“… a person with one child, I don’t really call them a parent, because there are too many things left out. If you have just one child, there are too many things left out. For instance, if something’s broken in the house, you have one child, you know who did it! See, you don’t have to go through “I… I… I…”. You know the child did it! Also, people with one child do not have to go through “Will you stop touching me?” I mean, if you got one child and the child is doing that, then you gotta take it away.”
– Bill Cosby: Himself (1983)
When I was a kid, my parents had a cassette tape (remember them?) of Bill Cosby’s stand up and on occasion we’d pop it in the tape player and listen to it. I remember hearing the above bit of comedy and chuckling along with the laugh track. “Ha ha ha! That’s so funny! Because sometimes I say ‘Stop touching me!’, too. Ha ha ha!”
I’m pretty sure my parents thought it was funny for a different reason.
The next time I heard old Bill’s thoughts, I only had one child. Big Brother was an only child until he was almost four years old, so I had quite a few years to experience what it was like. And although I may not have had to wonder who broke something (“It was my imaginary friend! I told him not to, but he did it anyway!”), and I rarely had to listen to “Will you stop touching me!” (unless it was the imaginary friend again), parenting wasn’t easy. There are a whole range of challenges that come with having one child. So this time when I listened to Cosby’s spiel, I wasn’t quite so amused.
And then Little Brother was born. The first six, seven, eight months were fine. Then he started crawling. And walking. And learned how to stamp his little foot and pout and scream until he turned purple. And now things are interesting. These days, when I think about Bill Cosby’s routine, I think, “Oh, yeah. Tell it how it is, Brother.” Not because I think parents of one child have it easy, but because the challenges of having multiple children are so very, very different.
Just today, I was helping Big Brother with some of the finer details of the “world” he was setting up in the playroom when Little Brother decided he’d had enough of his brother “getting all the attention”. So Little Brother grabbed his cup of juice, pulled the non-spill lid off the top, and enthusiastically poured the juice all over himself, the floor, and as many of Big Brother’s toys as he could. “Look, Ma! Now you have to pay attention to me!”
Fortunately, the world survived Juice Armageddon.
I didn’t even blink. At least this time his protest was quiet.
This is the soundtrack to an average morning in my house.
“Mummy, Little Brother is touching something he’s not supposed to! Mummy, he’s still doing it! Mummy, he’s still doing it! Mummy, Little Brother isn’t doing it anymore but now he’s in the kitchen. Mummy, Little Brother is in the kitchen! Mummy, now Little Brother is opening the cupboard! Mummy, he’s doing something he’s not allowed to! Mummy!”
I don’t know which is more annoying: the child doing the wrong thing or the child reporting on it.
I haven’t yet had an instance of “He’s touching me!”. But I regularly get, “Mummy, Little Brother won’t let me cuddle him.”, and “Mummy, Little Brother won’t give me a kiss.”
And then there’s the “I had it first!” scenarios. You’d think these things would be pretty simple to work out. There’s a toy. There’s two children. One of them clearly had it first. Simple, right? Uh, no. Because there’s circumstances and under the table deals and a complicated chain of events that even a crack squad of investigators couldn’t untangle.
“Well, Little Brother did have the red car but then I swapped him the red car for the blue car and then he put the blue car away and got the green car and then we played racing but when the cars went over the bridge the green car was winning and Little Brother wanted the red car and I took the green car and then I won and Little Brother threw the red car away and tried to take the green car so I gave it to him because the red car’s my favourite anyway and then I got the red car and he went and got the blue car and then he had the blue car and the green car and then he gave me the blue car and he tried to take the red car but he can’t have it because it’s mine!”
I’ve done my share of trying to work out who was at fault. Rookie mistake. There are really only three viable solutions.
- Tell them to work it out themselves, leave the room and pour yourself a glass of wine.
- Make an arbitrary decision, have one of them cry/yell/scream, leave the room and pour yourself a glass of wine.
- Go all King Solomon on them and tell them neither of them can have the toy. Expectation one of them to admit they’re in the wrong. Be disappointed when neither of them does. Take the toy away and have both of them start screaming. Leave the room and pour yourself a glass of wine.
And then there’s the fact that having multiple children makes you sound psychotic when you’re out and about doing the grocery shopping. “Twinkle, twinkle, little — Big Brother, please hold on to the trolley — star. How I wonder — Little Brother, take that out of your mouth — what you… Wait, where did you – Big Brother, please hold on to the trolley. Remember your walking feet. Thank you. Little Brother, where’s your dummy? Darn it. Big Brother, can you see Little Brother’s — There it — No, you can’t have a toy. I’m sorry that makes you sad. Here you go, Little Brother. Twinkle twinkle — If you’re just going to throw it away, you can’t have it back. Can we please stop banging into the trolley, Big Brother? Twinkle, twinkle… What do we need to buy? Let’s just go home.”
But going home seems like such a waste. Because getting out of the house is such a long, drawn-out process. You have to get both children to the point where they’ve eaten, had a drink, been to the toilet, put their shoes on, brushed their teeth, washed their faces, and are ready to go. And you need to get them to that point at the exact same moment, while realising that both of them need your undivided attention for each and every step of that process, and as soon as you look away from one of them, he’s going to forget what he was supposed to be doing and start climbing furniture, shooting aliens, or taking his clothes off.
(I’m going to tell you a secret. I once managed to get both children ready and in the car in record time. But just as I was about to climb in myself, I realised I was still wearing my pyjamas. I hadn’t even brushed my hair or put on any make-up. And I really needed to pee.)
One child is challenging, no doubt. But two children is not like having two lots of one child. It’s like having an infinite amount of chaos, noise, and disaster move into your house and force you to love it unconditionally, forever and ever. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have three, four, or more children. So please, enlighten me.
What are your experiences of being the parent of a single child and/or multiple children? This craziness isn’t just me, right?