Saturday, December 19, 2009

Do you want kids?

A few weeks ago I added two more full days of babysitting to my schedule, for a mother with two jobs, three children, and no husband. The kids include a hyperactive three year old boy -- the kind of kid who, left alone, will break something -- really quickly.

Now, I get why some mothers get that glazed exhausted look or hyper stream of chatter. Keeping up with the laundry alone is like grinding the coffee mill in THE LONG WINTER. The dirty clothes pile grows faster than anyone who doesn't have kids could imagine. Your priorities change: this mother -- once a fastidious stay-at-home mom -- described how the three year old had been sleeping in her big double bed and, in the middle of the night, wet it. In the old days, she said, the bed would have been stripped and sanitized, remade with clean sheets etc etc immediately. This time, she thought,
"I'll get it later. It's just pee," and went back to sleep.

When you have as much to do as these mothers (and, while I had this schedule, I!) do, something -- usually, lots of things -- that really need to get done DON'T. I always feel behind as I rush from appointment to appointment (I have 3 other families and freelance writing clients to not only write for but talk to). But guess what? I've learned to do things a lot faster and make each minute count.

I would have thought all this would make me really, really glad I never had children--but to my astonishment, I'm not so sure. Three year olds can be really companionable -- and sweet. You're washing the dishes or something and suddenly a small child is wrapping his arms around your legs, looking up at you with an adoring smile. Conversations with intelligent older children can be really interesting -- on Thursday night after dinner a nine year old, a seven year old (both boys) and I sat and talked over chamomile tea until their bedtime:
"Tea and conversation
are a great combination."
"Did you make that up?" (in a very impressed voice)
Ten year olds even HELP: Adam is going to help me pack my books when I move (for money, of course--he's always saving up for some game which his parents, to their credit, refuse to buy him).

He even had ideas for how we could do it more efficiently:
"We have plastic bins at my house. We'll pack 'em up, bring 'em over, and unpack 'em."
"But Adam, books are really heavy!"
"I'm much stronger now that I've taken my karate black belt test."

Of course, I go home at the end of it. I have days off -- and I've cut working for that family from two full days to one, and with the new schedule, can keep up with my freelance work (and, I hope after ten days devoted only to it, the novel). But even for the mothers, hard as working and taking care of their kids is, they think it's worth it.

I never felt that biological imperative to have children some women feel; but I never decided not to have them, either. If anyone who wants children wants my advice, it's -- think about it, and (if you really do want them), go ahead. Have them. You will find a way to get the other stuff done. You may never feel (or be!) financially ready -- but someday, it will be too late.


Lynn said...

They're not kidding when they say it is the hardest job in the world. I can't imagine doing it without a husband. I worked as a lawyer in a large law firm, working at times 24 hours straight without going home, and it was nothing compared to being a stay at home mom. There are perks, like being able to stay in my pajamas all day, and of course the hugs and smiles and adorable first words, etc. but, whew, it is TIRING too. And I only have one so far!

Libby Koponen said...

Yes! It is SO tiring -- I didn't get that until I started babysitting so much. From babysitting for families with one, two, and three children, I'd say it increases exponentially with each addition....maybe after 3 it gets easier again???

alvinaling said...

It probably gets easier once the oldest child can actually help take care of the younger children!

Such a great post. I loved reading about the little moments.

Meghan McCarthy said...

I don't think the oldest children always take care of the younger ones. I think you need to watch the older children to make sure they're holding the baby right and not dropping him/her, etc. I'm 7 years older than my youngest sister. I don't ever remember helping. I mean, I tried to, but I don't think it was of much help. When I got older I did babysit though. But I"m 2 years older than my other sister and there was no helping there at all. We were about equal.

Libby, this is a scary post! I'm in my 30s now and I'm already feeling the pressure. I know if I wait too late then I won't be able to have the option of kids. But I don't have anyone to have kids with! I'm not going to go out hunting for that specific purpose. Plus, I really don't want kids now. I don't know when I will. But I don't not want kids either. I'm so confused! I've been thinking a lot about this. And I feel like me being sick for several years has made me lose a lot of time. I feel like I'm coming out of a coma!

Libby Koponen said...

Meghan! I posted this thinking maybe it would help other people not make the mistake I made - but you have LOTS of time! You're only 30 -- Adam's mother had him when she was 45, and with no drugs. My sister had a baby at 43.

btw I know what you mean about illness and feeling like you're waking up from a coma!