I thought that, once you become a parent, all parents would look alike. Some would be more or less frazzled or stylish, depending on the temperament of both parents and children, and some would opt for noisy toys and others for wooden ones from Scandinavia, but the basic dynamic would be the same in all cases. When I take the kids to playgroups, though, I see a difference between parents of one child and those of two or more. Undoubtedly those who have more than two (3, 4, and beyond!) notice their own differences (anyone care to share?), but I don’t see as many parents in that range, and I’m not one myself, so I can’t speak to those. And I’m sure the same can be said for parents with children at other ages; our neighbors have a daughter who is sixteen, and I am occasionally bowled over by the sight of them on the street: walking along, holding hands, no progeny in sight. It’s incredible to me, since it will be a long time before Sydney and I can do that.
What I do see is that the doting of parents who have one child is different from those who are outnumbered. When I go out with my kids, the parents (often mothers, though not always) of one child are always right there, interacting, proffering jackets, and making the most of every learning opportunity. I recently saw one mother teaching her daughter to do cartwheels–by doing them herself (I wonder if I could do that without falling?). Sometimes I long to be that parent again. Things were frenetic with just Katherine (a force unto herself, I must say!), but I did occasionally find the time to do long-term planning with her, arranging for day adventures out and learning activities and lots of fun. But it’s a bit like the shift from baby to toddler: when I meet a mom with a small babe in tow, we smile, but we can’t really relate, since her child is sleeping and mine . . . well, mine never are, and they’re inevitably both on the move, in opposite directions.
I wouldn’t say I’ve given myself up to chaos, but I’m often not up for talking with other moms, since it’s already difficult enough to divvy my attention between the two kids. I am one of the few non-nannies in some playgroups, but I feel like I should wear a shirt that says: “She is friendly and will not bite, but please do not feed, pet, or distract the mother when she is working.”) During the singing time today I let Nathaniel roam a bit while I helped Katherine play along, and I saw panicked looks on some mothers’ faces as they held their child in their laps and wondered why such a little man was on his own. But I can only hold one kid at a time, and roaming won’t hurt him; other times it’s Katherine who is across the room while I tickle Nathaniel or help him navigate a new skill.
What I have learned to do is to find “quiet” in the shift from one child to another. When Katherine’s bouncing off the walls it’s sometimes nice to turn to my little guy to give him a squeeze and a cuddle before I dive back into discipline and distraction. And when he’s doing the I’m-going-to-cry-until-I-get-fed act, it’s great to turn to Katherine with a conspiratorial smile and slip her a snack as I run to his rescue. On very rare occasions I see them playing together, completely oblivious to my presence, and I get a tiny glimpse of what the future might hold. But those moments are short, and then I get to decide whether to first admonish or comfort when the peace breaks.