Kiddo 4 is officially full-term today, which means that his/her birth date is fast approaching. To be honest, I’m kind of hoping this baby arrives on the early end; I’m feeling tired, and it takes a lot of effort to get our family’s “ducks in a row” EVERY NIGHT, just in case the baby comes. Then again, my personal deadline keeps on moving to accommodate major life events; at the moment, this baby can’t be born until after: tonight’s preschool potluck, Erick’s poker game on Saturday night, my cousin’s law school graduation on Sunday…and definitely not until I’ve watched the final Season 3 episode of “Downton Abbey.” (Got it, Kiddo? That last one’s especially important).
While looking though all of my past blog posts in preparation for my maternity blogging plan (to be announced shortly), I noticed something distressing: the overwhelming majority of them had to do with parenthood. This was distressing because, in all honestly, I don’t think of myself as writing a “mommy blog.” I try to keep motherhood and my children in perspective, and there are MANY things that I find MUCH more interesting than child-rearing.
But I write this blog, it reflects my life, it’s full of my thoughts and experiences — and I am a mother. So I suppose it’s inevitable that my parenting should seep into my writing.
As I prepare to become a mother for the fourth time, I’ve been thinking how 5.5 years of parenthood have changed me. Here are a few things that I came up with, some of which are a little hard to admit. (Please note that this is NOT advice! No no, just changes I’ve observed in myself.):
1. Passing the baton? Erick brought home a couple issues of Vanity Fair magazine from his recent travels, which I’ve been reading slowly as a guilty pleasure. While perusing the glossy profiles of the fabulously rich and famous, I noticed a change in my thinking: No longer was I imagining what I would say if interviewed for a Vanity Fair profile. No; instead, I was imagining what my children would say about their childhood — specifically, their blissful childhood with their loving, supportive mother — if they were someday interviewed for a Vanity Fair profile. I don’t think you can call this “humility,” but it’s sort of close: abandoning grand plans for self, recognizing that one has to step aside and let the kids shine. Something like that.
2. Shifting goals. I’ve realized lately that what would make me happiest at the end of my life — my ultimate marker of success — would be if our children all still love each other and still enjoy family time together, even when they’re grown. Needless to say, this is a life goal that wouldn’t have entered my thinking six years ago. It doesn’t even seem all that lofty, but IT IS. To have adult children who still like each other and their parents — how many families can claim that? And how wonderful for the families that can!
3. A looser grip. This probably has more to do with the number of children we have rather than parenting itself, but here it is: I don’t worry about my children nearly as much as I did when I had my first child. I can’t worry about my children nearly as much as I did when I had my first child, because I just don’t have the capacity to store that much worry. When Fiona was first born, it would rip me to pieces if she screamed in her car seat. A fever was cause for a call to the doctor and a day spent in quarantine. If I wasn’t stimulating her in some way during her waking hours, I felt horrible.
I look back at the mom I was then and think it’s pretty cute. Because NOW I am deaf to screams. NOW fevers don’t scare me, I just want them to go away quickly so I can send the kids back to school. NOW, as long as the kids aren’t asking me for anything, I will leave them playing and go about my business for as long as possible. True confession: I’ve even left Georgia alone in the backyard for short periods of time as long as the dogs (Gracie and the neighbors’ dog, Brinkley) were with her. Large, protective dogs are considered appropriate childcare, right?
4. Never say “never.” I made a lot of proclamations as a younger mother. I laid down my laws because I was terrified, because more rules made me feel more in control, and because I naively put (well-intentioned) principles ahead of sanity. So I said things like:
“Absolutely NO T.V. until age 2, and then only 30 minutes a day!”
“I will never, ever make meals to order. Dinner is what’s on the table!”
We don’t own a T.V., which I’m glad of for many reasons, and I really do try to limit early exposure to the DVD player, and to limit consumption to 30 minutes a day. But never say never! What do you do with the 18-month-old who wants to watch what her sisters are watching when you need to make dinner? What do you do with three kids in the car during a three-hour drive to Montreal? I’ll tell you what you do: YOU LET THEM ZONE OUT IN FRONT OF THAT VIDEO, AND YOU GIVE THANKS TO GOD FOR PORTABLE DVD PLAYERS!
As for food, I do try to have everyone eating basically the same thing — especially for dinner. But I ask you, what do you do when your first child only wants bagels with cream cheese, your second child only wants peanut butter & jelly, and your third child wants a bit of what everyone else has AND a grilled cheese? Then comes the day when everyone decides they no longer like your go-to crowd pleaser: macaroni & cheese. Really, all you want is for everyone to enjoy dinner with a minimum of screaming, to stay at the table as long as possible, and to consume some calories. What do you do? I’ll tell you what you do: YOU MAKE THEM WHAT THEY’LL EAT, PLUS OPTIMISTIC SAMPLES OF THE FOOD YOU & YOUR HUSBAND ARE EATING, AND YOU RESOLVE TO ENFORCE ONE-DINNER-FOR-ALL NEXT YEAR!
So, there you have it: the collected wisdom of six years and three children. I’ve changed, I think mostly for the better. Whether this fourth child will push me over the edge is yet to be seen….