It’s the most irksome and indubitable law of the universe: Fate favors The Planner. The gal with the foresight to research preschools while she’s pregnant. Or to begin funding a 529 plan before her child can even gurgle the word “college.” Or to know what the frack she’s serving her family for dinner before she gets home from work at 6:22 p.m. and announces, yet again, “Umm … exciting news, everyone: It’s soup night! Grab your favorite can!”
In life — and in parenting, especially — she who wings it regrets it. But that’s exactly how I wound up having my kids seven years apart. When the other moms in my baby group were plotting their second and even third children, citing anecdotes about brotherly bonding and quoting stats about the effect of sibling spacing on each child’s health, intelligence, and self-esteem … I was busy trying to distinguish Boudreaux’s Butt Paste from Motherlove Nipple Cream, clawing my way out from beneath daily heaps of burp cloths and wondering if I’d accidentally stuffed my once-vigorous mojo into the Diaper Genie during a bleary-eyed late-night changing.
By the time I emerged from the disorienting fog of baby care into the dense haze of toddler care and then, well, into the light but still unpleasantly wet mist of 1st-grader care (okay, I’m easily overwhelmed), it was too late to have children who would ever want to ride the same rides at Disneyland much less be able to attend the same school.
But what could I do? That’s when I finally felt it: The call of the sibling. That’s when I realized that nothing I had ever done, or dreamed of doing, made me feel as significant and fortunate as exchanging my mojo for motherhood and escorting my baby into boyhood. Now that he was entering a new stage — that of Big Kid — I realized I still had babying to do … and no one left to do it to.
So we queued up for Round Two, late to the party — and having long since purged our home of crib, high chair, and stroller.
Seven years is a long time. Longer than World War II. Longer than Demi and Ashton’s marriage. “We skipped the middle kid,” my husband often jokes, to curb the not-quite-polite questions that the span inevitably sparks. My boys are too far apart in age to reap all the benefits of siblinghood and too close to glean all the perks of only-childhood.
There are drawbacks on the parenting side, too: I’ve chased a crawling infant across a karate studio and an intrepid toddler around a soccer field. I’ve heard my kindergartner say, “She’s hot,” and seen my 5′10″ child engage in — and even launch — “he hit me first”/“did not”/“did, too” arguments.
Had I planned it better — had I planned it at all — perhaps we could have avoided these awkward moments. But then I would have never discovered this one enchanting advantage of our unusual family dynamic:
Even as my firstborn enters a new stage yet again — that of Churlish Teen — my second born still wants to snuggle. While the oldest pulls steadily away, increasingly mortified by my very existence, the youngest begs for kisses and bursts into grins when he sees me at school. It’s a miracle I don’t take for granted, a slice of serendipity so scrumptious that I have to wonder if “planning” isn’t actually, ultimately overrated.
Tonight the big one shuffled through the room and stopped to hug the little one. Seeing them pressed together, their relative ages juxtaposed, the broad reach of childhood represented in their various states of being, I felt a familiar pang: My second baby will soon slip away, too.
And there’s nothing to be done but plan on it.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Wife on the Edge.