I always wanted three kids. To be more accurate, I always wanted a lot of kids. However, I didn’t have the fortune of meeting my husband until I was nearly 30 years old. Thanks to summer houses with our friends, some typical “boy” behavior as well as a cross-country move, which (finally) led to our engagement, we didn’t seal the deal until I was nearly 33 years old.
Despite my “advanced maternal age” (as my doctor rudely informed me), I knew I wanted as many children as possible. After our son and daughter were born, I still wasn’t ready to throw in the towel on the possibility of more kids. I kept all their baby gear and clothes, not quite ready to part with them. And then, as luck would have it, a year after our daughter was born I found myself pregnant again.
In my heart, I knew this third child was going to be a girl and, with her arrival, our family would finally be complete. After she was born, I donated all the baby things as quickly as I possibly could. In fact, when the doctor asked if we were done (rudely, I might add), I happily agreed. Three kids felt just right.
Much has been said about the challenges of having three kids and, if your kids are as close in age as ours, life is always crazy. Most days are a blur of making meals, ensuring homework is done, driving back and forth to activities, wiping down sticky hands and faces, and refereeing countless absurd arguments among my kids. It’s chaos but it’s our chaos and all we’ve ever known.
In the middle of all this craziness, I recently realized how easily it is for the third child to get lost. I imagine this is actually true of the last child in any family with multiple children. Our older kids (ages 8 and 10) are involved in SO. MANY. ACTIVITIES. They both play on several sports teams throughout the year (including travel teams), they have harder homework to contend with each night, and have had more time to accumulate more friends, which means more parties, play dates, and sleepovers.
Because of that, we are always going, going, going. As the youngest, our daughter, now age 6, has always had to tag along, too little herself to participate in many of the same things. She’s been mostly patient, her fun and cheerful personality helping her make friends along the way, but the truth is it often feels like she’s sort of running behind the rest of us, trying to keep up.
She’s my baby and I adore her, but it’s just dawning on me how grownup she has become. In many ways, I feel as though I’m just starting to see her, as her own person, for the first time.
Last weekend my husband and older children rode their bikes to a local park. As she and I followed behind in our car, she said to ,”I want to ride my bike next time.” I explained to her she could when she learned how to ride without training wheels.
To be clear, I have tried teaching her to ride, sans training wheels, many, many, many times before – usually with the same (not so great) results. We would both get frustrated and the bike and helmet would be tossed in the garage, abandoned for weeks until the mood struck again.
But this day she asked me one more time, her beautiful eyes full of determination and confidence, making it impossible for me to say no. It had been a long, hot day, but I figured we would invest the same 5 or 10 minutes and net the same outcome we always had.
She strapped on her rainbow-colored, unicorn bike helmet and put her hand firmly on those handlebars. The instructions remained unchanged: “Make sure you balance the bike steadily and keep peddling your feet.” As I had every other time, I gave her a little bit of a push as I ran alongside her, closing my eyes and then letting go.
But this time she RODE. HER. BIKE. She just kept peddling. It was as if she had been practicing at night when I was asleep and I didn’t know it. How had this happened? When had this happened? Now, since this breakthrough, I have begun to see her differently, asking myself more and more, “When did she start to do THAT?”
Like at bedtime, after she’s been tucked in, she sneaks out of her room to borrow the longer, chapter books of her second-grader sister. And she legit reads them; she’s not just looking at the pictures.
I signed her up for the swim team at our local pool selfishly because we were all there anyway and this meant I could have a FEW minutes to myself. But suddenly she was keeping up with them, diving off the side, and competing in swim meets herself. Before this summer, she was still firmly planting herself in the kiddie section of the pool.
And the other day she put on a dress she’s been wearing since the summer started, only for me to finally notice that it’s just on the right side of risqué.
So many indisputable signs she is growing up before our eyes, not only figuratively, but also literally. How had I missed them?
I love each of my children madly and in their own special ways. My son, our only boy, is the one who made me a mommy. My middle child was our first daughter, our first girl. But my youngest is my baby, my LAST baby. The combination of her petite size and creative and quick mind means I can still get to snuggle with her like a toddler, but feel like I’m talking to a teenager. It’s the best of both worlds – and has allowed me to keep her little, at least in my mind.
I live in a world where Mom guilt is my ever-present companion. I can find just about anything to feel guilty and inadequate about. And now I’ve added one more thing to my list.
So I want to say to you, my last baby, I’m so sorry. I have always loved you with everything I have, but feel guilty I am only now grasping how grownup you are and the role you play in our family. I don’t think you ever felt it, but I realize I have always kept you little in my head, loving you always, but not necessarily appreciating you for the person you are becoming. But I do now, I promise I really do.
I always say to her, “If we had stopped at two, there would be no you.” And I am so grateful there is.
Jen Moog finally made good on her childhood dream of writing when a cancer diagnosis rocked her world at the age of 42. Originally, her work focused on finding the silver linings of having effing cancer, but now that she’s rocking remission, she is now writing more about her crazy life with her husband, her son, and two daughters (three in three years!) and new(ish) puppy. You can read more on her blog Multiple Myeloma Mom or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.