The last firsts
They say that “it is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves.”
I first fell pregnant at 25 and was excited and eager to teach my children independence and have them excel at everything they do in life. Then my little girl was born and the first few years of the journey with her has honestly been one of discovery, wonder and complete and utter panic…
I decided to try out breastfeeding and did so for more than a year until I had to return to work. When she started on solids everything was organic and home cooked and I played only classical music for babies in our house for months. I can still tell you exactly when she teethed, when she sat for the first time and I remember like yesterday the first time she spoke back to me. I remember it because it was a momentous occasion. To me it meant that she is confident enough to be her own little person, to make up her mind and form an opinion for herself. To stand up for herself! I have to admit nowadays I don’t quite see the charm of that particular milestone anymore.
Anyway, we were constantly reading baby-books, comparing her to her peers and ticking off milestones like crazy, always aiming to get her to the next one “on time” and give her every opportunity in life.
Just after our eldest turned two, her sister was born. The first few years of the journey with our second was one of wonder, déjà-vu and more complete and utter panic (for the record, the panic never really goes away no matter how many babies you have.)
New sister was also breastfed but not for as long and topping up with formula when I had to work was much easier than the first time around. I cooked and froze solids for her a few times but seriously, the baby-food isle in our local supermarket is just so convenient for a working mom. You might say that I didn’t give her the “same advantages” as I did her sister but I can tell you she rushed through every milestone at the speed of light. One day she was screaming because of something (probably because her butternut-lunch was store bought and not home-cooked) and I was shocked to discover she had a mouth full of teeth already. Just goes to show again that we can take a little break from judging different parenting choices. No matter how they were born or how you feed them, (tag die lukewarm parenting artikel) they grow up all too soon! Of course the fact that she is always trying to keep up with her sister made all those milestones fly by even faster.
Soon I felt that our little family of four was absolutely perfect and I was convinced we were done. We had a two-year old and a four-year old. I had a career that I love and still managed to fit in the occasional date night with the man of my dreams. Perfection.
Everything got even better as our two little princesses rushed through their milestones with ever increasing momentum. I spent tons of quality time teaching them to feed themselves, dress themselves and bath themselves. All of these skills of course paled in comparison to the glorious day when they were both potty-trained. Seriously, there is no greater celebration in the life of a parent than the day you realise you don’t have to change a child’s dirty nappy ever again. Whoohoo! I was done! Forever! Don’t get me wrong, I never wished for them to grow up too fast – I don’t want them to leave the house EVER, but I just loved that perfect window of time when I was able to take a peaceful bath on my own again (if you ignore them pulling each other’s hair in the next room) or getting up 30 minutes later in the morning because you can get dressed at the same time that they are getting dressed (even if they keep on wearing the big black boots with the dainty pink tutu.)
ALSO when they reach a certain age its easier to let them stay with grandma or their favourite aunt so you can have romantic date nights more often! In fact, by the time they were 3-years-old and 5-years-old we managed to rekindle quite a bit of our pre-parent-romance. I felt 25-years old again only with a few more stretch marks. And of course the boobs were not quite the same either (refer to “breastfeeding” in earlier paragraphs) but I didn’t mind too much. In fact, they started perking up considerably a couple of months after I started exercising again. (the boobs, not the kids) I have always been a bit of a runner and was getting fit quite fast. And the more I ran the bigger the boobs became. Weird. Until one day I suddenly realised it wasn’t muscle. It wasn’t weird. It was absolutely normal. For pregnancy.
This time I didn’t exactly dance on the tables. I wasn’t ready. I was done. Done with kneeling next to the bath to wash a helpless baby’s hair. Done with waking up in the middle of the night in a puddle of milk and a baby next to you on the bed and no idea when you went to pick her up. Done with scrubbing butternut from the feeding chair and every other surface within a 2-meter radius. And most of all I was done DONE DONE with nappies.
So I cried for a few days and then I perked up. If my boobs could do it, so could I. Because I had to. Because this is life. Because we were going to do it all over again!
The first few years of the journey with our third child has been one of wonder, déjà vu and mostly only mild panic. Instead of killing my back to kneel over the bath to wash him I would just get in with him in my arms…after all, there would be no time for long relaxing solo-baths for a considerable amount of time. Instead of moaning and groaning when I had to get up in the middle of the night to feed him I would lie awake just watching his little eyelids flutter long after he has gone back to sleep in the nook of my arm. And when he decided all too soon that he was done with breast-milk I didn’t celebrate. I wished I could keep him so close to my heart just a little longer.
The third time around, instead of rushing through every stage and ticking off milestone after milestone after milestone like I so often did with the girls, I am finding myself particularly hesitant to be a good parent and teach him to do things for himself. Maybe deep down I always knew our family was not complete before he came along and I would get the chance to do it all over again. Maybe I am just getting old and sentimental. Either way I am in absolutely no hurry to have him dressing himself when I can be choosing his snuggly little hats and scarves and cute t-shirts with slightly inappropriate quotes on them. (“Come and get it girls”) I don’t want him bathing on his own when I can be tickling his feet when I wash between his toes. I still carry him as much as I can because very soon those chubby little arms won’t fit as perfectly around my neck and I don’t want him looking around everywhere and exploring the world when he needs to just press his little face in my neck and refuse to let me go. He is almost 3-years old and I am experiencing too many last firsts.
I suppose soon this will pass and we will start on a whole new list of firsts in our house. Soon the kids will be wanting to sleep over at a friend’s house for the first time (it’s only been family members until now) and in the near future we will see them making big decisions without consulting us. Surely one of the girls will bring her first boyfriend home and dad will subsequently have his first nervous breakdown. So much to look forward to and yet I am in no hurry to get there at all. For the next few years I will try to focus less on the milestones they still need to achieve and focus more on what we are achieving here and now every day. I will sing the wrong words to the songs on the radio along with them at the top of our voices when we are driving in the car and not correct them. I will pull them closer when they want to crawl into bed next to us in the middle of the night instead of gently taking them back to their own room. I will braid their hair in the morning before school instead of reminding them they have been able to do it themselves for months. Because maybe I am not the only one who is terrified of time moving so fast. Maybe we can leave the reaching of milestones and the “toughening up” of our children to the outside world just a little bit and make home a safe warm place. Maybe L R Knost said it best:
“It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
We all want the best for our children. We probably also want our children to be the best?! Keeping track of the milestones and being proud of their accomplishments is a wonderful thing, but I think the world focuses too much on first steps and potty training rather than being silly, being honest and being kind. I leave you with a quote from a book by William Martin:
“Do not ask your children
To strive for extraordinary lives
Such striving may seem admirable
But it is a way of foolishness
Help them instead to find the wonder
And the marvel of an ordinary life
Show them the joy of tasting
Tomatoes, apples and pears
Show them how to cry when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasures
In the touch of a hand
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
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