“Mom, it says here in the parenting magazine that by five months, babies should be responding when you call their name.” She’s 11, long and lanky, and she’s fully assumed the duties of mother’s helper. So much so that even when she’s not helping me by holding her little brother, she can be found curled up on the couch, reading about him.
“Well, let’s try it!” my 9-year-old chirps from her spot by the fire. She smiles, her face full of joy, and croons at the baby on his playmat, “Ezra! Baby Ezra!”
No response. He’s too busy playing with his toes.
“I wonder if he knows his name is Ezra,” I muse out loud, looking up from the laundry. “Maybe you should try one of his many nicknames.” My eyebrows raise at this thought because while I always seem to run out of things like milk and diapers and matching socks, we have yet to run out of nicknames for our children.
The girls jump into it with wild exuberance.
“Ezzie! Baby Ezzie!” calls one sister.
“Bear-Bear! Boom-Boom!” calls the other.
This time, his head swivels from one girl to the other. Yes, he knows his nicknames, and his face lights up at the sound of these two beloveds calling out to him.
I smile and focus again on the baby clothes in the basket.
How strange to be folding such little clothes again after such a long break.
I forgot how little their clothes are.
I’d forgotten, too, how to buckle a newborn, muscles and sinews tight from nine months in my cramped womb, into the straps of a car seat. I’d forgotten how to tie the fabric of my Moby wrap (ask my kids, who caught me watching YouTube how-tos the week before brother was born).
I’d even forgotten how to diaper, believe it or not.
I think it’s safe to say my husband and I had both forgotten how much a newborn can cry. We’d forgotten what intense sleep deprivation feels like, and we’d forgotten that the work of a baby can bring strain to a marriage. We’d forgotten how the extra time it takes to care for a newborn makes it hard to stay on top of other tasks (On that note, the aforementioned husband better notice that I folded laundry today).
I slide the basket aside and ask my son, age seven, to help me deliver the folded piles of laundry. He comes into the room, but before he comes to me, he stops to say hi to baby brother. He growls a little too loudly in the baby’s face and pulls on his toes a little too hard.
I cringe and open my mouth to say, “Careful!” But to my surprise, the baby doesn’t cry; he laughs. He’s known this boy’s voice from the womb.
Perhaps the baby was as excited to meet his big siblings as they were to meet him.
I get up from my spot on the floor and my body creaks; it’s older now. My husband and I both are. But maybe we’re a little wiser, too. As we remember how to do all the tasks of babyhood, we also remember what baby’s first giggle sounds like. We remember the sweet sight of big sibling and little, curled up together. We remember the innocence of a baby’s cry—it’s not a tantrum (yet), it’s just his way of saying, “I need you, Mommy.”
We remember the sweetness of counting 10 little baby toes and the heaven-fresh smell at the top of his head.
And this time, because of our big age gap, there are a few new things we’re learning.
I’ve learned that the bigs don’t really mind a few quiet days at home—baby brother entertains them.
I’ve learned that an 11-year-old really can be a mother’s helper. In fact, should I be paying her?
I’ve learned that the baby named Ezra can bring out the baby-like sweetness in my 9-year-old girl. She wants to be held, too.
And I’ve learned that the all-boy wildness of a 7-year-old isn’t really too much for the baby. It’s just preparation. One day, they’ll be wild together.
I’ve also learned that any other goals my husband and I have had . . . they can wait. They will be there when the baby is bigger. For now, it’s enough just to hold him and marvel at the wonderful (surprise) gift God has given.
I know every family is different, and not every family seeks to or is able to have four kids like we have. But if your family is like ours, I just want to say . . .
Don’t be afraid of a big age gap, mama.
Your little caboose just may be the gift that keeps on giving, that helps restore a sense of wonder in your home, and that bonds your family closer together.