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Location: Northern California

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Motherhood rollercoaster

Moms who hang out regularly start becoming very honest with each other. They confess things to one another that they wouldn’t tell their priest, if they had a priest. Honest talk can be hard to hear. Sometimes it’s more than you can bear and you start thinking you’d rather be alone with a bottle of wine than participating in the conversation. At other times, honest talk is welcome and causes you much relief and happiness. Whether they cause you sorrow or joy, the stories you hear are usually familiar ones; they’re your stories, too. This is why playgroups are so popular among moms, particularly stay at home moms. They help bring you together with other women with the hope that you get to know each other well enough to feel comfortable sharing stories about how life with kids is getting you down, which is a much better alternative than putting your head in the oven. Ok, sometimes we moms talk about how great life is with kids, but not very often. When we’re in upbeat moods we talk about things like real estate or the price of coffee or the best recipe for bean dip, you know, important stuff.

A topic that’s common among my mom friends who have two (sometimes more, but usually only two) kids is the difference between the two. One usually is the “easy” kid and the other one is the “hard” kid. I put quotes around these words because of course all of the moms love all of their kids equally, but in the case of two kids it’s easy to categorize one as easy and one as hard. A hard kid might be a poor sleeper, will only eat three food items, requires more energy to parent, and usually just isn’t as happy as an easy kid. On the other hand, an easy kid might sleep well, eat without being bribed, is easy-going, and can toilet train himself. Of course easy kids still throw tantrums, talk back, and whine incessantly because all kids--easy or hard--do these things. If your first kid is easy, you secretly pray the entire nine months of your second pregnancy that you’ll get another easy one, although you know that you should count your blessings because some parents get two difficult ones and at least you have one who is easy even if the second one turns out not to be. If your first kid is hard you may just stop there and not have any more kids, although you’re usually willing to roll the dice one more time in hopes that the second one will bring back into your life the happiness the first one sucked out. I have a friend who calls her second child her “reward” baby. Apparently she racked up a lot of frequent parenting miles with her first son, who isn’t a bad kid but who is just a little quirky. (And hey, aren’t we all?) Her stories about raising him don’t seem like a big deal heard one at a time, but after you’ve listened to twenty different stories of his trying behavioral idiosyncrasies, you start to understand her pain because now you’re feeling it, too.

From what I’ve observed, most of what makes a kid easy or hard is hard-wired. That’s to say, nature rather than nurture is what determines a kid’s personality. We all have friends who require more energy from us, who are needier than other friends. We also have friends who are unhappier souls, who love to raise all kinds of annoying questions about LIFE. Usually these people are the most interesting people we know. They’re not Pollyannas; they’re real and they make us feel real, too. Were these the hard kids of their generation? Probably. Of course if you ask your friend’s mom if he was a hard kid she’ll deny it vehemently and would certainly never admit, “oh yes, so-and-so was the world’s crabbiest baby and that continued until he was thirty when I turned him over to his wife, bless her heart.” That’s because like labor, we forget the pain of raising kids. Time smoothes over the rough edges; it heals all wounds, as they say.

I drag my two kids to two playgroups a week so that I can share my own painful (yet funny!) stories with my mom friends who understand perfectly what I’m going through. It’s also why I write about my life as a mom. Talking and writing help me to feel that I’m not alone. They also make me realize that motherhood is not like a ride on a state-of-the-art steel roller coaster. It’s more like a ride on a funky is-this-thing-going-to-make-it-or-will-I-die-at-this-two-bit-carnival wooden roller coaster. And sometimes it can feel like the bumpiest and longest ride of your life.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Emily is my easy kid.