Children Are A Bad ROI (Return On Investment)

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mom and two young kids

"Don't say anything nice to me, K? I might cry." I closed the classroom door behind us and pulled my youngest onto my hip.

"Rough night?" She tried to put on a stocking cap, but her toddler pulled it from her head repeatedly.

"Night? Honestly, I don't even remember how last night went. I'm still fuming about the day."

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"I put on the pot of water to boil, stove on high, then ran to the basement with the baby to grab a box of mac and cheese," she nodded her head, encouraging me to go on. "Then, snap. Then, boom. Then, click. He turned off the light and slammed the door shut." I felt my jaw involuntarily clenching. "Then the tiny terrorist locked it."

"And then he let you back out?" she asked, hopeful.

"More than thirty minutes later. After I'd gone out through the bulkhead and stood banging at the front door for fifteen minutes, then when the baby started screaming from the cold, we went back in and I found a sledgehammer."


"There wasn't even a quarter inch of water left in that pot by the time I got to it." I jerked my head to the side, trying to avoid tiny fingerprints on my glasses.

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"Well, mine crawled into our bed last night coughing, then vomited everywhere. I caught what I could in my hands, then ran to the bathroom. Of course, the door was shut. It wasn't as though I could set it down to open the door, either. So rather than continue to stand there dripping, I ended up throwing it in the trashcan." I shook my head in disbelief. "Then she peed in her closet."

Her manic laugh ruffled my sullen silence. "Why are we doing this?" I asked. The pitch of her laugh increased. "No, seriously. Remind me. Why are we doing this again? I mean, what the actual f*** were we thinking?"

I'm an accountant by training. We, accountants, are pretty big on this thing called ROI, or Return on Investment. In case that's not already self-explanatory, ROI is the benefit an individual or company receives in response to investing some resource. And right now, I'm obsessed with it.

Because any business analyst worth her salt would look at the balance sheet of early motherhood and declare the business model unviable.

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I've always wondered why it's human nature to stick with the same slot machine after sinking $200 in quarters or continue to wait twenty minutes for an elevator rather than take the stairs. Now, four years into motherhood, I'm starting to develop a theory. It would appear the propagation of the species is dependent upon it.

Why else would we do this? It's not for the pay or prestige we might find in any other job. It's not for the relaxation or mental clarity we might gain from meditation. It's not for the gratitude or accomplishment we might feel after volunteer work.

So the way I see it, there are only two other options: insanity and hardwiring. Seeing as how I'm too tired and stretched thin to seek psychiatric help, I have to choose to hardwire.

We are hardwired to pick up a forkful of cold oatmeal, willing a non-compliant child to take a bite, then try again and again despite the growing accumulation of flung oatmeal in our hair.

We are hardwired to hold a screaming, punching ball of rage, one that will undoubtedly never apologize and is guaranteed to strike us repeatedly, close to our bodies, and whisper comforting words at its ear.

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We are hardwired to run to a screaming child in the middle of the night, though we know doing so will guarantee the end of sleep for all parties involved.

We are hardwired to accept an abysmal ROI. It would appear there is no place for bookkeeping in parenthood.

"Ah, but they'll take care of us in our old age," she smiled contentedly, nodding at her daughter.

"No, they won't. They'll kick us in our bedsores and steal our pain meds before dumping us in the cheapest nursing home they can find."

"You don't really believe that, do you?" she asked, mildly incredulous.

"Of course not," I answered, chagrined. I'm hardwired not to.

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Elly London is a writer and contributor to Scary Mommy. She is the author of Amongst the Liberal Elite.