As I sit here with a few stolen minutes to give to my keyboard, my newborn daughter napping in my lap and my two young sons playing soccer in the backyard with the teenager I pay to entertain them twice a week, I can’t help but worry that sometimes my children are being shortchanged by, well, each other.
When my husband and I got married in the Catholic Church, we vowed “to accept children lovingly from God” and thus far we’ve said yes 3 times in 4.5 years. That’s a whole lot of yeses, and to be honest, some days I feel the weight of how many “no’s” I must say to them each on a daily basis because of it.
No, I can’t read with you right now, I’m doing the laundry…want to help me? No, I can’t play cars with you, I’m nursing your sister. No, you cannot watch me take a shower. No, this isn’t a good time to go ride bikes in the driveway. I’m giving your brother a bath.
And on and on.
I was thumbing through our city’s rec center summer activity guide, and I sighed as I contemplated the cost and logistics of undertaking pre school swimming lessons for our 3 year old.
It’s just too much right now. Maybe next summer. Heck, I was a lifeguard in high school, maybe we’ll buy a family pass and I’ll teach him myself…while trying to keep his brother and sister alive at the same time. By our culture’s standards for raising happy and well-adjusted kids, mine are being seriously shortchanged. They wear thrifted clothes and play with garage sale toys. They don’t have iPads. They share a bedroom at night and they share mom three ways by day. Working from home allows me to be more physically present to them, but mentally and emotionally I’m often far away. Even when all the chores are done and the deadlines are met, there is sometimes little left of me by 5 pm other than a docile willingness to be led to the couch for a few mindless repetitions of the Grumpy Ladybug.
We don’t do tons of activities because, quite frankly, taking all three of them somewhere more exciting than Costco is just hard. Right now it feels like it has always been hard, and I wonder whether things will change when they are a little older.
Then there are moments like this morning, when my oldest son looks lovingly at his 2-month old sister kicking her legs in the air on the family room carpet and asks me when she will be big enough to play with him, because “he can’t wait!”
Those moments give me the strength to keep soldiering through these demanding, physically draining days of herding toddlers and nursing babies. We’re in a rebuilding phase, and these are the investment years. I know it, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
This past weekend my younger sister got married to a wonderful man. She is the 3rd of seven kids, and all of us stood at the altar with them and witnessed their vows. We partied late into the evening afterwards, burning it up on the dance floor until we were quite literally the last people to exit the building. When I look at the seven of us together, spanning from middle school to early parenthood, it’s mind blowing to see the beauty and the camaraderie that has emerged from the early years of chaos and sacrifice and never-enough-to-go-around.
There was more than enough, as it turned out. And when I think back on our childhood, all I see are the good things my parents were able to give us because of their “yeses” … all seven of them. I have friendships spanning decades that will last all my life long; in short, my parents made the ultimate estate planning decision, and our inheritance will be rich indeed.
So tonight at bedtime, frazzled and exhausted, I resolve to try to savor the sweet madness of two little boys jumping in and out of each other’s cribs while a fussing baby demands her after-dinner snack. Yes, it’s hard right now…but they’re worth it. We’re investing in generations, after all.