The five best decisions I never made

06.09.11 | motherhood | 15 Comments

When it's too cold for swimsuits in the summer time

Lately I’ve been thinking how I really should have had only one child. If Avery was my only child, I’d be set. I’d have my graduate degree (in something) by now, and I’d be pursuing a fabulous career (in something). In Cairo we knew a couple with one child who was about Avery’s age now. At the time (up until Avery was three), I was happy with one child. The husband in this couple told me they’d decided to have one child because that way they wouldn’t have to change their lives. They could have all the good parts of being a parent: the wonder, the love, the perspective expansion, etc, without having to make any serious lifestyle changes. And he was right. With one kid, you don’t even have to choose between your daughter’s swim meet and your other daughter’s soccer game.

Also, each of my children are much pleasanter to interact with one-on-one. I’m lucky in that generally-speaking they all four play pretty well together, but generally speaking somehow glosses over the fights that break out when someone pops a Polly Pocket head off or someone breathes on someone else in the car. Even splitting them down the middle (I prefer taking the oldest and youngest, leaving Tom the middlestest) is a big improvement when you’re trying to get something done.

But then yesterday when Molly woke up from her nap her head had grown three inches. Tom (who notices nothing) even remarked on it as he changed from his work clothes, he even tried to call her his little toddler when she bear walked over to him. I told him we preferred the term baby until the child is at least four years old (this is one of those birth order things: Callie was a baby until 2, Lucy until 3). And then I thought, we could have another one. The minivan has one empty seat, after all. And Mama needs a small baby head to sniff.

Having your own children, creating a being with your own DNA, is maybe the most selfish, self-centered things you can do. Creating someone in your own image, someone who will take up space, eat food, burn fuel, read books from dead trees. It’s almost profoundly arrogant and selfish. I almost can’t get over it.  It’s also the most self-less too, of course, however parenting comes about, because suddenly you’re not the most important thing, even in your own life.

I’m glad I didn’t think of that when I made those decisions I never made. I probably would’ve still had my four children. They are at once three too many and seventeen too few. A horrible compromise, as if you could compromise and have nine-halves of a child, but probably the best number choice for me.

Just like I’m glad I never had to make the decision whether to marry Tom or not. I never thought about it, never once. We thought about Molly before getting pregnant with her. Three seemed good, it seemed like we should think about it before changing things. Until one day I woke up and I didn’t have to think about it, it just had to be.

Why do I think I only need to make better choices to fix my life? Why do I think it matters what I think about things? Why am I certain that if only I could think the right way, think about things carefully throughout the day, everything would be better? The five best decisions I ever made, I never made, they just had to be. David Brooks says (in The Social Animal) that to make good decisions you should flip a coin and then make your decision based on how you feel about the coin flip result.

I guess the only real problem left is, why am I so frustrated, why do I regret so many of my small day-to-day choices (to not exercise, to eat three brownies, to be mad at the kids, to snip at my husband)? How do I get them so wrong when I did so spectacularly well not-making those five most important decisions?

*I have long considered it one of the dichotomies of motherhood that I wish almost simultaneously for only one child and for just one more, but today’s Motherlode epiphanized the non-choice choice thing. The comments are fascinating.