I was reflecting on how life has sort of finally settled out for us as I exited the gym in the still dark morning, chatting with my neighbor who’d convinced me after months of suggesting to try a sprint spin class. Status: tried. Never again.
The main reason I was able to partake in such abuse? All 5 kids slept through the night last night. Maybe for the first time since Zelie was born? I can’t remember. All I know is I dropped into bed, exhausted, before 10 pm and so I was naturally(!!) awake by 5 this morning. Why not, what harm could it do? I mumbled to myself sleepily, peeling back the covers and staggering downstairs to find my keys. (Discovery: my thighs. My thighs are what were harmed).
My friendly neighbors perched a few bikes down seemed happy and a little shocked to see me there, squinting and huffing like an out of shape old gal who hasn’t mounted a stationary bike since college. Because, well, I haven’t. But I did the class and it was fine and I’ll be able to say now, before I die, that once I rose before dawn and did a spin class while a stranger yelled at me to pull my shoulders back and dig deep.
When I got home, Zelie was riding happily in Dave’s arms while he flipped eggs onto a plate and brewed his coffee. I took the baby and cuddled her, setting her in her high chair for some breakfast to fling on the floor. I started rounding up big kids to get them suited up for school, remembering that kid number two, our grumpy old man, prefers to be woken up by a friendly baby. I doubled back and scooped her into my arms to go in search of the late sleepers.
As I watched my otherwise extremely morning-averse 6-year-old laugh and tickle the intruding baby sister I’d plopped on his bed, I gave thanks silently for the one millionth time since Zelie was born. She has brought so much grace, light, and joy into our family.
Things were great before. They’re better now.
She doesn’t have great clothes, I’ll just lead with that. She usually has a darling headband on, but from the neck down it’s a grab bag jumbled together with our hand me downs, (ahem, some of Luke’s, to be totally transparent) stuff from her aunties, random articles I’ve picked up at the thrift store, and sometimes just a plain old diaper.
I think I’ve bought her maybe 2 new outfits (onesie is outfit, yes?) in her 9.5 months of life. She is often sticky, receiving perhaps fewer baths than previous years’ models have. Our pediatrician had to remind me to feed her actual solid food at her 9 month visit because, ah, I kind of forgot that was a thing (She’s fiiiiine, by the way. She is easily drinking 40 ounces of the white stuff a day). She is often found napping in a car seat. Or screaming in a car seat. My mom says that babies 5 and onward “grow up in the car,” and, well, she’s not wrong.
But the good stuff? Oh, is she loved. By her parents, of course, but also by her 4 adoring to the point of smothering siblings. And her coterie of cousins. And even the 2 sweet neighbor kids across the street who drop their backpacks in my yard after school and vye for a chance to hold her. She has her every waking need anticipated and usually met, however sloppily, by a besotted 3 year old minder. She is greeted with the enthusiasm afforded to a beloved head of state upon our return home if ever I take her anywhere with me. She might not be getting three intentional squares a day, but she more than makes up for it with the scraps of Pirate’s Booty and shredded cheese she forages from the dining room floor.
She sleeps through the night because she is amazing, and also because her parents are older, wiser, and tireder. She takes bottles and eats non-organic bananas and is basically living the life that first time baby o’ mine couldn’t have fathomed, and she is very, very happy. First taste of sugar on her first birthday? Nah. We gave her gelato at 8 months old. Fancy high tech stroller? Please. She perches like a queen in a dirty 2012 model. That is, she does when I remember to bring a stroller somewhere. Mostly she rides on my hip or in a tattered old Ergo carrier that lives under the back seat of the car, or in a very sanitary shopping cart that confers upon its occupants the added bonus of non injected immunity from several common communicable diseases.
Other baby items that didn’t survive to round five: bibs, diaper bag, baby shoes, appropriate themed outfits/costumes for holidays, portable changing pad, and a million other things I’m sure I once considered essentials but now do not.
What she lacks in tot couture she gets back in sloppy older sibling kisses. An inappropriately late bedtime when she pops up at 10 pm for some quality time with mom and dad. An older, mellower mom who remembers specific moments of her babyhood: the first time she stood on her own, sat up, laughed… and knows well enough now to stop and take those moments in. A mom who doesn’t call the doctor for every fever, but knows to take a croupy cough straight in for steroids.
I was telling a friend recently that nobody ever comments on the size of our family in public anymore; maybe it’s because I’m too preoccupied with keeping everyone in line to notice gawking bystanders? I used to get at least two or three “you’ve got your hands fulls!” a week. Now? Nada. I’m not sure if we’re now just a single, solid mass of humanity to the naked eye or what, but at any rate, I don’t sweat taking all the kids somewhere by myself. Sunday Mass, maybe. I’ll have to give that one a whirl before the year’s out.
It has taken longer than usual to physically bounce back, especially to drop the baby weight. But I’ve also been much, much happier than I can ever remember being. For me, not breastfeeding has contributed significantly to better postpartum mental health and easier postpartum NFP. Breastfeeding is great! It’s also not everything. And it doesn’t work out for everyone. I’ve let go of the guilt that initially lingered when I wasn’t making enough milk for Zelie to thrive, and I’ve embraced the freedom that bottle feeding allows. There are blessings hidden behind hard things sometimes, you know? Like sleeping through the night and going away for a weekend. And having the emotional reserves to give yourself to your other kids, because you haven’t already given everything away to the baby.
(Super pro nursing, by the way. Did it for 40+ months. And I’m so, so grateful to my generous friends who make tons of milk and are happy to share. If nursing works for your family, that’s fantastic. If you use formula, also great. Let me know if you want the inside scoop on the best price for Baby’s Only.)
In sum, having another little person show up and make us an officially hard-to-seat party of 7 has been awesome. I’d probably do it again, truth be told. And very likely we will have more. People’s eyes usually bulge ever so slightly when I reply with “we don’t know” when asked “are you done?”
Because honestly, we don’t know. We’re tired, we’re financially stretched to the point of discomfort, and we sometimes lie awake worrying about the future and what it will look like for our kids when they inherit this mess of a world.
But we’re also deeply, deeply happy. Provided for in ways that are unexpected and impossible to predict. Busy? Absolutely. But the hardest days (at least the ones that don’t involve me losing my substantial temper) I usually fall into bed exhausted and really satisfied that I’m spending my life for something beautiful. And there is real happiness in that, and a peace that surpasses all understanding.