Wednesday, July 7, 2010

When is enough enough? The challenge of deciding whether or not to add to the family

***AUTHOR'S NOTE (ESPECIALLY IF AUTHOR'S EXTENDED FAMILY IS READING): The author is *not* pregnant. This is merely an article exploring the possibility of another child, and should not be considered grounds for any sort of celebration.***

It happened while I was out, and that's probably a good thing. I came back from Target to find my husband had removed the Pack 'N Play that has occupied a prime location in our family room for the better part of 3 years. It's now all pack and no play, stuffed into a canvas sack and stuck in the basement alongside the baby bathtub and the Jumperoo. Earlier this week, we lent the bassinet and swing to a friend with a newborn. So plastic piece by plastic piece, our house is slowly becoming de-baby-fied. The baby phase is quickly being extinguished, much like the flame on my little girl's first birthday cake. I know there are many people who would celebrate this milestone and gladly reclaim the space for more adult purposes, but I can't help feeling a little bit sad and a lot bit conflicted. You see, I don't know if the Pack 'N Play will ever come back to stay. You see, I'm just not sure if we're done with the baby phase for now, or if we're done with it for good.

It's been just over 3 years since we were blessed with baby #1. He kept us waiting more than 2 weeks past his due date but then one hot July day, like a firework in the sky he blinked up at us with those big blue eyes and boom! Just like that we went from couple to trio. From Mona and Mark to Mom and Dad.

Adding baby #2 required very little discussion. We both knew we wanted another baby, and almost 2 years to the date after #1, there she was. A tiny, thoughtful little bundle blinking up at us with those same big blue eyes. We retained our previous titles while our little boy proudly added a new one: Big Brother.

But will there be a #3? That's not so automatic. If it were only up to my husband, I think he'd be perfectly content to call it quits at 2. He's an only child with a very small extended family that rarely, if ever, comes together. They are exceptionally loving but seem to have clear boundaries around each separate family unit. I on the other hand come from a Big Fat Egyptian Family. It's parenting with an Etch-a-Sketch, a place where the lines between siblings, cousins, and close friends are blurry at best. The difference was never more evident than on our wedding day.

Here we are with Mark's family:

And with mine:

So I always envisioned myself with a large family, but I got started on this whole baby-making thing kind of late. Now, the idea of adding a third child feels daunting and yet tempting all at once. Scary, but safe. Thrilling, but maybe too thrilling? The rational part of me says "Why rock the boat? Life is just starting to get a teensy bit easier." After all, we're down to 1 diaper wearer. We're a household that sleeps through the night, pretty much every night. We fit comfortably into our current vehicles and our favorite booth at Red Robin.

But then then there's the emotional side of me, the one that says "BABY!" As difficult as parenting two young children can be, as tiring as it gets, as long as the days (and nights) often feel, motherhood is a transformative experience. So much that there are moments when I look into those two sets of big blue eyes and think, "Now I understand. This is what I was born to do." In those moments, it's hard not to want to do it again.

Not to mention the fact that the whole deal seems so much more enjoyable the second time around. It's a bit like making pancakes. The first one is certainly delicious, but sometimes the because it's the first one you worry whether the pan is too hot or too cold; you're quite never sure if you've added enough of this or too much of that. With baby #2 I've found myself feeling so much more confident as a parent, more relaxed, more able to enjoy the rid. If she does turn out to be our last I can only hope I've enjoyed it enough, savored each "first" along with each "last."

If you ask our little boy, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" In fact, you don't even have to ask him- he's already told everyone we know that he wants 6 more babies. He adores his baby sister and in just the 12 short months of her existence he has become more loving, more gentle, and is even learning to share his toys. He is her protector, her favorite toy, her giggle partner. And she sees stars when she looks at him. Most of the time, the two of them are a walking, talking advertisement for procreation.

My giant extended family doesn't make the decision any easier. There's nothing that would make them happier than word that the family is going to get giant-er. In fact, they love babies so much they've developed a highly sensitive pregnancy detector capable of sniffing out the earliest signs of baby. My husband doesn't understand why I agonize over what to wear to family functions, but I've learned the hard way that one overly blousy blouse is all it takes to get the rumors flying. Sometime after the construction of the Great Pyramids but well before the advent of the internet, Egyptian women invented and perfected the concept of social networking. Before you can say "But it was just a blousy blouse!" you've received 5 congratulatory phone calls from Cairo and 6 pairs of knitted booties from Troy, aka Little Cairo. No pressure there.

My no-nonsense, engineer of a husband would appreciate some sort of formula for calculating the ideal number of children, preferably one with lots of supporting data and analytic models. But family math is already a strange equation. It begins when you get married and two hearts defy arithmetic to somehow become one. It continues when, with the addition of each child, you subtract lots of sleep and most of your cash, yet some how end up feeling more alive and infinitely richer. Still, is there a tipping point for that delicate thing called sanity?

So would three be company or would three be a crowd? Would we have three amigos or a not-so-holy trinity on our hands? Could we handle the extra blessings/stresses, or are we better off just quitting while we're ahead? Those are three questions I'm just not ready to answer. So for now three will have remain an idea, one I'll hold onto in the basement of my mind. Right next to the Pack 'N Play, which isn't going anywhere just yet.

Mona Shand is a radio and TV news reporter and the mother of 2. *** Author's note: Hear that everyone? TWO.***

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