What is the hardest age?

I can hear myself telling a co-worker that having a fifteen-month old is more exhausting than having a newborn.  It was a revelation I could hardly believe. She was pregnant and letting me know that she was aware of the tough stretch that was ahead of her.

I had a new walker, and I felt like I was in a permanent squatting position, holding a pose more strenuous than anything I tried in yoga, ready to catch my clueless climber at every turn, remove choking hazards from his reach, and carry him as much as he would let me because putting him down meant embarking on a game of chase. A baby who laid around all day was easier, I felt certain.

Or was it?

Is it possible I could no longer remember the exhaustion I felt from interrupted sleep, nursing, and a bleary-eyed sense of  “Am I good enough for this mothering job?” and “Am I sucking at my paying job?” hanging over me all day long?

When I have teenagers, will I think, “Am I good enough for this mothering job — and is it too late?” Will I be tossing and turning each night, wondering if I should have helped them with homework more — or less? Will I think the mindless activity of scrambling after a toddler is easier than deciding if access to a car will reduce my almost-adult’s chances of surviving college? If spending the summer as a camp counselor is enough responsibility? If making dinner for my teen is disabling him from learning to take care of himself?

What about the Terrible Twos? Are they the hardest? Do they really happen at three? Is the Fucking Fours a thing?

For most of yesterday, I thought I was riding easy. My older child had a play date. A family who was happy to have them join him for the afternoon had picked him up from camp. My younger one played at the park while I sat on a bench and admired her ability to slide down the pole, a feat that the boys her age with whom she was playing were afraid to try. “This is pretty good,” I thought. I’m raising good people.

Later, at home, she threw such a fit about a lost bracelet, crying with intentional volume, I wanted to call my husband at work and make him listen to the screaming, just so I wouldn’t feel so alone with it.

I thought perhaps I had discovered another dimension of what makes parenting difficult: the being alone. Maybe what impacts how challenging different stages are is related to how much support one has during that time.

But how can we ever know? When I had a newborn, I thought I was so happy. I didn’t realize how hard the first six weeks were until they were behind me. Same goes for the next three months. Each stage felt like coming out of a dark tunnel, a tunnel I didn’t even know I was in.

I wonder if I’m in a tunnel now.