NOW.
HE PROBABLY HAS AN ULCER.

Second kid spits up onto the floor:

Hey-o! (wipes it up with sock foot) (eats more cheese)

(Quick note about the first-time-reflux-panic scenario: I loathe the "first-time-mom hysteria" trope. Everyone always talks about first-time moms like they haven't got the sense of a concussed chicken, worrying about things like "choking hazards" and "reflux" and "SIDS." Oh, those silly dum-dums, worrying about maintaining the lives of the people they created. Oh those sweet little twits, reading about lead. I've written about safety-shaming before, and I stand by what I said, that another mom's worry is only her business and it you feel like making fun of her for taking her responsibility seriously and doing parenting the way that makes her feel happy and safe, then you sir, are a garlic fart. The above scenario actually happened to me, so I'm not painting first-time moms with that garlic fartstick of a brush. Only myself.)

It's not that you care less about second kid's welfare. It's just that you know that the bodies of babes do a lot of wacky shit when they're gearing up and working out the kinks. Every breath sounds like a death rattle. They ooze fluids, poop all the colors of the rainbow, twitch, snort, and wheeze-laugh in their sleep. 

You will still find yourself in Urgent Care with baby #2. But it's not gonna be because of one energetic urp incident.


Milestones Schmilestones

With your first kid, you're like "so I should start solids at 6 months, right?" Exactly at six months, at the half-birthday party with party hats cut in half and a semicircle cake, you offer the first pureed sweet potato, and carefully note his response in your Baby Food Log: january 18: subject appeared confused and alarmed at the approaching baby spoon. When I inserted the spoon into his mouth, he kind of poked his tongue in and out, goggled his eyes in what I can only assume was shock and sensory overload, and began to cry. I think it must be the spoons. I have already ordered an assortment of new spoons.


perhaps
we should try banana


With the second kid, you're smearing a fingertip of avocado on his tongue whenever he points to it. 4 months, 10 months, whatever. Kid's gonna eat eventually.

With your first kid, you're like, "He's already ten months old and he hasn't even walked yet. What if he never learns to walk? Should we call a specialist? That would be crazy, right? Or no, am I already too late?" and then he learns to walk and you're like, "Oh shit, God. You were totes right. We can wait on the walking." So with the second kid you're like "Madison, sit ya butt down, sister. You're only ten months old, which is the perfect time for the first lesson of womanhood: Don't be too eager; big winners make big targets. Play it safe."

So many of the guidelines and expectations that you cling to as a first-time parent simply fall away on your second go-round. When you're a first-timer, you seek out experts who have written books with vague estimates about when children usually do childreny things - it's the only concrete report card we ever get. Milestones are the SATs of parenting: in a process that is complex and personal, random and flawed, we cling to these finite little packages of data so we know where we stack up against the neighbors, and more specifically, the neighbors' kids.

Luckily, with the second kid you don't need those arbitrary data points, because you've already sat through a kindermusik class with 10 8-month-olds, and half were crawling, and 2 weren't even sitting up, and 1 was already trying to walk, and 1 slept the whole fucking time. And everyone wanted the sleeping one.


You Know Where the Goods Are Buried

When you had the first baby, you struggled to maintain your self-respect, even as you were forced to demote your own needs from first to second place. Even as you looked back on a day in which nothing - NOTHING - got done. 

When you have the second baby, you've already mastered the art of giving no shits about self-respect, so moving your needs from second place to third is a piece of cake. You no longer keep a list. Every day's goal: stay out of the news.

Let me clarify: it's not that parents don't have self-respect. It's just that we don't store it in our stylish hairstyles and/or chiseled abs anymore. We've read The Three Little Pigs enough times to recognize a house made of straw. We know what happens when the wind picks up.

Nope, we build houses of stone for our self-respect. Mine lives in my children's lips when they pucker and grin as they pronounce the word "please," at the table. Where do you keep your self-respect?

right here
in my giant mane
of dirty hair
that stands up by itself
like tin pants
on my head
that are made of hair

i went to hot yoga
so
that's why it's dirty

i went to hot yoga
two days ago

#selfrespect



#Squad 

(#IHateMyselfForThisReference
#I'mDoingItAnyway
#AlsoI'mDoingHashtagsWrong
#IsItIrony
#OrJustACowardBuyingIntoPopCultureHalfway
#SoICanStillMakeFunOfIt
#EvenIfIKindOfLoveIt)

When you were pregnant with the first kid, you had to scrap a whole team together, like the first third of every sports movie ever, except without the punchy soundtrack, and rarely does adorably grumpy Tom Hanks pull you aside to tell you that you have a gift and you owe it to yourself to see this thing through. You had to get a pediatrician, a lactation consultant, a dentist, a play gym, a zoo membership, a friend with a baby around the same age who you actually trust and respect and enjoy... that shit is exhausting and takes an enormous amount of time and energy.

Having your second? Girl, you are hooked up. Not only do you have all your health care providers on lock, but you've probably already popped your Urgent Care cherry, so you know where to park and which elevator to take if there's a minor emergency on a Saturday night.

You have a friend, or two, or ten, with kids the same age, and between all of those friends you are one degree of separation from all of the following:

- pediatric allergist
- pediatric asthma specialist
- pediatric physical therapist
- pediatric occupational therapist
- postpartum psychiatrist (for you, ya nutty squirrel)
- bilingual nanny
- reliable babysitter
- sleep consultant
- postpartum doula
- meal service
- cleaning service

With your network, you can borrow a pack'n'play, a stroller, a car seat cover for the airplane. You can borrow a Moby, and Ergo, a Gemini, just to see if you like it.

You have someone you can have this text conversation with:

You: !!!!!!
Her: <3
You: WTF
Her: you've got this mama
You: thanks girl
Her: xo

If you're reading this blog, I'm in your network, too. If you want.



Done Is Better Than Perfect


With your first kid everyone told you not to try to be perfect and you smiled and nodded and said,"That's great advice. You're so right," but we all know that on the inside you were thinking, "That's great advice... for you, who could not hack it on the perfect mom track. BUT I AM STRONGER. The world will never know a better mother. Every time I nurse it's gonna be 14 minutes per side and he will never spit up and he will be sleeping three days from today, mark my words, and he will always be wearing harem pants and beanies and HIS FIRST WORD WILL BE NAMASTE."

Second kid? You've already internalized the fundamental truth that the only "perfect way" is the way that fucking works this time.



You already know that consistency is a pipe dream, that in fact it does your kids a disservice when you refuse to adapt, flex, verbalize your decision-making process.

With the second kid, you're free from the burden of perfection-seeking. Not just because you've done it once and made it through, but because you have the aforementioned network of friends and they all did shit differently from you and they all made it through, too.


Parent Identity? Check.

By the time you're pooping out #2 you've read enough books and witnessed enough parent triumphs and fails to have a sense of how you're generally going to handle things.

You already know whether it's more important that you cook organic low-sugar meals from scratch, or more important that you write a blog. FOR EXAMPLE.

When Chicken was born I didn't know much about who I wanted to be as a parent, other than perfect, obviously. By the time Buster was born I knew a few things for certain:

1. My #1 priority is not a clean house, laundry, dishes, bathrooms, or yard.
2. I don't co-sleep.
3. When kids feel better, they do better - I'd rather spend time working on the emotional foundation of a problem than distract or bribe our way out of it every time it comes up.
4. I am not too good to leave a full cart of food in the middle of the cereal aisle if there's a blowout, meltdown, or other natural disaster.
5. I do not judge my parent friends for anything. Ever.

Sure, I had to remodel that identity once the second kid arrived - I'd just created another permanent family member and that shit has CONSEQUENCES. But it was a relief to not have to build myself from scratch again.



CHAOS IS MY BUSINESS 
AND BROTHER, BUSINESS IS GOOD


"I'm a bit of a control freak" is right up there with "I hate radio commercials," and "I love french onion soup," on the list of "Things Everyone Says As If It Is Unique To Them, But It's Not, Because It's True For Everyone On Earth You Guys Because French Onion Soup Is ABSURDLY Delicious."

Babies are antithetical to control. New babies know fuck-all about routines, consistency, predictability. In fact, their total disregard for human habituation is one of the things that makes new babies such weird fucking aliens. AWAKE and HUNGRY at 3:47 am? That's not a mealtime I've ever heard of, unless you're getting a lukewarm slice of cheese from The Boot on your way back to the dorms with vodka crans leaking out of your pores. 

Most new babies don't do routines, and they don't respond to structure, and they just do fucking baby explosion all over your life and before you know it you're awake all night and scrambled eggs are for dinner and up is down and it's snowing in July. For a species that rises with the sun, this kind of chaos is a foundation-cracker.

The first time the baby sleeps 6 hours straight you text everyone you know and say, "I think we've got a sleeper!" And then your fragile hope is crushed under the tiny sock embroidered to look like a steel-toed construction boot, when the baby does not sleep again for seven days and nights. TELL ME WHY! you scream to the heavens. And the heavens shrug and say, "It's a fucking baby, dude. Wait it out. Babies turn into people eventually."

Your first time out of the gate, the chaos feels apocalyptic. Your second time out of the gate, it's just fucking Wednesday.

Say what you will about the challenges of the second kid, but at least you're at home in the tilted world by now.


Top Gear: A Prayer of Thanks

Dear Sweet Baby Jesus, thank you for your endless mercy in sparing us from the eye-clawing agony of having to re-learn how to open and close the stroller, install the car seat, set up the pack'n'play, wear the Ergo infant insert, use the breast pump, operate the sanitizer, program the white noise machine, not strangle anyone with the swaddler, clean the high chair, get through airport security, take a rectal temperature, and change the batteries for everything.

Amen.


Familiar Territory

Think of yourself as a self-taught mountaineer who is gearing up to summit Everest... again.

Unlike the first time, you know your body weather the storm.
Unlike the first time, you know how it feels to be the only person on Earth you can see through the snow.
Unlike the first time, you know that if you get in a tight spot, you are smart enough, tough enough, resourceful enough to survive.

Climbing Everest will never be easy. Every time you do it will be a test of your endurance, strength, and cunning. But you've done it once already.


You're An Addict

No other way to put it, my friend. 

You need this. You need the baby smell. You need the warm face, the puckered sleepy lips. You need the downy hair, the belly as round, good, warm, and full as a cake you baked from scratch.

The second kid is easier. Because you're hooked.


So, okay. Obviously, no question about it. Second kid is easier.


OBVIOUSLY.


(TO BE CONTINUED...)
I got a splinter at the Children's Museum. It happened in the construction zone, where I saw at least four children cough on the wood, and another one pulled his hand out of his anus to casually run an invisible poop smear across the entire stack of lumber.

At the Children's Museum, the CDC recommends hot zone gear.

At the Children's Museum, you thank God for the seal of your skin.

At the Children's Museum, penetration = death.

No... oh God... no...

I pulled the large splinter out of the pad of my right ring finger, washed my hands with soap and hot water, and immediately applied a C-3PO band-aid. I lit a candle. I prayed.

hail mary full of grace
our lord is with thee
blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the fruit of they womb,
jesus
holy mary mother of god
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death
amen
ps
oh hey mary
almost forgot but
my splinter really hurts
thx

But the wound did not heal.

This morning, two days later, I took off my band-aid.

Where I expected to see a pinprick, an inflamed but empty splinter-hole (see also: Donald Trump), instead I found an abscess, a hot, puffed-up, pus-filled bulge (see also: Donald Trump.)

That's right.

I pulled out the mother splinter at the Children's Museum. But that splinter left something behind. A SPLINTER BABY, tiny, angry, and strong... so strong...

It lay in the fecund womb of my finger skin, slowly poisoning me with the nuclear cocktail of whatever ungodly plagues that ten thousand children have wiped, coughed, licked, spat, picked, crapped, and blew chunks all over the splintery pieces of wood at the Children's Museum.

Reader, I have accepted the probability of my fate. I have no choice but courage now. And if you are made of such mettle that you'll join the fight, now is the hour.

Listen very carefully because there's not much time.

First, call a priest. Any priest will do. Honestly, it could be a rabbi. An imam. You neighbor who's a yoga teacher. Your cousin who got certified to perform weddings at Burning Man, he'll do. Is he wearing pants? Actually, pants optional. Just get him here. I need someone standing by to pronounce the final rites, should this thing go more quickly than expected.

Second, boil the tweezers and get some twine, a dish of hot water, torn petticoat fabric, a bottle of Jim Beam, and a leather strap to put between my teeth. THERE'S NO TIME TO WAIT FOR THE DOCTOR.

Third, and this is important, bolt a set of Civil War-era shackles to the wall in the garage and construct a pen of iron bars, cemented seven feet deep in the ground and welded to maximum strength. You must do this before the next full moon. I might be a werewolf now.

Fourth, gaze upon my necrotic flesh, the tip of a finger that I always thought of as reliable, humble, and a bit cheeky. Do not dwell upon his deformed and bilious form - remember instead the rosy, round curve of yesterday, the ironic humor with which he hit the "o" key on the keyboard, his steadfast support of the back of the iPhone whenever we needed to take a quick selfie.

Good night, sweet prince. If the Gods favor our cause I may see you again, perhaps in this fatal world, perhaps in the golden fields of Elysium where you can be made whole once again, free from the wounds of mortal flesh, for all time.

READER, LEND ME YOUR STRENGTH as I tweeze my own finger, using the needle-tips of the tool to pull the wound apart, to dig, with teeth clenched, in the rubbery and unyielding flesh of my own body to find a sliver of pure evil.

LEND ME YOUR PRAYERS as I destroy my body to save it.

(dramatic reenactment)

My tweezers brush against the eyelash of wood with an inaudble click, and with a scream to the heavens, I extract the hideous beast in a pool of pus and blood and a gushing stream of hydrogen peroxide.

i cast you out
you heathen spawn
you belong to your father
the devil
and you want to carry out his desires
but you shant
you shannot
not today
not in this lady
you're getting flushed down the toilet
you little shit
say what's up
to all the poop for me
Wow you guys, that feels so much better.

i tell my son
when he explains that the stegosaurus had spiky plates on its back
to protect it from predators
who wanted to eat it all up




i say 
baby
you're growing inside and out.

when boys grow inside and out
you hope you've raised them gently;

when girls grow inside and out
you hope you've raised them strong.

girls grow up inside;
they grow up out;
and before you know it
"honey"
starts to sound
different
when it drips
from the lips
of men with sweet teeth.

you need to know 3 things
before i go any further:

1. i was not beautiful
the first time a grown man
blew me a slow kiss.
i was bespectacled
and slouching,
selecting a steno pad at a gas station
and seven years old.

2. i was not beautiful
the first time a classmate
passed me in the hall
and turned to holler
nice whoppers
as his friends fist-pumped and cheered.
i was bespectacled
and slouching
and holding a hardback stephen king book
wrapped in plastic from the library,
pressed against my aching chest.
i was thirteen.

3. i was beautiful 
on my wedding day
and nobody said
or did
a goddamned thing
to remind me
that i was about to get fucked.

if it were a compliment
men wouldn't say it
only
when we're alone.

if it were a compliment
why does it feel
like they're prowling,
like they're sounding,
scratching the stone of my face
to see if i'm hard,
if i crumble.

if it were a compliment
i would not have to take out my headphones
and check over my shoulder
at the approach of every jogger
until i shoot the deadbolt home.

cut the shit,
animal of a man.
it's not a compliment.

his voice
his face
his body, rising from the bench as i walk by,
they are a reminder that if i pass
whole
it is because
he allowed it.

he stood up as i approached
nodding
framing me in his hands
like a subject
"oh honey
you got a sexy ass body baby
i know you can hear me
hey
hey
HEY
smile, bitch."

two passed me on the well-lit street
where i chose to walk
when the light got low
and they reached a consensus
out loud
as they turned around
to follow me back they way they'd come.

"that's a beautiful woman,"
said the first.
"mmmmmmm
very nice,"
said the second.
"so nice," agreed the first.

i was not beautiful.
i was alone.

being the mother of sons has given me
the perfect explanation
for the tingling in a woman's back
when she knows the man behind her
is not going anywhere
except where she goes.

we will our skin to sprout armor.
we
the smaller, slower species
wish for bodies
that could shatter the jaws of predators.

i was not beautiful.
i was alone.

after they turned back
with a final
blown
kiss
i let my mind rehearse
what i'd do if they came back
(that house has its lights on)
what i'd do if someone was waiting behind that wall
(better to walk in the street)

i let my mind wonder
(should i have done anything differently?)

i wish
i'd stopped walking
and turned
and screwed a stare into them
until they grew uncomfortable
(but then what)
(then you've dared them)
until they grew hostile
and cocky?
and needing to prove?
and then what?

even silence is dangerous.

i wish
i'd turned
and charged them
screamed and pounded my chest
and spat and thrown garbage at them
and bared my teeth and growled
"my skin is plated armor
and i'll break your jaws
you try to eat me up
motherfucker."

i wish i'd gone crazy
enough to pit their stomachs.

i wish the sight of my face
peeled open
would follow them home
so they'd hurry along
checking over their shoulder
at the sound of every jogger.
i wish they'd be
embarrassed.

i wish all of us would do this.

i wish men would get nervous
when they see our smaller bodies walking
closer
closer
is this one okay?
or is this one
a stegosaurus too?

i wish every time they worried,
they remembered every time before.
maybe then they'd understand
our cumulative dread
of eye contact.

i wish women would murmur under their breaths
at men
sitting on benches alone at dusk
"oh honey
you got a hungry look in your eye

but i have 17 plates 
sewn into the skin of my spine
and they are there to make you bleed
if you try to take a bite out of me
bitch."



Listen, I don't usually toot my own horn, but beep beep, motherfuckers.

My parenting tonight was ON POINT.

My children have been fundamentally altered by my emotional and intellectual brilliance.

Pretty sure that tonight is gonna be mentioned in your history books. 96% positive that Blue Ivy will crush her first solo album based on songs that were inspired by my parenting, on this night,  tonight.

Don't believe me?

Pull up a chair and let me tell you the tale of a conflict as old as time. Step aside, man versus nature; pipe down, man versus self. Tonight, I solved toddler versus toothbrush.

Tonight, I watched Chicken kick off his nightly citizen activist performance art piece entitled "There is no fucking way you are brushing my teeth."

In Act I, he focuses on externalizing the internal conflict between freedom and duty, as well as the complex hierarchical construct of parent-child and dentist-patient power dynamics. (He slaps his hands over his mouth and shakes his head no, like, really hard.)

Act II kicks off with a rousing call to action, as he determinedly casts off the shackles of expectation and audaciously raises his voice to give form to the question on the lips of every man, woman, and child whose soul cries out for answers to this, most eternal question. You can try to answer him all you want, but as he will show you, there is no answer to a question that is its own answered question. #swamitoddler. (He dives under his covers and kicks violently if you touch him, and the only words he will say, muffled as they are from beneath his hands, are, "but why?")

In Act III things go dark, as the armies of compliance, obedience, and emptiness finally overpower the lone voice calling for the freedom for unique expressions of dental hygiene. Forced into the physical act of submission, our hero returns to the primordial swamp from whence all creatures first crawled, and while his body may be humbled, his mind and soul stand proudly in an act of defiance that is both valiant and honorable. The seeds of rebellion have been scattered atop the fecund earth of progress! (We pin him down to try to brush his teeth. He spits all over. And I mean all. Over. He makes it rain.

Okay, so, that saga, every night.

Except tonight. Tonight when Act I began and the child really committed to his role in the "Not All Cavities Need Filling" movement, I said NO.

Tonight I said, "wait right here, babe. We're going to do this a little differently."

I went into the kitchen and got paper and a pen. In the tradition of all great thinkers, I knew that one must begin at the beginning, and at the beginning there is paper. And a pen. And a great thinker.

I returned to the bedroom, sat in the oversized chair, and patted my lap.

"Why do you have papers, Mommy?" He trotted over and climbed into my lap, as alert as a puppy at this change of plans.

"I'm going to tell you a little story about why Daddy and I work so hard to make sure your teeth are clean."

"And are you going to draw pictures, too?"

"Of course I am!"

And when you look upon them you will weep, and you will turn your eyes to heaven and say "how, Lord? How is it possible that such profound truth lives here, tonight?" 

And the Lord will say, "because your mother is the Jesus of Mothers. Here in heaven we actually all talk about her as if she was Jesus. If someone stubs their toe they're like KATIE CHRIST that smarts! And then someone usually tsks and says "don't take Katie's name in vain," and then we light our Katie candles and sing "What a Friend We Have in Katie."

"Yay!" He sighed the word out, and it felt like I'd cracked the case. His expression of relief was a clue that I was on the right path. I'm so good at momming you guys.

"This is Chicken." I drew a large oval, two big eyes, a straight fringe of bangs across his forehead, two quick squiggles of ears, another for a nose, and then an enormous gaping semi-circle for his mouth."

"Chicken loves pie." I drew pie. Chicken giggled. "When Chicken eats pie, what does he say?"

"Yum!" Chicken cried out, pumping a fist in the air. This is so working. I am awesome. #creativeproblemsolving #iamthebest #sorrynotsorry #learnfromthis #learnfromme #jesusofmoms





"Look at Chicken's beautiful, strong teeth! Hmm... they look like they have some sugar on them from the sweet pie. Sugar makes teeth have holes in them, which is why Chicken always brushes his teeth after he eats sweets." I drew a toothbrush.

Chicken was beaming, tracing the wedge of pie with his finger. I was smiling. Not smugly. Just like a person who is fucking nailing it and is aware of that fact in the moment of the nailing. Not smug though. Just like, "SEE? SEE, RYAN?" But not in a smug way.

Ryan sat in the chair next to me, probably weeping at the glory of my parenting but I didn't want to like check in with him because I wanted him to weep at how focused I was on engaging with Chicken.

I paused. Timing was key.

"Uh oh..." I said, sweeping out a fresh piece of paper from the stack and laying it on top of the happiest picture in the world.

"Here is Chicken again... See? Here's his head... eyes... nose... ears... hair... and here's his mouth again... except..."

I paused again. THE WORLD HELD ITS BREATH. When I spoke again, it was barely a whisper.




"... OH NO this time he hasn't been brushing his teeth. And oh, look what haaaaaaappened!"






I wouldn't be surprised if our neighbors called 911.

That was the quality of the screaming when I drew those shattered, broken stalactite teeth in the picture of my son that I was drawing FOR MY SON.

AT BEDTIME.

YEAH you guys, I've been totally joking this whole blog post. It was all a joke! All of it! All the "look how awesome I am" and "#jesusofmoms" stuff? THOSE ARE HILARIOUS JOKES because I am a demented maniac who should not be allowed to speak to my children without first getting signed approval from a court-appointed social worker.

Remember the time I was like "Hmmm. What would be a creative and engaging way to show him that brushing your teeth is important," and I really swung for the fences?

Remember that time I was like, do you have your choo-choo jam jams on? Do you have your tigey-slippies on so your widdle toes stay toasty-woasty?

Oh good, now look at this picture I just drew of a spine-chilling monster with a mouth full of tooth shards! Oh, and did I mention that THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOU?

Okay, good night sweetheart! Sweet dreams! (Turns off lights and leaves the room. The door clicks shut in the dark.)



"NO MOMMY! PLEASE! DON'T DRAW THE CRUMBLY TEETH! I DON'T WANT THE CRUMBLYS!" He covered his eyes and curled into a ball. "I'll brush them, Mommy! I'll brush my teeth forever! Please don't ever draw me like that again!"

CAN WE GET A SLOW CLAP GOING FOR KATIE, FOLKS!


His terror isn't actually the worst part of this story.

The worst part is that I was pretty pleased at how tooth brushing went, actually.

Pretty smooth, when all was said and drawn.

Beep beep.
Here's the problem with advice:
It only works if you've been there.
And I promise
you have never been there.

If you had a baby on the same day (you didn't)
and you lived next door (you didn't)
and you bought the same crib (you didn't)
and your babies got the same illnesses at the same time (they didn't)
and they both slept or didn't sleep the same way (they didn't)
you would still have no idea
where that parent is right now.

Here's the problem with advice:
Mostly, all we hear is:
"I see you're having a problem.
I'm not interested in whether you're okay,
or what you're thinking about.
I just want to make sure you know
that I know
better than you do
how to do you.
Clearly, you are not handling this well."

I'm not talking about rude advice. I'm not talking about the time an elderly Seahawks fan helpfully diagnosed my son with ADHD, or the time Buster pushed a door and accidentally pinched another mom's finger in a door, and she put her palm in my face and said, "could you... just... control him, please?"

I'm talking about friend-to-friend advice, sincere, I-care-about-you, I-think-I-can-help-with-this advice.

A lot of it... still sucks.

Moms tackle our friends' problems with the same fiercely practical, short-handed love with which we teach our children how to pick a good apple out of the bin:


you want a firm apple
with no bruises
no
not that one
look
that one has a bruise
put it down
okay so no bruises
no cuts or blemishes on the skin
no
no
look
that one has a big split in the skin
see?
you don't want that one
here
take this one
this is a good one

We just want them to have a good apple. But we end up railroading them, and the whole lesson on apple-selection turns into kind of a condescending farce when after explaining how the child can recognize the elements of a good apple, you just end up picking the apple that you think is best.

At the end of the day we cannot forget that it's not our apple to eat, right? It's not our child, our family, or our choice.

Our advice has to be an optional byproduct of our friendship, empathy, and support, not a band-aid we slap on the wrong finger, without consent.

Here are some of the most well-meaning but ultimately bad pieces of advice I've heard, and here are the better ways to say that.


Just give him some formula.

What You Meant: You seem really worried about breastfeeding, and I'm worried about you. Buy yourself some breathing room for the price of a can of Similac. Cut yourself some slack. You will master this skill, I promise, and until you do, you will not let your baby go hungry. Breastfeeding is not worth your sanity. Just give him some formula.

What I Heard: You are clearly not handling this well. You're limping. You need a crutch. Maybe breastfeeding is too hard for you. You're probably not going to master this skill, and I'm worried that the baby is going to go hungry. Just give him some formula.

The Better Way: Breastfeeding is so hard. For me, it was the hardest part of new parenthood. I remember feeling like it was such a heavy personal responsibility, like it was urgent that I not fail. I know you will nourish your baby, no matter what. Listen, I have a half a can of formula that we're done with. It was like my security blanket formula. Just having it in the pantry made me feel a little bit more relaxed and like I could just take the time to learn my way around breastfeeding without worrying whether the baby was hungry. I'd be happy to drop it off if you want? With some muffins?


Oh, you don't have to worry about that.

What You Meant: Everything is going to be okay.

What I Heard: You're naive. And clearly not handling this well.

The Better Way: Oh, I remember reading about that! It was really scary. Luckily, that's not something that happens very often. Here. Have a muffin. Are you concerned about your baby?



Chill out. We all survived, right?

What You Meant: I see you fretting over insignificant parenting details that our parents never worried about. It seems like a waste of energy to me, and I want to reassure you that you're doing fine and your child is safe.

What I Heard: You're hysterically overreacting. Also, clearly not handling this well. Also, you've been watching too much local news.

The Better Way: You are such a thoughtful parent. Let's grab a muffin so you can tell me why you're worried about that.



Take care of yourself.

What You Meant: I love you. I want to take care of you.

What I Heard: You look like shit. You are clearly not handling this well.

The Better Way: When can we go get muffins and pedicures?



Don't forget to eat breakfast, okay?

What You Meant: I worry that you're working so hard and running on empty.

What I Heard: Let me add another thing to your to-do list that you won't be able to cross off without sacrificing something else from the to-do list. Also, in case you're wondering, you're still not handling this well. 

The Better Way: I'm dropping off some muffins and yogurt today, okay?



These are all variations on a trend: 

Bad Advice: A mandate, comprised of worthwhile advice, but laid out without full understanding of the parent's state of mind or point of view. 

What You Meant: I love you and want to help, quickly and efficiently.

What I Heard: You are a mess and clearly not handling this well. 

The Better Way: An attempt to relate to the parent's feelings; a genuine sharing of the experience; a sincere question to seek understanding; concrete gestures of support; muffins.


The better way starts with "I understand." If you don't understand, then the better way starts with, "tell me more."

The better way tells your friend that you trust her judgment. 

The better way shows your friend that you are on her team.

The better way always, ALWAYS ends with muffins.

AND NOT VEGAN ONES EITHER.


I paused “Bones,” my favorite show to eat enchiladas to, when I heard the whimpered word through the walls. “Mommy.”

It wasn’t the magpie-screech that grinds from his throat when he’s ready to be done with his afternoon nap.

It wasn’t the train-whistle shriek that arrows straight to the base of my skull when Buster’s hand, the same size as his now, snatches his book from his lap.

It was a sob.

I ran down the hall and threw open the door.

“What’s wrong, baby?”

He wore a pair of light blue footie pajamas patterned with chubby airplanes and puffy white clouds.  They were just a little too small, the once-crewneck now more of a gentle scoop.

He stood in the middle of the floor, his face red and streaked with tears.

“Mommy, I’m worried,” he choked.

“What are you worried about, baby?” I said the words as I swept him up in my arms, his hot body. It’s too warm for footie pajamas. I have to clean out his dresser again. I lay him down in bed and climbed in beside him, curling around him as he shook.

“I’m worried…” I could see him think his worry the instant before he said it out loud. I could see the sob gather in his crumpling face. “I’m worried that you threw away Peach Pit.”


_


Peach Pit is a peach pit. Chicken ate a peach this morning at the grocery store and when I went to put the slippery pit in the store’s compost bin he screamed the way a person might if they saw a jumper let go. Heads turned.

“What’s wrong, baby?”

“That’s Peach Pit and she’s my very special friend. I don’t want you to throw her away.” He stretched out the last syllable of “away,” so it became the vehicle for his tears.

“But this is a peach pit, baby. It doesn’t go in the trash. It goes in the compost. It goes with other pieces of natural food to a beautiful sunny farm, where it goes into the ground and helps new food grow. Kind of like a food Mommy or a Daddy!”

“I don’t want Peach Pit to go in the ground! She’ll be scared! She has to stay with me FOR EVER!”

I wrapped Peach Pit in a napkin with surgical delicacy. Of course Peach Pit could stay with us forever. We were at the grocery store and the intensity of his fear tightened my chest.

We walked home talking about what to eat for lunch and when we unclipped and went upstairs, he left Peach Pit in the stroller seat, the napkin that I’d wrapped so carefully now soaked in peach juice and crumpled into a ball just the size of Chicken’s fist.


_


“I didn’t throw away Peach Pit, baby. She’s in the stroller.”

Even as I used a personal pronoun, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. We’ve always tried to be clear about what is imaginary and what is real. When Chicken worries about monsters in his bedroom, we simply say that monsters are not real and there are no monsters in the room. People imagine monsters sometimes to play games, or to write silly stories, but monsters are not real. To tell him that we will protect him from monsters feels like a brutal mercy, because to make that promise makes true two terrible lies: Yes, monsters are real, and yes, you need to be protected from them.

“But I don’t want you to throw her away.”

“I know you don’t, baby. I didn’t. She’s just downstairs in the stroller. We can keep her for as long as you want.”

“For EVER.”

“Okay, forever. No problem. But if you ever decide that you’re ready to let Peach Pit go to the farm, I just want to remind you that it’s beautiful there and that she won’t get smashed up or anything—“

He pressed his face into my chest and clung to me with each finger.

“Please, Mommy. Don’t throw her away. Don’t make her go away.”


_


In February as we left Costco a grease-stained napkin flew off the top of his pizza slice and soared away in the bitter winter wind. I held his hand in the car the whole way home as he sobbed these same sobs, racking, profound grief in each heaving wail. “But I love my napkin so much! I don’t want a car to crush it! I don’t want the birds to eat it!” He cried until he found a numb calm, staring out the window at the highway traffic. Then he remembered his napkin, whom he loved so, so much, and his moan, like a tornado warning siren you have to crank up to full volume, began again.

The last time I’d seen that cycle of desolation and devastation was the night my sister’s twin daughters were born, the two of them born in the same quiet second, wrapped in each other’s arms.

_


I stroked his hair and said, “It seems like you’re really worried about things going away.” He nodded. “Are you worried about other things, like not food things, going away?”

He closed his eyes and gathered his chin. “I don’t want to go away.”

I squeezed him even tighter. “You’re not going away, baby."

"Mommy," he looked up at the ceiling and said, “I don’t want to die.”

_


When I was four or five I asked my parents what would happen to my sisters and me if they died.

“Well, you’d go to live with Uncle Kevin and Aunt Sue.”

My face crumpled as I wailed, “I don’t want to live with Uncle Kevin and Aunt Sue!”

When I was nine or ten I cultivated a spooky and precocious fascination with books about the Holocaust. I never had nightmares; the stories comforted me. There was something about reading those terrible stories that made me feel like I was building strength against my enemy. Like death was an enemy I could defeat.

When I was 21 I had a full-blown panic attack watching Hook. Think about it – there’s a magic world where you never grow old and die, but we do not live in it.

All this to say, this is all my fault. I poisoned his blood before he was even born.

All this to say, my heart is broken. I have dropped through the same air in the same pit. I haven’t found its bottom.

But he’s so small.

_

A month ago I came into the bedroom where Chicken has been doing his afternoon quiet time. He sat in the bed in a scatter of Berenstain Bears books. I said, “everything okay in here?” And he nodded, wide-eyed.

I was about to close the door again when a bus drove by the window. Why is the traffic so loud? I went to the window, pulled open the drapes, and gasped. The blinds had been pulled up, the sliding window was open, and the screen lay two stories below on the cement driveway.

“Did you open the window?”

He nodded.

“Chicken, you cannot do that without a grown-up in the room.”

“I wanted to say hi to the birds!”

I sat on the bed and put my hands on his shoulders. “Chicken, did you see how far down the ground is?”

He nodded solemnly. “Yeah. It’s very far down.”

“Chicken, you could fall out of that window and get so badly hurt.”

“Oh.”

“Chicken, do you understand? If you fell out of that window you would fall for such a long way. You could break your body on the hard ground. Do you understand? You could die. And if you left the window open and Buster climbed up on the dresser, he could fall out of the window, and fall and long way down, and die.”

“But not if I was wearing shoes and landed on my feet, right?"

“Then you would at least have two broken legs and you could still die. And if you died I would want to die, do you understand? I cannot live without you, do you understand?”

In hindsight, maybe I hit it a little too hard.

All this to say, this is all my fault.

I wanted him to be afraid.

_

"I don't want to die."

“Oh… Baby… That’s…”

You won’t. You can’t. I can’t even think about it.

I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t say, “You won’t die,” and make true a terrible lie. This is the only monster that’s real.


_


Death is a problem for which I have no solution.

He and I are both dropping through the same thin air.

He and I share the same worst nightmare: his death.

Death is a problem for which I have no solution. Years of therapy have taught me how to see the freedom in that: there is no solution to death, so I do not have to be afraid of failing to find it. I get to live my life free from the fear that I could somehow have solved the puzzle. I get to simply live, as long as I can. Therapy works for me.

Death is a problem for which there is no solution, but the fear of death is a problem that can be managed.

Many of the tools I use to minimize my anxiety are things I can pass on to Chicken, even as small as he is, even not even four, just now starting to stretch the neck of his airplane pajamas:

- Make a point to recognize beauty in your life. Remember that death isn’t the only thing that’s all around.

- Have a safe place you can go, a real one, an imaginary one, somewhere you can breathe.

- Breathe.

- Breathe slowly.

- Breathe slowly for 5 minutes.


_



“I don’t want to die.”

“Oh… Baby…That’s…

"That's… Not something that we get to decide.”

He took a deep breath and said, too loudly, “I’m not going to die FOR EVER.”

I nodded and said, “I know how it feels to be afraid of dying. All people think about that. All people are scared of that. I think about it. Daddy thinks about it. I don’t think Buster thinks about it because he’s too little, but...”

A watery chuckle bubbled up, even as another fat teardrop spilled from Chicken’s eye and fell onto his chest, the bare part that would have been covered by pajamas that fit. “I think he thinks about it.”

“You think so? Maybe he does! If he doesn’t now, he will someday. Everybody thinks about it, but nobody really gets to decide it, baby. It’s like… the weather. We don’t get to pick what weather it’s going to be, not today, not tomorrow, not ever, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And we don’t get to pick about dying, either. But the most important thing is to remember that right now, everything is okay. Right now, this minute, everyone is okay, right?”

“Right!”

“Right now there are beautiful things all around us, right?”

“Right! Like that picture!” He gestures with the wide-open, sweeping palms of a car model. We both looked at the large square canvas that hangs on the wall opposite my bed. It’s a photograph of a plant at sunset with a twiggy, banded stalk, chestnut seedpods, and white feathery tentacles as coiled and curling as kelp. I took the picture myself, on a walk with the boys, a block away from our old house.

“Yes, exactly! I hung that picture there because every time I look at it, I think about how strange and beautiful the world is, how every time we go for a walk on any old day we will see something amazing and beautiful. Let’s take some deep breaths, and after every deep breath, let’s talk about something beautiful.”

Me: Chicken’s dimples when he smiles.
Him: Flowers.
Me: Autumn leaves that skip across the street.
Him: Reading books on the couch under a blanket.
Me: When Daddy comes home every day.
Him: Daddy’s work clothes.
Me: Buster’s big smile and his laugh whenever he’s playing with Chicken.
Him: And when we give each other tight squeezes.

As we took more breaths, his awful stillness began to crack. He began to wiggle again, the uninhibited fluttering limbs of a child seeking comfort. Soon he lay with his head on my leg, his legs splayed and propped up on throw pillows in an ocean of duvet.

There should just be a law, right? There should just be a law that if a person is still wearing airplane footie pajamas, that person should only be afraid of Snow White’s wicked stepmother and toilets flushing. That person should only be afraid of produced horrors, the specter that can be switched off, explained with loving logic. If you’re still wearing airplane footie pajamas, you can’t be afraid of something real.

He saw or felt me crying, and said, in his regular, chirping voice, “Mommy? Can I give you a hug?” I nodded. He climbed back into my lap, wrapped his arms around my neck and his legs around my waist, and held on. Beautiful.