My baby is six months old today, and yet I still call him “my newborn.” 183 nights he has slept by my side, but it still startles me to awake to him crying in his co-sleeper. He has learned to roll, grab, sit, smile, and laugh, but we can only guess at the person he will grow up to be.
My first child made me a mother, with all the identity-challenging, priority-reordering that entails. Within a year, I started working from home regularly, canceled my gym membership, and lost touch with some of my childless friends. The birth of my second child transformed my world of “me+best friend+baby” into “family.” That year we bought a car, then a house, and struggled to get comfortable in suburbia.
When we anticipated the arrival of our no-longer-so-new baby, it seemed like going from two to three children would be easier than the “recalibration” I experienced following the births of my first and second child. After all, I have now embraced my identity as a suburban mom, and that role informs most of my choices. I have put my professional ambitions on hold, made peace with the inevitable destruction of every nice thing I bring into my home, and learned to get by with very little sleep or “me time.” Part of the reason we decided to have a third child while still having two toddlers at home is because it seemed it would be easier to embrace the chaos of a new baby while we were still in the midst of it with our first two.
Over the last six months, my third child has prompted a less perceptible, but no less ground-shaking shift. Like his emerging personality, it is too soon for me to calculate the contours of this change yet. But I detect glimpses from time to time – things I say or do that I would not have done before becoming a mother of three. Before having kids, I imagined what it would be like to shape young human beings. Who would I want them to be? How would I nudge them in that direction? Perhaps the greatest surprise of parenthood (followed closely by how one’s relationship to bodily fluids changes) is that, to a large degree, children are who they are and if anything, it is they who shape the parents into new human beings. I feel myself being molded by my half-birthday boy, but it will still be awhile before it is clear who he and I will become.