Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Second to Second

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The pain pulsates through my entire body. Who knew a bump to the lip could hurt so badly? But it does. I slide my finger inside my mouth, counting to make sure all my teeth are still there. My lip swells and the taste of blood comes shortly after. For the next week and a half, this wound will be the thorn in my side, making eating, talking, and smiling unbearable. And in that moment, I decide two is enough.

It’s a discussion we bring up often. Are we going to have more kids or are we done at two? It’s impossible to come to a decision. Because it’s not just from day to day we are back and forth, it’s from hour to hour, minute to minute, even second to second.

This morning feels good. I wake up thinking I can handle another one or two. A light breeze is blowing through the open window as the sun begins to peek from behind the curtain. I hear the spring birds singing their morning song. Both kids are in bed with us, and I’m nursing the younger, my boy. Our little girl is nestled under the covers. Maybe we’d have to upgrade to a king size bed, but that would be okay. I look over at my daughter, still asleep and breathing heavy. Those eyelashes, I think. If all my kids have eyelashes like hers, I’ll have 100 more. What would the mornings be like with another one or two in bed? It’d be a tight squeeze, even in a king, but the snuggles would be worth it. Right?

juliryansart.com jcadyryan@gmail.com

Little Boy Blue Mother and Son by Juli Cady Ryan. See more of Juli's work at juliryansart.com

A few minutes later my son finishes his morning drink and smiles. I smile back and kiss him on his forehead. He begins to squirm, ready to get up for the day. Let’s lay here a little while longer, I plead, but only in my mind. He sits up on my stomach, and then before I’m able to shield myself, he brings his head down toward mine and connects with my lip. It takes everything not to scream out the f-bomb, s-bomb, d-bomb, and whatever else-bomb there is. Instead, I yell, "Take him!" I tend to my injury while my husband pulls our son to his side of the bed, reminding me it was only a love tap—a love tap with enough force to change my mind about having more. The excruciating pain takes a few minutes to subside, and, before I’m ready, my son begins crawling over to me through the billowing white sheets. He leans towards me again, but this time slower and with lips puckered, he gives me a kiss. Okay, I think, let’s have more.

But for us, it’s more than the cuddles and kisses and tickles and giggles that will be shared by having more. It’s the thought of having to invest in a—gulp—minivan, spending another five or more years being pregnant or nursing, postponing camping trips and vacations because the littlest one is still too little. I wonder if we could still be missionaries, asking others to support our growing family. Will I need to work to supplement my husband’s income even though in my heart, I really want to homeschool our children? And we always end the discussion asking if we can survive the newborn stage again, the sleepless nights and living on autopilot, the constant spit-ups and blowouts, the snotty noses and the fear of SIDS, all the while keeping the two we already have alive. These questions and concerns occupy the conversations of having more, making it easy to settle.

I load up our white Pontiac Vibe. It was a gift from my father-in-law, and I was grateful for it. It’s the perfect size for our small family of four, plus it has extra space in the trunk for long trips or camping. Today, we are heading to the park. My all-purpose bag is stocked with diapers, wipes, the nursing cover (that hasn’t been used in months), burp cloth, wallet, broken crayons, a sticker book, a tampon, extra underwear for our daughter, two water bottles, snacks for later, our son’s Epi-pen (dairy allergy), old receipts, and a bunch of other random things. I heave the bag onto the seat next to me before pulling out of our driveway. The load triggers the passenger seat belt indicator convincing me this is enough and it is good.

We arrive at the park, and our daughter runs with abandon to the ladder that leads to the slide, while our little boy trots behind. He squeals with delight, pointing at the swings. Scooping him up, I place him in the toddler seat, and, after giving him a push, I glance over toward the playground to make sure my daughter is in view. I’m at a safe distance for our three-year-old, who is old enough now to be monitored from afar. I could have another, I think. A newborn in the sling, one in the swing, one running on the playset. I’ve got this. 

After an hour at the park, my thoughts alter as I attempt to strap my son back into his car seat. Exhaustion, hunger, and the thought of having to leave his beloved swing take over. He screams and squirms, almost too spirited to hold down. I regret not having his pacifier at arm’s length. The belt finally clicks, and I slam the door. As I walk to the driver’s side of the Vibe, I run my tongue over my still-swollen lip and think, Not going through toddlerhood again would be just fine.

~

You’ll always regret not having more. The words of a friend skip through my mind like a broken record. I wonder how true this statement is. If that’s the case, then what’s the magic number? When would I get to a point where I actually would regret having more? Three kids? Four? Eight? How do you know when you’re really done?

Both kids are napping and I’m cleaning up the mess left from lunch. As I set the last child-size spoon in the dishwasher, I recall the conversation I recently had with my friend. We were at a ladies’ Bible study brunch. My friend was always the older, wiser one of the group, and I appreciated her wisdom. Her children were out of the house. It had been years since her own were running around in diapers with snotty noses. She hadn’t folded tiny onesies in ages, toys were no longer sprawled all over her living room floor, impaling her feet with every step; she didn’t have to mess around with car seat buckles and make sure the pacifier was in the bag and tend to midnight cries that are only appeased with mother’s milk.

My friend sat with her arms folded on her lap after finishing her cranberry muffin. With a gentle voice she shared that, yes, those younger years were hard, but despite them being the hardest years of her life, she still wishes she and her husband would have tried for more. Three just wasn’t enough.

What is enough for me, though?

I fear what the future holds. I’m afraid of making a mistake. I’m afraid to have more. I’m afraid to not have more. If we decide to continue, there is no going back. If we decide to stop, it might be too late to change our minds.

~

The popcorn is popped and the wine is poured. We shuffle to the living room before falling into the couch. Exhaustion finally settles into our souls as we’ve been in flight or fight mode all day. Our legs immediately intertwine out of habit, like we’ve done every night for the last ten years. Before he hits play on the remote, tiny giggles and squeals reverberate off the halls and down the stairs. We laugh, too. Our kids should be sound asleep—but we don’t care. This is what childhood is made of, talking and giggling with your siblings into the night. What a gift.

He looks over and asks me, "So are we going to have more?"

I smile, thinking back on the day, the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the kisses and the cries. I run my tongue along my swollen lip for the 100th time that day, and reminisce on the words of my wise friend.

"Ask me again tomorrow."


Jessica Jones writes because she is the worst at talking. She lives and does mission work in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her high school sweetheart, Travis, and their two young children, Anna and Theo. Her first published essay about combating fatigue in the midst of motherhood and ministry recently appeared on the Good Mother Project blog.


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Juli Cady Ryan is a self-taught artist and who has been selling her art worldwide for 12 years. What started a as a hobby, soon became a vehicle for her to share her experiences with her family’s mental illness. Her art has now been in galleries, from the Smart Gallery in Springfield Missouri, to the Fuller Lodge Art Center Solo Exhibition in their Portal Gallery. She has also written a bedtime story for children, The Sleep Fairy and the Magic Sheep, a fun story to help the little ones fall asleep. Recently she has self-published a book of paintings, Wounds of Wisdom, that along with her poetry and Juli’s own words, show the pain and hope of dealing with mental illness in her family.


You have captured the minute-to-minute calculus of our house, and my head and heart. It feels like an impossible decision. How can I say no to another little person? But, realistically, how can I say yes? Thank you for sharing what this looks like for you, too.
In this same boat right now - I think I'm heading toward having the third (I think your friend is right - I would always regret not having more!), but some days I think I am more than overwhelmed and full with two. Love your relatable story!
Oh, yes. Oh absolutely and very much yes. Me, too. I am right there, asking the same questions. Glad to read this and know I'm not the only one. (Also, gorgeous art.)
Michele, Cat, and Rebecca, I'm glad to hear I'm in good company as we look forward to what is next for our family. Thank you for reading and for your thoughts!
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