My first born son was an only child for 10 years before his baby brother came along. Five years later, we adopted a 1-year-old. My husband and I weren’t intending to take on a baby, but when we were matched with our daughter, we didn’t hesitate. Her age was the least of my concerns. My priorities were helping our family, now multiracial, adoptive, and blended, make the adjustment.
In a lot of ways, I often think parenting is the same three motions over and over: Love, Guide, Feed. I had done it before. I had this down. And the first few years, I loved the wide age gap. Each kid was in their own special zone — and they didn’t seem to mind the gap at all.
My sons had a decade between them, but they still played games and wrestled. They pulled their sister right into their little club. She jumped on the pile. They’d all hang out. Their bodies a tangle on the couch.
I was the first one to freak out about the age difference. Because suddenly, two of them were in the same zone at the same time— the “finding their independence” stage. My high school senior and my toddler. There is nothing weirder than returning from a day of college visits to read ABC books to a kid in footie pajamas.
My daughter was just figuring out how cool it was to say “No!” To naps, shoes, bedtimes — anything I suggested. At the same time, I was having lengthy convos with my high schooler about not applying to colleges 3,000 miles away and taking SAT studying seriously.
He had a bigger vocab, but just like her, he was also saying, “No!”
They were both loud and clear. Meanwhile, my first grader, my middle kid, was still in the sweet zone. Thank Christ.
But then one day, he wasn’t.
A big vortex of kid-crisis converged all at once right in our entryway. That’s where I stood when they each came at me at the same time. My first-grader pulled his behavior chart out of his backpack. I needed to sign it like usual. Today it was crumpled in a ball. Then he started to eat it.
Next, my high schooler appeared, frantic. He had just emailed the wrong college essay with his application to his favored school. “I blew it!” he howled.
Just then, my daughter was at my feet, standing in a puddle of pee. Then she slipped in it, and her screams shot to glass-breaking levels.
So for me, this was the mom-equivalent of that battle scene in Saving Private Ryan, where everything blurs but Tom Hank’s face. The background goes to slow-mo and all you hear is a low hiss. I just stood there, surrounded by three passionately stressed-out children. Yeah, I was ready for Calgon and a trap-door exit.
But just like a soldier, I got it together.
I picked up my daughter, urine be damned. I pulled her close and she calmed. “Take that out of your mouth,” I said to my first grader and held out my hand. As if a miracle, he gave me the saliva covered paper ball. I turned to my eldest: “Send another email. Explain the situation and ask to send the right essay.”
It took 17 minutes of non-stop action on my part, but the tornado dispersed. I cleaned up my daughter and the floor, never stopping hugging her, while I gave my first-grader a speech about bad days, doing better tomorrow, and not eating things he doesn’t want me to see. I flattened the big spitball, dried it out. Signature required. Soon it was back in his folder, wrecked, but signed. Then my oldest got an email reply that basically said: “Whatever. NBD. Send the right essay.”
A few weeks later, he found out he got accepted. To a college 90 minutes away. Score one for mom.
By the fall, I had a preschooler and a freshman. And in their own ways, neither of them was ready to go off to school.
But it was my job to help them do it. My daughter clung to me at the drop-off that first morning. She stretched the ends of my sweater over her face.
“Don’t leave,” she said, “Stand outside the window and watch me the whole time.”
“Ok,” I told her, and she believed me.
Meanwhile, my new freshman was set to embark, and he hadn’t packed a thing.
“We’re leaving in two hours,” I told him from his doorway. I watched my son pace around his room, stop, and then get back in bed. He pulled a blanket over his face. For the second time that day, I watched one of my kids cover their head in fabric to avoid school.
I knew this part: time to love and guide. I’m a world-class organizer. I got all of my son’s things in a dozen plastic bins. When we got to the college, I was not the only mom to set up her kid’s dorm. Those first few weeks, he texted me a lot. Then it dropped off. He was OK. So was my daughter. Pretty soon, she wanted to go to school.
I’m the one still adjusting.
This year during back-to-school shopping, I watched the moms with kids who looked just a few years apart. Here I was juggling dorm gear and stuff in size 4T — not to mention the R2-D2 folders for my middle kid.
I felt insane. What was I thinking?
Then I noticed it was all calm. My youngest and oldest were transitioning again.
Guess who forgot to wave goodbye to her mommy on the first day of her final year of preschool? Then I came home and my oldest was all packed up for his sophomore year. He had everything perfectly organized in all those storage bins I had bought the year before. He was relaxed and ready to go.
My kids move in and out of their zones and phases. I’m also making it through.More On