My mental presence as a mother is very similar with my first and last child. That is certainly not too say that my middle children are less important. I love each of my children wholeheartedly, and rejoice in every goal they reach. But mothers with more than two children will understand the difference in their experiences with a first and last child. Most days with four children feel like slowly drowning, gasping for air, reaching for a lifesaver, only to be pulled under once again. Occasionally, you are able to take a breath and recognize the value of a moment, but those times are few and far between.
With the first child, though, you are able to pay attention to every little thing they do. All of their accomplishments, no matter how small seem monumental and exciting. They are your one and only, your first experience with parenting, your everything. You take a million pictures and videos documenting every smile and coo. You may even have a few pictures of their first poop in the potty.
And with your last child, you pay attention to every little thing they do because you know it will be the last time you will experience each milestone. Now, with the benefit of time, you have the added realization of how fast it all goes. Every accomplishment is bittersweet; you are excited for every achievement but sad that it is the last first smile or the last first step.
These past few weeks, as I have been anticipating the last first day of kindergarten, I am also remembering the first first day of kindergarten. In fact, it is nearly impossible to reach the end of summer and not think about it.
With my first born, as much as I wanted to fully appreciate the enormous significance of her first day of kindergarten, I could not. I rushed through the morning in a foggy haze, hurrying to get her on the bus so I could load up the minivan with my other two children and drive to Milwaukee. My father had just been diagnosed two weeks prior with advanced stage lung cancer, and he was fading fast. I did not have a quiet moment to absorb the importance of that day for her and for me because, unfortunately, there was something much bigger going on.
I am eternally grateful for every minute I was able to spend with my dad before he passed away. But I can’t help feeling that not only was my daughter cheated out of an awesome grandpa, she was also cheated out of the first day of kindergarten experience.
So when my other two daughters started school for the first time, I remembered to be present and value the moment. And now as I am approaching the last first day of kindergarten with my son, I need to pause, breathe, and take it all in. For the first time in nearly thirteen years, I will have an empty house. I will have a small window of time each day to focus on me. And I know that having that will allow me to focus on them more as well.
Now when my son jumps into my arms and bear hugs me, I hold him a little longer and a little tighter. I think about the fact that soon I probably won’t be able to carry him. When he asks for me to snuggle with him or read him a book, I do it because I know there will come a time that he won’t ask me anymore. When he covers my face in kisses, I relish every smooch because it may be the last time.
The truth is one of the hardest, but most rewarding, parts of parenting is watching your kids get older. Because, if you’re doing your job right, one day they won’t need you anymore. At least not in the same way they needed you when they were younger. And yes, there are things about each stage of infancy and childhood that I will miss and fondly reminisce about. But now that my kids are older, I am learning to appreciate the benefits as well.
So in an effort to lighten my spirits after my baby put on a backpack that was almost as big as him and climbed those huge steps onto a big yellow bus, I put together a list of all the things I won’t miss and all the benefits of having four kids in school.
- I won’t miss changing diapers. – Being peed and pooped on, trying to wrestle a squirming toddler with shit all over his bum, and of course the cost of diapers for four kids over nearly twelve years
- I won’t miss potty training. – Cleaning accidents out of the carpet, arguing with stubborn toddlers about why they need to get to the toilet, begging, pleading with a three-year-old who insists on holding his poop hostage
- I won’t miss getting bitten (with teeth) while breastfeeding. – There are many things I will miss about breastfeeding my babies, but this is not one of them, neither is pumping.
- I won’t miss being waken at all hours of the night. – I will miss those quiet moments, feeding and rocking a baby to sleep, but I will not miss the lack of sleep.
- I won’t miss “the witching hour.” – That period of time in the evening when there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop your baby from crying.
- I am loving having a child who is old enough to babysit. – My husband and I can now go on a walk or a bike ride or even to dinner or a movie and not have to take out a loan to pay someone to watch our kids.
- I am loving being able to pack for a short trip and not needing a U-Haul to bring everything. – No more Pack ‘N Plays, no more swings, no more 20 changes of clothes in case there is an accident, no more running to the store at 10:00 at night because you forgot the pacifier.
- I am loving being able to focus on me. – I finally have time to focus on building my business, focus on what my joy and purpose is beyond my children. One day they will leave to live their own separate lives. At that point, I want to have my own life as well.
- I am loving getting to know my kids. – The absolute best thing about my kids getting older is realizing I actually like the people they are becoming. I enjoy having real conversations with them. I enjoy spending time with them. I enjoy their personalities. I figure we must be doing something right because our children are actually turning out to be pretty cool people.