Whenever someone tells me how many kids they have, I usually respond with, “Well, I only have two and believe me, that’s all I need. I am happy with the two.” One of my friends has seven kids. In this day and age, she may as well be telling people she owns a White Bengal tiger. She is always quick to say that no, she is not nuts and yes, she wanted seven kids. She is happy with the chaos. Considering some days I can barely handle the two I have, I bow down to her Super-Mama-Greatness.
But maybe she just had lots of practice. I would hope by the seventh child, you’d have some idea of what it takes to be a good mom. Could I be a Supermama, too? Could I ever possess that calm, clear-headed confidence she has? I had my doubts.
I know my four year old is my last child. Every milestone that goes by, my husband and I sigh, “well, no more diapers, no more binkies, no more sippies, no more tantrums” (she still has tantrums, but I prefer to call them diva moments now). Watching my kids grow out of these trying stages, we are relieved and sad at the same time. So it was surprising that I decided to take on a friend’s three month old baby this spring.
She is all sugar-n-spice and instantly charmed me with her drooly toothless smiles and the rolls on her chunky thighs. Oh and her feet, they’re so tiny! And look at her little fingers wrapped around mine! Oh! And she’s light as a feather! I can’t even pick up my own kids anymore, so this was something that warmed my heart. The first day I babysat her, I was gone. I nestled her little body in the crook of my neck and gently shushed her to sleep. I never thought I’d be holding a baby so soon again. And I realized something as the months flew by–she was easy. Easy to feed, easy to change, easy to play with, easy to put down for a nap. It was remarkable how good I was at this baby thing. Have I become the Baby Whisperer? I said to my husband, man, I could have had three kids and I would have been just fine. After years of second-guessing every mommy move I made with my own kids, I discovered that when it comes to raising a baby, I can do this! And do it well.
I didn’t always have this confidence. I was that constantly frazzled and worried helicopter mom. More like a dive bomber plane ready to swoop in at the first sign of distress. Now, looking back, I realize sometimes my swooping only made the situation more anxiety-filled. I hovered over my firstborn son, fretting and trying to anticipate every thing that could go wrong (but never did). Add to that the seed of mommy guilt sprouting in my mind that I wasn’t doing the “right” thing, I was a mess those first few years of my son’s life.
I’d be on edge listening to him on the baby monitor. Was he crying? Was he okay? Was he breathing? I’d take him out for a walk in the stroller. Is the sun too hot? Is the wind blowing in his face too much? Does he need his binky? Will he be sucking on this binky until he’s 15 years old and suffering from the world’s worst overbite? Shouldn’t he be potty trained by now? Will he be the first kindergartner to wear diapers to school? Why does he keep calling milk “guk”? Shouldn’t he be fluent in three languages by now? Oh, the pressure I put myself under.
I think back to this old state of mind and shake my head. I wish I could tell that woman to chill out a little, enjoy your son while he’s still young. Thankfully, by our second baby I had a chance to push all of those little nagging fears out of my head. I didn’t rush every milestone. I knew that most likely, my daughter would learn to walk (i.e., tear apart the entire house) and talk (i.e., never stop talking) in her own time.
On top of this, I had to endure the constant “advice” from others (moms and non-moms alike). You’re not breastfeeding? You’re not bottle-feeding? You’re not cloth-diapering? You are cloth-diapering? You’re not playing the baby Mozart tunes in utero? With my first child I actually used to listen to these comments. Now, I couldn’t care less what others think about how I’m raising my child. I figure out what works best and go with it. Simple.
And with this new little baby I’m taking care of this summer, it’s all gravy. Why wasn’t it this easy with my own kids? I suppose I have the benefit of taking care of her on a full night’s sleep. I enjoy her giggles and coos for a bit and then get to hand her back to her parents at the end of the day. Must be how grandparents feel.
If only I had lived more in the moment when my kids were babies, if only I had the sense to let all of those insignificant anxieties go. Thankfully, my kids are still young and I can redeem myself and know I have the chance to savor these moments.
And wait to be a grandma.