Having Seconds

SHOULD WE TRY FOR ANOTHER BABY? IT DEPENDS.

     When my wife and I married in 2003, we did so without having settled the question of whether we would have children. It was always out there as a possibility, much in the same way that humans one day inhabiting Mars is a possibility, but we agreed that life without kids was pretty great, so if we decided not to, or simply couldn’t, our lives wouldn’t be ruined. But eventually we came to the conclusion that it was our duty to pass onto future generations the kind of genetic material that yields pale skin and a plump midsection, resulting in our gift to the world: a child who calls my allergy pills “beautiful” and tells my wife she is a “good cloth worker.”

     Most people will tell you that having a child changes everything, but to be honest we’ve managed to retain vestiges of life as we once knew it. We still go out to dinner, usually with our son in tow. We still work our same jobs and take annual vacations. I still get a few beers with the guys, and she gets a pedicure with her friends.

     But inevitably, the question of whether to expand the family further was bound to come up. We had never agreed to stop at just one, so with both of us over 40, it was time to come to grips with the matter.

     In my household, most of the essential pieces of information are exchanged via quick e-mails, allowing you to have a record of the conversation in case you weren’t really listening in the first place. However, increasing the size of one’s family is not the kind of thing that you casually slip into a shopping list or haiku:

 

     We need milk, bread, eggs

     A home fertility test

     And some granola

 

     You must have a face-to-face conversation, clear-headed, not late at night when you’re worn out, or early in the morning when your child has ripped you from the peace of sleep with a shriek on the baby monitor. It is important to clear your mind of extraneous clutter, such as the pressure of work or the fear that Tom Brady might break his leg. Also, I recommend not leaping to a final decision while your two year old is either: a) amazing you with his incredible memory; or b) flailing on the ground to stave off bedtime. His ability to morph from cute genius to purveyor of bedlam in an instant makes any one moment an unreliable representation of what raising a child is like.

     Now that your mind is completely clear, the football game is off, the magazines are stowed away, it’s time to address the specifics. The first factor you weigh is nothing less than the fate of the world, for if the two of you share the belief that we humans are going to hell in a hand-basket, then deciding to add another driver to the freeway requires the conviction that human ingenuity, plus hefty taxes on SUVs, will stave off Armageddon.

     One of you is bound to cite the drawbacks of no longer outnumbering your offspring, how watching them solo will require you to learn shepherding techniques to keep them out of the street. Space will have to be freed up for a new child, and more time will be plowed into sterilizing bottles and pumping out breast milk. You’re already way behind in putting away sufficient funds to send child #1 to college, and now he’s going to have to share that money with child #2. And let’s face it, getting out of the house to see some obscure rock band half your age is going to seem even more frivolous to your wife than it already does.

      On the plus side, you will factor in the support you have derived from your own siblings, who, despite the fact that they drove you up the wall as teenagers, have carried loads for you and your parents in tough times. And, of course, you will address your fear of getting old without having had sufficient children to make the golden years truly golden. In some ways, it’s not clear whether you want a bunch of kids or rather want to have had them, skipping the part where they crash your car and flunk geometry.

     I can’t imagine there’s an unambiguous answer to this kind of question. I can tell you that none surfaced for us. That’s why we put it to our two year old, who didn’t need much time to come up with his response: “Let’s get a doggie.”