A friend once commented, “there’s something about the child that christens you with the title of mother.” It beautifully expressed this parenting phenomenon. It’s as if we, as parents, are being led through this journey by the first child, exploring the world through these new parent-eyes. All the firsts we encounter via the eldest child mark us; we earn our badges with the first one.
In that shared experience, we bond differently with our firsts than we do our seconds. Not that any child is more loved; it’s just that you remember your first big failures and successes far easier than you remember the consecutive ones. We bear more scars as we clear the way through the parenting forest the first time. Once the path is established, fewer branches come back to smack us in the face (though, they do exist. And those really knock the wind out of you).
This entire theory is why I propose everyone should have a 4th baby. It’s not that it gets easier with each child – you just start to know what you’re doing. You spend considerably less time on the lookout, poised for a reaction to something you don’t know is coming at you.
Instead, by the 4th go, you get to enjoy the ride. Ah yes, the turn is pretty sharp up ahead – better slow down. And here comes that killer hill on the 4th mile: gear up. Here we go. Every kid brings challenges: individual challenges and sometimes different challenges. But as parents we can exert considerably less brain-power figuring out where the road is leading and simply enjoy the journey. When driving through a beautiful countryside but you don’t know where you’re going, you miss the landscape because you’re looking at the map. But once you know the lay of the land, you start to notice the strong, towering trees and the way the sun lingers over the hills.
So I find myself sitting and holding the baby a bit more than I used to. His early wakings aren’t as draining. If he’s hungry? Feed him. Tired? Nap him. The schedules aren’t as necessary as a guide anymore because my motherhood compass can finally read true north on its own. Those books and ideas served a well-deserved purpose in the early years, but finally I find myself writing my own field guide.
The inconveniences that used to wear me down from infancy now bring me great joy. Nursing the baby brings a moment to breathe, to stop what I’m doing. I used to want to stab anyone who told me to enjoy those frequent interruptions to the day – don’t they see the size of my to do list? Now I’ve learned it will all get done. Dinner will be served, even if out of a cardboard box.
So here’s to the 4th. Perhaps other parents learn this lesson by the second time around, or the third. A supremely select group of individuals exist that make fantastic first/only time parents and I try not to look at them with envious disdain. I just seem to require a bit more repetition to learn the lesson.