Two and a Half

I (we) could have more kids. Technically. But the door is closing, almost shut.

And I am mostly okay with that. I know how lucky I am. And I love being Mom to two incredible sons. But lately I’ve had an intermittent pang, a feeling that was missing a few years back, when decisions about two or three were more plausible. 
So when my sister asked if her 3 year old daughter, Rayme, could come hang out for February vacation while she attended an out-of-state wedding, my response was simple and swift, “Yes!”

The first thing I noticed upon Rayme's arrival was how absolutely wonderful it was to have a girl in the house. 

Day one we got manicures. What else does a girl deprived aunt do? 

She sat on my lap while my nails were being painted asking, “Auntie Olly does it hurt?”

“No, tickles,” I said, five maybe ten times. When it was her turn, my normally verbose energetic niece sat statue-still speechless.

But she was proud as purple punch when she joined me at the nail drying station. “My Mommy’s favorite color is purple,” she said. She had, of course, chosen purple for her nails.

“Do you know who your Mom is?” I asked.

“My mommy,” she said.

“She’s my little sister,” I said.

“She’s not little,” Ray said, in a you are a silly goose tone.

Almost immediately we settled into a routine and I quickly discovered something that my friends with many kids already know. 

It’s much easier to have a little one around, when you have a bigger little one to help.

My oldest is a natural caretaker who found his new “responsibility” liberating in a I just turned 10 kind of way. John made Ray’s breakfast, helped brush her teeth, even DVRed the latest episodes of My Little Pony

He was so involved that on day three he asked, “Do you think she’ll take a nap today?”

“Why?” I asked. The truth was the no nap approach was boding well for a workable bed time, why mess with success? 

“I just need one hour to myself,” John said.

My smile was uncontainable. 

The next day we were mostly out and about. As I scooped our little bundle out of her car seat to retrieve my youngest son and his friends from baseball camp, she covered her nose and said, “Auntie Olly you forgot to brush your teeth!”

I was two cups of coffee in and apparently my breath wasn’t smelling so good.

An hour later after we’d dropped a car full of boys off at their respective homes, and had lunch with a friend, she asked, “Are there any more boys in the trunk?”

She brought such smiles to us the entire stay. So much so that when it was time for my sister to return, I found myself wishing for a cataclysmic snowstorm, in hopes of just a few more days.

No such luck. As quick as our pinky purple whirlwind arrived, she departed. 

Years ago a friend made an astute observation about how difficult it is to decide what the right number is, when it comes to having kids.

“Two isn’t enough but three is too many,” she said. We had a good laugh.

Having our little Ray of sunshine around made me realize I may have found the answer, to the how many riddle. 

Two is enough, but two and a half is just perfect.

Mrs. D.

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.  ~George Elliot

"You have a remarkable son,” a quiet voice to my left said, as I walked with the boys through the mass of kids running every direction toward buses and vans and bikes. I turned to see a short woman with curly black hair and a smile. 

“Thank you,” I said.
“Who’s that?” I asked John, as we approached our car.

“Mrs. D., she sits with us at lunch. I talk with her a lot.”

Aaaaah lunch. The supposed to be fun, often stressful slot in an elementary schooler's day where eating and socializing and recess are crammed together into a prepubescent minefield.

The Mom in me wanted to say “Why are you talking with a teacher during lunch?” The John in me understood, because I used to do the same thing when I was his age.

Still I was curious. “What do you talk about?”

“Stuff. She gave me a good idea for the science fair,” he said.

“Oh yeah?” 

“I’m going to plant a seed, water it with three different liquids that aren’t water and see which one helps it to grow. Isn’t that cool?” he said, obviously excited.

It sounded kind of ridiculous to me, would a seed grow watered by orange juice? I had no clue but I nodded anyway. The science fair was one big negotiation from beginning to end. It was a relief to have a cohort at school helping John sort through the countless possibilities in his head.

Valentines Day arrived a few days later and I was scheduled to help with red themed celebrations in my youngest son’s class. As soon as I entered the school I could tell something was wrong. The front desk greeter gave me the usual, “Hello Mrs. Howley,” but there was extreme sadness in her red swollen eyes. 

“Are you okay?” I asked. 

She leaned in close. “Pam D. died very suddenly last night. She was here yesterday and now she’s gone.” 

She’s gone. Her words struck a childlike tone, she wanted her friend back. 

“I’m so sorry,” I said, hugging her. 

I wasn’t sure who Pam D. was, so as I made my way to Will’s classroom I stopped at the staff bulletin board. I searched the faces until I saw her, the woman with the black curly hair and smile. 

Mrs. D.

For the next hour I played Valentine Battleship with little candy hearts and number grids. But all I was thinking about was John sitting in his classroom. I knew that he either knew or would know shortly. 

When my time in the classroom was done, I found myself lingering in the foyer area. 

“Hi,” I said awkwardly, to the new greeter, who, I didn’t know as well. “My son, John wasn’t feeling a hundred percent this morning, I was just in his brother’s class. Before I leave, I thought I might check on him.” It was mostly true. He’d woken up with a headache. But seemed fine by the time he’d left for school and was excited about a birthday party that afternoon.

She nodded, checked the schedule and said, “He’s in art right now, do you want me to get him out?”

I wanted to say, “Yes.” I wanted to scoop him up, take him home and drink hot chocolate and play eye spy like when he was three.

But instead I said, “No, I think he’s okay. Thank you.”

Five long hours later, he walked through the door fresh from his birthday party, fresh from the world.

“Did you hear about Mrs. D.?” he asked right away. He had a Mom-make-it-better look.

“I’m so sorry,” I said hugging him.

“I don’t understand. She was in school yesterday. What happened?” He was looking to me to explain the unexplainable. The secret was officially out, the one I’d hoped to keep much longer. 

The world is a big, bright, beautiful place but it can also be unfair, ugly and upsetting too. And I couldn’t fix the broken heart beating next to me, however remarkable.

“We’re not sure why she died,” I said, it was the truth, but provided little comfort.

“I talked to her every day,” he said. 

“I know,” I hugged him again. 

“Mom,” he looked up at me with his big blue eyes, “we have to do that science fair project, for her.”

It’s been a year since Mrs. D. passed away, on Valentine’s Day, but you can be sure the budding hearts she tended each day, remember. And the parents who love them do too.


When I wrote this Tuesday mornings were sacred. (Sometimes the only thing between me and shear madness during the long winter months.) Time moves on and so have we. We meet up far less frequently, but our “playgroup” does still convene. These days we prefer wine to coffee, and germs are the least of our parenting worries. But I’m proud to say the women I counted on during the vulnerable, lonely new mom years are still some of the best “trusted confidants, worthy advisors” I know.

Newly pregnant with my second and my oldest not quite two, I did something I swore I would never do again. I joined a playgroup. What I mean to say, of course, is that we, my son and I, joined a playgroup. 

Anyone who has ever belonged to a playgroup knows that for it to be successful, and by that I mean last longer than a month, it is really about the moms. There are the larger goals of teaching children social skills: how to share, respect another person’s space, handle conflict. But if the moms don’t crave each other’s company enough, the inevitable temper tantrumpulooza, that is any playgroup, is more than enough to keep you home. 

Playgroups are sometimes tranquil and harmonious. When you think back on them. In the moment they are chaotic. Not for the faint of heart or the highly sensitive. You get to see your child at his very best and then ten seconds later, his very worst. You smile and try to pretend like you’ve never seen this behavior before, but as soon as the moms become friends, a wonderful thing happens. You stop making excuses for your child and your parenting. Instead you lose yourself in some coffee and choose laughter over the alternative tear fest for whatever toddleresque behavior has just occurred.

The women I spend Tuesday mornings with have become my friends. Trusted confidants, worthy advisors. I look forward to their stories and anticipate our weekly exchange of ideas and frustrations. Oh yeah and the kids get to play too.

The other morning after hosting playgroup, as I began wading through toys, muffins, sippy cups, pieces of paper, forgotten socks and the usual littering of coffee mugs, a memory of my first playgroup came rushing back. I joined desperate for my son, then all of six months, to meet some other babies. We were new to the area and truth be told I was just plain lonely. 

I had decided to stay home for a few years, something I’d never done on weekends let alone seven days a week. We had just moved two hours from family and friends for my husband’s job, and it felt like I was nursing every fifteen minutes. So I set out in search of a playgroup. For my son.

I arrived at the first group a little frazzled. Or annoyed or demeaned or something. I couldn’t believe I had bundled my little one up to go meet strangers. It was like something out of a movie, a bad made-for-TV one. 

Was I supposed to bring something for the host? I wished I’d remembered some toys for John to play with. I didn’t want him catching a cold from a play date. On and on my mind swirled. Until finally I rang the doorbell and met the other moms and their adorable babies. We spent the next two hours marveling at our budding geniuses as they rolled and poked each other. We talked about all the things new moms talk about. Feeding, sleep deprivation, diapers. It was a delightful morning. 

After several attempts at scheduling, we never met again. But I did meet a great friend that morning. We decided playgroups weren’t for us. Too much pressure, too many germs.

But a couple of years later, a little pregnant and a lot tired with my almost two-year-old raring to go, I gave it another shot. Things do happen in their own time. Like learning to share. Which we’re still working on. 

Each week is an adventure. There’s almost always drama, of the pushing and grabbing variety. And we wouldn’t miss it. It’s become a sort of weekly check-in. Time spent seeing a little of ourselves in each other. Expanding our theories and thoughts and dreams. Oh yeah and the kids get to play too.