My mom, my 3 year-old, and I waited in line to have our Costco haul checked at the door. I didn’t think about my mom handling the receipt until after the employee drew a strong, green line across it. My son reached his hand out for the receipt, then flipped it over expectantly. No hand-drawn highlighter smile. He looked up at me questioningly. Receipt management was his job at Costco and we’d forgotten. I took his little hand, asked him if he wanted to get a smiley face, and took him to stand back in line. A big grin spread across his face when the employee handed over a receipt with a giant smiley face, including curly hair on top.
Yes, I was indulging him. Yes, this took extra time. Yes, he would have survived without the receipt routine just this once. But he’s my last child. It’s just him and me most days, so I can. This is what it’s like to parent your last child.
As a mom of four, this scenario has looked much different over the years. Most often, I’ve navigated stores with at least two children; usually a toddler and a baby or a toddler and a preschooler. Shopping meant attempting to manage a list while simultaneously soothing one and keeping the other from putting random snacks in the cart. I was often sleep-deprived, looking for areas to change diapers, and powering through to get the chore done. The last thing I wanted to do was get back in line.
These days, I’m unencumbered by a diaper bag. While we do end up with 15 minute-long bathroom trips with a potty-trained toddler (usually right when our food arrives at a restaurant), it’s definitely preferable to wrangling a toddler while changing a screaming baby atop a precarious bathroom changing station. Our trips to the store are fairly calm, with my son taking turns riding and walking with the cart. He’s slow and sometimes I cajole him into the cart so we can get moving. But we generally shop when traffic is slow and steer clear of fast-moving carts with more urgent business.
In the past, I’ve groaned over the color-of-my-dish battle. Mornings could have me nursing one child, while searching for shoes for another, and wondering when I’d find time to pee. The last thing I wanted was to negotiate over the color of my kid’s bowl and spoon. I was not above quoting Pinkalicious – “You get what you get and you don’t get upset!” These days, my big kids get their own plate and bowl. I have a sense of my youngest’s favorites and, if he doesn’t like the color bowl I grab, I’ll send him to fix the error. While I’m not going to indulge his every whim, it’s easier to pick your battles when parenting your last child.
In many ways, my youngest is unlucky. I’m older, slower, I have less energy, and I’m fairly certain he learned to count from watching Netflix. But he also gets a great deal of undivided attention from someone who generally gets a good night’s sleep and doesn’t have to constantly divide her energy between little people. And I can enjoy him in a different way, now that the pace of my life has slowed down a bit when the big kids are at school.
Strangers have been stopping me in supermarkets for years with the unsolicited advice to “Enjoy them now because you’ll miss this when they’re older.” That was harder to hear when everyday felt like a mothering marathon. Things are still busy now, but maybe I’m finally taking some of their advice.