To find joy in the daily grind of parenting, sometimes all it takes is talking to someone else.
I went to my massage therapist the other day.
I know it sounds kind of odd, but I really wish I could be friends with her.
She's sooooo cool.
A young, hip chick with long, red hair, bright eyes and long lashes. We talk about her 8-year-old son, and she asks me about my kids. And somehow, in those 20 minutes, my twice-yearly body massage feels more like a coffee date with a girlfriend.
But today, I left the office with a heavy heart.
Right after complimenting my baby bump, as she scanned my fat ass and told me those zits on my butt are from not showering after I work out, she looked at me with a serious question that had nothing to do with my sore back.
"So, are you done after this one?"
I told her I wasn't sure. That most days, I feel overwhelmed with 2 kids, and I'm doubting my abilities with 3. But, I come from a family of 4 kids, and that's always been in the back of my head. It's too early to say.
You know those times when people ask a question, but they really just need to explain their answer?
Then, she started.
"My husband doesn't want any more kids," she said.
"He was an only child, and he loved it. And we have our son, so we're done. The sad thing is, our son doesn't want siblings anyway. I keep asking him all the time, hoping he'll say 'yes,' and I can bring that to my husband. But, he says, 'No, I just want it to be us.'"
She paused, and looked at me for reaction. I watched as the twinkle in her eyes faded. And suddenly, I could see a deep sadness inside.
She went on.
"As funny as it sounds, my husband doesn't think we can afford more kids. He wants to be able to send our son to private school if we want to, and go skiing when we can. He doesn't want to feel strapped, and he's perfectly content with just one."
I felt a knot in my throat, and my heart ached as I looked down at the stretching pamphlet she was about to hand me.
She kept going.
She shared how she came from a larger family. And yes, they still went to Disney World, just like her husband's family. But only once a year.
"And when you come from a middle-class family, that's how you grow up, and you don't know what you're missing," her assistant chimed in. We all agreed.
My therapist was still just midway through her explanation, but I had something to say.
As she kneaded my back, and reasoned that you have to make compromises when you have more children, and you can't go on all the trips you want to, I couldn't help but share my truth.
"You know what?" I asked them.
"My kids make me feel rich."
Because of my children, I am the wealthiest person alive.
I don't drive a luxury car, but our cluttered SUV is a place where nursery rhymes are sung, and smiles are made.
Our youngest child only wears hand-me-downs, but they've been broken in by his best friend and favorite playmate.
We don't stay at expensive resorts, but the trips we do go on are marked by adventures, laughter and lots (and lots) of noise.
She nodded, and looked me in the eye.
And then, very slowly, she said her truth.
Her painfully-sad and oh-so-honest truth.
"My house is quiet. And I don't like it."
I glanced over at my youngest son, who was talking to his tractors book in the corner of the exam room. I smiled, as I thought about how he'd sprint through the hallways in a couple hours when we pick up his older brother from preschool.
How he'd run to Sully's classroom door, look inside and when he spotted his hero, yell, "Swollllllieeeeee!"
How Sully would bolt over to us, reach down and hug the little guy, and say with bright eyes and a dramatic baby voice, "Hi Porter, how was your day?"
And then, Porter would look up at him.
With the eyes of a child who's right next to the most important person in his life.
Then I smiled again, as I pictured the beauty I'd experience in hearing my boys play together, later that afternoon. Learning to talk and communicate as they'd barter over Spiderman cars and Play-Doh.
I smiled, as I thought about tonight after dinner, when Porter will break out in belly laughs at his brother's antics. Even with tears still in his eyes from an unhappy sibling moment seconds before. Sully is his hero, and there's no offense too great for little brother's forgiveness.
I smiled, as I pictured those blessed moments this weekend, when I'll sit in our living room and watch them playing in the backyard. The older one, teaching the younger one how to use the toy fishing pole and getting down on one knee with him when he falls off the slide.
I smiled, as I thought about tomorrow morning, when Sully would wake up at 5am and plead with me for 45 minutes to let him wake his younger brother. When I finally relent, he'd squeal with delight, bound through the door, turn on the light and yell, "Good MORNING, PORTERRRRRRR!" Out of a deep sleep, Porter will wake up, at first with alarm, and then, slowly, a peaceful grin will warm his whole face. As he squints to look out of his crib, he is seeing his most favorite face of all.
As I left the appointment, I passed my therapist's shiny black Mercedes and looked inside. There was nothing in the backseat, except a notebook and perfectly-clean leather seats. The newly-washed exterior gleamed in the sun. Yes, it'd be nice to drive that car.
But as I climbed into our Suburban, past a dirty diaper and the stench of stale milk (that'd spilled in the back 2 weeks ago), I knew one thing.
Our children are so much more than school tuition payments and endless boxes of diapers and laundry loads. They are so much more than 5pm headaches and not being able to shower for days. They are so much more than perfect cars and Disney vacations and brand-new clothes.
My children are what make my life rich.
They are my legacy.
It's true, you never feel like you can afford to have kids.
But now, I know I could never afford not to, either.