Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Parenting Across the Age Gap

The summer musical is in rehearsal now, and since I'm the non-musical member of the family that means I'm spending a lot of evenings home while MrsDarwin and all the older children are off at rehearsal. I'm joined in this by the two youngest boys, ages 11 months and 4 years. It's also a bit of a trip back in time. It's been twelve years since all our kids were four and under. Obviously, with seven children, we've always had young ones. But spending a lot of time with only the younger ones has been highlighting for me how used I've become to having older children.

Back when our oldest kids were four and under, I was up to date on videos that appealed to the age group. Veggie Tales was a go to. I was practiced in reading picture books and had my favorites, still holding together in their bindings though already well loved. And we had only toys aimed at younger kids.

Now the Veggie Tales DVDs are all long worn out and forgotten. The four year old can sing bits of Newsies and tell you about Spiderman. It never would have occurred to me to show those movies to the kids when the oldest were that age, but now the calculation has shifted and I'm instead trying to decide: Is it worth dragging the unwilling four year old away, or making the older kids wait till late at night to watch, or can he just watch this big kid movie with them without harm.

Books that were loved by the older kids have worn to pieces, and while some have been replaced others have not. There's a copy of The Cat In The Hat Comes Back which I'm often asked to read now because the original far superior book wore out, leaving us with the one I don't like much.

There's less time now than when the first kids were this age. When I might have been settling down to read bedtime stories to young children, I may now be shuttling people to innumerable activities, or being asked to help with big kids' homework, or be listening to the fourteen year old who really wants to talk about her doings with her friends. And I'll fall into thinking that I've already read a lot of the children's books I loved with the kids. I did, of course. But if that was eight years ago, the kids under ten don't remember it. And the ones I read now won't be remembered by the youngest, who will be looking for these sames books and movies and games and activities while the oldest ones are off at college.

You grow up with your kids a bit as a parent, starting out with baby activities and moving up to those for toddlers and preschoolers and grade schoolers and on up the chain. I'm learning German together with my oldest, setting history and literature and science reading lists for the oldest three, discussing movies with them according to their various tastes. There's something really exhilarating about ones children growing up into people with opinions and interests you can relate to increasingly as another adult.

And yet here are these little children too, needing to be grown up with as well eight, ten, fifteen years behind the earlier waves of children.

It seems like these differences fade a bit when the kids are all around. The four year old plays with the seven and nine year olds, he listens into the stories read to the whole group. He may be getting less Dr. Suess than the oldest kids did, but he's hearing Middlemarch with them as MrsDarwin reads it during school read alouds. The baby is held and played with by older siblings. But perhaps it's good too that at times like these the older ones are all gone and I'm reminded that the smallest children also want their focused time on things appropriate to their own ages.

Last night we spent a while looking for the latest dinosaur documentaries. It's been a long while since we've had someone deep into dinosaurs, and it seemed sure that there were shows with more recent science (and better CGI) and the ones I knew from ten or more years ago. We built with duplos, much to the four year old's exasperation, but what can you do when your brother is crawling around wanting to eat the smaller legos. That duplo set is old, and various pieces have died over the years. Should we get more? There's still the youngest yet to come. Right now he can't do much more than break (or eat) the towers we make for him. But in another year he'll be building with them. Am I really not past the duplo buying stage? It seems like I should have grown out of it, after sixteen years of parenting. But here are these little boys, and they don't want to play less for having much older siblings.

I feel old and tired. I'm sure it's tiring too for those who are having their first kids at about our age. But having only young children is different. There's a lot to do, but no one entering your space as an adult. That you have along with your spouse. Now there are teenagers who read our books and watch our movies and tell us their opinions and want to stay up even later than we do some nights. The youngest kids stay up later than their siblings did at this age, because it's harder to get up the energy to put everyone to bed when you know that at the end of it you still won't get to be alone together with the woman you married because you wanted to spend more time with here. Get the first round of kids to bed and the older ones will gather round and ask you what "the plan" is.

Don't get me wrong. Lots of things are easier with a wide range of ages. We often find ourselves getting out the door faster than families that only have young kids. There's a huge freedom to being able to delegate: You, get the four year old dressed. You, make sure the diaper bag is packed. You, start the dishes. I make full use of these conveniences, and while my introverted side wishes at times to be able to retreat away from everyone but my spouse, there's really little better than the congenial company of grown children.

But parenting across this gap is something challenging at times, trying to make sure that no one's current age and needs are forgotten.


Finicky Cat said...

Oh my, yes. What you said. It resonates, brother; it resonates.

mandamum said...

Yes. Here as well. Last week, we had the two oldest (15 and 12yo girls) off with their grandparents to do living history stuff, and I was able to enjoy just being present and parenting the 10 and under crowd, and my #3 (the 10yo, oldest boy) got to be the "responsible" one instead of the "would you please just KNOCK IT OFF" recipient. Even the just-7yo, who usually seems about as responsible as her 4yo sister, stepped up and was a big help and less fluffy-headed. (And we didn't have to drive...pretty much anywhere, since the activity-prone were gone.) I was trying to hold onto the gains, but somehow they were too slippery and ephemeral. Part of it seems like one of the downside of homeschooling, too - the littles don't get the bigs out of their space until the bigs leave for college or marriage.... Since we're in CA, I can't even train my oldest to take over her OWN activity-driving because it might be cheaper to hire a chauffeur than to insure her at 16.

And I am tired as well. Figuring out how we want to homeschool high school has eaten a huge part of my educational energy this year. And I am also growing another little human to join the ranks of the littles. BUT as I prepare to plan for next year's schooling, I've included a spot for Atrium and other little-specific activities, for the first time ever. So we'll see.

(hear hear on the delegation: I found myself suddenly overwhelmed by my lack of delegat-ees when I was trying to get everyone in the car to go pick the big girls up and I had to do ALMOST EVERYTHING, and put everything else on the stalwart 10yo. Phew! How did I ever do all this?? But I guess that's why my oldest, when she was 7, had no choice but to do XYZ, as my current 7yo stepped up - temporarily - as I needed her to while getting us out the door.)