Back when I only had one child, I was a wonderful mother. I could go anywhere with Princess, my well-mannered daughter, who would sit quietly and play appropriately with the toy I’d brought to occupy her as she snacked on whole grain crackers and fresh fruit. I accepted the compliments of strangers graciously. I beamed with pride at her nice manners, at her ability to wait her turn, and at my obvious mastery of modern parenting techniques. Although I knew part of what made me a wonderful parent was my naturally compliant child, and I spent time fearing that she’d grow up to be a people-pleasing pushover, I was more than a little proud of myself.
All this easygoing compliance lulled me into a sense of security, and I’ll admit that I did get a bit smug about it. When kids ran around like lunatics at story time, I’d wonder why their parents didn’t do more to stop them. When mothers screamed at their toddlers from across the park, I’d secretly think that speaking quietly on the child’s level was a better technique. And I wasn’t wrong—it is a better, more effective technique. The problem is that you can only employ that technique consistently if you’ve only got one child.
When my pregnancy with Caveman hit the third trimester, the yelling across the playground began. I justified it by telling myself I was pregnant with a 10 pound baby. Then Caveman was born, and I spent the first seven weeks or so of his life convinced he hated me. I thought (hoped?) he had acid reflux, but apparently he was just a “high needs” baby. I 5 S’d the heck out of him, but he’d still scream. Princess got considerably less attention and considerably more yelling. Things got slightly better around 6 months, but Caveman didn’t sleep through the night for over a year, and he refused to nurse unless I was sitting in a completely dark room. It was a long year, and you can’t cross the room and speak softly to a child with a 25-lb baby vampire attached to your boob. Still, she remains mostly well-behaved. Caveman, however, has morphed into a two-year-old Neanderthal.
Here’s one thing I know about having two mobile children: if you set them both loose, they will run in opposite directions. As a result, Caveman is rarely set free from the stroller in public. He’s fast, fearless, and doesn’t listen to “no” or “stop.” On those rare occasions when he is paroled, he gets drunk with freedom and goes nuts. He climbs things. He does not sit still. He touches EVERYTHING, pushes buttons, and throws things. He runs faster than any person with 12-inch legs should run. Heaven forbid I wear slip-ons on a day when Caveman is set free—running shoes are my usual footwear of choice. We don’t go to story time, because he lasts about as long as the package of goldfish I use to bribe him to sit still and then runs circles around the bookshelves. When we get to a park I survey the equipment and “exits” and try to figure out what his escape route will be and whether or not I’ll be able to fit in the spot where he’ll likely get stuck. During a recent trip to a kid’s pizza place, I had to send a friend’s older daughter up into that hamster trail thing they have to retrieve him. I didn’t think he’d be able to get past the first part, where I could reach him. Obviously, I was wrong.
And now, I’m the person the mothers with one child look at in public. I’m the one they wonder about, silently judging my desperate attempts to keep both kids safe and happy while maintaining my sanity. As their lone children (usually girls) sit and look at books or play appropriately with toys, Caveman throws things across the room and roars like a dinosaur, stomping and gnashing his tiny teeth. And I accept their stares because once, I was just like them.
And I secretly hope that sometime soon they get their own little cavemen to make them realize that once upon a time, I was a wonderful mother, too.