Sprawled on the double bed, my 2 ½-year-old is whining, again, and the only thing that’ll stop him is boobs. Or he’ll degenerate into screaming, which will wake up his brothers, 4 and 6, crammed on the side-carred single bed. They are sucked up against my husband like remoras. Sometimes each demands to sleep on an outstretched arm, and he has to try to get shuteye while cruciform all night. Other times the baby won’t stop nursing and grabs the opposite nipple and hits me, and I can’t decide if I want this twilight half-sleep or if he should wake the fuck up already.
If we had stuck them in cribs when they were babies, I doubt any of this would have happened. We’d put the kids to bed at 8 p.m., and they’d stay in their own beds, silently, all night. We’d sleep in our bed, alone. This sounds like heaven. And while we stick by the decision we made and think it was the best one for us, dammit if I don’t sometimes wish otherwise.
There are some other parenting decisions I question. Take extended breastfeeding. I think my 4-year-old is weaned. He does not. And when he gets upset, he tends to fling himself at my breasts, screaming “Mama milk!” And I say no, and the wailing intensifies. My 2 ½-year-old sings the same tune. He sidles up and asks for milk. I tell him “not now,” and the toddler-fit starts. He screamed for a full half hour this morning, all because I wouldn’t pull out my boob and nurse him. I almost caved, but I knew if I did, I’d have to cave every time. So I held a naked, crying toddler, snotting all over, while my oldest son did his reading.
I could have weaned everyone at say, 18 months, and none of this would happen. They’d be so far from milks that they’d never ask. And though I love having nursing as a tool to help soothe injuries and tantrums, to give him extra antibodies, to help him get to sleep, sometimes, it’s a giant pain in the ass. I don’t even wear nursing gear anymore, so I’m flashing the public and ruining bras whenever I breastfeed.
I also wish I hadn’t been so adamant about no strollers. My babies were lovingly swaddled in cloth, put up on my back or cuddled on my front. I had piles of wraps for them to pick. I taught babywearing. But as soon as they got too big to want to be wrapped, they didn’t want to ride in the cart. Oh no. My babies didn’t ride. They walked, in Target, at age 2. All because they were too cool to be wrapped. If I had stuck them in strollers more, they’d have been used to riding in the cart. I could have gotten at least another year of mostly stress-free shopping. I loved every second of wrapping. I wrap the two youngest when they allow it. But it would be nice for them to ride in the freaking cart.
Then there’s homeschooling. Some mornings, we get through my oldest’s reading, his math, and some science quite happily. We like school. We enjoy it. Other mornings become screamfests when he can’t read certain words, and I get annoyed by him, because all he has to do is use basic phonics, dammit, and the preschooler and the toddler have gone from molding playdough to mashing it into the carpet. Or the baby sits in my lap and screams while the 4-year-old tries to climb up on the top of the couch because he can’t see, and the oldest yells at them all to stop so he can read. He’d cuss if he could. You can see it in his face.
I love homeschooling. But some mornings—oh, for the love of school!—I could enroll them all. I’d have a hell of a time with car lines, but then I’d be gloriously free for at least three hours. I could clean. I could write. I could wash laundry or dishes. I could get my hair cut or go to Ulta and buy makeup. I know this dream of freedom comes from a homeschooling mom and is probably totally unrealistic. But some days, I want to have my dream.
Another totally unrealistic dream: Sometimes I wish we spanked our kids. There. I said it. We decided long ago that we’d never spank our children, because violence doesn’t teach anything. We read the studies that say it’s more harmful than helpful, so we don’t spank. We think of consequences; we try to understand behavior. When they throw a tantrum, we’re patient about their inability to work through their emotions. But when one of them jumps from the top of the kitchen table to the plastic storage bins several feet away, I want to spank the shit out of him, for stupidity if nothing else. When they’re throwing a tantrum, spanking won’t help them. But damn if it won’t feel good for me. Horrible? Probably. I’d never do it. But sometimes I want to just whale on the little bastards.
We’ve all got parenting regrets. Maybe not regrets, but dreams. Sometimes, the grass looks a lot greener on the other side of the fence. It’s not. We all make the best choices for our children. We know what soothes them, what helps them, what teaches them. But once in awhile, we wish it was otherwise. And that’s OK.