Having a Baby & a Teen at the Same Time Is Crazy ... and Wonderful

Jacqueline Burt Cote 

Before I became a mom, I always assumed I'd have my kids close together. As an only child, I didn't have much firsthand knowledge of sibling dynamics, but I assumed that kids born a year or two apart were more likely to play together (plus, why not get the diaper years over in one fell swoop?). Of course, life doesn't always turn out the way you expect -- which is why I now have three kids ranging in age from 18 months to almost 15 years. It's not the typical nuclear family of my childhood fantasies, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

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There are bizarre moments, to be sure. Moments that make me feel like I'm living in some strange parenting matrix. Sitting in a high school social studies classroom at my daughter's back-to-school night, worrying about getting back home in time to nurse the baby, made me feel like I was straddling two different worlds -- and, as I tried to absorb info about grade point averages without leaking through my shirt, it made me feel like I didnt having a very steady foothold in either one.

When the search history on your laptop contains "does teething cause fever" and "what age drivers permit state of CT" in the same afternoon, you know there's a decent chunk of years between your oldest and youngest kids.

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Now, at this point you're probably wondering why, if I have two older children, I can't remember if teething causes fevers. Well, all I can say is that you'd be surprised how many things you can forget in an almost decade-long time span (the number of years between my second and third kids).

"Didn't either of your other kids ever have pinkeye?" my baby's pediatrician wanted to know recently when I told her I wasn't sure whether his goopy eyes were the result of allergies, a cold, or something worse. And the truth was, while I did have some vague recollections of one of my older children having similar symptoms, I couldn't really remember the specifics. Chalk it up to age or sleep deprivation or both, but there are apparently a lot of little details I've forgotten about my kids' early childhoods.

This could be a good thing: If I'd remembered how hard baby and toddlerhood really are, maybe I wouldn't have taken the plunge again (maybe no one would). The biology of mothers is clearly designed to guarantee perpetuation of the species. It could be that our shoddy memories are part of some divine reproductive plan.

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But I digress. The things I can't remember don't really matter, because I'm reminded of them on a daily basis. What matters, I'm beginning to realize, is finding a way to be present here and now for each of my children in their respective phases of growth and development -- and allowing myself to appreciate each one for what it is.

There's nothing like the myriad emotional, intellectual, and physical needs of a teenager to make toddlerhood seem delightfully simple (an 18-month-old has few problems that can't be solved with Sesame Street and a snack). And there's nothing like following a toddler around 24/7 to keep him from climbing a bookcase or sticking something sharp and metallic in an electrical socket to make you grateful for the comparatively stellar judgment of a fifth grader (who thankfully hasn't tried to scale large pieces of furniture in a few years). 

Ultimately, though, none of this is really about me -- it's about the relationships my kids have with each other despite, or perhaps because of, the difference in their ages. Having a new baby in the house has brought out new sides in both of my older kids that I couldn't have expected. It's all too easy for teenage girls to slip into a permanent state of sullen sarcasm, but having a little one around guarantees that my daughter doesn't lose touch with her silly side. Helping to take care of his younger sibling has made my 10-year-old far more responsible, and the fact that he's really, really good at it (nobody can make the baby laugh like his big brother!) is a confidence boost like no other. 

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I realized the other day that my oldest will start college the same year my middle child starts high school and my youngest starts kindergarten. (Well, unless my daughter decides to take a gap year, Malia Obama–style, but you get the idea). It's a concept I still can't quite wrap my head around, to be honest. My hope, and prayer, is that I have it in me to give all of them what they need to make those transitions successfully (and all the other transitions) -- and to know what those needs are.

And I hope, along the way, that I can truly honor each of their paths, at every turn. 

 

Image via Jacqueline Burt Cote; design by Anne Meadows

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