There is a 3 month period every year where these three are sequential in age. This year it was 7, 6, 5 and next year it will be 8, 7, 6.
But not too far back in memory are the days we celebrated 3, 2, 1, and 4, 3, 2.
Those were hard days.
I don’t remember knowing it was hard at the time, because I grew up the oldest girl of 14 children, nannied 4 children during college at 17, got married at 19, and got pregnant on my honeymoon. Life was one continuous string of babies and people were always (and I mean, always) coming up to me to ask me my age, if I was planning on having a large family like my parents, and did I know my hands were full? I honestly didn’t, I was just doing the next task in front of me, trying to thrive, not survive, and it was usually spooning mashed carrots or reading Goodnight Moon.
People would find out I came from a large family and immediately comment, “Oh! This must be so easy for you!” as I juggled a screaming 2 year old in Target, while loading my groceries, and swiping my card. I remember tiredly smiling back at them and feeling guilty that I didn’t feel that way. “It’s not easy,” I thought. “What about this makes you think that it is?”
When they were 3, 2, and 1, I cut my hair short and bought myself shirts in multiple colors. Quiet times were the runs I would squeeze in on the weekends between feedings and although we tried to get to church every week, 3 out of 4 times a month I was home with someone that was sick. There was no money for the “Mother’s Morning Out” programs and we lived in a city with no family nearby. Looking back, these seem like such trivial things, but to me, at the time, they seemed like lifelines just out of reach.
There were days when these three were really little and I was changing diapers every hour, that I thought we’d never get here. There were days when we had three car seats lined up in the back seat of our jeep and bunk beds crammed into a little 2-bedroom apartment that I thought we would never know personal space again. There were mornings I would go to Wal Mart at 5am to grocery shop just so I wouldn’t have to change a diaper in the public restroom, twice, and check out without anyone crawling out of the shopping cart.
Sometimes I run across pictures from their babyhood and memories of me, their mom, trying so hard, will flood back. I see library trips, and park play dates, and raspberry muffins on Valentine’s Day. I see homemade aprons and alphabet cards and sticky fingers grabbing my green turtleneck that I also had in black, and blue. I see never enough time. Never enough patience. And never enough’s stretched out long into the Oklahoma sunset.
And if I could, I would give that girl turning into a woman a big hug and say, “It’s hard. But 8, 7, and 5 is just around the corner.” I would tell her to not freak out but she would have a baby that is more of a handful than all three of these kiddos combined, but that you’ll know this time it doesn’t last forever. (We hope.) You will reach the point that you thought would never come and your babies will be in “big school” with people helping you teach them and you’ll be able to go for a run with just one child in a jogging stroller and you’ll buy shirts because you like them, not because they’re on sale in 3 different colors.
You will feel supported.
And because time heals wounds and God is good and we learn lessons from out mistakes, motherhood will not be the only thing that defines you like it did in 2011.
She really needed to hear that.
I often hear myself saying things to the kids now that I would’ve never known to say 4 years ago. Time and experiences and truth do that to you. In many ways, each birthday here is a collective “We made it!” and “Look how different we are!”
I am growing up with my kids.
Maybe it’s that I wish I would have had the guts to tell people in the grocery store that raising three kids under the age of 2 was hard, or that I would’ve allowed myself to stop doing the laundry and read a book when they were napping, or simply took a moment to be proud we had made it to story time at the library, but this past year I gave myself permission to celebrate what needs to be celebrated and grieve the things that needed to be grieved.
So, Shiloh bug. While I hug your bunny and tell you it’s soft and I sing over your cake and laugh at your sparkler candles, know that I am also celebrating another year of motherhood. Another year of refinement. Another moment to take stock of how far we’ve come. I am grieving all the moments I apologized (or didn’t) and could’ve been better, but also rejoicing in the what-is-to-comes and the what-we-accomplished. If you learn nothing else from me, know this: God’s got you. He’s got your grocery store runs and your zoo memberships and your turtlenecks all in His precious hands. He has the big moments and the silent ones and the ones that are fighting to be understood all wrapped up in a safe and cozy place – His embrace.
You will fight to be known, and loved, and needed, but you already are.
Consider this me. Talking to what I wish was my younger self. But I’ll tell you instead.
Here’s to an amazing year of being 7.