Years ago, when I contemplated the spacing of our children’s births, I thought more about immediate issues than how the differences in their ages would play out down the road. My chief considerations, at the time, were sleep (theirs and mine), and my ability to meet the specific needs of each child – which I knew I couldn’t do well when exhausted. As a result, and because we didn’t have serious issues with me becoming pregnant, my wish of having children roughly three years apart was granted.
When the youngest was born, I had a 6-year-old daughter who was a great help, and a 3-year-old son who was happy to have someone who laughed at his antics. But time has moved them along. The daughter, now seventeen, and the boys, now fourteen and almost eleven, somehow seem to be even farther apart in age than I ever planned. Here’s how:
1. Sleep. Once we got everyone sleeping through the night, my husband and I came to rely on our evenings together. Even if we did nothing more than sit side-by-side on the couch, we knew that we had a few hours at the end of the day – every day –
to reconnect and catch up. But something happened: Our kids started staying up later. And later. Now, with two teenagers and one early riser, it’s rare that all three kids are asleep when my husband and I are awake. Of course, we can leave the house to have conversations, no paid sitter required, but that requires a little more effort than we’re used to.
2. Entertainment. Take something simple, like going to a movie. The last movie that all of our family members attended (and enjoyed, which was a bonus), was The Muppets in 2011. The mix of humor appealed to everyone, even the adults (as we recalled our youth). But now, our daughter wants to see the movies nominated for big awards, and most of those have adult themes. The middle child is a fan of action and thrillers, which don’t appeal to big sis and are too vivid for the younger brother. And the youngest is outgrowing most animated movies, but isn’t ready for teen fare.
3. Travel. When the kids were younger, one hotel room sufficed. There were portable cribs, couches (that didn’t even have to fold out), even sleeping bags. Guess what? With four adult-sized humans in our family, a single bedroom with two double beds doesn’t cut it anymore. And even if friends offer to host us, not many families have that much extra space to spare. Also, when you’re away from home, issues arise over food (satisfying all those different tastes) and how to fill the days. Recently, the middle one asked me why we didn’t go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art when we visited relatives in the area over spring break a few years back. (I think he had just seen a video of Sylvester Stallone surprising a group of tourists next to the iconic Rocky statue.) I reminded my dear son that in 2012, he was in fifth grade and his younger brother in second. While the eighth grader and I would have loved to have spent some time with Mary Cassatt’s paintings, I knew it was not the best place for my rambunctious younger ones. Instead, we explored the Franklin Institute, which was full of hands-on activities that suited the boys. For big sister, we found a cluster of food trucks to satisfy the urge for an unusual lunch. And no surprise, the boys had pizza.
4. Information. For me, the more complicated challenges have to do with sharing information. With a daughter just months (less than two years!) away from college, I want all subjects to be on the table: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thanks to the daily news cycle, we seem to have no shortage of ugly. It’s important for me to share my perspective on these events and to hear my daughter’s. I want to take advantage of the time I have left to teach her what I think she should know – even if in our conversations she demonstrates she already knows much more than I realize. I don’t always want my youngest child to be in the mix of these discussions. There are times when even the middle one shouldn’t be around. There are also times when I need to cover the same topic with each child – but at that child’s particular level. Finding the opportunity to do that can be tricky. This is when I’m happy about driving the kids to various activities and appointments. Much can be covered in a 15-minute car ride! And when that’s not an option, a kid and I can retreat to this mom’s office, also known as the utility room, where ever-running appliances provide just the right amount of white noise to cover even the most sensitive topic.
5. The Age. I like having older kids, I like talking with them, I like shared pursuits, and I like not having to monitor their hygiene (well, much of the time). I’m eager to leave behind the pursuits of kid-dom: playdates involving me, children’s museums, animated movies, etc. Yet, that’s not entirely fair to the youngest child, for whom a children’s museum is still a lot of fun. It’s not just the kids’ ages here, it’s mine. I first walked into a children’s museum with a child when I was thirty-three. Let’s just say I’m a wee bit older now. Then, I had all the patience and good humor in the world. Painting? Yup. Climbing? Absolutely. Gathering apples? Of course, endlessly! It was a new world, and I was as happy to explore as my child was. Now, there’s a lot of “been there, done that” in my mindset, and I have to guard against short-changing our youngest child.
My husband likes to quote an ancient proverb (which I can’t find online so you’ll have to trust me) that says every child is born into a different family. So true. We were very different as a family of two, becoming three, than we were as a family of four, becoming five. Now, what I see is that we are a different family every year. As each child grows and changes, we as parents are changing, too. That’s as it should be, perhaps. It keeps us learning and laughing, a pretty good way to live.