By Grace Orbison
This is why I only had one child, I think as I watch my nephews ride bikes on fresh blacktop in the scorching sun. I left my son and husband inside the house where our family reunion is being held so I could take a short walk by myself. Instead I was recruited to watch my nephews ride their bikes in the street.
I like to keep a low level of stress in my life because of occasional ill mental health. One child is great. I can handle one child. No backseat sibling squabbles to break up. No complaints about the equality of their scoops of ice cream. When my son sleeps over at someone’s house, we get a date night.
Nice, slow living.
She only has one, so she’s free to help with ours, I imagine my siblings or siblings-in-law are thinking. Now instead of packing three lunches for my little family, I’m packing six. When it’s time to dole out lifeguard duty, we all take equal shifts, but shouldn’t someone with three kids have a shift three times as long as mine? This is why I only had one! So I wouldn’t have the stress of mothering several children at once.
When I promise my child a cookie, his cousins come to me with their hands out. Their mom says no and they whine about how it’s not fair. I wonder if their mom kind of hates me right now for making cookies appear at all. Usually giving my child a cookie isn’t this complicated.
I guess those kids care about what’s fair the same as I do and none of us get what we want all the time.
Sometimes my siblings complain about the stresses of parenting and I want to say then why did you have three?
When the day comes to pack up, my family is done packing much more quickly than the others which means, unless I’m going to sit around and just watch their chaos, it’s going to be my job wash everyone’s breakfast dishes. I’m drawn into the chaos I was trying to avoid.
While I scrape at someone else’s dry oatmeal, I reflect on the time spent with my nieces and nephews. When I watched the boys ride bikes, I comforted one when he took a little spill because I love him. When I walked my niece along the beach, I answered her questions about the ocean as best I could. When I packed lunches for someone else’s kids, I learned which ones were burgeoning vegetarians.
These were the moments when our relationship was happening. Suddenly I’m glad I was recruited to watch them because I may not have volunteered.
When my siblings complain about parenting, I remind myself that parents are allowed to complain. Hell, I complain about parenting too sometimes and if someone asked me why I decided to have a kid at all I’d probably shake their shoulders and tell them that I love my kid to death and he’s the best thing in my life.
No, I did not sign up to care for multiple kids. We care for each other’s children and the trade-offs are not equal. But, after some thought, I wouldn’t dream of asking them to leave me off the parenting roster.
Whenever I mentally grumble about the presumption that any moment I’m not actively caring for my child I’m free to care for someone else’s, my mind chips away at these complaints until I find my soft, sentimental core and remember that these years are only fleeting. Of course there’s something to be said for boundaries and for saying “no”, but these are boundaries I’m willing to tear down because I’m part of the larger family— and in my quiet house I sometimes long for the bustle of our reunions.
Grace Orbison is a writer, mother of one, and aunty of many. She resides in Oregon.
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