I paid a naturopathic doctor a lot of money last week to get this advice: We should hire a mother’s helper.
She heard me talk about how I haven’t had a night of uninterrupted sleep for the last four years, how every waking moment at home is occupied by at least one small creature, but often more like two or three, needing something urgently, how every waking moment not at home is occupied by work, which feels by comparison quite simple and restful, how half my family died in the last two years and how, in the face of that trauma, I had to buck up and get ready for my wife to birth twins, how life has felt like a marathon ever since and how it feels like there is no end to it on the perceivable horizon.
And her conclusion was that I must locate an 8 year old, willing to work for a couple of bucks an hour, to come and entertain my three small children while Darry and I sneak away for a nap.
I no longer want to hear these kinds of recommendations from people who have one child, or two children, or grown children, or who once babysit for twins, or who have a sister with three kids. Because there is something that cannot be understand, I am sure of it, about the dynamic of having twins and a slightly older child at these precise ages. Parents with twins come close, because multiples are universally complicated in many ways. Parents with three children or more approach as well, because the experience of being outnumbered carries its own universal truths. I appreciate the solidarity and the commiserating from parents outside of these family structures, but they don’t truly know this unique hell and right now I’d like them to stop asking me the following questions:
Can’t you buy one of those meal subscription plans to make things easier? Can’t one of you take all three kids out for the day to give the other one a break? Can’t you just sleep in while the other gets the kids ready for school? Can you make your 4 year old more of a helper? Can’t you just give them pizza and a movie?
Because even though the answer may be “yes” to any of these, it does not come without tremendous effort that neither Darry nor I currently possess.
You try bringing three small children to a public space and realize how difficult it is to prevent more than one of them from getting killed, running off, causing an expensive amount of damage. You try sleeping in while a pair of toddlers scream your name from the other room because they want only *you* to help them use the potty that morning. Are you still slumbering while your spouse gently tries to hush them and loses her shit 10 minutes later, screaming at full volume for them to let you rest?
If there are 4 year olds who truly help, then something is wrong with my child. If there are not, I wish other parents would stop telling themselves and the rest of us this fiction. And if I could restrain these twins for a 2-hour stretch on the couch with their big sister, who will (thank goodness) very happily turn into a zombie in front of the TV, then obviously I would.
It would be better to hear from others that our life looks like a circus and has erased any thoughts for their own third child or how fun it would be to have twins. I want the two parents placidly carrying their one child into school together to see me steering my three slowly, methodically from the car to the door so that no one gets run over, unable to carry any one of them because my arms of full of their lunches, coats and shoes (which they refused to put on). I want them to acknowledge how haggard I look, how disastrous the scene is. But I know it’s mostly out of kindness that they don’t. And sometimes out of a distorted misconception that they understand.
I made my date with the naturopath because my regular doc has found a persistent problem with my thyroid over the past year. I am either not feeling any symptoms from this or I have completely normalized them. I have no doubt my subtle health problems are connected to the intractable details of my life. Like they are, no doubt, for millions of people, especially those with young children who are also trying to make some headway on their own success and happiness.
And what can actually be done about this? Mostly it feels like nothing. Tiny adjustments here and there, sure, may make respites that feel like a tropical vacation. When you get back home after a couple hours playing music with your friends, there’s your wife with that murder-suicide expression on her face. But everyone is alive and those couple hours tasted like a furlough from a life sentence.
These children, this experience right now — it is is a daily practice in so many things. I am grateful in the best moments for that and utterly deflated by it in the worst. One day they will wipe their own butts, feed themselves, take showers and get dressed without being asked 1,000 times, have their own busy lives that fill the hours and they will sleep, please gods, one day they will sleep. Today is just not that day.