I have two young children.
It is a phrase that works itself into just about all of my situations these days. It is the explanation and excuse for most of who I am and what my world is like. I’m in the days of whines and (runny) noses. My two young children, a one-and-a-half-year-old and a three-and-a-half-year-old, are the biggest influences in my life right now. Their existence shapes mine. I am tired. I am distracted. I am full of love, and I am weighed down by the responsibility to “do it all right.” I drop this phrase into conversation an annoying amount these days, I’m sure, but lately I have the compulsion to try and explain myself in this moment of life. And “I have two young children” pretty much sums it up.
What does it mean to have two young children? They aren’t babies anymore, can’t put them in a swing or even wear them around all the time. They have ideas and opinions about things but can’t express them, understand them, or maintain them for any length of time. They have needs that can’t ever fully be met, since they aren’t fully able to articulate them, or when they do, they are completely unreasonable and will change in a moment anyway. My youngest recently had a meltdown because I could not put her inside of her toy car to go for a ride. She was so, so sad.
Young children also have schedules of sorts, making parents a little beholden to their offspring. These schedules, for naps, food, etc., can, of course, be altered or ignored, but at least with my two young children, I do this only at great risk to my own sanity, as it seems to turn them into crazy people, laughing and crying at the same time and completely incapable of following a direction of any kind. They are crazy-makers, their behavior often sending me to the brink of madness only to be brought back by the sweetest “I love you, Mom” ever in the world. The ground is constantly shifting.
The “two” part of my two young children is important. It means that at any given time at least one of them needs something. Individually, they each have their ups and downs, going from adorable and happy to grouchy and clingy several times a day. Their mastery comes from their ability to coordinate and alternate, so there is always something to do. They must have calendar meetings to determine who is going to sleep through which night, because it is NEVER on the same night. I have not had a good night’s sleep in more than 1,300 days. Really. I am so tired. Like, profoundly tired. Like, too-tired-to-drive-safely-but-you-gotta-do-it-anyway-so-you-dig-really-deep tired. This is an exhaustion that “I’m so tired” barely begins to describe, and so I find myself going instead with “I have two young children.”
I recently found myself in a social situation, a destination wedding, where most of the guests did not have two young children. There were a few pregnant women, one tiny new baby, and some wise parents of children already grownup, but for the most part my husband and I were the only ones who left behind their two young children. And we became the annoying parents who talk about their kids. A lot. But we missed them, and we were worried about them, and it was our first time being in a social setting like that in a long, long while, because we have two young children. And, I felt the need to explain the dark circles under my eyes and my inability to hold an interesting conversation with grownups. Without that snippet of intel, that we are parents of two young children, the other wedding guests may have—and reasonably—assumed we were escapees from a local psychiatric institute. Of course, the explanation was likely lost on most, since if one has not gone through it themselves, it is hard to fully fathom. I vaguely remember life before children, but I’m fairly confident that I had zero idea of what life was going to be like raising two young children. It took every ounce of strength not to shake those poor pregnant women by the shoulders and demand, “Sleep! Go and sleep now! Before it’s too late!”
These days, when I am out and about with my two young children, I feel almost like someone in a privileged class of society. People gaze upon my grace in awe as I wrestle my two young children into and out of car seats, marvel as I avoid giving in to the temptation to open the box of granola bars in the store and pass them out like it was Christmas Day, and when I do finally and inevitably open that box, the people nod with kindness and understanding. After all, I have two young children.
From time to time I do get to venture out into the world without my two young children. A trip to the grocery store becomes a relaxing day trip into reality, as I get to read labels, compare prices, and even glance at a half-assed grocery list if I choose to.
Yet, for some reason I still feel the need to explain the dark circles under my eyes, the stickers in my hair, the slightly fruity/goat-like smell that I am sure is radiating off of me. I’m sure that even a mildly observant person could glance into my shopping cart, note the amount of string cheese, fruit pouches, and frozen chicken nuggets, and easily come to the conclusion that I must have two young children. But, just in case, I find myself saying things to the checkout person like, “Wow! Shopping is a breeze when I can leave my two young children at home!” Or, “No thanks, I can get these bags to my car by myself today, since I’m not wrangling my two young children.”
I especially feel the need to assert my condition, that of having two young children, when I see other parents shopping with their children. “I’m one of you!” I want to shout at the poor mother who is simultaneously keeping one young child from leaping out of the cart while desperately encouraging a second young child to stop stepping on the eggs. I want her to know that my life is usually much more complicated than this carefree lady shopping on her own would lead her to believe. I’m thinking about developing some kind of secret handshake, something that will amp up my “mom cred” even when I appear to be childless.
But I am not childless. And I can prove it: My house is a mess. It is cluttered with things, mostly plastic—things that appear one day, from somewhere, and then, just as mysteriously, disappear the instant one of my two young children decides to need it. My young children enjoy the fine art of emptying a container and walking away, and they are quite good at it. When I have the energy, I follow behind one of these little tornados, straightening up as best I can before the other tornado comes after me to undo whatever I just did. My house is dirty, dirtier than I ever would have thought I’d be OK with. But the moment I take out a cleaning supply of one kind or another, it is the focus of one or both of my young children. Hands reach determinedly toward cleaning sprays and into toilets, things previously ignored until they began to get more attention than my two young children. And so I put up the chemicals and the wipes and focus on the care and feeding of my two young children. My home maintains its layer of detritus during this season of childrearing. I will take control of my environment again someday; but for now, please excuse the mess, I have two young children.
I’ve had to stop writing this on several occasions, because I have young children.
Now, what was I writing about? I have a hard time keeping thoughts coherent these days. My brain is like Swiss cheese: lots of holes and melts when warm and, hey, did I turn off the stove after making those grilled cheese sandwiches? I think I did. I must have. But it smells a little smoky, so I’ll go check…
OK, it was fine. I turned it off. But I didn’t do the dishes from lunch. Or breakfast. Or dinner. Where was I…? Sorry, I have two young children.
My backlog of Thank You notes would appall Judith Martin, but with two young children, I find it so hard to keep up.
I know all the words to Frozen but have never seen an episode of Breaking Bad, mostly because I have two young children.
I am always carrying something or someone. Always. Because I have two young children.
Dirty clothes piles loom in every corner of my home. With a single washer and dryer I will never be caught up. With two young children I can never rewear anything. Ever.
I don’t take much time to look in the mirror these days, spending more time on getting my two young children to put on, and keep on, pants in order to get out the door. Today’s lament of the three-year-old: “I can’t wear pants! Not when I’m in pink clothes!!!” Reasonable, totally reasonable.
I sometimes eat mac & cheese for dinner, because…well, because it is delicious. But, sometimes I eat mac & cheese cold out of the fridge for breakfast while standing in the middle of the kitchen, because I have young children.
There are things out there in the world that might possibly help fill up what is drained out of me by my two young children: a nap, a babysitter, a day at the spa, psychotherapy, and so on. But what goes in to making any of that actually happen is so tricky, due to having two small children, that the cost often seems to override the benefit. Simply reaching out to the outside world to schedule an appointment, for example, becomes an act of creative duplicity as I must use my Jedi powers to sense a lull in the needs of my children and sneak in a phone call. Add in the distraction/babysitting/scheduling involved in doing anything for myself, and most days it seems easier to just put my head down and get through it.
I have no idea what people with more than two young children do—they obviously have super human strength and skills, and truly, I check myself with thoughts of families and mothers with their hands fuller than mine. Well, half-thoughts, as I can never seem to finish a full thought these days…
I do enjoy being with my two young children. Even the hard days have some fun squished in there somewhere. Around my two young children, I lose my self-consciousness about singing loudly and dancing wildly. With my two young children I get to be excited about Disney Land and the Easter Bunny and rainbow sprinkles. And I’m not faking it. This is who I am—at least right now. Who would I be if I had more free time? Honestly, I don’t know. I suppose someday I will find out. I already am feeling the early feels of loss and change as my two young children insist on getting a little older every day. The end of this particular part of the story will be here before I know it. There will be new phrases to summarize my situation: I just went back to work, the girls are both in college, I’m watching the grandkids for the summer. But I’m going to try my best to remember this particular phase of parenting so when I hear someone claim to have young children I will understand the reason for their rambling speech and funny smell. And now, gentle reader, my attention is needed elsewhere. Please forgive my departure, but you see, I have two young children.