The Privilege of a Wide Age Spread

When my fourth baby was born, my first child had only recently turned 7. What followed was a year of unparalleled turmoil and chaos in our home. I honestly have very few memories of that time, it was just so intense and so much work. Bedtime stretched on for hours every night. Going places was difficult. I’m afraid I yelled at that poor little 7 year old, a first grader, to make her own lunch for school. For that year, the only pictures I have of our children they were either sleeping or in the bathtub because that was the only time I could look at them with fresh eyes and see their loveliness and joy. We spent that year just trying to white knuckle it through, constantly holding on to the mantra that “This, too, shall pass.”

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It wasn’t all terror and tears, but it was a hard, intense year. That year each of the kids had a fun birthday party. Our Christmas was beautiful – with snow flurries on Christmas Eve, in Phoenix! We had lots of great times with friends and family. It was just a very hard working year with all those little bodies to care for plus trying to keep up with what I assumed were everyone’s expectations of me.

Now, 18 years later, I find myself in a similar situation. I have four children under 8 years old. Things are busier now, with older children come larger concerns – college applications, dating and other social drama, and car insurance, just to name a few. But now with these little ones, I find myself saying not “This, too, shall pass.” but “Oh no, this is passing too quickly!” As I rock our two week old baby in the fussy evenings, while listening to the older kids race around the house with the occasional crash of something falling or tears from a collision with a sibling I think back to that endless year when we had those first four children and wonder where the time went.

That baby (baby number 4) will be a senior in high school this year. He still never goes to bed on time, but if he is tired the next day it is his own fault, and not something I have to lose (much) sleep over. I lived through that tough year, and it really didn’t last all that long, even though the minutes within it could drag on forever.

I have been gifted with a do over. Not with the same children, of course. No, the mistakes I made with them that year will stand in their memories or a therapist’s notebook. But as a mother, I get to do this again – a closely spaced group of small children, school days, bedtimes, parks and games and activities.

I am not trying to romanticize this phase. I am just as overwhelmed as the next mom. Last night I heartily congratulated myself for being able to get some of the laundry done and folded when the 5 year old came up and said, “Yay! Clean panties!” My kitchen has a giant pot of mostly gone macaroni and cheese (the boxed kind, nothing pinterest approved) that has been sitting on the stove for no less than three days. But the plates made it into the dishwasher! So that’s a win, too! When the call for volunteers went out from school yesterday, I humbly turned it down. I was looking forward to working the back to school days – it’s so fun to see people again and to feel useful. But I know I wouldn’t actually BE useful, because I would be nursing the baby in a corner the whole time I was supposed to be working. Maybe next year. With my husband out of town for the past few days, a trip to Target is the only time we have made it out of the house and that was purely a rookie mistake on my part, to say I wasn’t prepared for a shopping trip with four small children so soon postpartum is an understatement. The cabin fever is at an epidemic level these hot summer days.

That first time with all the little ones, I felt like I had to keep up with the pace of life in the general population. I don’t feel that way anymore. I have watched other mothers who have had the gumption and the brains to slow down when the kids were young and not try to be all things to all people. There is a blissful freedom there, and those are some of the best mothers I know.

The perfectionist in me cries, “There are still things that have to be done! The rest of the world doesn’t go away because I slow down.” But now I know that I can only do what I can do, not one bit more. So that will have to be good enough. I’m stronger than my inner perfectionist now, and while she can sometimes break out and cause anxiety, I mostly make her sit in a disorganized closet.

In this wild and loud, hush-the baby’s-sleeping time of our lives, I will be ticking off minutes slowly and seeing the weeks go by in a flash, trying to cram it all into my brain: the tiny baby who still feels like a bean bag whose sighs sound like heaven itself, the dimpled knuckles on my 3 year old’s hands and how he looks like such a big boy unless he is peacefully sleeping, the 5 year old who reads so slowly and is so proud of herself, the 7 year old who always does her best to help out and always dances when she goes down the hall. All of this will be gone – sometime between a minute from now and an eternity. Then they will be driving their own cars away, living their own lives that I only know snippets of.

But for now there is this:

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Laundry waiting for hangers. It will be all over the floor the first time someone goes for something at the bottom of the pile.

And this:

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“After” the dishes were “done.”

And this:

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(I rounded them up from all corners of the house and begged them to smile.)

And a whole lot of this:
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I’ll leave you now with a trite but wise poem. I’m sure we have all read it many times but it fits here so well:

Song for a Fifth Child
by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

Comments

  1. Wow, that is why you were gone for awhile! May God bless you all ! I hope you share the name and details. Treasure this moment….they grow so quickly…as you know.

  2. Steve Grant says:

    Jenni: Good to see you “Circling Jericho” again! Glad that all went well with little Gwendolyn!

  3. Thank you, I realize this was written a while ago, but my four kids are exactly the ages of your first four and this post is very encouraging! I (mostly) learned my lesson with my second baby and now write off the first 6 months after a new baby is born as the survival-only months, but I always forget just how written-off they have to be! My youngest is now 7 months and I’m beginning to come out of tunnel vision again. Hooray!
    God bless.

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