As our youngest just recently turned 4, I feel as though I’m slowing climbing out of the trenches of hard-core motherhood and into foreign land. It’s not quite a land of paradise, but the trenches are behind me and while there are stumbling blocks and surprises ahead, I feel like the sun is starting to shine again and the scenery is greening. I’ve been mothering newborns and toddlers for 14 years straight, and the majority of those years have involved multiple children in that age range at one time. In the height of those days, I would often be facing toting 3 children under the age of 5 through a grocery store, juggling naptimes, nursing, and everything that goes along with it. There would be nights of no sleep, babies with colds that made them inconsolable, tears, and chaos. My day was focused on getting things done with a crowd. It was all I could do to just accomplish surviving until they all went to bed. And I got done what I could get done. That was enough and everything. Don’t get me wrong, I loved those baby days. But the work is more physical, all hands on deck, on alert 24/7. It shifts as they get older to more a mental game. The beauty of these trenches, at least, is that while the physical work and toll are hard, challenging, and at times feels impossible, you keep going because you can’t get enough of those squishy cheeks, the pudgy-armed hugs and the funny phrases. It makes every step worth it, no matter how exhausted it may be, you just keep going. Looking back, you can barely see how you survived, but you did. At the time, it seemed almost impossible, but coming through on the other side, you are almost impressed with how you seemed to manage. (And the thought, “what was I thinking? How did I do it? Not sure I could do that again!” flits across your mind.)
Now I find myself with days to myself, or days with a 4 year old, who no longer needs to be carried, who goes to preschool and gymnastics, still naps on occasion and is becoming more and more self-sufficient daily. As I blogged before, this transition has been interesting and more challenging than I would have thought. I believe it’s akin to when you get sick: Did you ever notice you don’t get sick in the middle of stress and chaos, but after? You go into autopilot during an emergency but fall apart when it’s over? I think the past 6 months have been like that. I couldn’t just jump in to this change of pace and tackle all those projects I’ve been dreaming of, waking up from a full night’s rest with energy and excitement like I had hoped.
I’ve adjusted now, though, and while my days rarely look the same or can be predicted, which is a challenge unto itself, I’ve started noticing how much the kids are changing as well. There are days when I still feel like I’m in the trenches: They are all bickering, we’ve taken 10 steps back in cleaning up after ourselves, they are screeching at the top of their lungs for fun, they are all bored, and I struggle not to lose my mind. And then, for the next 10 days, a switch flips and I’m amazed at how they are all maturing so fast. Suddenly they are helpful, busy with friends, buried in a book, or are entertaining the littles. Some days we switch back and forth so fast it gives me proverbial whiplash. The 14 year old is so responsible and fun to chat with and then he turns around and has all the other children crying. The 5 year old is engrossed in his art for hours and is so loving to us and drawing pictures of his moms with hearts and soaks up school and the next 5 days have him reverting to temper tantrums about everything and we can’t throw out a piece of garbage without a meltdown. It’s all normal, I know, and we go with the flow as much as we can.
But the coolest thing is how we get these glimpses of the people they are becoming. It’s like a small, sparkling light at the far end of an extremely long tunnel, finally giving a hint that you may be on the right track after all. After years of stumbling in the dark, hoping you are going in the right direction, you see this glimmer. I know I’ve said it before, that I will never take most of the credit for how amazing they turn out. My hope is that they turn out in spite of my shortcomings, in spite of my mistakes. That they take those and grow from them and it makes them even more incredible.
Our #1 has always been a tough nut to crack. Not much motivates him externally which, as a parent, can be a scary proposition. It means that kids like this have to figure out how to motivate themselves. These are the coolest people as adults IF they can figure it out, but in the meantime they are more than a bit challenging to parent. No carrot-and-stick, no reward and punishment, no lecture, no feeling of approval or disapproval, and no amount of love and logic will work until they set their minds to what they want and how to get there. We are starting to see glimpses of this self-motivation, though. He recently figured out how to repair iphone screens, which has propelled him into a whole other orbit. He’s suddenly designing his business website, setting up PayPal accounts, balancing his savings account, and is nodding wholeheartedly when we talk to him about beginning to save, give to charity, and being now responsible for chipping in for sibling gifts instead of relying on his moms for cash. He’s interested in investing, dividends, and interest. The surprise is how he is absorbing advice on business like a sponge, listening, nodding in agreement as I explain under-promising and over-delivering, because he’s starting to figure out what motivates him, by himself. The challenge now is to quickly prepare a 14 year old who has potential to gain a whole lot of cash in a hurry, and guide him in wise use. This could go bad quickly. The other challenge is to keep him grounded enough to remember that education is still a priority, no matter how he can make his fortunes. He’s a kid who wants to beat the system, and as parents we aren’t quite sure if we hope he does or doesn’t. At any rate, it’s an exciting peek into his future self.
They are starting to have their friends hang out at the house and it’s become a typical day when I look up from a cookbook to notice there are now 10 children in the house. We’ve always talked about the hope that we would be the house kids gravitate to, and now those days are upon us. While I catch myself cringing at the rate granola bars can disappear in an afternoon, I have to remind myself this is the best outcome possible. I also didn’t realize that when other people’s kids turned 10, and 12, and 14, they are actually fun to be around. I get a kick out of our kids’ friends. I find myself laughing at their creativity, happy that these friends are starting to warm up to us enough that we see their silly sides, and reassured that other kids are just as ridiculous as ours at times.
I’m heartened when the friend’s parents send us reassurances that our children are a delight to be around. I’m heartened when 2 out of our 4 kiddos have already received Key Student of the Month Awards, the 5 year old being on his work ethic (be still my heart!) and the 9 year old on her kind, positive and motivating spirit for her classmates. How can this be? Our children blooming into the character traits we hope and pray they’ll have?
I wasn’t sure what it would be like as I left the squishy toddlers and the intoxicating newborn stage behind, but I’m liking this ever changing growth as they start maturing into their future selves.