My first-born, Emily, stood in the doorway of the bedroom in pink pyjamas, fresh from her bath and regarding her three-day old sister, lying rosily on her changing mat and sucking her fist furiously, with great suspicion. “The thing is”, she said to me in a steely voice, “the thing is, I have to decide whether I want to be a big sister or not. I’ll think about it for a little while and let you know”. I smiled weakly at her. “But Lauren is for keeps,” I said, “she’s part of our family now”. Emily came into the room and her eyes locked with her sibling. “And that funny thing that she has on her TUMMY”, screwing up her face and pointing at the small stump of umbilical cord in its clip, “she needs to realize it’s disgusting, and it has to go”. She turned on her heel and stomped out of the room.
That was almost nine years ago, and my eldest has now realized that her sister is for keeps, and that going from a situation where you are the sole apple of everyone’s eye to one where you share everybody with another human being (which, I’ve got to admit, doesn’t sound that great) isn’t necessarily The End of the World. Nowadays, the sheer joy that they get in each other’s company warms my heart. Most of the time, as they are, as Rag’N’Bone Man says, “Only human after all”.
I’ve found out though that the size of your family, and the spacing of your children, is something that can attract a lot of comment from the world outside of your four walls. Joyfully announcing my second pregnancy, almost six years after our first, we were greeted (after initial congratulations) with “Oh! I was convinced that you were just having one!” and, dubiously, “Aren’t you worried about that big gap?” as the main course, with a side order of “I couldn’t BEAR to do nappies again” and “What about going back to work full-time? You just won’t ever get to do that, now”. It can be enough to make you want to crawl into the corner and weep, but you can’t, of course, as you’ve got a lively five-year-old who wants to make a marble run out of kitchen roll tubes and empty cereal boxes RIGHT NOW.
Why do people feel the need to make these observations? It’s like you become a parent and, overnight, any privacy that you enjoyed in your life is gone and you are Fair Game to everyone else’s opinions. Moreover, you feel strangely obliged to answer intimate questions about the most important of decisions. Having gone through the agony of miscarriage I would never ask people if they are wanting to start a family or expand the happy one that they already have. I have friends who had their children very close together, and after the initial, life-force-draining work of having two (or three) small humans unable to do very much for themselves for what feels like a hellishly long time, these siblings have grown up to be good allies and play buddies and can now occupy themselves happily for hours of end. I have friends who have twins, and I also know of people who have one foot in University life with their eldest child and the other still planted firmly in the Primary School playground. I also know of many homes with one well-balanced and happy child who thrives in the bright sun of love and attention that they receive from their families.
The simple fact is there are positive things about every age gap and about how many children go into your unique family mix. I’m sitting writing this on a broiling hot summer’s day while my eight-year-old daughter and her best friend are having a truly excellent water fight in the garden with my 14-year-old and her best friend. So many shrieks and laughter, so much wet hair to be dried and empty water bombs to pick up later (for information, the eight-year-olds are most definitely getting the best of the teenagers). I remind myself to hang onto the memory of these sparkly golden moments to get me through the grey and black ones that will undoubtedly come fast on their heels. We should all enjoy our families, right now, just as we’ve made them – perfect.
This is a guest post written by Kate Thompson. Kate is a married 44-year-old Mum of two girls, Emily 15 and Lauren 9. She lives on the beautiful NE coast of the UK. She is a stay-at-home Mum but also helps to run a pre-school community playgroup and, after a life time of scribbling stories in every spare minute, she is finally realizing her ambition of becoming a writer.