(Oprah.com) -- Our friends Andrea and Harlan are sitting around the kitchen table with us. It's 9 p.m., and we've pulled out a bottle of Pinot Noir even though we're all bleary eyed. Their son is konked out in our living room and ours is asleep in his bedroom. The day began around 6 a.m. and neither boy has napped, which has made for a very long haul of playing, arguing, pushing, pulling and then, finally, in desperation, some animated Richard Scarry on the TV.
Yet in this moment, this adult time, despite the bone-aching desire for bed, despite knowing that tomorrow will start early once again with the yanking of toys, we want to stay up and talk. And the conversation inevitably turns to this: Are you guys going to try have another child?
Dan and I are familiar with this theme. For the past six months, we've been covering this ground most nights of the week, circling around it like a dog trying to get comfortable with a bed he's not so sure is up to snuff. Here's what I know: There's the recession that leveled us when Dan lost his job; there's the fact that I'm 37 and the primary breadwinner; there's the pregnancy puking (which in my case lasted nine long months); there's my career (which I have even more desire to make work as the clock ticks); there's the exhaustion (we're aren't spring pups anymore); and then there's the guilt -- the I-should-be-less-selfish-and-give-my-son-a-sibling-because-what's-five-more-years-of-my-life-anyway?
But I know, as I write this, that I'm not exactly sure what runs through Dan's brain when we're having "the talk." I know some of the things he says, and I know some of the things I say. But the next morning, when I try to remember what we decided for this cycle of ovulation, I realize I heard words but am not sure what they mean. This got me wondering if other people I know are having this conversation as often (and as fruitlessly) as we are. So, I made a few phone calls and asked a few questions to find out what our spouses are really talking about when they talk about having another baby.
What they say: It'll be cheaper the second time around.
What they actually mean: That night with Andrea and Harlan, I actually said out loud (I blame the Pinot) that I wanted another baby so that I could reuse all those baby clothes I've got all washed and folded and packed away in Tupperwares in our pantry. Harlan looked at me with an expression that attempted sympathy but telegraphed: "She's crazy!" Dan put his head down. All I meant was this: Babyhood is so fleeting -- your kid is in each cute onesie for about five seconds and then grows out of it while you're taking a shower. Before you know, it you're packing that baby's SunButter-and-jelly sandwich into a lunchbox with John Deere tractors all over it and then you blink and they're going off to college. To only do this magical journey once -- and a trial run at that -- makes me feel gypped.
What they say: Okay, so we may save on clothes (after all, the first kids' onesies and sweaters are all neatly packed into those Tupperwares waiting for number two), but can we really afford this?
What they actually mean: My friend Andrea believes there is an invisible math in the world: Money does get found to feed that extra mouth; bassinets and soccer cleats get passed along from friends; love begets love. And I hope she's right. But I know that quite a few of my peers worry. This recession has been deep, and most of us have been scarred. So I think we're really saying something that's difficult to hear: "We need to take a hard and decisive look at the growing costs of everything from health insurance premiums to food to college and make a smart choice." (I'll admit, though, there's nothing as unsexy as getting out the calculator and crunching numbers right before you pull off all your clothes and try to make a baby.)
What they say: Are we really going to foist the 7 billion and first child on the planet?
What they actually mean: This does come out of my mouth when Dan and I talk. I'm not actually sure that I think that my having just one more eensy, tiny baby will tip our planet's scale. But I'm really asking myself this: When will you, Caitlin, take the blinders off and begin to take individual responsibility for the fast-vanishing land, water and resources on our planet?
What they say: You're just getting yourself back.
What they actually mean: In this case, based on my polling, "they" are usually the husbands. And without exception I can say "they" are right: His wife is just getting herself back. But here's what I think he really means: "I'm just getting you back." For him, I think it's fair to say that the cumulative stress over the past few years of lack of sleep, money strain and annihilation of your sex life has been tough. I think what he wants to say is this: "I'm not sure our marriage can handle another kid and come out the other end in one piece."
What they say: I don't know if we can give another child the same kind of attention we gave the first.
What they actually mean: I'm old. I'm tired. And so are you.
What they say: Our kid should have a sibling, though...right?
What they actually mean: The other day a friend told me that her son was taking a bath with his little sister one evening. Mid-play, he looked his mother straight in the eye, nodded at the baby girl and asked, "When will she be dead?" That got me thinking about siblings and how I don't actually know very many people who really like their siblings. They love them, sure, because they're family but would not necessarily choose them to be their friends.
And it occurred to me that, as parents, we're often thinking about the future -- anything from starting preschool to those days that will, inevitably, come when we're old and infirm. I think the more generous parts of us want our child to have someone else to help navigate our bedpans and DNR orders, because doing all that alone would just stink.
But, it occurs to me, that what we might actually be saying here is that we want our kid to have a sibling because, mostly, it will make it easier for us to say goodbye.
Caitlin Shetterly is the author of "Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home."
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