When I was a young mom, I knew the first firsts would be a big deal, probably emotional, leaving me sad and proud all at once. And because I wanted to have several children, I anticipated that the last firsts would hold some heavy weight. What I didn’t realize was that those experiences would be 13 years apart.
The husband and I always hoped to have four or five kids. We married fairly young, 21 and 25, and I had a vision of six-to-eight blurred years of pregnancy, babies, and toddlers, ending on or before my thirtieth birthday. I wanted the hard years, the sleepless years, to be while we still had a ton of energy to keep up. So my fifth baby was born just a little after my thirtieth birthday, and I knew it was all gonna be alright. Five definitely seemed overwhelming at the time, but at least we were young! We could still chase them down without needing a nap or a glass of water. Easy peasy.
Over the next few years, the kids asked a few times if I was going to have another baby, and I always emphatically answered, “Nope.” They quit asking, we moved across the country, potty-trained the youngest, and settled into a routine with no nursing, diapers, sleepless nights, highchairs, or strollers.
Right around my baby’s fourth birthday, we were stunned that I was pregnant. We sat the kids down to tell them, and my oldest, who was 12 at the time, exclaimed, “YOU’RE ADOPTING?!” Bless her heart, she had believed me when I said I wasn’t having any more babies.
The pregnancy was a blur, particularly because we were moving again, this time to Fort Worth. I relied on my kids a whole lot, not only to physically help with moving tasks, but also because I was dealing with morning sickness at the same time and felt very useless. But I gradually saw my oldest taking on more responsibility, guiding the younger ones, and helping me hold each day together before I collapsed. And I also saw that she was excited.
I was in college when my two youngest brothers were born, and my mother was pregnant at my oldest sister’s wedding. So while our situation wasn’t quite as . . . dramatic, I was still nervous about how my oldest would respond. Would she think it was weird to finally be a teenager and have a newborn sibling? Did she worry that she wouldn’t get much free time because of the added responsibility? What about another baby around to get into all her art supplies? I worried about her a little.
I shouldn’t have.
What sweetness to have my first baby sitting in the room with me while I labored to deliver my last! She chatted with my mom, sisters, and friends, while nervously checking on me. When our last baby was finally born, she held him so tenderly. This young teenager meeting her newborn brother was a moment burned into my brain: worlds colliding and yet also wrapped up in warm embrace.
There’s no denying that our baby had a part-time second mother. I needed my oldest to help a ton, counted on her for so much. And I won’t paint a rosy picture of a perfect family dynamic, because there were plenty of bumps. She isn’t the nurturing type and sometimes chafed at the extra responsibility. I tried hard to make sure she got the space and time she needed, this hyper-introvert who found herself suddenly the oldest of six. There was some grumbling, some hurt feelings, and opportunities to ask forgiveness.
You want to know what’s so fun? When your oldest points out something that the youngest is doing, which would have resulted in swift and painful consequences in years gone by, and yet gets ignored now. And she’s right. I overparented my first for the most part, and I often underparent now. I’m old, and that’s really my only defense.
My firstborn is an artist. She’s reserved, nervous about new experiences, needs a lot of alone time, and is a creature of habit. But my youngest lives out loud. He’s dramatic, sharp-tongued, yet affectionate.
Even so, the gift of watching their relationship unfold has been a sweet one. She teaches him new things, lets him tag along while she runs errands, and puts up with his silliness. He adores her, asks constantly if they can paint together or read, and can’t wait to tell her about his day when she comes home from work. He’s a card-carrying mama’s boy, but when I’m not around, his oldest sister is a comforting stand-in.
Sometimes it’s head-spinning. Here I am, making sure that my oldest knows the ins and outs of car registration, filing her taxes, and budgets. She’s post-high school but unsure about college, so we have lots of conversations about her future, goals, plans, dreams. And yet I’m still teaching phonics lessons. I’m reminding a six-year-old boy that he sometimes needs to shower, that he shouldn’t try to ride on the dog, and that he has to sit still at the dinner table. I’m one mom sometimes feeling like I’m in two worlds. But I love it. I love my bookends. And mostly I just love how they love each other.