When you have more than one child, there is a strange phenomenon that can be summarized with this question: “Why is it suddenly so much easier when one of them isn’t here?” Basically, when you had one child, it was quite a lot of work, and your family had a certain dynamic. Going to the grocery store alone, for example, felt like a mini vacation because it was so much more difficult to go with your climbing, whining, grabbing, hungry child. Then you had two kids, your family adjusted, and life was, again, quite a lot of work. Going to the grocery store with only one kid, then, was the vacation. When you have two, a few hours with only one feels easy as pie, in a way it never did when you only had one. When you have three, having only two with you is suddenly no problem. I’ve often wondered how long this lasts. Do the Duggars feel this way? (“Why is it so quiet around here today? Oh right. Jedediah’s on a playdate. There are only 18 of them.”)
Let me take a moment to be clear, here: I do not think parenting was easy when I had “only” one or two children and this is the reason I kept having more. We’ve been operating at maximum capacity since our first child was born, but somehow we keep managing to adjust. (Mostly it comes down to accepting more help, tolerating more chaos, and having a messier house, but these are topics for another time.)
Since having our fourth, my husband and I often take advantage of this phenomenon with the “divide and conquer” strategy. This means that we never do any errand alone because it’s not fair to leave our spouse home in chaos if it can be avoided. This is a useful strategy, even if it does mean neither of us ever has time alone. Like, ever.*
My mistake lately has been to attempt to do things that should only be done with no kids because I suddenly think it will be easy with “only” two. This is what happened when I took R (at not quite 2) and baby N, a newborn at the time, to the library. As I sat on the tiny couch in the kids’ section, nursing the baby, R was supposed to be compliantly playing with the toys and looking carefully at the books. Instead, she decided to run away, of course. She ran straight into the men’s room. Of course. There I sat, pitifully calling out to her, “R! Come back! No, don’t go in there!” with no result whatsoever. I eventually had to walk over to the men’s room, bouncing my crying newborn, and call in to her from the door. I could see R, and she could see me from the middle of the bathroom where she stood, and then she laughed and proceeded to lie down on the floor. I used my serious voice, she used her adorable giggle—it was a stalemate. The bathroom seemed to be empty so I finally decided to just step in and grab her. I apologized to the bathroom in general as I did so, just as a precaution. “No problem!” said a deep voice from one of the stalls.
To sum up, it’s a lesson I’ve needed to learn over and over: having two kids with you may be easier than having four kids with you, but two kids? It’s not no kids.
* Unless you count his drive to work, which I do.