We live next door to a nice couple. They are around our age and in a similar stage of their lives. We are friendly neighbors, but not exactly friends. We wave and make small conversations when doing yard work or bringing in the garbage cans. When I hear a car door slam, I curiously look out the window to see what they're up to. I imagine that they do the same.
Five years ago, we were married young couples about to have our first babies. The curb outside of our homes was lined with crushed cardboard boxes that once held cribs and strollers and car seats. Our cars would come and go, as we were often out to dinner or the movies-- taking the advice of our friends and soaking up our last days of freedom.
After what seems like the shortest summer ever, we each brought home our baby boys.
In the months that followed, you could easily tell which room was the nursery in both of our houses by the soft glow of light that seemed to emanate, off and on, all night long. Instead of dinners out, there was a lot of take-out and delivery. Instead of the movie theater, there was television on the couch. On the chance meetings that we’d have upon arriving or leaving our homes, we’d commiserate about the challenges of raising a newborn. The sleep deprivation, the breastfeeding, the diapers, the laundry, the change in our lifestyles.
Two and a half years later, Bill and I were expecting our second baby. “Wow...”, our neighbors said, looking surprised. They were fine with one baby. Relieved that the ‘baby stage’ was over. Happy to have more independence. Confident that they could give their only son plenty of attention. Certain that, with one child, they would always have enough time and money and energy.
It sounded reasonable and I didn’t judge them. I was happy to be adding to our family and giving Will a sibling.
In August of 2008, we brought home our second baby and I was lucky enough to be able to afford an entire year of maternity leave.
Some days were easier than others, but overall I had my hands full. My three-year-old wanted to do elaborate art projects and build Lego models and play hide and seek. My infant wanted to eat and nap for 20 minutes and eat and nap for 20 minutes… and be held constantly. Add to this the ever-present piles of laundry and dishes and scattered piles of toys. Then toss in the fact that I was existing on 3 – 4 solid hours of sleep each night. Liam cried a lot. Will was frustrated with the things we couldn’t do. The house was falling apart. I was exhausted and fat and feeling incompetent.
In the beginning, I remember peering over at my neighbor’s house. In the late evening and early morning hours, the house was completely dark as everyone was getting a full nights sleep. She’d be gardening or sunbathing and her son would be busy playing. Sometimes she’d chase him or they’d be doing some kind of activity together. I’d see them coming and going—with restaurant leftovers or bags from various stores. In particular, she seemed so well-rested and put-together and content.
Over time, the three of us (Liam, Will and I) found a rhythm. Liam started napping more and crying less. Will learned to be a little more independent and patient. I perfected the art of multi-tasking and got used to living with the minor imperfections of a sink full of dishes or an overflowing garbage can. I discovered ways to spend time with each child, complete a little housework and even (on some days) get a shower.
Here we are two years later. It’s a little before 8 am on a Monday and the kids have already been up for almost two hours. At this moment, there is folded laundry on my dining room table and the breakfast dishes are sitting on the countertop. I’ve microwaved my mug of coffee no less than three times and I’m unshowered, wearing yoga pants and an old t-shirt. There are toys everywhere and I’ve already refereed at least twelve disagreements over who gets what chair and what cup and what television show and what action figure. Our plans for today include going absolutely nowhere—art projects on the deck, a swim in the pool and a carpet picnic for lunch.
Here we are two years later and I still have my hands full— but I wouldn’t have it any other way.