The other night I took Emily to the zoo to a benefit for the local breastfeeding coalition. We meandered through the animal exhibits, but Em was more enthralled with all the babies than the animals. It was therapeutic for me to see all the happy families there having fun together. I smiled at all the baby-wearing moms and dads, thinking this was just what I needed to take the sting out of a day in the social work sweat shop.
The animals were quite active, possibly from the cool, fresh air of the evening, or possibly because there were a whole bunch of people hanging out gawking at them when the zoo was supposed to be empty and quiet and they were confused. Either way, it was fun to watch Emily react to a trumpeting elephant and marching giraffes.
I felt sad I left Jack and my husband at home.
We ran into a friend, and I spoke with her a while. She remarked how big Emily was getting, how pretty and sweet she is. Then she asked about Jack. I rolled my eyes, laughed and went on to explain he is still strong-willed, intense, and giving us a run for our money.
I went on, without any rhyme or reason, to state that it is weird having two children, that it is so challenging.
Most of the time, I said, I don’t feel part of a cohesive family unit because there is so much “divide and conquer”. We rarely experience anything pleasurable “as a family.”
I hope I don’t sound like I am complaining, because I’m not. I honestly wonder, is the “cohesive, happy family” even a thing? Because it feels like something mythological to me. If it isn’t a myth, what do I have to do to make my family so happy together?
The times we force family fun remind me of the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation when their trip is falling apart and the father says something like, “We’re going to have fun! We’re going to have so much fucking fun we’re going to need plastic surgery to remove the smiles from our goddamn faces!” Through gritted teeth, I try to convince myself, my husband, and the kids that we are having a marvellous time.
I worry that because happiness does not come naturally for me, that my family won’t be happy.
We do have some happy-fun-times together, like the trip to the butterfly garden. But even that excursion ended with me going to the car with Emily, who was tired and cranky, and Jack staying to take photos of the butterflies with my husband. Or the afternoon at our community pool where my husband and I kept switching off which kid we swam with, and I ended up out in the car snacking with Emily for another half hour while Jack finished his swim. The same thing happened when we went to the Children’s Museum.
Maybe it is just reality, but it feels like my family is fractured or missing out on a magical togetherness.
Before Emily, my husband, son, and I were a tightly woven tribe of three. We welcomed Emily into our tribe and I felt our family was complete. Although Jack was not thrilled to get a sister, it was easy to partake in family events as a foursome when she was a baby-lump I could wear on family excursions. Now she is an active toddler with huge personality. Her mobility and noise drive Jack insane! I try to be a good ambassador between the two of them, to model compassion, tolerance, and consideration, but there is frequent trumoil in my embassy. I don’t know how to bring us all together.
My kids are four years apart and developmentally at very different stages. It is even hard to take them to the playground by myself because my fearless Emily runs from me to scale the tallest slide, and my clingy Jack wants me to push him on the swings or play hide and seek. Neither of them want to get with the other’s agenda, and neither get their needs met. We leave feeling frustrated and exhausted, if not in tears.
While we try to provide diverse opportunities for togetherness, it is easier when my husband and I divide and conquer. It works better for my husband to chase after Em so I can tend to Jack, or for me to take Em grocery shopping while my husband takes Jack to soccer.
Sometimes it feels lonely to be off in these little diads.
Other times it feels downright divisive.
I worry about this dynamic.
Upon reflection, I realize the diad that needs more time and attention is me and my husband. We go out to dinner once a month, but the sad fact is there isn’t a ton of team building between us, and while there isn’t any hostility, I’m sure our fatigued disconnect still affects the children.
Emily and I had a good time at the zoo, but my brain was as active as the animals.
Upon hearing my thoughts about my family, my friend patted and reassured me. “You’ll get there!” Gosh, I hope so, but all those beautiful, crunchy, babywearing parents made me wonder , do I measure up? Is this just an age and phase through which families pass or am I doing something gravely wrong? Am I failing to nurture my family’s cohesion and happiness? Am I creating a family where we will grow together, or drift apart?
I don’t have the answers to these questions today. But in my never ending quest to find balance and bliss, I am hoping I will.