Friday, February 4, 2011

Strategic Spaces

Sometimes people are startled when I tell them I have four kids. I’m not sure if I come across as too sane to be mothering that many offspring, or too crazy. Even to people who grew up in large families, having more than two or three kids seems like a lot. I had way more than four siblings and I never appreciated how much work my parents did to keep us all fed and clothed. At least not until we started having our own.

Since we ended up with four, on purpose, I inevitably get asked some of the same questions over and over again, from people who are still in the middle of planning their families. Besides the obvious, ‘How do you do it?’, one of the most common is ‘how far apart should you space them?’ I have several answers for that question.

The easiest answer, for those who have less than 30 seconds for a reply, is ‘I have no idea. What we did worked for us, but I have no idea when it comes to anyone else’s family.’

And maybe I should stick with that answer. Because a lot of how the spacing of children turns out depends on things that are unique to each situation. The child’s personality plays a role. The gender of the children plays a role. The dreams and desires of the parents plays a big role. If a mom is not happy at home with a bunch of little ones, or overwhelmed by the idea of packing up a car full of preschoolers to head to day care every day, it can dictate the best choices for that family.

Our first two are just under thirteen months apart in age. During their baby hoods we lived in a tiny duplex while Jeff went to graduate school. It was not as hard as I’d imagined, when I found out I was pregnant while holding a four month old in my arms. Our diaper service had a discount for families with two babies. Our minuscule living room was dedicated to a baby swing and baskets of toys.

It probably helps that they were both pretty easy going babies, and I made sure we got out of the house on a frequent basis, going on walks and visiting the local library.

It also helped that I didn’t feel a need to impress anyone. We didn’t have a fancy house that made me a slave to dusting and mopping. I could clean our whole duplex in just over fifteen minutes. Jeff and I had decided that I would stay home when the kids were young, putting my teaching degree on the shelf. I had always dreamed of having babies and was thrilled by that decision. Everyone in our family felt heard and respected, and it made raising two babies a lot easier.

Now here comes the disclaimer. We didn’t pop out two more right away. My oldest was almost in kindergarten when we finally had number three. She was getting ready to celebrate her tenth birthday when her last little brother arrived. We went from one extreme to the other. Our first two are just over a year apart, but our first and last trips to the maternity ward spanned almost ten years.

I highly recommend it. Having two in the independent ages of the preschool world when their brother came along made my life easier. It made them feel big to keep the baby quiet by singing to him and shaking his rattles, and it made my trips to the grocery store much easier. Then, having an almost ten and almost nine year old, when the last baby came, really helped our family retain peace and harmony. The older kids could carry that fussing newborn around the house while I made dinner. They were off at school most of the day so errands and house cleaning involved only one baby, not four. I’m telling you, this is the ‘cheater way’ to have four kids.

The plan seemed to work well for our family but I’m sure feeling it now. As I sit at this computer, writing this column, my second child is turning eighteen. We now have two children who are legal adults.

Two children who are navigating college options and huge life choices. Two children who may not be living under my roof in a matter of months. Having two so close together means they hit all the milestones together. Getting a drivers license. Graduating from high school. Finding a college and moving away from home. I’m sure it’s a familiar feeling for the parents of twins, but it’s a bit unsettling for this mom.

I was at the elementary school this morning, watching the morning assembly. Little bitty kindergartners filed by as they made their way into the auditorium. Moms, dads and grandparents snapped pictures and doled out hugs as little hands accepted character awards.

My boy has one more year in that building. He’s one of the old ones, in the sea of smaller school mates. I’ve spent a lot of years in elementary school auditoriums. Now it seems that my days are numbered here too. In a very short time we’ll say good bye to those hallowed hallways and move once again up to being middle school parents.

I cling to the fact that I’m still, at least for now, an elementary school parent. I belong there, right next to the moms of the teeny ones. If we’d had all four of ours in a row, I’d have no place here. But we made a different choice. Part of it was a conscious choice and part of it was pure luck, but for our family, the spacing that happened is a spacing that worked.

I think I bought some time and mental sanity by waiting so long to have numbers three and four.


Cathy said...

Very clever title!

I had my first two with three years in between and then my oldest was 8 when I had the third. At time I feel like I have a family with two kids and an only child, but the space was good - and needed. Babies and working put such a strain on our marriage that we needed that time to regroup. I'm glad we did it too. I've often thought about adopting a girl (mine are all boys) at an age between #2 and #3 just to fill in the gap. While I like the idea and hubs actually isn't opposed, moving forward on that would be too much work.

Carrie Link said...

Very interesting! I can see how in some ways having had more children would have made some things easier.