by Jon Worley
When our son Max was born more than three years ago, a lot of people told Barbara and me that we were lucky that we were young enough to enjoy our kids. While both of us were older than 30 (she 30, me 31), we were much younger than many first-time professional parents we knew. Indeed, we were among the youngest to marry (she was 24, I was 25) in our circles as well. While our ages for these events would have seemed advanced half a century ago, that's just not the case these days.
Numbers, though, don't concern me. This notion of "enjoying" children does.
I recall a number of times when Barbara and I enjoyed hanging out with Max. He's a bright, chatty fellow who tends to make strangely apt comments on his surroundings--lots of kids do this, I know, but it is nice when yours is one of them. Once he began to be able to articulate his own ideas (sometime last summer, I suppose, when he was about 2 1/2), he became a really fun kid.
Then Sam arrived.
Sam is, perhaps, the world's most joyous baby. He smiles almost all the time. He cries only when tired, hungry or teething (unfortunately, he's teething hard these days). But even then, he's just as likely to break out a smile as a frown. It's hard not to love Sam, and we all do.
That includes Max, who simply adores his younger brother. He's not at all happy about losing attention. In fact, he sat me down this morning and explained, in rather painful detail, why he didn't appreciate the fact that sometimes I felt it was more important to take care of Sam than spend time with him.
I apologized to him, and I also explained that because Sam is younger, he does need more attention sometimes. Max can feed himself. I mean, he can get down a bowl and a cup, pour himself some cereal and milk and eat breakfast without any intervention from me (as long as I get the cereal down from its usual perch on top of the fridge, that is). Max told me he understood what I was saying, but that he still didn't like it.
Like I said, Max is a pretty bright guy.
This lingering resentment--toward Barbara and me--has made it difficult to enjoy Max as much as we should. He's an intense, moody child, which comes as a surprise to no one, since I was an intense, moody child. He's very sensitive to his feelings and the feelings of those around him. When Sam cries, it breaks Max's heart. And Max cries, too. Much louder, and with much greater intensity. And it takes Max much longer to calm down. This sort of thing happens four or five times a day, and it generally saps all my "happy" energy before I get a chance to spend it.
Stay-at-home parents often feel like they "enjoy" their kids less than their spouses. We have to deal with the bulk of the child-rearing work, and the "other" parent simply gets to come home and play with the kids. This is a gross oversimplification, of course, as in my circle at least, the "working" parent tries to be just as involved as the "non-working" parent. And there is the attendant guilt of not seeing your children often enough (more common among working women, but also seen in men). Of course, most of us stay-at-homers wouldn't give up our jobs for anything. You do get the good with the bad. It's just that many days, the bad makes us forget the good.
Which is why it's nice to have an evening like last Thursday. Barbara was working late, and I was too tired to do anything other than plunk Sam down on our bed. Max came in and played with Sam and me. Max and I rolled Sam around, sang songs to him and made him laugh--and the boy doesn't laugh very often, despite his smiley nature. We must have goofed around for a half hour or longer, which is a remarkable amount of time for Max to focus on anything. And we all had a good time. In fact, Max has talked about that evening every day since.
As most of my friends with older kids have told me, life with a couple (or more) toddlers can fry your brain. The good news is that kids grow older and your mind returns (mostly). Then you get to enjoy your kids until they start doing stupid things like listening to Avril Lavigne or bugging you non-stop for the latest video game.
I'm told that sort of behavior starts about five. And toddlerhood ends at four.
Hold up a second. I've got a bill of goods I'd like to return.