Monday, June 23, 2008

Ooh child

I ran into an acquaintance at the farmer’s market on Saturday, a woman I hadn’t seen for a few months, a mother of three. I was holding Isaac, and she commented on how big he was getting. I told her that his first birthday was last Monday. And she asked me a question:

“Is it getting any easier?”

It was such an odd — such an oddly astute — question that it took me aback for a moment. I tried to remember the last time we’d spoken. Was I in one of those sleepless, near-hysterical phases? Were Rachel and I chasing Rowan around the market while Isaac screamed? “Were things not easy last time we talked?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “it’s just that....” and she let the sentence trail off as she glanced over at her partner and their three daughters, the youngest of whom is 18 months old. “... you know. It gets easier.”

She’s right. It is getting easier. I mean, I look back to the blog entries of a year or so ago and they are exhausted. Not tired, but exhausted. They are walking around the basement for hours with six-week-old Isaac in a sling. They are up all through the night. They wonder when they will be able to leave the house without feeling anxious. They don’t leave me or Rachel alone for very long with the baby, let alone both children. Their house is a disaster and they don’t know what’s for dinner.

Okay, that last one is still true, but for the most part things have settled down considerably. I mean, we’re still busy. We are often tired, often frazzled, often longing for more time to ourselves, less chaos. But things are getting easier. Today, right now, for example, I am in the house, in my office, alone — alone! — and I will be until today at about 4:15 p.m., when we will collect both Rowan and Isaac from their phenomenal babysitter.

I get to spend days alone.

About them. But I digress.

No matter that large chunks of those days are also spent doing laundry and tidying the kitchen (such is the life of someone who works from home and who procrastinates by puttering — and has children, though I suspect that’s true of people who don't have children as well). I get to do the laundry and the tidying all by myself.

Isaac, yes, has joined his big brother at the babysitter’s two days a week. He loves it. We love it. In the fall, we’ll bump it up to three days, and Rowan will start junior kindergarten two days a week. Isaac climbs the stairs by himself. Rhys’s grandfather buys him his first two-wheeler (with training wheels) and he takes off down the street. Rachel and I know what it feels like to leave the house of an evening — together — and not worry or feel the need to rush home after an hour. Individual moments, hours, days — those really long weekends — can be challenging, frustrating, difficult even, but overall it’s getting easier.

Which is why, in part, there will be no third child. I just can’t see myself giving up any of this newfound “easier.” I don’t want to be trapped in the basement or up all night with an infant again, pulled in three different directions, none my own choosing.

I’m not ambivalent about being done. I know what I want. But a part of me wishes I felt differently. A part of me wants to be like the heroine of Alice McDermott’s short story, “Enough,” who wants more, more, more of everything — another bowl of ice cream, another baby on her hip, just one more dance into the wee hours.

But I’m not like her (and, I keep reminding myself, she is a work of fiction).

I remember dancing with Rachel and a months-old Theo to Molly Johnson’s “Ooh child/Redemption Song,” singing along to her promise that, “things are gonna get easier.” And they are. I love my boys. I want them. but I also want time for me. So for me, for us, two is enough.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Square eyes

I once read that, when you don’t have cable, a vacation is going anywhere that does. Certainly, that’s the way Rowan must have seen our trip to British Columbia. Ask him what he did, and instead of talking about — among other things — puddle-jumping through old-growth forests, visiting an animal-rescue centre, digging in the sand at Jericho Beach, seeing his two great-grandmothers (as well as two grandmothers and a grandfather), or navigating the kids’ market and model train museum at Granville Market, he will tell you he ate ice cream and watched TV.

For this, we flew on two airplanes across three time zones and got up at 4:30 a.m. each day with Isaac, who never adjusted to the time.

But then again, this is the same child who told me that his favourite thing about yesterday morning’s brunch at a diner with his beloved godmothers, Judy and Jill, was getting his toenails cut before we left the house.

And it’s not just Rowan. Jill says that she used to bust her ass thinking of fun things to do —mini golf! tubing down the river! hikes! swimming! — when her nephew used to visit them each summer, and then when he spoke to his parents on the phone to tell them how he was doing, all he would say was, “Yeah, we had pizza for dinner.”

But I digress from the boob tube. Each morning, Rowan woke up, bounced out of bed, and asked, “Can I watch TV?” Each morning, we debated the pros and cons of letting him watch the idiot box. The pros: he was quiet and happy, and stayed occupied and out of trouble while we got ready each day.

The cons? Well, first, Rowan began talking like Max from the world’s most annoying kids’ television show, Max and Ruby (or Ruby and Max, I forget which way it goes), in which Max, the younger of two rabbit siblings seemingly abandoned by their parents, monosyllabically torments his well-meaning but condescending and prissy older sister, Ruby. For a week now, Rowan has reverted from full sentences to one-word utterances: “Cookie!” “ Rabbit!” “Poop!” “TV!”

Second is I can’t get the theme song from Wonder Pets of my head. For weeks, I have been tormented by Winnie the guinea pig announcing, rock-opera-style, in my head: “The phone! The phone is ringing! There’s an animal in trouble somewhere!”

But the biggest drawback to letting Rowan watch TV — staying out of all the sanctimonious arguments as to whether television is good or bad for children — was that any time the set wasn’t on, he whined and wheedled for more. He was relentless in the way only a three-and-a-half-year-old television addict can be: “TV now? Now can I watch TV? Can I now? Why not? Now?” He quickly figured out the remote as well as the buttons directly on the machine. We finally resorted to unplugging it, and weathering the storm of tears and wailing that followed.

More than anything else about coming home — besides not getting up at 4:30 — I am grateful that we don’t have cable here. Because if we had to fight with Rowan each day over whether he could watch TV, we’d lose, going crazy in the meantime. (And, Rachel adds, we’d get divorced.)

I realize that our lack of cable makes me just more fodder for Stuff White People Like, but I’m okay with that. Before we had children, we had Rachel’s grandfather’s old TV, but no cable, on which, geek that I am, I faithfully watched Jeopardy! at 7:30 each evening. Then we moved to an apartment with free (read: stolen) cable, and our lives turned into one big Law and Order 24-hour marathon. When that gravy train ended, via a handy landlord-tenant dispute, we discovered that, after the shakes had subsided, we rather enjoyed each other’s company. Which was a good thing, since we couldn’t afford cable anyway. Plus, we were awfully pale and Rachel had to finish her dissertation. When we moved again, it took us the better part of the year to realize that the cable was still hooked up. Mercifully, the company pulled the plug shortly thereafter.

And that’s how it stayed. Now, we watch the occasional movie or television show on DVD on one of our computers. We’ll sit side-by-side on the couch, sharing a set of earphones, a laptop balanced on someone’s lap. It’s sort of pathetic, but it’s sweet. I’m not sure what we would do — aside from fighting with Rowan — if we had cable, anyway, given that life around here seems to be a constant flurry of activity from dawn ‘til dusk. Who has time?

My friend Shannon tells me that her childhood television exploded during a particularly rowdy segment, featuring Animal, of The Muppet Show. Apparently the set went off in a shower of sparks and for a few seconds she and her brother weren’t quite sure whether it was the message or the medium. They probably still aren’t. Her mother came into the room, assessed the damage, and said, “Well, that’s that.” And they never got another television. And they turned out just fine — and so will Rowan.