My baby turned thirteen yesterday. My Eldest will be 20 in January. Four children in a span of 6 1/2 years, is it any wonder I still can’t wrap my head around how big they have gotten? I spent half a lifetime, it seemed, with babies in diapers, or toddlers, but now they are taller than I, independent, and wonderful. They’ve always been wonderful. I’m biased, of course. I’m supposed to be, I’m their mother!
I was talking with the Junior Mad Scientist about this the other day. She was reiterating her oft-expressed reluctance to have children. I was the same way, I told her, at your age. I had no intention of ever getting married, much less having children. But within three years, I had completely changed my mind, and in five years I was expecting my Eldest. I have no regrets, I told her. I had no idea when I started out what having children was really about. Heck, even once they started coming I was often at sea about what do with them. Now that they are teens, I’m still learning. I’ll be learning how to parent up until the last one moves the last boxes out of our house.
Mother of Teens. What would I say to that young woman who was still feeling her bitty baby bump and oscillating between elation and terror? Well, leaving out the individual trials I was living through, I’d do some of the same things I did do: I read, a lot. I read the perennial What to Expect When You Are Expecting, but I also found and read several books on birth and infancy my midwives recommended to me. Which is the other thing I did, against some serious family opposition, and I have no regrets about. I’d do it again. I had three of the four of them at home, and the fourth, I had in the hospital. I said it was because I was looking forward to 48 hours away from home, but it turned out it was because that birth had… issues. I’ll spare you the whole birth story, but let’s just say they were prepping an OR for us, when things straightened out and from there it went swimmingly. And then after 24 hours in the hospital I was homesick and we went back to the happy household chaos of three toddlers who wanted their new baby (and Mama).
I’d say don’t sweat the small stuff, and if there isn’t fire, blood, or broken bones, it’s all small stuff. I’d say sleep when baby is sleeping. Get a sling, and learn how to use it. I didn’t manage that trick until the second baby, and it was a lifesaver being able to carry sleeping bundle while still doing some housework and stuff. I’d tell her that she will never know what she’s capable of until she starts doing it. I’d say that toilet training will happen, and so will bedwetting, and mattress covers are great. So are large-capacity washers and dryers. Nature walks with toddlers are amazing experiences. Let them get dirty: they wash and so do you.
When they transition from those years into the school years, you’ll get to learn all over with them what colors are, and letters, and words, and the names of clouds. You’ll be able to assure the mother of your son’s classmate that all boys in first grade are reading behind the girls. It’s normal, and by the time they are 13, you won’t be able to tell the difference if you don’t stress over it and pass that on to him.
Speaking of teens, I am now a Mother of Teens. Four of them, all different, each unique, and yet… For all that they are doing their best in their own ways to find their mark in the world and make themselves not-like-other teens, they are also sometimes predictable. Like the daughter-thing who wants no children nor romance in her life. I smile and think of me, at that age. Or the child who is dating another in a series of romantic interests, and I look at her and see my younger sister who waited a long time to find just the right man, even though she was the one who had a boyfriend-of-sorts when she was six, and boys drooled over her throughout her developing years (for good reason as she’s lovely inside and out). It’s not that they are clones… but I have cues I see that make me understand them and how things are likely to develop for them.
Which is tricky, because I know now what some of my mistakes were at that stage of growing-up. But while I can make suggestions to them to try and help them avoid my pitfalls and perils, I cannot and will not try to force them into paths I think would be best for them. I walked that path. I know where it leads. Instead I’m doing a lot of hands-off worry and prayer and talking with other parents to check that I’m on the right track. Because that’s what I desperately needed, when I was that terribly young 21 year old with a baby bump. I needed older women who had been there, done that, got the t-shirt, to tell me it was going to be ok.
So, yeah. If you’re there, read this. Feel free to ask questions, not necessarily of me, although I’m happy to hand out advice (worth exactly what you paid for it), but of your own mother-grandmother-aunt-motherinlaw whoever you love and trust. Support systems help ease the anxiety and pain a lot, and I never stopped needing that, from Mother of Toddlers to Mother of Teens… and I suspect I will even beyond that.