I love my kids. I love my kids a lot. I love my kids so much that even though pregnancy was the worst time of my life, I decided to do it again so I could have another kid. When my older daughter took her first step, I felt like she had invented walking and was bestowing it upon the world for the betterment of humanity. When my younger daughter smiles and cuddles into me, I feel the thrill of being The Most Important Best Thing That Ever Happened To Her. I taught myself to face paint. I eliminated everything from my diet except leaves and nuts so that I could keep breastfeeding my sensitive baby. I stood in line for two hours to get tickets for a dance recital that I have absolutely no desire to go to. Kids have changed my life in huge ways (career choices, house choices, my physical being) and small ways (I can sing every word to every song in Frozen, even though I’m often relegated to the role of Hans so that my daughter can be every other character), and I hardly ever go out anymore.
But when I read pieces about How Parenting Changed My Life Forever, they nearly always ring false. I haven’t become a homebody because I am so smugly, ecstatically living the high life, enjoying the shit out of a meaningful existence that is inexplicably impossible if you aren’t being tugged on by a toddler. Having children didn’t turn me into a supersatisfied superfulfilled superwoman, unable to relate to the poor, pitiful, underdeveloped childless. Having children turned me into a hot mess. And I think that’s what parents often don’t want the childless to know: when it comes to having children, a lot of it sucks. For those of us who choose this path, the ends justifies the means, but sometimes the means sucks.
Perhaps I am alone in this, but without any further ado, here are the reasons why I am less likely to go out with friends these days.
1) I am disgusting.
At any given point in time, it’s likely that I have bodily fluids somewhere on my clothing that I haven’t discovered. Snot across my sleeve, spit-up down my back, and there is no telling how shit manages to get smeared in places I can’t even see. It doesn’t matter if I just changed my clothes five minutes ago, I am almost certainly not noticing poop somewhere. And if it’s not in my clothes, it’s in my hair. I am gross. I haven’t showered in days, and the last time I did shower, my 4-year-old was sobbing on the floor next to the shower, because somehow taking a shower means mommy doesn’t love her anymore. You try deep-conditioning your hair while that is going on. I cannot go out looking like this, and now that I have kids, I look like this all the time.
2) My body is trolling me
In case you are wondering, “How many times can a person lactate all over themselves in public before they decide it’s better to just stay at home?”, the answer is one. One time. But I do have to occasionally leave the house, so unfortunately, the slowly spreading dark circles of milk on my nipples as I try to order from a surly teenage boy at Chipotle, or as I teach a roomful of students about Crime and Punishment, or as I wait in line at the airport to go through security, have hammered it in that the public is a scary, embarrassing place. They make diapers for your boobs, but in my case, the leakage only happens randomly, so I often forget the diapers. And also, it’s not like diapers for your boobs make you more socially acceptable.
Add to that the fact that if I go more than a few hours without nursing or pumping, my boobs threaten to explode, like water balloons filled past capacity. It feels like I have two feverish, extremely sensitive bowling balls hanging off of me. The only option for pumping in public is generally standing in a public bathroom, hooking myself up to a milk extractor, and trying to avoid eye contact and fecal particles while disrobed and dehumanized. No matter how many times people tell me “breast is best!” and “there’s nothing to be ashamed of!” it feels intensely personal and shameful.
Beyond that, labor did a number on me, especially the first time. I’ll spare some of the more gory details, but suffice it to say that I lost a lot of bowel control when baby #1 came ripping out of me, and after baby #2, I never know when I’m going to leak urine. Nothing spells a fun night on the town like incontinence or shitting your pants, amiright?
3) Kids are neeeeeeeeeeeedy.
Did you see that part above where my 4-year-old broke down because I wanted to take a shower? This sometimes happens when I have to go to work. Or when I have to go to the bathroom. Or when I have to mow the lawn. Or when I have to do anything that involves turning my attention away from her, even a little bit. Which, now that I have a second child, is 100% of the time, because my attention has to be split. And the little one needs me even more. Need need need need need. I want adult interaction, I do. But I’m not mentally capable of handling it — all of my everything is being sucked out by my children, and I’ve got nothing left. It’s like the book The Giving Tree, which was such a sweet and loving book when I read it as a child but horrifies me now. I’m a stump.
Kids are also touchy. Don’t get me wrong, I love cuddling my kids. But by the time the end of the day rolls around, my skin is buzzing. A friend of mine had a violent outburst at a moth who kept fluttering near her elbow, because at some point, more touching of any sort will push us over the edge. And going out in public means touching, even brushing up against other people. I’m a stump that cannot possibly handle being touched, even accidentally, by even one more person. The idea of going to a place where people are gathered — people who might need me to follow social conventions like being polite and trying to be “on,” or, horror of horrors, touch me lightheartedly, makes me dizzy.
4) I’m so broke. So, so broke.
When I looked at my budget, I realized I couldn’t have kids. When I looked at my age, I realized I couldn’t wait. I rearranged my budget and figured out how to make it work, because I can’t rearrange my age. This was my own choice, and I am fully responsible for my own broke-ness, but that does not change the fact that I have no money. I can’t spend money to go to a coffee shop or to get dinner. Even if I could, I can’t get a babysitter. If I had any extra money, which I don’t, I am supposed to be putting it away into a 529 plan because OH GOD SOMEDAY THEY ARE GOING TO WANT TO GO TO COLLEGE. Spending money on a babysitter or to go out is laughably out of my price range.
5) I can’t eat anything anyway.
I’m currently on an elimination diet so that I can breastfeed my baby, which means the few times that I’ve gone to restaurants, I have had to spend twenty minutes poring over the menu, talking to the waitress, trying to make sure my specific needs are met. There are a few chains that publish allergen menus online, which is nice, because I can look those over in advance. At Olive Garden, the only thing on the menu I can have is marinara sauce. At Red Lobster, I can have crispy red potatoes. I could have espresso, tea, or black coffee (decaf!) at Starbucks. Even if it weren’t for this diet, breastfeeding limits my alcohol and caffeine intake. In other words, sitting with me at a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop becomes an exercise in awkward pity. It’s not fun for anybody.
6) My house. Oh dear God, my house.
Toddlers break things. I swear, every time I turn around, something else is ruined or broken. Toys are everywhere, food crumbs are everywhere, dirt and mud from outside is everywhere. The state of my house is an embarrassment. I know that my friends will understand, and that shouldn’t stop me from inviting people over, but combine this with everything else, and it becomes another barrier.
7) I’m so tired.
I’m so tired. Everybody is tired, and there are all sorts of reasons for it, mine no better than anybody else’s. But add this to the previous six reasons, and I’m basically out of commission.
I chose to have kids, and I’m happy that I chose to have kids, because they are so awesome that sometimes I marvel at the fact that they came out of me. It is fun and fascinating to watch them grow, and I feel lucky that this path has worked out for me thus far. But to pretend like my life has only changed for the better, that having children somehow infused my life with a meaning that is impossible to get without children, is simply not truthful. I would love to spend more time with friends, childless or childful, but at the moment, I can’t. Not because I’m too busy being fulfilled, or because I have The Most Important Reasons And You Wouldn’t Understand Because Your Life is Empty, but because for at least the next few years, the toddler clinging to my leg and the baby hanging off my tit are severely limiting my possibilities.
I haven’t stopped being me because I had kids. I haven’t stopped wanting to talk about politics, or literature, or where the Teen Mom Season 1 ladies are now. I’ve just temporarily lost the ability to do that much in person, and have shifted to an easier-to-manage online presence. I hope that when the spawn become slightly more independent, when they stop puking and shitting on me, when we can all agree that throwing an egg against the wall, while scientifically interesting, is a bad idea — I hope that my friends will be willing to let me back in. Lord knows I’ll be in need of it.