There is nothing like watching a baby transform from a wrinkled, helpless bundle into a walking, babbling, little human with his own ideas (“What happens if I scoop all the cat’s dry food into her water dish?”), opinions (books on floor > books on shelves), sense of humor (blowing raspberries on Mommy and Daddy is hysterical), and personality (“Whatcha doin’?”). Birthdays offer a valuable opportunity to reflect on the all-too-fast passage of time and celebrate the countless bumps in the road we traversed to get here.
As my last child reached his first birthday this weekend, I was also celebrating my own growth as a parent. The first time around, these initial twelve months were full of imagined dangers – every fever, fall, and missed milestone was cause for concern. I have since learned that each child is an individual from the day he or she is born and that keeping them safe does not mean protecting them from every physical or emotional injury. With my third child, I finally managed to swap paranoia for perspective.
Not only was I somewhat more relaxed when my third child was born – and thus more able to enjoy getting to know him – I also got the thrill of watching my two older children, ages two and four when their brother was born, experience the wondrous transformation of a human being’s first year. My preschoolers are more attuned to their brother’s needs (“Mommy, he wants milk!”), emotions (my daughter has perfected a silly face that cracks the baby up every time), and development (they are constantly teaching him new things) than any helicopter parent. With no judgment, they tease him about holding his sippy cup upside down and gently correct him. From a place of pure unconditional love, they applaud each unaided step their little brother takes as if he was the first child to ever learn to walk.
Of course, their baby brother interrupts my big kids’ story time, knocks over their fort, and tries to eat their Legos. To their credit, they are incredibly patient with him. When they do get frustrated , it is generally for good reason. I also get annoyed when he pulls all my spices out of the cupboard and spills my vanilla extract on the kitchen floor. Welcoming a baby into your home always requires some adjustment. I have seen the sibling power dynamic, which has been slightly skewed toward my tenacious daughter since she was born, shift with the arrival of our third child. Now they are the “big kids” and they band together to protect “their” baby. The older two are quick to intervene – or call a grown up – whenever our baby is in danger, and they always take his side in a playdate scuffle.
For my husband and I, the first few months after we became a family of five remain a blur. Just as we’d gotten our first two kids to sleep through the night in their own beds, our nights were assaulted by a new cavalcade of growth spurts, tummy troubles, teething pain, fevers, congestion, and inexplicable 4am “wide awakes.” Returning to my busy but unfulfilling job when our baby was just eight weeks old led to many tearful commutes. Soon after that, my husband began spending the night once a week at our local fire station where he volunteers as a certified Emergency Medical Technician. Although it felt impossible at first, I slowly developed an approach to being “on call” for all three small children overnight (though I still do not know how single parents do it night after night after night). My husband even went back to school this year, taking online courses from a local community college, which meant that I had to get all three kids out of the house for large chunks of time on the weekends so he could study. It was not so long ago that taking two little kids to the playground was a mission. Now I juggle three, if not with grace and ease, at least with gratitude at the chance to be together.
So with four celebrations to commemorate my baby’s first birthday and baptism this weekend, I was also marking my growth as a parent and a person in the past year. Not only did I keep that helpless bundle alive (with lots of help from my husband, parents, his siblings, and others), I have thoroughly enjoyed the joyful disruption he has brought into our lives. As my baby beams his two-tooth grin and cheerfully waves “bye bye” to his first year on Earth, I am excited to see where we grow from here.