I’m lucky in many regards, and unlucky in a few others, but it is amongst my greatest earthly fortunes to have given birth to my first child a year after my older sister gave birth to her third child.
I call it great for several reasons: my daughter’s got seasoned elder cousins to teach her the ropes and pass her hand-me-down clothes and toys; and, more importantly, somebody else has already done some of the hardest work of motherhood for me.
Confucius once said that we gain wisdom in three ways: through observation, meditation and experience, with experience being the most bitter.
I was there for two of my older sister’s (intensely agonizing and intensely beautiful) births, and I’ve seen her wrestle with each of these means of gaining wisdom over the past nine years.
She’s my Mama Spirit Animal, seasoned, decisive and wise, and despite the fact that a dozen-or-so states separate us, I daily reap the benefits of her decade spent in the trenches of modern parenthood.
I’ve watched her experiment with approaches and methods, inventing and reinventing her approach as she clears away the clutter and digs into the heart of what it means to mother. Her approach these days, if I may be so bold as to define it on her behalf is: earthy, baby-led, attachment-driven and fanfare free. She’s been there. She’s done it. And she’s over the BS.
She cherishes her youngest baby with a tender ferocity that can only come from knowing this is (probably) her last one. And yet, she’s remarkably unflapped when he tantrums at her feet, the wails echoing off the walls and the tears a’rollin’ down.
When it was time for her first baby to eat solids, she lovingly pureed a selection of seasonally fresh berries, which were fed to Eldest Baby outdoors, with several cameras set up to capture the blessed event.
Here’s how Youngest Baby was introduced to solids: one night at dinner when no one was looking, he grabbed a piece of bread off his older sister’s plate and shoved it into his gummy mouth.
My older sister smiled wryly, marked the moment for posterity on Facebook, and got on with things. Because that’s what you do when you know.
I call it the Third-Kid Mentality, and I been trying hard to soak it all in. Sometimes I resist her advice (bedsharing, using a hospital-grade pump), sometimes I ultimately pick a different path than she does (cutting out bedsharing at nine months, beginning to wean at one year instead of at two-plus) but always, I respect its wisdom.
Parents, let me tell you: The Third-Kid Mentality is liberating! More than a specific set of mandates, it’s an attitude. It has also enabled me to avoid some expensive and pointless rookie mama mistakes.
In honor of our scared sisterly bond and all the wisdom that flows back and forth through its magical umbilicus, I’m offering up to the Mom-Verse a list of things I’ve elected not to do for my firstborn, or for any offspring who might come after her:
- Trim her nails more than once every two weeks or so, because she hates it, and who cares?
- Bathe her more than once every two weeks unless something emergent — think poop, puke, or hypothermia — occurs. (Then, yeah, duh.) Because she’s got dry skin, her bum and face get cleaned (almost) every time she defecates or eats, and a little dirt builds character (not to mention the ol’ microbiome).
- Fold her clothes before putting them in her drawer.
- Feel embarrassed about mysterious stains on the fabrics of our household furniture (and all over me).
- Preselect a color-coordinated outfit for her the night before. Ever.
- Care that half her clothes are hand-me-down, boy-gendered clothes that cause everyone to refer to her as “that handsome little guy.” In fact, I kind of like it.
- Change her clothes more than three times a day. After the third outfit change, we’re done.
- Change her out of her pajamas in the morning if we are in a hurry and stopping to do so will make us late for an appointment.
- Feel bad if occasionally, while otherwise occupied, I used my toes to pick something up off the floor and give it to her.
- Purchase a playpen, kiddie corral of any sort of container for her to play in.
- Purchase a dedicated diaper bag when a backpack does the exact same thing, is one-third the cost, and is far better appointed for schlepping her stuff around town.
- Become friends with someone just because she’s a mom and I’m a mom, even if we have nothing in common and find each other dull.
- Bring her to an event I said we’d attend even though she’s exhausted or not feeling well just because I promised I would and people will be disappointed.
- Insist that a friend subscribe to any of the same parenting philosophies as I do, or secretly judge her/him/them if they choose a different path for their family.
- Rebuke myself too harshly when society or our medical system bullies me into making a parenting decision I later regret or question.
- Throw away a morsel of her food because it has fallen on the floor for like two seconds. Even in public.
- Apologize to strangers for her crankiness and colic, especially when has nothing to do with her being tired and cannot be helped anyway.
- Explain the motivations or research behind my parenting decisions to people whose opinions don’t matter to me.
- Wear a nursing cover, or nurse in a bathroom stall. Ever.
- Put one of those baby ankle monitor things on her that periodically checks if she’s still breathing while she sleeps.
- Feel obliged to curtail my cursing because it’s fun and enjoyable functions as a colorful backtape for life’s misadventures. Which are, incidentally, subject to a multiplier effect when kids come into the picture.
- Feel guilty for: being excited to go back to work 3.5 months post-partum, even though it was also hard; making my husband get up early even when he’s tired because I’m more tired; accidentally pinching, scratching or shocking her while dressing her; changing my mind about things and changing it back again; and sometimes just sitting on the couch staring into space or playing with my phone when I’m watching her. Because mama’s tired, and she ain’t got time for that noise.