“Your Sex Life Gets Complicated, and 7 Other Things I Wish I Knew Before Having a Second Kid” originally appeared on The Fatherly Forum, and was reprinted with permission.
1. Childcare, healthcare, and everyday gear will probably top your mortgage/rent.
I know I should have seen this coming, but it’s easy to forget that babies are royalty.
The 10 grand it takes for them to make an appearance? That’s their signing fee, and it might be 20k or more if they arrive via Caesarian or there are complications. There’s nothing quite like staring at an itemized hospital bill to make you wish you could I Dream of Jeannie and suddenly materialize with Canadian citizenship. Hell, it seems like my kids’ medical bills have their own medical bills.
And once you’re home from the hospital, there’s eventually daycare, unless one of you can swing staying home. That should be easy enough to calculate, right? It’s the daycare bill each week for the first kid, doubled. But it’s worse than that, because daycare for infants costs more, and you also need to factor in more diapers, not to mention formula, assuming that your wee-est one isn’t solely relying on breastmilk. And while you can reuse a lot of the gear and clothes from your first kid, there’s almost no escaping some expenses, such as carseats. They have expiration dates — so with each kid you’ll have to start anew the cycle that begins with rear-facing infant seats and presumably ends with the Popemobile.
Even if you anticipate all this, there’s a hell of a difference between knowing how much is due each month, and actually signing the check, or in our case, going to the ATM each week to watch half a paycheck spit out when you pay for a week’s worth of daycare.
We can only swing things now because of the generous healthcare benefits offered by my work and because my mother, who is practically a saint, offered to start off her golden years by watching our kids after retiring from 30 years of teaching. If we didn’t have that, I don’t quite know what we’d do.
2. Date night gets a lot harder.
Somebody asked me the other day if I’d seen the new Captain America movie yet. I laughed aggressively in his direction, in part because when I see that movie, it will be because I’m able to buy it and then watch it over the course of perhaps three months in 10 to 13 minute increments.
When attempting to do so, it’ll be just after bedtime, and I’ll pause it to let the dog in, and then the other dog out, always suddenly scrambling to find the remote when a whisper-filled character development scene (why do they even attempt that?) gives way to the sudden demolition of another borough of New York City. And then my wife and I will have to go to sleep to get up for work and the next night we’ll re-start the movie from 10 minutes before we left off just to remember what we watched the night before.
The only alternative is to lean on your support system — in our case, two sets of wonderful grandparents, who are more than kind enough to spring us for a date night, or even a couple of kid-free hours when we need it. That in itself is a luxury and a privilege, but at the same time, if you’ve had a week (or a month!) from hell at work, it’s sometimes a must.
3. Kiss all your high-minded ideals goodbye.
Almost everyone’s an absolutist before they have a kid. When the first one actually shows up, your resolve is tested, but if you’ve only got one kid and two people are parenting, you often can make up the gap and stick to your proclaimed beliefs.
In my experience, many parents start off with a tendency for granola or “natural” parenting, which I prefer to dub au naturale, a term that I just Googled to make sure I was spelling it right, and now I’ve got a bunch of images in my search history that I’ll have to explain to my wife. Anyway, the whole granola parenting thing never worked for us, in part because granola is a product that was invented in the nineteenth century, which makes it about as natural or old-fashioned as getting your blood-letting done at Great Clips or dying of diphtheria.
Still, if that’s your thing, you can stick with it while one of you takes the kid, and the spouse/partner washes the cloth diapers and then proceeds to abolish the very possibility of screen time by smashing everything nearby with an LCD screen, including the fancy leftover calculator from high school that’s stuffed away in the junk drawer, never to be used again.
When the second kid shows up, good luck! My wife and I weren’t exactly overzealous with our first kid, but we stuck to our few hills-to-die-on for a while and drastically limited screen time and nixed nearly all sugary foods. But when the second kid arrived, it was hard not to cave. And when you do — chances are, nothing bad happens — and you quickly realize just how much your previous ideas were oversold.
4. Finding free time just got a lot harder.
When you’ve got an infant, you soon find that, when it’s just the two of you, relatively simple tasks become a lot more complicated. Taking a shower, doing the dishes, even using the bathroom all become new, exciting challenges. My wife used to lull our little one to sleep in a bassinet, then gingerly carry it into the bathroom so she could, you know, bathe. Then again, when you’ve only got one, naptime is the best time. It’s a free-for-all. You want to nap? Go ahead! Want to write? Want to dance naked in the pale moonlight? You can!
When you have two kids, you have entered a world of logistical hell. Naptimes and meals and bedtime ensure this; planning your day becomes the word problem of your nightmares: Your 1-year-old typically naps from 10:00 to 11:30 AM and 2:00 to 3:00 PM, and your toddler needs to leave the house because he self-destructs if he doesn’t run a bit and go on at least three “bug hunts” with Dad in order to ensure an orderly bedtime routine. The toddler also eats at the following times:
7:45 AM – breakfast
10 AM – second breakfast
11:30 AM – snack
12:15 PM – lunch
12:30 PM – post-lunch snack
12:33 PM – vitamin gummy bear and post-snack snack
1:30 PM – now I’m thirsty
3:45 PM – thirsty again
5:00 PM – I’m not hungry for dinner!!!!
5:45 PM – I want a snack!
6:00 PM – a snack before bed?
Given the above, should you ever leave the house? Please show your work and do so without screaming.
5. What a difference gender makes.
My daughter is just shy of 1-and-a-half, and almost invariably people talk about her only in terms of her appearance. She’s described as pretty, or beautiful — both certainly true — or they warn me that I’ll have to lock the door or buy a shotgun to keep the boys away.
She’s 17 months old.
Now if I didn’t know any better, I’d assume this is how people talk about babies — but it was different for our son when he was the same age. I remember this because he and his sister are essentially the same toddlers. Ever since he first could say “What’s that?” my son never stopped asking questions. The same is true for my daughter — “What’s that?” is literally her first phrase in the morning, and she says it in the same excited tone of voice. This natural inquisitiveness is almost never mentioned (except by family). Instead, she’s always rated on her looks first, and given everything else we know about our culture, it’s unlikely that’s much of a coincidence.
The same goes when we’re out picking out clothes for her. The boys’ section is replete with dinosaurs and robots and camping (you know, awesome stuff), but the pastel nightmare of the girls’ section mostly has the kittens and unicorns and princesses you’d expect.
The same goes for the toy aisle; in addition to action figures, the boys’ section has robots and bug-catching kits and model rockets; the girls’ section, by and large, is basically a nursery. That might not seem like a big deal, but it’s another aspect of the same problem.
As a culture, we steer girls and young women away from entire careers and even subjects in advance, and at the same time we wring our hands and proclaim that we just can’t understand why the gender ratios in STEM fields are so skewed or why women continually receive less pay than men for the same work. In that context, the message to girls and women is clear enough.
6. Germs, germs everywhere. Germs, germs in your hair.
You see your child and recoil — is that a banana slug on his face?
No, it’s gelatinous ooze and he just wiped it all over the place.
He sees your shock, so he giggles,
and as he walks away, you can’t help but notice a strange wiggle
in his walk. You ask if something is the matter
and he says no, until he takes another step and you hear a particular kind of splatter,
then a wail; when you turn the corner it’s Septic Systems Gone Wild.
You clean up that mess, then the next,
and you smile when your daughter wakes up from a nap, laughing.
That is, until she promptly sneezes into your mouth.
This poem brought to you by chart-topping Oh God No The Whole Family Is Sick Again and the companion album The Doctor Says It’s Viral, There’s Nothing They Can Do.
7. Your sex life just got a lot more complicated.
When you don’t have kids, your life is basically a version of that Ludacris song, “What’s Your Fantasy?” If you want to, you can do it on a boat, in a moat, screaming and moaning as you both float toward a 4-poster bed covered in products from Pure Romance parties.
When you have one kid, things get tricky, but when you have a couple, you first have to put both kids to sleep, which is a task in itself, and in our case, you have to then share the “room of amour” with the sleeping infant, while remaining cognizant of the ever-so-slightly sleeping toddler in the room with the adjoining wall.
This calculus doesn’t include pets; in our case, we have an incredibly concerned dachshund who is liable to whine, half-growl, and hazard a lick at the most inopportune moments, and his somnolent counterpart, a terrier with a heart condition who snores so loudly it’s hard not to imagine you’re getting your jollies off in the old folks home.
And that’s on a good night. Just wait until the kid barges in after a bad dream or you’re both so close to the afterglow that you can see it glimmering in the distance until the younger kid starts hacking up more great globs of phlegm again, proof of her latest ear infection, dousing any chance that the spousal rendezvous will conclude in a satisfactory manner.
All of this happens enough that sometimes it seems like it is nature’s way of telling you, okay, okay, you passed on your genes. There will be no Darwin Award for you, but don’t press your luck.
8. Don’t get cocky, kid.
When your first kid’s first birthday rolls around, it’s a pretty good feeling. I mean, not only do you get to enjoy your little one’s budding personality and the guffaws from the peanut gallery as the kid shoves handfuls of smash cake into their mouth, you also get the parental satisfaction of knowing that they your progeny is still alive, thanks to your hard work, constant vigilance and the wonders of vaccination.
If things went relatively well with your first kid, you might even find yourself thinking, “Hey that wasn’t so bad!” as you start to think about the next one. That’s how it happened with us: our little man was born a Kraken (nearly 10 pounds), and he was almost never sick. Other than a desultory sleep schedule and the nightmare that is sleep regression every couple of months, his first year was crisis-free.
Our second kid was sick almost from the start. Ear infections were her scourge, and they still are a year and a half running. They got so bad early on that she couldn’t hear at all — we’d clap our hands right next to her and get no response, and at her first ENT appointment, her tympanogram was as flat as Nebraska, but they said her ears were too small for tubes. Now she finally has tubes in, and a month later, we think she’s got another ear infection.
The point stands: prior performance doesn’t presage future success. Your first kid might have been marvelous, or you and your partner could have been miserable a lot of the time, but whatever happened, don’t expect a repeat. You just don’t know until they show up.
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