One of the challenges/joys of having more than one kid is that unless you give birth to genetically identical clones you have to/get to have a multitude of parenting experiences based on your child’s unique special snowflake attributes. For instance, Riley was a decent sleeper right off the bat, while Dylan woke me up every night on the reg until he was in preschool. Riley was super sensitive and anxious, Dylan barreled through his early years like an urgent-care-prone bull in a china shop. Riley hated things with cheese, Dylan lived exclusively on things with cheese.

Now that the boys are older, they have plenty of the same interests — basketball, YouTube videos, Nerf weaponry, saying REKT BRO as often as possible — but they could not be more different when it comes to school. Math, at least the elementary school variety, seems to come naturally to Riley. Dylan, on the other hand, is mostly baffled by the entire concept, particularly the current third grade focus on fractions, which I can identify with on a deep and personal level (“Mixed numbers”? “Improper”? Look, all I can remember about fractions is that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Hobbes said numerator means “number eighter” in Latin). Dylan has excellent spelling skills, while Riley, frustratingly, doesn’t even get words in the phonetic ballpark. Riley is competitive to a fault and tends to get sloppy with his work in order to be the first done, Dylan is dreamy and scattered and I suspect he spends half his class time with the Charlie Brown wah-wah-wah voice going in the background while he cranes his neck to see whatever’s happening outside the window.

Throughout the past eleven years, I feel like whenever I have gotten some sort of handle on how to best support/handle one kid, the other is murmuring into my ear Liam-Neeson-style: “What I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”

I was listening to The Moth podcast yesterday and there was this amazing story from John Turturro, in which he describes — well, lots of things, including some heartbreaking revelations about his family, but also wandering through NYC during the blackout of 2003. He finishes with this:

We imagine that we live in the light. We imagine we know what’s gonna happen. We imagine we can control everything. You know, I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna do that. And the reality is, truthfully, that almost all of us are just stumbling along in the dark.

Parenting is just one big stumble, and the hope you don’t cause too much damage when you fall. I have always been suspicious of those who claim to have figured out the best path, because come on. You’re out here with me, in the dark.

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The boys were digging clams this weekend with John and his dad, we’d reached our limit and were plodding through wet sand on the way back to the car. John picked a route he’d hoped was less gluey and quicksand-y than the one we’d taken out to the bay, but I could hear him up ahead yelling “Aghh! It’s worse! It’s worse!” and then both my boots were suddenly frozen in place. I couldn’t go forwards, I couldn’t go backwards, I had to stand there pinwheeling my arms for balance until I finally reached down and yanked one leg up with a rude SLOOOOOORP! sound and that’s how I made my way back, via a slow nervous-giggling process of extracting one foot at a time from that fiercely sucking mud, while the kids, who were standing easily on the surface thanks to their lighter bodyweight, laughed themselves silly over the crippled adults.

It was funny, being mired like that. A shared experience: messy, temporary. Nothing at all like the feeling of being mentally stuck, which is tidy, boring, filled with stifling inertia and isolation. A dried-out rut instead of a bog.

Just reach down and pull yourself out, I think, but it just seems so hard. It’s so much easier to curl up, hide from the world, wait for things to change.

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