My 7 year old broke my heart last night. You could tell her words were coming from as deep a place as a 7 year old could pull from when she said “mom, thanks for stopping and taking the time to do my hair for me”– she was getting ready to read a passage at church at 7 p.m. so it was around 6:30 and the witching hour for the 4 and 2 year olds, plus the baby was screaming even though I’d just put her down– AGAIN. I made sure dinner was ready at 4:30 so that everyone had plenty of time to eat, then relax and get ready. At 5:30 I asked my husband if he wanted to stay home with 3 kids, or take her in– I knew staying home would be a losing proposition, the baby is under a month old and I breastfeed, unless timed just right, that could be an hour of hell for him. As it was he had a major headache and stiff neck. So by 6 I had done all I could do for everyone else for the moment and sent the child upstairs to get undressed, teeth brushed and face washed, and climbed up slowly after her– the C-section, no matter how quickly I didn’t need meds still is a major surgery and slows me down.
I helped her find her dress that she asks to wear all year, red plaid with velvet cuffs and collar- it’s a hand me down, a classic Christmas type of dress. Last year the sleeves were WAY too long, this year? Entirely too short– I let her wear it anyway. While she was struggling with her tights (4-6 is almost too small, 7-10 too big *sigh*,) I untangled her necklace with a princess crown on it– I figured if she was going, she’s going all the way. She had ponytail holders picked out, red and green. Classic Christmas… but no green in the outfit, so we settled on red and white and got her hair braided. It was then that she uttered those words. I had just said ‘you know why I sent you up here at 6 now, right?’… everything seems to take forever– and she said yes and I know she could hear my husband not happily trying to soothe the baby while corralling the other 2 banshees. I settled the necklace around her neck and tried to smooth out the pigtails that looked entirely too Pippi Longstocking and less modern girl, but she told me they were perfect. I patted her head and told her to go get her shoes.
A 7 year old shouldn’t have to feel like she’s the last on the list. Of course, she’s NOT. Her needs are put before my own most of the time, and my husband’s when he is home. As far as the kids go, though, she has been last since the pregnancy started, she’s right about that and we chatted a bit about it. How hard it is to get much done when chasing a 2 year old that doesn’t want to behave, especially when you’re pregnant. I guess she understands. She doesn’t like it, but she understands. I’m trying. It’s difficult to do much for her when the only time I have without the toddler getting into things is when either A. she’s in bed or B. it’s nap time and she’s in bed, in which case either the baby needs me or I have tried to lay down and sleep. I make sure she has books to read or watches shows that no one else wants to or is allowed to watch (kid loves Star Wars Rebels) and gets a snack most days. Sometimes I’ll make something special (like microwave popcorn is gold to her, for instance) and share with her. One of these days she won’t be the only one up at nap time. It will be less one on one and more crowd control. She’ll have to share me with someone that’s not just nursing and dozing.
First-borns have it tough. They have to figure out things along with their parents, even if those parents know what they’re doing, it’s still a matter of learning how to go through it together. As each new child comes along, parents have to come up with new strategies for everything that seemed so simple before. The older kids get the short end of the stick, or they adapt, one way or the other. She makes her own sandwiches, I taught her how to use the toaster and I’m positive she could use the microwave, too. She’d have to stand on a chair, but if worse came to worse, she could do it. She reliably pours milk from a gallon that’s fairly empty (try finding a full one around here, anyway)… and all these skills have come about in the last year that she’s been home. I doubt she would have learned a single one of them if she’d been in public school the last year.
She’s been our homeschooling guinea pig, too. She was putting stickers on a calendar asking when school was going to end for the year and start again for 2016 and I just smiled. I don’t even remotely have those plans made yet. I said, well, last year we started school on the 28th of December. She looked puzzled and I mentioned that our 1 year anniversary was coming up. I knew what she was going to say before her mouth even opened and had my answer ready.. yes of course we could celebrate it, we’d use whatever leftover treats we have from Christmas and have a little party. She didn’t mention being sad about not being in ‘regular school’– she’s slowly making fewer comparisons. She’s content to do what I set out most days and just go with the flow– she’s seen the 4 year old tantrum enough that she doesn’t want any part of it (at least not right now)… she knows the faster she gets through it, the more time she has to read and play, and that makes her pretty happy, I think. It only took nearly a year of hammering it into her, but she is finally starting to get it.
It’s hard to be the oldest, you feel like you get less time. But I am overjoyed through my broken shards of heart–because she took the time to say thank you. Those words are precious to me. She’s growing and learning, even if the daily walk seems rough and all uphill, she’s able to hit the vista from time to time, take a breath, and appreciate what she has.
Oh, I feel for her (and you). As the oldest of 6, with the next two following 16 months and 16 months, I’m very familiar with losing mommy’s attention as new babies arrive. It seems like I always had brothers because I really don’t remember ever NOT having them. I was only 16 months old when my first brother came along. Mom says I was horrible at sharing with him or even being nice to him, but by the time the second brother came a long, I threw in the towel and became second-mommy. It sounds like K has matured a lot in the last year and she’s old enough to actually do some caring for babies if she’s so inclined. I love that she took a moment to thank you for spending time with her. I don’t know that I ever did that. My mom was completely overwhelmed as the babies just kept coming. They meant to stop after two… All that said, I am so glad to have ALL my brothers now. We are best friends to each other and we always have someone to ask for help (or offer help to) and to make sure our parents are safe and cared for when they need the help.
You’re doing the best you can, Jill – which is better than most. I am always amazed at how much you get done and how gracefully you seem to handle whatever comes up. Just having my one kid was enough to really appreciate what my mom went through with so many – and what you’re doing now. You go, girl!