After picking a book off the shelf that I’ve not yet read to him, 4yo plops down into my lap and announces: “This is the ONE-TH time we’ve read this book!”
Every parent I know who has multiple children has said the same thing to me at one point: it is amazing how different they are.
For several years following the birth of our first child, Jim and I dealt with infertility issues. Since we now have three children, we obviously solved our problem. In the meantime, we suffered through the barrage of unwelcomed comments all parents of only children endure. These comments are usually intrusive and unfair. More importantly, they are dead wrong.
“If you only have one, she’ll end up spoiled.”
“Only children don’t know how to share.”
“How will she learn to get along with others if she doesn’t have any siblings?”
Despite being our only offspring for over 5 years, our oldest daughter is the opposite of all of these things. She’s selfless, kind, helpful, and many other qualities parents wish their children to be. She is patient and caring with her younger siblings and helpful to adults. She didn’t learn these traits from having siblings. She developed them long before the other two came along.
Ironically, the third one (1yo) is everything the first one (9yo) was “supposed” to be. Heaven forbid 4yo wants to sit in my lap and snuggle. 1yo will climb over him, screaming, attempting to pry him off. If that doesn’t work, she hits him and ends up screaming in time-out. She loves chopped strawberries until she sees a sibling eating a whole one. Then, suddenly, chopped strawberries are inadequate and only a whole one will do. If she is the first child to arrive in the nursery at church, her anger mounts as more children arrive to play with the toys or receive attention from the nursery teacher. If there is a communal bowl of snacks, she scrambles to it like a puppy who is one of several in the litter and shoves the food into her mouth as though she will starve if she does not get her fair share of goldfish crackers.
My 9yo, who spent over half of her life not having to compete with anyone for attention or possessions, is hardly competitive at all. My 1yo, who has always been one of three, has learned very early that there will always be someone else who will take what you want if you don’t get it first. 9yo was never the stereotypical only child (even when she was one), and 1yo is about as spoiled for attention as a toddler can get – despite having two siblings.
That these two completely opposite girls are exactly who they were meant to be has been a big lesson to learn. I cannot light a fire in 9yo’s belly any more than I can extinguish the one in 1yo. All I can do is guide them, support them and discipline them; and, of course, love them and their brother exactly as they are.
I recently found this conversation from last summer that I had written down so as not to forget it. I read it tonight and it made me smile.
3yo: Now that it is warm I will hug bees.
Me: (half listening) yeah?
3yo: Yeah, they will not sting me if I hug them.
Me: Wait, what? You want to hug bees?
Me: We don’t hug bees.
3yo: Why not?
Me: because they will sting you.
3yo: Not nice bees.
Me: Yes, even nice bees.
3yo: But why?
Me: Because bees don’t want you to hug them.
3yo: Aw, but I want to hug them.
Me: Bees are afraid of people. You can say hello to them, but you cannot touch them because they will sting you.
3yo thinks for a while….
3yo: Bees are not in our cars.
Me: No they are not. If one flew into our car we would open the windows so they can fly out. They don’t want to be in cars, they want to stay outside and find flowers.
3yo thinks some more…..
3yo: Bees don’t like flowers on Mars.
3yo: Bees don’t like flowers on Mars, only on Earth.
Me: Um, yes. They only like Earth flowers.
3yo: A long, long time ago, bees flew into our car. Then they turned into butterflies.
Me: They did?
3yo: Yeah. Two weeks ago.
Me: Oh. Ok.
Recently, 3yo and I were in the basement where our toy kitchen is located. He was preparing a plastic dinner for me, and the following conversation ensued:
3yo (handing me a bowl of plastic bread and peas): Here’s your sayfillow!
Me: sayfillow? What’s that?
3yo: It’s French.
Me: French, huh?
3yo: Yeah, French from America.
The other day, in the car:
3yo: I’m a dude. I lost my dude glasses, but I’m still a dude.
Now that the baby is mobile, she’s really enjoying playing with her toys. She loves things with knobs and buttons and she likes to drum on flat objects with anything slightly resembling a stick. She has also tasted all of the tools in 3yo’s tool bench. Interestingly, she has two favorite toys: a green plastic car that she drives everywhere and an army of giant plastic insects that originally belonged to her brother.
I like to think of myself as a pretty brave person. I’m not cancer-fighting brave, or join-the-armed-forces brave, but when it comes to common fears (the dark, heights, snakes) I don’t have many. Insects, however, are my one unreasonable fear. Our house has often echoed with the sounds of my shrieks, brought on by giant hairy spiders or miles-long house centipedes that don’t understand they are not allowed inside. I’ll admit that they often don’t survive our encounters. Yes, I know that they’re more scared of me, they eat other bugs, blah, blah, blah. In the moment, as they crawl out from under the wet towel I just picked up off the laundry room floor, all I can see is a descendant of Shelob ready to wrap me in its web and drain me of my blood. If Jim sees a plastic cup upside down on the floor, he knows there’s a good chance I left a spider under there for him to handle.
So what does the baby do? She leaves these giant, plastic, very realistic-looking bugs ALL OVER my house. I turn the corner, and there’s the spider of my nightmares. I bend down to pick up another toy, and beneath it is a scorpion, ready to attack. More than I’d like to admit, I have screamed in surprise at these small plastic objects. I’ve freaked out after stepping on them in a sleepy daze as I wander to the end of the house for a midnight nursing session. Today, there was one in the refrigerator.
I kind of love that her favorite toys are so gross and not traditionally “girly.” I just wish they didn’t look like my worst nightmares.
(9yo suggested I title this post “Bug Baby.”)
This is my heaven.
Life is short. What happens after you die? I wouldn’t know. Whatever it is it probably isn’t this, and I love this.
I love the sound of my baby’s breath as she sleeps. I love the strength in my husband’s rough hand as he grabs mine. I love the giggles that echo down the hallway. I love the taste of a ripe peach, the smell of an approaching storm, and the way it feels to drift off to sleep. I love the beauty of music. I love the company of good friends. I love the feel of sand between my toes, a cool breeze on my neck, and the soft skin of my son’s cheek on mine as we snuggle.
What comes after this is unknown to me. Maybe it is better. Maybe it is not. But it is not this, and I love this.
This is my heaven.
I don’t like fish as pets. I don’t really like fish as food for that matter.
Despite my lack of fish fondness, I couldn’t help but be excited the other night when I watched our dented Ping-Pong balls bounce into the tiny fish-bowls of colored water at the fair. I had purchased a plastic hat of balls for 2yo because he loves nothing more than to throw things at other things. I figured, even if he doesn’t win a fish, he still gets to throw things and keep the hat, so it’s a win-win situation.
Halfway through his 20-something batch of balls, he loudly declared, “I not wanna pay dis game anymore!” Smart parents would have handed over the remaining balls and walked away. Not us, of course. After all, we spent $5 on that hat of balls and they were going to get thrown. Jim’s first ball sailed through the air and bounced squarely into a bowl of red water – because of course it did. We went through the rest of the balls until there was one left. I offered it to 2yo who insisted that I throw it, so I nonchalantly tossed it at the table. It plopped into another bowl and we were now two fish richer and $5 poorer than we had been just 15 minutes earlier.
At that point, 8yo returned from her sky ride excursion with her grandfather and wanted to play as well. Already burdened with fish, we gave her $2 for a small bowl. She’s usually terrible at this game, but three balls into her turn she also won a fish. It was a shiny gold color (not the typical orange) and she named it Bubbles. 2yo named my fish after himself and Jim refused to name his. So, with our stroller cup holders full of fish, we moved on.
For the remainder of the evening, I reminded both kids (especially 8yo) that carnival-game fish generally don’t survive very long and it’s possible that some or all of them could be dead by morning.
By morning, one fish (Jim’s unnamed one that 8yo had lovingly monikered “no-name”) had already kicked the bucket, but Bubbles and 2yo’s namesake were still kicking. We ran some errands and returned home a short while later. 8yo was first in the house and ran back outside with tears in the corners of her eyes.
“Bubbles is dead!”
Ironically, we had just picked up a cheap fishbowl starter kit at the store for our remaining fish. Since 2yo’s fish was still kicking, I scooped out the two dead fish from the jar they had been in overnight and prepped the bowl for our survivor. Once the still-living fish was settled in his new home, we took the two dead fish in a cup to the bathroom for a quick funeral.
The entire time, 8yo had remained stoic despite her disappointment. She knew the deal – fish die all the time. Unfortunately, the funeral ended up being more drawn out than anticipated when we got to the bathroom and realized the last person in there had forgotten to flush. I didn’t want to insult the dead fish by flushing them in someone’s pee, so I flushed the toilet before dropping them in. What I hadn’t expected was how long it would take for the bowl to refill before being able to flush it again. Those two dead fish swirled around in the slowly-filling bowl while 2yo jumped around yelling “tan I fush dem now?!” I watched as 8yo stared at the dead fish and I saw a clear understanding of mortality wash over her face. Tears began falling and, just as 2yo pulled the lever and the fish slipped away, the sobs came.
It was immediately apparent that this was about more than dead fish – it was about life and that moment in childhood we’ve all had when one realizes how finite it is. It brought back memories of lying in my darkened bedroom as a child sobbing over that fact that everyone I knew was going to die someday. “Oh honey…” I said as she ran out of the room.
Sometimes, it just hurts. Most of the time we can protect ourselves from thinking about how small we are and how short our time is, but every now and then it surfaces. 8yo has been fortunate in her short life to not have lost anyone close, but she knows it’s coming one day. We snuggled on the couch and she cried it out. She recovered eventually and the rest of her day was fine.
I’m feeling pretty crappy about my day. Nothing extreme happened, but it was just one of those days. I had a disheartening day at work, my Dentist discovered three cavities that I have to have filled, and our two-year-old was poorly behaved at dinner. I’ve been in a sour mood for hours, even though I know I truly have very little to be unhappy about. I don’t enjoy feeling this way, so I’m going to attempt to look at the day from a different perspective.
This morning, I woke up in my large bed in my bedroom that is bigger than some houses in other parts of the world. I used warm running water and electricity as I showered and dressed myself for the day in one of the many lightly-used maternity outfits I was fortunate enough to have received from other generous moms. Once I was ready, I got to spend 30 minutes with my children as I readied them for school. Our pantry and refrigerator were full of breakfast options – so many that we’ll probably end up throwing some out before we get a chance to eat them. My coffee, brewed instantly in our single-cup brewer, was hot and comforting. When we were all dressed and fed the kids grabbed their Lands End backpacks, I grabbed my iPhone, and we piled into the large SUV we purchased brand new last year.
I hugged my children as I dropped them off at a school full of people who will care for them, encourage them and educate them. A few minutes later, I arrived at my own workplace where I am employed full-time and well compensated. I spent the day singing, playing guitar, and interacting with children and adults. I spent 30 minutes enjoying lunch with some of my favorite ladies. When I did experience conflict today, I was able to express myself without fear of reprimand or retaliation with like-minded adults who, like me, just want the best for everyone. Before leaving, a friend helped me load into my car a lightly-used crib mattress that was given to me by another work friend who no longer needs it, eliminating another cost associated with bringing a new person into the world.
After picking my children up from school, we stopped at home for a short while before leaving again to pick up my husband at his steady job and head to the dentist. Fortunately, my insurance covered most of the visit, and it will also cover the filling of the three small cavities the Dentist was skilled enough to find before they became more serious. While I reclined in the dentist’s chair and had someone else clean my otherwise very healthy teeth, I could feel the kicking and rolling of our third child who, despite not yet being born, has also benefitted from some of the best healthcare available.
Following our appointment, we headed to a local restaurant where we ordered from the menu without having to consider the price, enjoyed a nice meal, and paid for everything by handing over a card to an account that we know has enough money to cover everything. When our two-year-old wouldn’t stop wiggling and kicking, I would reprimand him and he would respond with hugs and an “I’m sorry, Mommy” and sit still for a good 30 seconds before starting up again. He never got up from his seat and he didn’t bother any of the other diners or staff. We even had enough food to bring some home to eat at another time.
Once home, we again used amenities that we take for granted to make sure everyone was washed and dressed in one of their many sets of pajamas. Homework was completed, books were read, and goodnight kisses and hugs were plenty. Tired, but healthy, financially stable, and blessed with countless loved ones, we crawled into bed, soon to fall asleep with little worry.
Wow! That’s much better. I had a really great day today after all!
This past weekend, we went camping at a state park less than two hours from our home. I love camping. It’s a chance to get away from the hectic pace of life, it’s an opportunity to spend time with family, and it’s a way to build lasting memories with my husband and children.
On Friday, within 10 miles of the campground, the smartphone I had been using to occupy my mind on the drive (instead of talking to my family) lost service. “Ok, no service this weekend. That’s fine,” I figured. As it turns out, this small adjustment to our weekend ended up being a huge eye-opener for me.
With cell phone service seemingly everywhere, we are usually able to use our phones when camping. I fully admit I have a mild cell phone addiction, although I was under the impression that I was not letting it affect my interactions with my family. I now suspect I was wrong. The harsher realization I came to, however, was just how much I was damaging my relationship with myself.
Within the first few hours, after unpacking and setting up, I found my mind instinctively turning to my phone over and over. I had left it in the truck, determined to spend the weekend electronics free. Several times, during conversation, a topic would come up and I would want to immediately look it up online. Jim would mention a small object that would have come in handy if we had one and I would instinctively think “let me see how much it is on Amazon.” I was shocked at how many times I felt vulnerable during times of waiting: waiting for 7yo to finish using the restroom, waiting for dinner to be ready, waiting for Jim and the kids to return from a walk. Usually at times like these, had I access to my phone, I would have instinctively grabbed it to fill those moments.
What I discovered, after an initial period of adjustment, was how much clearer my mind became without my phone. I had figured a “phone detox” would be good for me, but I hadn’t realized just how distracted I had become by my constant phone use. I was shocked at how in-the-moment I felt during everything we did as compared to before. I was surprised at how our conversations became deeper and more thoughtful. I never would have guessed my phone was having such an effect on my mind and I’m saddened to think of how long I’ve been living with such a distraction.
As we returned to service, I immediately checked both our phones for texts and emails. Within a few hours of being home, I was acutely aware of how cluttered my mind was becoming again. As I got ready for bed that evening, instead of plugging my phone in at my nightstand so that it was immediately available if I couldn’t sleep, I plugged it in across the room and switched it to “airplane mode.” When I awoke in the middle of the night and couldn’t immediately fall back to sleep, it took everything I had to not get up and grab it to keep my mind occupied. Instead, I remained in bed with just my thoughts and was reminded why I had begun turning to my phone in the first place. Worries, anxieties, and concerns all began to overwhelm my undistracted mind. After what seemed like hours, I finally calmed my mind enough to fall asleep. As I was drifting off, I realized how much I had been using my phone to hide from myself and I was determined to no longer run from my thoughts by burying my face in a screen.
I imagine learning to curb my cell phone use will be a daily challenge, at which I will fail regularly. What this weekend taught me is that, while I had not been so engrossed in my phone to miss out on the big things in life, it was the small every-day moments I had been missing – a look, a feeling, a stray thought, a breath of fresh air. I am now determined to live those moments with my head up.
Since almost anyone who reads this knows me personally, I probably do not have to announce that THIS post was a bit premature.
When I first began acknowledging the possibility that I might be pregnant, I decided I was probably overreacting. I’m getting older and my body isn’t going to work like clockwork anymore. As the days passed, it became harder to deny. When I finally took the test and was faced with the reality that we were bringing another child into the world, I realized just how much I’d been in denial.
Once the initial shock and panic wore off, there were many things to consider. Where will this new child sleep? Will our family fit in our car? How will we pay for two in day-care?
Surprisingly, I also felt irresponsible. I am a highly-educated woman with a full understanding of how reproduction works. How could this have happened? I mean, I know how it happened, but still….. I’m such a control freak about everything – how could I have let this happen?
Once we reached the point when we were ready to tell people, I was shocked at how many of my friends – very intelligent, well-spoken women – confided in me that they too had been surprised by their third child. There is a whole community of unexpected third babies out there I never knew about.
Jim expressed concerns about our third child one day knowing she (yes, it’s a girl) was not planned. I completely understand why he feels this way. No one wants to be an “oops” or considered a mistake, but I don’t see it that way. She is not a mistake, she’s a surprise. I suspect, although we had never envisioned our lives with her, once she’s here I imagine we will not be able to imagine our lives without her.