As my bump gets more and more pronounced, conversations with strangers get more and more frequent. You know the drill… everyone seems to want the details. Kind sales associates and sweet old ladies are constantly asking me how I’m feeling, how far along I am, and what number this is. My answers (in order) are: “ ‘Hungry.’ ‘About 5 months.’ And, ‘This is my second, but my last pregnancy was 13 years ago so this is a whole new ballgame.’ ” Their response is always the same, wide eyes, and a stammered exclamation of surprise that I’m starting over. I always assure the stranger that this was no mistake and we are thrilled!
Now, I know my situation is not unheard of, but it is fairly uncommon. Having two kids 13 years apart is not the chosen blueprint for the majority of Midwestern fams. Most people who have a teenager and a newborn have a few more kids in between. That being said, I have to tell you that there are some major positives about a wide age gap. The biggest obvious plus is that I have a built-in babysitter. WHOOP-WHOOP! When the baby arrives, Sylvie will be old enough to watch him, yet not old enough to drive. Perfect. ?? She’s not going anywhere on Saturday night, anyway!
But, the not so obvious benefit to 13 years between kiddos is the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. This, my friends, is the golden ticket. A crystal ball, if you will. I have already raised a child through infancy, toddler years, preschool, elementary, middle school and the awkward tween phase. I have seen how the parenting choices I made early on are still affecting Sylvie to this day.
And I am not ashamed to share, I made some whopping bad Mama moves. What did I know? Walking into motherhood, I was as blind as we all are. And then 2 years later, when I suddenly became a full-time single mom, I was less concerned about making smart parenting decisions and more concerned with keeping us both afloat. At that point in my life, my goal was for us to be fed, clean, clothed and healthy. If so, “Great! We are celebrating. Let’s have cake for lunch.”
Looking back, there are 3 glaring parental blunders that stand out. My first mistake could easily be blamed on the fact that I was a single mom with one child and cooking and budgeting meals for 2 doesn’t make a lot of sense. You always end up with a lot of waste from perishable ingredients or a ton of leftovers. Add to that, a picky toddler who misses her daddy and my general non-forward thinking approach to life, and well, let’s just say it was a lot easier to make us separate meals. I would throw together some sort of Sylvie-approved, nutritionally balanced weird dinner like pretzels, green beans, black beans, yogurt and mandarin oranges. And then later, I would make a real dinner for myself.
As the years progressed, she continued to be picky and I continued to make her a separate meal, even when company came over for dinner. It was simply easier for me to accommodate her diet, than deal with tears and punishments and endless deadlocks over 3 bites of broccoli. On my part, It was half laziness and half reluctance to make our little world of two any harder or more emotional than it already was.
By the time our family grew to include my husband, the damage was done. We now have an extremely picky vegetarian who does not enjoy meals with us, and causes double the work and double the dishes every night. We love trying new restaurants and would love to take her with us. But it’s a pointless waste of time and money. The time-tested approach of letting her go hungry won’t work at this age. She will just skip dinner and then load up on what she likes at the school lunch buffet and the after school cafe. Basically, I screwed up big time. You can bet this next go round, my husband and I are fully committed to the dinner time battlefield. We. Will. Win.
My second colossal botch job is probably a little TMI. But, whatever, we are all in this together, right? Potty training is gross no matter how you handle it. But my misjudgment caused problems well beyond the normal potty-training timeline. My poor kid was so mentally messed up from my good intentions that she was still having accidents in first grade.
If you take away anything from this post, take away this: At some point, you are going to have to let your children wipe their own bottoms. They are going to be terrible and ineffective at this job. You are going to come face to face with skid marks every night at bathtime and you are going to have to accept the fact that your kids have been walking around with poop smears in their underwear all day. Take a deep breath. Poop smears are not the end of the world. I will tell you something worse than poop smears. (In case you haven’t noticed, I am going to continue saying poop smears until we are all desensitized.)
As I said, my intentions were good. I just couldn’t stand the thought of her not being clean. So as many of us do, I would come in when she was done and help her wipe. Except I skipped the part about helping her and I completely did it for her. She went to pre-school and then on to Kindergarten, and always waited to go #2 until she got home from school. I didn’t make the connection that she was holding it in all day because she didn’t feel like she could wipe herself!
Finally, I realized what was happening and faced the inevitable poop smears head on by teaching her and trusting her to wipe herself. But by that point, she was already in the habit of only going at home. Holding it in for hours every day caused cramping, discomfort and frequent bouts of constipation; not to mention, breakthrough accidents on into elementary school. Thankfully, today we are all good in the bathroom department, but it was a traumatizing few years that could have been avoided.
And finally, my third big time mommy mistake was my negligence to teach practical methods to accomplish household tasks. Sure, she had some “chores” like picking up her toys and feeding the dog. But, as the years progressed her domestic skills did not. By the time she was 8, she should have been fully capable of loading a dishwasher or folding laundry. But, as many moms can attest, it was simply easier and faster for me to load the dishwasher myself.
When my husband joined our household, he promptly took over Sylvie’s education in the daily chores department. If I’m honest, he schooled me on a few key points, too. I mean, who knew there was such an exact way to fold a bath towel? Not me, and definitely not Sylvie! I can honestly say that due to Jason’s tutelage, S will be a much better prepared young adult when she leaves the nest. Her future roommates have him to thank.
This spring, we will embark on a new parenting journey of raising a baby boy and a teenage girl simultaneously. I know a unique set of challenges will come with that territory. There will be frank conversations, constant adjustments, and times when we have no clue how to handle them both. I am 100% sure we will make more mistakes, different mistakes, and probably even some bigger mistakes! But at least I have the small satisfaction of knowing that there are some mistakes I won’t make again.