“Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
—Mark 10:14 esv

Before I ordered my robot baby online (yes, this actually happens), I decided to hone my mothering skills by offering free babysitting for my friends with kids. This worked out perfectly for Tony and Dayna, who needed someone to watch Addy and Aury the day they welcomed Little Falzone #3 into the world.

Aury (age two) stomped confidently through our front door at 8 a.m., her grandma in tow, and a pink backpack full of toys on her back. Addy (age four) would join us after preschool, at around two o’clock. Dan was working on a video project in the basement that morning, so it would be just Aury and me for the first six hours. This was fine by me because Aury and I have an understanding. With a head of strawberry blonde curls, giant blue eyes, a soft layer of chubbiness, and rosy cheeks, Aury could charm Dick Cheney into dancing in The Nutcracker, but, like me, she is painfully easy to read, so her eyes betray every thought of mischief before it can materialize, and I can usually tell if she’s actually upset about something or just messing with me. Aury’s a bit more easygoing than Addy, perhaps because she is the second child, so whenever it takes me a couple of tries to get her diaper on right, she looks up at me with a sort of knowing patience, as if to say, “I’ll cut you some slack on this one if you forget about that booger I ate earlier.”  

Our house has yet to be baby-proofed, and the only entertainment we can offer children under the age of seven is an old Fisher-Price barn (the kind that moos when you open the door), a mismatched assortment of plastic farm animals and toys from our own childhoods, and whatever children’s programs are available on Netflix instant play.

It took about seven minutes for the entire place to fall into a state of disarray—breakables collected and moved to the tops of bookshelves, table runners folded out of reach, Cheerios sprinkled like manna across the kitchen floor, blankets and shoes and socks strewn about the couches and chairs, toys everywhere. Every now and then, Dan would come upstairs and fret over whether I’d cut Aury’s food into small enough pieces, and whether she should be singing and eating at the same time, and whether the parts of the barn could be disassembled and swallowed and choked on without us even noticing before it was too late. (Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with some child-related fears to work through.) Before long, everything smelled of dried milk and baby wipes, and I fell into that sleepy, out-of-body daze that takes over whenever I spend more than two hours with a toddler.

Aury and I played happily enough until naptime, when after forty-five minutes of my best coaxing, she finally fell asleep on the guest room bed, looking exactly like a cherub out of a Victorian Valentine’s Day card. I took a picture and called Dan upstairs to witness my accomplishment, but he took one look at Aury and asked, “Should she be sleeping that close to the edge of the bed?”

I managed to move Aury a few inches closer to the center of the bed without waking her up before sinking into an armchair in the guest room to try to get some writing done. Instead, I fell asleep and dreamed that I lived with nineteen children in a barn that mooed when you opened the door.

Addy arrived later that afternoon before Aury woke up, so I put on a Strawberry Shortcake movie with a berry nice message about self-esteem accompanied by a berry terrible soundtrack about working together as a team, and all was right with the world—until Aury woke up and the two began an Olympic-style competition for my attention. At one point, Addy set about dividing all the little horses and cows and chickens into neat, fenced-in pens across the living room floor, pens which Aury promptly demolished with one of Dan’s old race cars, sending our burgeoning Temple Grandin into absolute hysterics. I tried to referee by pulling Aury away from the farm animals, which Aury took as a serious betrayal of trust because she looked at me as if to say, “Et tu, Brute?” before collapsing into a fit of tears. Dan came back upstairs to see what all the screaming was about and to ask what I’d planned for dinner, which led to a third meltdown, this one from the babysitter.

Finally, Tony called with the good news that Addy and Aury had a healthy little sister named Danyca and that Grandma would pick them up around 8 p.m. Dan volunteered to go to McDonald’s to bring back chicken nuggets, but the only part of this helpful gesture I acknowledged was the fact that he’d just armed a pair of toddlers with barbecue sauce. After dinner, he took the girls (who at this point looked like they’d survived the zombie apocalypse) outside to pick honeysuckles. They watched in wonder as he showed them how to pull out the pistil and lick the pearl of nectar that it created, giggling when he pretended to gobble the flower whole. A tall, broad-shouldered man gently swinging two little girls around in his arms—it was the sort of scene that would touch just any woman’s heart, unless, of course, that woman was overtired and just a little bit jealous.

Later that night we got into a big argument because I said Dan second-guessed all of my decisions; then he said I was too defensive about child care issues; then I said he didn’t help me out with the kids enough; then he said he didn’t realize I was keeping score.

As it turns out, all four of these are common arguments among couples. According to Babyproofing Your Marriage, insecurity, scorekeeping, and criticism plague most new parents as they adjust to life with children. “Most couples, no matter how happy and secure their marriage may be, find the early parenting years a challenge (on a good day) or even seriously relationship-threatening (on a bad day),” the authors wrote.

Multiple studies show that marital satisfaction decreases dramatically after the birth of the first child. And women with children consistently rate themselves as less happy than single women and women who are married without children#. After my day with Addy and Aury—sweet as they were—I wondered if Dan and I would be able to maintain our happy relationship after children came along, and if the only reason my friends had been trying to coax me into motherhood is because misery loves company.

1. Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O’Neil, and Julia Stone, Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More and Argue Less as Your Family Grows (New York: Collins, 2007), 3.