It’s finally bedtime. The baby is miraculously asleep before the others, the three older ones are weary and tucked into their own beds, and my husband is waiting with popcorn and the DVR remote, scrolling through the long list of our favorites getting ready to pick one out for us to watch in peace.
I ask Ferris if he wants a long-sleeved shirt for school the next day, or to wear a jacket, and grab the jacket from the top of his dresser to lay next to his backpack. He says he doesn’t want that jacket, he wants the red jacket, and he wants me to be sure I have his black Angry Birds Star Wars shirt ready — not the blue one. I consider telling him to lay out his own clothes, but don’t want him to get up so I oblige.
I ask London one more time if she needs to go potty and wonder why I ever ask because she always says “no.” She has her bear and blankie, but tells me she needs a stuffed duck, tiny LEGO person and ruler (?) to fall asleep. I quickly grab the items and tuck them in with her, making a mental note to come back for the ruler.
Before my time with Ferris and London, I spent about an hour getting Erinn to sleep. Nursed, rocked, sang, gave her to my husband, watched TV with her in the dark, and finally nursed again before she finally gave in. She had been struggling lately with her first tooth coming in and was a disaster at bedtime. I wish I could say it was one-time thing, but Erinn has proven a nightmare when it comes to sleep so far. I’ve got the bags under my eyes to prove it.
So, okay. Three down. One to go. I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing the hardest part of my bedtime routine is behind me. I tuck in Emilia and brush the soft blonde hair from her forehead as she smiles back at me, clutching her blankie, eyes heavy. Ah, my blessing. I kiss her on the cheek and rise from the bottom bunk bed and turn toward the girls’ bedroom door. In five feet, I’m off duty until the morning… or the first night wake-up from someone (take your pick). I can taste the popcorn. I briefly consider a glass of wine. Maybe I will finally catch up in Words with Friends while we watch the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory and marvel at Sheldon’s likeness to our oldest. Visions of sitcoms, and high-calorie snacks, and alcoholic beverages swirl through my mind as I inch closer to freedom. Just as I reach the door knob, the sweet voice belonging to my blondie calls out to me:
“Mom – will you scratch my back?”
I’m glad that she can’t see my face because it is pained. I want so badly to say “no” and tell her it’s really time for bed and she needs to leave me alone for gosh darn sake and let mommy have some peace. But my better judgment wins out. I adjust my posture and facial expression before turning around to face her.
London is already snoring softly on the top bunk. I sit back down and motion for Emilia to roll onto her tummy so I can start scratching. I know it won’t be long before she too is snoring like her siblings and I know I need to remember that these moment are fleeting. Soon she will think mommy scratching her back is for babies. Soon I’ll need an electronic lock code to get into her bedroom. Soon she will be packing up her room with a one-way ticket to Paris in her hand and barely time to give me a hug before walking out…
Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m getting ahead of myself. I look down at the giant child in the bed and realize this is the first thing I can remember her asking from me today. When she woke up, she ate the leftover dry cereal her brother abandoned when leaving for school. She got her own cup of ice water by grabbing a clean one from the dish drainer and filling it from the front of the fridge. Some days she is pokey when it comes to getting dressed for school, but today she asked London to help her pick out an outfit (London’s specialty) and got dressed without any help. My husband packed her lunch while I handled a hungry baby. My husband dropped her off and picked her up from school. When she got home, she was busy playing a hybrid version of Star Wars/Power Rangers with her siblings until dinner — which my husband made — and took her bath and got ready for bed with no fuss.
In the nearly 13 hours she was awake, she only asked one thing of her mother — a back scratch. I scratch with a little more enthusiasm but she is already asleep. I back out of the room with a heavy heart. I can’t help thinking that I’m failing her sometimes — that I’m not doing enough. Just because she doesn’t ask a lot from me does not mean I should just skate by.
Since having my second child in May, my firstborn’s personality has become more apparent to me. She was the baby that never complained. I had no use for sleep training books because she went to sleep when I laid her down. She hung out with babysitters when I went for a run, or had to go into the office, and they eagerly offered to take her back again. On more than one occasion, I found out she had an ear infection at a normal doctor’s checkup because she never made it apparent to me that she was in pain beforehand. She moved with me from a shared house, to an apartment, to a family home, to a one-bedroom apartment across the country, and back into a home shared with a combined family of two insta-siblings and a stepdad without ever looking back or bemoaning her previous “life.” Before asking me for anything at any store, she says, “Mom, is this on sale?” If the answer is “no,” she puts it back. If I say “yes,” she asks if it can go in the cart.
Yes, she had a terrible two, terribler three stage. Yes, she has her stubborn moments and bursts into tears over silly things when she is especially tired. She can be mean to her siblings. She refuses to clean up sometimes. If you tell her “no,” sometimes she keeps doing what she is doing because she is so accustomed to doing her “own thing” that the word doesn’t even register.
When she had just turned three, my dad made an observation. He said that I have always had a “sense of duty” — that I just do things, without much fuss, and am always moving forward. When I asked what prompted that comment, he said “Because Emilia is exactly the same way.”
While independence in children is to be admired, and Emilia comes by it honestly, I still worry sometimes. I often thought that I knew more than I really did and it got me into some bad situations. I didn’t like to bother my parents with my problems, even at a very young age, and that too got me in over my head on more occasions than one. I want to foster her spirit of independence but let her know it is okay to come to me when she needs help, or advice, or just some comfort in the form of a back scratch.
As she gets older, I am realizing that I need to take proactive steps to make her see this — especially since she is vying for attention from three other kids, her dad and my work. The responsibility to find out what she needs is mine; at the very least I need to teach her how to vocalize her expectations of me. I do this in small ways like asking her about school in specific ways to show I listened the day before, or stepping in on occasion when she is struggling to do something on her own.
“I almost had it, Mom.”
“I know, baby. But I like to help you sometimes.”
I look forward to all of my kids taking on new independence as they grow, but sometimes it is okay for them to just be little too. There’s a fine line there and one that I have to adjust to each child, in each situation. With Emilia, I have to reach out a little more at times, even if it means putting in a few extra minutes at the end of my mommy workday.
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Tags: combined family