First, the good. This has little to do with her birth order and more to do with her temperament, I suspect, but Zelie is an angelic baby. I know this because I have had 4 other babies of varying levels of good behavior (number 2 in particular being a real doozie) and this newest human is an exceptionally calm and delightful varietal.
I love all my kids, but boy do I like this one a lot. She sleeps great, smiles often, and functions as a baby ambassador of goodwill wherever she goes.
If I had given birth to my number 2 child in the number 5 position, I think I’d be sending out a different sort of report right now. But as it stands, delightful Zelie has actually made life more pleasant and in many ways, easier.
Isn’t that strange? That having 5 kids could be easier than having 4? Economy of grace, y’all. His ways are not our ways. All I know is that when Luke (also a very good baby by all accounts) was the age that Z is now, I was one perpetually breastfeeding stressed out and sleep deprived mama. Zelie drinks bottles, sleeps through the night (lowers voice) for going on 6 days now, and lights up with a 1000 kilowatt smile if anyone so much as glances in her direction.
Because I don’t have post-partum depression this time around (thank you Jesus) and because I’m not nursing her at this point (worrisome weight gain on her part and a thyroid issue on mine which inhibits milk production…BUT WHY AM I JUSTIFYING MYSELF TO THE INTERNET? Oh yes, because breastfeeding is often mistaken for a moral issue by the court of public opinion) I’m feeling emotionally stellar. Waking up happy and glad to see the baby. Getting some quality time in at the gym – the pool, specifically – and having almost none of that “I’ve lost myself in motherhood” ennui that so often marks this fragile period after welcoming new life. I don’t feel like I’ve lost myself at all, in fact. I feel like I’ve found myself, if anything. That I’ve finally nailed down some best practices for how I mother and not how the internet/my mom/a book/etc tells me I should mother (note: my actual mom is very supportive and non-judgemental about my mothering. #blessed).
What works is having baby in a separate room at night – until recently, in a bassinet thing on the floor of our walk in closet – and not sleeping thisclose to my head. What works for me is lots of physical affection and following baby’s sleep cues and offering food every 2 hours or whenever she is acting hungry, and not following any kind of a feeding schedule whatsoever (27 year old first time mom Jenny is open-mouthed in horror at the thought) and letting baby nap wherever/whenever she wants to. In a plane, on a train, in the car, at a…bar? Sure. Whatever gets the job done and gets those zzzz’s logged.
Case in point: she is currently napping placidly in the rock n’ play whilst Luke and Evie engage in a knock down drag out screaming match one room over. True to fifth-born form, she seems to prefer ambient noise (lol that’s what we’ll call it) during her daytime naps.
What works is accepting help when I need it, declining invitations when we can’t make it, and not feeling guilty about things like sometimes missing fun parties or about keeping everyone out way too late because we had a fun night with friends and everybody ran around like a fool eating gluten-full hot dog buns and drinking gatorade until 10 pm.
If I had to sum up my secret for being a mom to many it would probably be just that: whatever.
Whatever works for the actual family, skill set, and personality God gave you. And not only whatever works, but in whatever you do. Laundry, carpool, nursing a sick little one, serving dinner to a cranky elementary schooler, having a hard conversation with a young adult. Every level of motherhood is saturated with opportunities to glorify God in the “whatever” while also doing whatever works for your family.
For me, more food comes out of packages and boxes than it might at your house. I frequently leave the house for an hour or more in the evenings to work out or pray or sit in the car in the grocery store parking lot and stare out the window contemplating the darkness of night. I read too late into the evening and drink a little too much coffee most mornings, but I also have been training myself to stop-drop-and-roll into a horizontal position should all 3 homebound kids chance to sync up their nap times in the afternoon.
I try to keep my eyes on my own page and remind myself that comparison is the thief of joy. That while Satan probably can’t tempt me to abandon my family and run away to Mexico to a margarita farm he can easily nudge me into thinking that mom over there is doing a much better job with her kids/house/spiritual life/body/career and I should probably just give up because I’m failing at all of it.
I’m learning to lean into the harder moments and not escape into a glass of wine or a perma scroll when the going gets tough. I don’t want to numb out the hard stuff, but let that hard stuff build up my muscles for the harder stuff to come. I know big kids will equal bigger problems, and if I can’t referee toddler death matches over the backyard hose I will find myself ill prepared to have all the sex talks and car safety lectures and that await me just around the riverbend.
I’m trying to do more sitting down on the floor and tickling. Kissing my already resistant 7-year-old’s cheeks while he still permits me to. Saying “why not” when they want fudgesicles and rolled up lunch meat as a meal and pushing through praying a family decade of the rosary even when someone is screaming and someone else is curled up in a ball of self pity because the 6 minutes we’re asking of them is too much to handle.
I used to think that this was just survival mode and that things were going to calm down at some unidentified point down the road but then one morning this year I looked in the mirror (figuratively but also literally) and saw a 35-year-old mom with 5 kids who is really, really tired but also fairly happy most of the time, and figured I’d better get about the business of enjoying life in the here and now.
So we go to Mass as a family on Sundays even when it’s rough, we have margaritas on the patio on a Tuesday night because we can’t find a babysitter, and we stay up just a little too late reading most nights because introverts recharge alone together, and we’re going to be pretty tired come 6 am either way.
This embrace of reality has yielded some surprising results. First, that I am actually happy even at my presently overweight size. I know I’ll lose the baby weight and I’m working hard in the pool and at the grocery store to do so, but I also know I’m going to look at pictures of myself from this season someday when I’m older and my nest is empty and think to myself “daaaaaaang, you looked good, girl. No wrinkles. Cute babies everywhere. Shiny thick hair.”
I’ve also discovered that I need about 30% less sleep to survive than I’d ever believed possible. This one is a shocker, and some days I’m convinced God is bending the laws of physics to give me more rest in fewer hours as long as I remember to ask Him for it. So 5 hours can feel like 9? Yeah, sometimes. And that’s wild. Especially for a girl who used to start to cry herself when she was awakened by a crying baby. (Yes, I would actually start crying if I was awakened too many times by a newborn baby. And I have had 5 of them. If that’s not proof that God equips the called rather than calling the equipped, I don’t know what is.)
I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy the next phase of motherhood because it’s already so much more fun than the early years. I didn’t love my first babies any less, but I definitely didn’t enjoy them the way I’m doing now. I worried and measured and researched and counted ounces and minutes and diapers and just generally felt like I was perpetually way out of my depth.
And now? I know I’m way out of my depth, so I can stop worrying so much. Worrying does nothing besides ramp up my baseline anxiety, and honest Abe I don’t need any help in that department. I know I’m messing up my kids. I’m sure I’ve made some choices that may haunt them one day. And (this is the worst part) it’s probably not even the things I’m consciously worrying about. So I beg the Lord’s mercy over my mothering choices and I pray His words over them as I send them out into the world (or the backyard) each day, and I ask for forgiveness over and over again when I fail.
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Col. 3:17