When Liam was a toddler, I took him on adventures to the zoo, the Children’s Museum, and the Phoenix Art Museum. Kellen and I make trips to Wal-Mart.
Before you stamp “Bad Mother” across my forehead in red ink, let me plead my case. I’m sure it will sound familiar to anyone with more than one child.
When Liam was a toddler, I needed an activity to break up the day. You would think a single family home with a backyard would provide plenty of room for a small child to run around. But as the day progressed the walls would begin to close in. He’d get this crazy look in his eye as he tornadoed through the house, tossing toys and snacks in his path, looking for anything suitable to capture his interest for longer than thirty seconds. As his only playmate, the task of providing intellectual stimulation for him fell on my shoulders. A trip to the museum or the zoo provided a new environment to run around in, preferably one that hired people to clean up messes made by children, and a break for Mommy to collect her sanity.
Kellen’s toddlerhood has proven to be a little different. He and Liam “entertain” each other- that means I haven’t actually seen their bedroom carpets in about 3 months. Two children should mean double the mess, right? Wrong! I don’t know what kind of mathematical evil occurs when more children are added to the mix, but with every new addition, the mess grows four fold. I spend a third of my day picking up toys, finding lost shoes, looking for Robin because you can’t have Batman without Robin and no one can locate him. I do my best to involve the children in keeping the house tidy, but I can only sing that “Clean up, Everybody Do Your Share” song so many times before my brain melts and oozes from my ears.
I feel like I am in Household Chore Survival Mode. There is a thin layer of sticky covering all of my floors, despite cleaning them daily. I’d love to blow of my cleaning duties, but I think our feet might actually adhere to the floor if I mop any less. It is so unsatisfying to feel like I practically have a sponge grafted to my hand, yet my house is never really clean- just the bare minimum to ensure we don’t contract flesh eating bacteria from the countertops. Throw in daily grocery store trips because we seem to constantly be out of milk or bread, and the need to comply with nap schedules, and time for “fun” trips is all but gone.
Friends are quick to console me by saying “he has never known any different,”- as in, he doesn’t know you used to be a good mother. Ok, that’s not what they meant. They also tell me that he is happy to just get to spend time with me. That is true, thus our trips to Wal-Mart. He loves to run through the clothing section, hiding behind the coats. He speeds to the toy aisle to bounce all the balls. He wanders through the Christmas displays, pointing at the lights. He smiles and waves at the customers, who think it’s adorable to see a toddler handing his mother apples to put in the cart. I admit, it’s not ideal, but when I take him there, he loves it.
Mommy guilt kicks in though. When Liam started preschool, I had the intention of finally having time to do special things with Kellen. But Liam is only in school for three hours a day. Most of the museums do not open until 9am, and are at least a half hour drive. I’m a cheapskate and hate to pay full price admission for an hour of activity. We could go to the park, but we do that nearly every day anyway after naps. Most days we opt to go home and play during Liam’s preschool session. Kellen gets one on one interaction with me, but often I can’t resist the urge to just unload the dishwasher or fold a basket of laundry.
When Liam was a baby, one of my friends gave me the advice to not do something for one that you are unwilling to do for the other. Her point was to think carefully before going overboard with the first child, because you will want to treat the second one fairly, and that is not always possible. Good advice that I did not heed. I went full speed ahead- I made baby books, journals, and special crafts for Liam. I have done the same for Kellen, but it hasn’t always been easy to find the time. Instead of leisurely compiling scrapbooks while Liam napped, I now find myself struggling to squeeze it in while I cook dinner and make a phonecall.
I want Kellen to have something of his own. He gets hand me down clothes. He’s the tag-a-long to gatherings with Liam’s friends. I don’t ever want him to feel like he didn’t have his own activities or that I was too busy taking care of the household to marvel at him.
Ben made a remark to me about an article he read on birth order. The article said that all presidents have been either first borns, or first born sons. I wondered if that is because from the start, second borns are used to following their older siblings- they are not taught how to lead. The older ones generally know how to do everything first- walk, talk, etc. The second borns learn by mimicking their siblings. They get used to this routine and then it takes over even in times where they could lead, such as play time. I want Kellen to have the chance to discover things on his own, without an older brother telling him how to do it.
So I bit the bullet and signed up for a “Mommy and Me” art class today. I shouldn’t say bit the bullet, because I am really excited about it. Maybe my floors will actually turn black with dirt, but I’ll have a more important mess to clean up- the one made by my baby during his first class. That sounds like a lot more fun to me.