Tuesday, 27 August 2013

To Three Or Not To Three: Surprises

(Periodically, I've been writing some posts about whether or not to go from two to three children. This is one of them, but no, in case you're concerned, I'm not pregnant - this is not about THAT kind of surprise).

Babies are cute. Babies are so cute. 

Seriously, how cute are babies?

Wanna know what's cute? Little tiny people (I'm talking about babies).

Goodness me but babies are cute. 

Know what else babies are? Snuggly.

Smiley. Funny. 

Sweet. Adorable. 

I'm a bit of a hard-edged, cranky lady at times, but I absolutely love babies. I always knew I would love having a baby, and I did.

Can I be honest? Part of the reason I have wanted another child was that I didn't feel ready for the funnest part of parenting - ie, the baby part - to be over. (Uh, anybody else? Just me? Okay).

But lately, life has hit me with a few surprises. My kids are well and truly not babies any more, and there are no more babies on the horizon for us. But I'm surprised by how not-sad I feel about this. I didn't know that I would love my children more now, as four-year-olds, than I did when they looked as cute as they do in these pictures.  I didn't know that they would delight me more because I would know them better.

I didn't know how much time with a four-year-old girl would be spent watching her hopping. "Look, I'm hopping! I'm so hopping!" and skipping "Look, Mummy, this is how you skip. I'll show you". I don't have the heart to tell her that actually, that's not how you skip.

I didn't know how unexpectedly innocent a four-year-old boy could be. He found his cousin's toy gun and pointed it at his own head and clicked the trigger. I looked on, horrified, while he beamed and said "Oh look, Mummy, a hairdryer!"

I didn't know how wonderful it would be to have a child who could take themselves to the bathroom.

Lately Pink has become convinced that she can run much, much faster if she is wearing very short shorts. "Mummy, I can do hard things if I am in my running shorts!" she says, and sometimes "Look, I did it because I kept on trying!" Magical thinking and determination? I think this girl will be able to do anything she sets her mind to.

It's not all sunshine, of course. Pink, particularly, can't stand being wrong. "I was NOT biting my toenails, Mummy, I was only LICKING them". (Well in that case, carry on).  And Blue can't seem to stop needling his sister until she snaps and bites him. Sometimes they still drive me to the edge of distraction, then over the border and into the neighbouring counties of frustration and despair.

But I love them more than ever. And they are more fun than ever.

Being with these kids, aged four, makes me think, often, of my favourite African proverb about raising children. I'm sure you know the one beloved of Hillary Clinton: It takes a village to raise a child. This proverb is not like that proverb (and is yet another example of how 'Africa' is not a homogeneous place, but that's another blog post).

When I was growing up, my family spent a few years in Kenya and the proverb my parents often quoted while we were growing up came from the area we lived in while we were there. I don't know the whole thing in the original language, just the first few words that my parents used to sometimes say to each other as a kind of shorthand: abante bana. Abante bana means 'other people's children' and the whole proverb translates to mean: Other people's children are like cold snot. 

How true this is, right? I've got to admit that it resonates far more with me than the village one. And I think this is where I was going wrong when I was thinking about what it would be like to have older children. Thing is, I had no idea what it would be like to have my own older children. I'd only spent time with other people's older children, and once they weren't cute babies any more, I kind of lost interest. Anybody's baby is adorable, but other people's children can be kind of like cold snot.

Not my own children, though. Their unraveling limbs and changing faces and disappearing lisps don't make them less adorable, less precious to me. I worried that they might but they really, really don't.

I would have loved any baby, but now that they are older, I love them. 

And honestly, feeling that difference is the best possible kind of surprise. 


  1. OK I TOTALLY get this post! Of course, we knew right away we didn't want any more children (biologically I mean... 1) we couldn't have any and 2) we just went the vasectomy route to make doubly sure we couldn't anyway (oh the irony!) but mostly because we were so overwhelmed (overjoyed??) with the two we had adopted. At any rate, I do sometimes miss that snuggly squishy part but I heard myself say to someone the other day: "wow--I'm really realizing that I'm a much better parent to preschoolers than to babies." Now, that makes me sound bad--I wasn't a bad mother, per se, to babies. I adored them, they were well fed and loved and held and sang to and all that delicious stuff... But I triply adore being able to DO so much with them now--and they are just delightful little people the bulk of the time. I still get stressed, I still get tired, I still can't believe I'm cooking/cleaning/packing lunches/cutting grapes again (it's an endless cycle, no?) but yes, these kids are super fun. I totally get why people say you relive some childhood when you parent--it's true.
    And your babies were some of the most amazingly adorable ones I'd ever laid eyes on and look at them in that last picture--so big and yet even more adorable!
    I am enjoying nearly three but actually cannot wait for four :) But trying to be present NOW.

    OK, that was a long comment...sorry about that.

  2. Oh no, I absolutely love long comments!
    And you make an interesting point - in some ways, I think I was a better mother to babies, but that is probably because while they were babies I did NOTHING else. Whereas now I kind of want my life back, so I'm trying to do more things and that makes me thinly-stretched and cranky. But it's their fault, for being less demanding. (and now *I* sound like a bad mother!)

  3. I'm not a mom, but I feel like this about my nieces and nephews. I sometimes feel sad as they get older, but it's been awesome to watch what older means. Talking, sharing, doing things that little kids can't do. Listening to all they have to say (I've often wished I could strap a recorder onto a couple of my nieces because they say such adorable, funny things) is fascinating for several years after they begin to talk. Even now, I sometimes talk to my teenage nieces and am so impressed with them. Real humans! :D With minds and goals and fears and futures.

    I love seeing pictures of your kids! They're SO CUTE.

  4. Four is wonderful! Honestly, four is brilliant and I am looking forward to five. I love babies... but here's my turn to sound like a bad mother... I didn't enjoy two much. I love seeing my son grow more into himself.

  5. Age four is so fun. I keep watching our vacation videos of when Zinashi was four, and oh, it is the best. But I also like age six, and I love Elvie at eighteen months, and I guess all this is to say that you are so right, that when they are your children, they are precious and amazing at every age.

    What has surprised me most about moving forward through Elvie's babyhood and into toddlerhood is how grateful I am that our first year is over. I *really* wanted to mother a baby, and I feel so lucky that it worked out, but now I am also incredibly glad that we do not have to do that again. I thought that I would feel wistful about the baby days, as I feel wistful about our first months with Zinashi, but nope. I am loving right now and looking forward to what comes next.

  6. Yessssssss they get better with age :)

    Your photos are amazing!!!M and those babies are so cute I want to kiss those delicious cheeks!

  7. It's so true, which is why every time they hit that age where they could show their personalities (and could go to the bathroom by themselves!) I went for another. My youngest turns 7 on Saturday and I admit to daily "what ifs" of adopting again.

    I also think I might be unique in that of course I love all babies(!) but when my nieces/nephews get old enough for me to pick them up and take them to movies or bookstores or what have you then I fall even more in love with them. Even though at times they feel like cold snot because I'm literally wiping cold snot from their faces, it's so fun. :)

    Love this post, mama!

  8. Cold snot????? Oh my goodness my gag reflex kicked in when I read that. Disturbing visual but quite descriptive none the less. :-)

  9. This. Was encouraging. I have two littles, a three year old going on sixteen and an almost 5 month old. I too absolutely love babies. I get all weepy over them in strange and slightly crazylady ways. Their innocence, their rolls, their drool, their toothlessness and snuggly, round little selves... They are my favorite. My oldest is a terrific little girl who believes she is wise in the ways of the world and is often times covered in dirt or tape or shampoo (because why NOT rub it all over?) and is basically challenging at times and more sticky than she was as an infant. My son on the other hand, has read the manual on how to be a blessed child of ease and exquisite chub. He is delightful, and easy. I struggle so much with how easy he is to love, and how often difficult my three year old can be... making her slightly harder to love. I worry that I am a terrible mother, inadequate to the task of raising "older" children. Will I love them when they are 5 and 8? Will I love a hypothetical infant sibling more simply because they are an infant? Recently, my mother stopped me in a moment of griping that "the little tiny baby is already slipping away, and they are growing farther away from needing me" as the baby approaches grown up things like sitting and burping unassisted, and she said "No. Slipping away is not it. You are not losing, you are gaining. They are growing into a greater awareness of you and of the Lord." And that truly helped me gain right perspective. Thank you for sharing that while I may not love older children, I will love THEM. Also, your littles are gorgeous.

  10. They are so cute!!!!!!!!! 4 is the best. THe. Best.

  11. I have always loved the older ages but 4 and 5 were my favorite!

  12. I have always loved the older ages but 4 and 5 were my favorite!

  13. We're only at 17 months here, but so far each age has been my favorite. It really does just get better and better. Love their sweet little faces both as babies and now. They are seriously a couple of beauties!


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