Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lessons from the Third

We were at church on Sunday morning, and Chloe was rubbing her eyes furiously in a way that could only mean it was naptime.

"Remember those days," I asked Dan, "when we restructured our entire church schedule around our kids' naps?"

It was true. I had a distinct memory of telling people you wouldn't see us at the second service for a while; we needed to go to the first one so that we didn't mess with Anna's nap time.

This nearly sends me into hysterics now.

This is what I've learned in the past nine months, since Miss Chloe was born: All of those internet stories that get passed around, those cute little jokes about how parents treat the first vs. second vs. third child (i.e. first child drops his pacifier and you sterilize it; second you quickly wash it off; third child, you put it in your own mouth to clean it and pop it back in theirs), well, it's just about all true. I wrote about this last year. I had an inkling that maybe, just maybe, baby #3 would break me, in a good way.

I couldn't be more thankful.

It's rather strange, having parented a baby girl at the beginning of my thirties and now at the end. Sometimes observing Chloe learn and grow is like watching Anna all over again. Except for the fact that Anna had more of a temper while Chloe is laid back, they're very similar. They look the same (I think Chloe's going to have Anna's green eyes). They both hit most milestones (a little bit) early. They both have had very annoying picky-eating phases.

But Chloe is not Anna. And even more than that, I'm not the same person, the same parent I was nearly 10 years ago.

If I had to sum up each of my children's babyhoods with one word, Anna's would be Wonder. Everything was brand new. Ethan's would be Challenge. I say that because I had such a hard time adjusting to two kids; Ethan was fussier than Anna and so hard to figure out; and sadly because I spent a good deal of time worrying about why he seemed "different." And Chloe? I would say Grace, which happens to be her middle name.

Something about the third child has given me a better ability to let go...of household messes and chores undone. Of backyard responsibilities and PTO meetings and of being everything to everyone. I have by no means perfected this. I'm just getting a little bit better.

The third child has reminded me that I only have two hands and that yes, someone may be left out momentarily. But if I can just learn to breathe, I'll get to the other one. I may not have two other very young children. Yet the older ones still need help with homework...tying their rooms.

Child #3 has taught me that there are times I'm going to have to say no. That I may miss appointments sometimes, when my calendar has something scribbled (or more than one something) on every single day.

The third one has shown me that wow, everything gets messier and laundry piles up more quickly. But it's okay. It'll get done eventually. Kind of, except that we all know housework with three kids never gets completely done.

I've learned that giving her a bite of ice cream isn't going to permanently scar her; that the only way to learn how to walk is for me to let her fall; that sometimes it just makes a lot more sense to let her pull the books or DVDs off the shelf and have fun than to hover and scold.

Best of all, 10 years of being a mom means I look at my third, and I know how quickly this time will pass. Anna moved from Chloe's stage to the young lady she is today in what seems like mere minutes. With my third, there is the gift of knowing that time doesn't stand still, that every gummy smile and shaky step should be appropriately treasured, for the day will come very quickly that I look at my grown child and ask, "Were you ever really THAT small?"

I wish, how I wish I could go back to myself as a first-time mom and whisper a few of these secrets. Only: I know I wouldn't have listened. There are some things we only learn from experience; from time; even from failure -- not just in parenting, but in life. Hindsight is indeed always 20-20.

Wonder...Challenge...Grace. I love what my kids have taught me. I love especially what the third has taught me. Yet I know that someday, I will look back at my almost-40-year-old self and smile sheepishly; shake my head a little. Yeah, I'm a newbie at this whole (gulp!) middle-aged thing. There's no shame in that. If we're still breathing, we're still learning. We're still works in progress. I kind of like that.

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