My two daughters’ baby books sit side-by-side on the shelf. Each is filled out with meticulous details of their birth stories, their growth, the dates of their milestones, even photographs for each month of the first year of their respective lives. Beside those pretty little books bulging with newborn booties and hair clippings and pre-kindergarten art is a big manilla envelope.
And that’s my third child’s baby book. Or baby envelope.
On the outside of it, I’ve scribbled (when I’ve remembered) the dates of things like rolling over and crawling, and his height and weight for (almost) all of the required appointments through his ninth month. (I don’t have the twelve-month statistics yet, though I should, since he’s now fourteen months.) Inside the envelope (I just looked), there are hospital bracelets, cards we recieved just after his arrival, and a sign that says, “Welcome to Earth!” from his older sister.
He’s only had store-brand diapers and wipes and formula. I stopped buying baby shampoo as soon as he was old enough to sit in a bathtub with his sisters. He sleeps most soundly when a noise machine blares rolling ocean waves. And sometimes it’s not until we’re in the checkout line at the grocery store that I realize his lunch is still stuck to his face and tangled in his hair.
Every time we’ve taken him to the pediatrician for a “sick visit,” he’s actually had something substantial. (Not like the time I sat in the exam room with my middle child and my husband, who, when the doctor said, “She’s got a cold,” replied in my direction, “I could’ve told you that.”)
And he eats a lot of Cheetos. Probably an unacceptable amount of Cheetos.
At this point, you might think that he has missed out, somehow. That he hasn’t been pampered enough, that he hasn’t had the same care or individual attention as the others because he’s just “along for the ride,” as one good friend (and mother of three) put it. But I would argue that he’s probably had the best babyhood of my children. And that he’s been the happiest baby, by far.
It makes me wonder: does this have something to do with me, as his mother? As insane as you think it might be at times (and it is — at any given moment, there are diapers, discarded headbands, and a leaking sippy cup inside my purse), a strange sense of calmness has come over me since I became the mother of three. I’m not a “young mother” anymore. I’ll be 35 this year (gasp!). And yet it’s now, six years after I had my first child and one year after I had my last, that I’m starting to feel some kind of confidence, that I’m starting to maybe understand this motherhood thing.
I remember the first time I felt it; it was October, a warm Friday night, and we were going to a party for my husband’s office. I was meeting him there because he was going straight from work. I think it was the first time that I had to get all three of them fed and ready and out the door (after work) and across town for a party that would go late into the night (and way past bedtime). But I remember standing there in the humid evening, rocking the baby and watching as my girls ran around the yard, escaping mosquitoes and dancing their tiny butts off. And I thought, “Hey, I can do this. I am doing this.”
Maybe it’s that confidence that has allowed me to enjoy my third child so much. I’m not a new mom; I’m not filled with anxiety. And so, if he wakes up at night, I give him a bottle without worrying that I’ll go to the pediatrician when he’s four years old and won’t be able to check the “my child is completely off the bottle” box. (Besides, if we attempt to “cry it out,” well, by then we’ve woken up at least three more people.) And I do something completely out of character for me: I plan my summer days around his naptime. I never did that with the other two and often rolled my eyes at people who did. But now there are three of them, and, well, if I am guaranteed that one will stop moving and be quiet for just a little while. . . Listen, I’ve learned to pick my battles.
He’s along for the ride, yes. But so am I.
So, really, while some people might say he has missed out, I say he gets the better mother, one who now worries so much less that she can actually relish him as a baby (and babies just don’t seem to last as long as they used to). And so even though everyone wants him to be walking by now (including me, sometimes — he is thirty pounds, after all), I’m kind of okay with the fact that he’s not. I’m kind of okay with him being a baby. With him taking his time.
I sometimes wish I could go back and give my first-time-mom self the gift of my third-time-mom self. But I guess, maybe, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been there.