"Desitin in my cuticles" is not the first line of a poignant country song, but I keep thinking it should be. No. Desitin in my cuticles is what concerns me when I'm asked the question I get at least once a day: "Are you having another one?"
Really, this should not be an annoying question.
It's a perfectly normal way for you to take an interest in my family and in me, and I don't mind it. In fact, I mind people who mind it. Moms of babies or toddlers who get twisted when asked if they plan on having another are like the women who wore "Touch the Bump, Get a Thump" t-shirts when they were pregnant. A human growing inside your stomach is compelling, and no t-shirt is going to change that. Similarly, when strangers or relatives see your baby hitting milestones, getting out of the crib and diapers, it is totally normal to ask if you will do this whole thing again.
What they are really asking--and the reason why this is a tough question to answer is, "Does this whole kid thing ruin your life, or did it work for you?" For me, both things are true.
I mean this with tremendous love and no regret; my life, as I knew it, is over. There will always be a part of me worrying about my child, whether he's at daycare or camp or college or on his honeymoon. So, I feel vulnerable in a way I never was before. It's terrifying, all this love and these high stakes. But, ruined is too strong a word, especially for something that can be so euphoric.
On that front, having another kid is sort of neutral because I am already in the game. How much harder can it be? Probably a lot. When I look at the infant toys now collecting cobwebs in the garage, a part of me never wants to go back. Just eye-balling that stupid, red baby play mat with cheap plastic mirrors and crinkly fabric birds and recalling "tummy time" or the washing of various breast pump parts makes me want to donate every single baby thing I own to the Salvation Army and say "Night, night" to ever reproducing again.
It's an inexplicable thrill ride to watch my two year-old suddenly string a sentence together or count to ten (even if he does throw in "three" where it doesn't belong). At the same time, there's a part of me that exhales when certain stages are over. When he gave up the pacifier, I thought, "Thank you. Thank you. No more scrambling for fallen pacifiers to wash. No more stuffing them in my glove compartment. No more." And a whisper in my head added, "Unless you have another one." Which explains the jar of pacifiers in a cupboard somewhere. I'm in baby purgatory, with a jar of pacifiers in one hand and a birth control pill in the other.
Most couples I see with two young children look pretty miserable. Or maybe I'm just seeing that because I'm scared. A big part of me wants to do it again, this time knowing how to take a temperature rectally and how to swaddle and not being so terrified and just taking in the joyful parts. Part of me wants a do-over, a second chance to live the peak moment of having a new baby, only without all the paranoia, the inexperience.
Each night, when I put on my toddler's pajamas and diaper, I cover his little bum with Desitin and there it is, the white paste that clings to your cuticles with the adhesive power of ten thousand barnacles. I can attack it with a towel, or go at it with a wet wipe, but that stuff is powerfully sticky. And I wonder if I'll miss it.
* This piece originally appeared in print via Creator's Syndicate and online at the Huffington Post.