“How far apart in age are your kids?” the pretty dark-haired mom asks me as we watch our tutu-clad daughters tap-dancing together.
“Five years,” I reply, expecting the usual raised eyebrows.
“Did you plan it that way?” she asks, taking me by surprise. I’m not used to this conversation going so far.
“Well, I had two pregnancy losses between them,” I answer quickly, this time surprising myself with my own honesty. I guess I’m tired of glossing over the truth about my family-planning techniques. I do, however, leave out the part about the divorce and second marriage that also filled some time between my two babies.
She recovers, trying to hide the fact that my response caught her off guard. I feel almost sorry for her, but then again, if you’re going to ask if somebody planned the timing of their offspring, you had best brace yourself for an honest answer, one you may not be comfortable with.
It’s true. I had no intention of putting a five-year gap between my children. When I was a young daydreamer, I envisioned having two or three kids close in age, likely exiting the reproduction scene around age 30. Then, life happened—real life, the messy kind that involves separation and divorce and charting your basal temperature and peeing on way too many sticks and dealing with the heartbreak of empty ultrasounds.
But it happened the way it happened, and in all honesty, there were a lot of perks. Sure, there are a lot of challenges too. Having kids five years apart meant that when I was on maternity leave with my second baby, my oldest was in kindergarten all day long. It was like having a first baby all over again, except I wasn’t scared shitless. Some days, it was almost like a vacation, one where I was pants-less and exhausted, but still. Sitting on the couch for seven hours straight watching marathons of my favorite TV shows in between nursing a happy baby? Where can I sign up for that again?
Having kids five years apart means explaining puberty to one of them while holding the other one’s hand as she takes an epic 15-minute-long poop on a tiny potty seat.
It means listening to Kidz Bop blaring from upstairs while enduring The Wiggles singing about hot potatoes downstairs, all the while wishing you could just turn on the 1980s Pandora station already.
It means coaching one kid through the painfully self-conscious years of obsessive hair-fixing and changing clothes five times before school while reminding the other that mommies and daddies always come back to pick up their kids from preschool. It means hugging them both while they cry at the same time, for very different reasons.
Having kids five years apart means equal doses of Daniel Tiger and Austin & Ally (and not nearly enough Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal). It means genuine shock and delight when they find a TV show they both enjoy. Transformers: Rescue Bots, who knew?
It means spending your weekend cleanup day vacuuming up goldfish bits from underneath the ottoman while listening to your older child sob from her upstairs bedroom at the utter injustice of having to put her own laundry away.
Having kids five years apart means hours spent assisting your oldest with homework and piano practice while trying to pretend you’re listening to the little one explain how she can turn into a unicorn, a coyote and a horse. Oh, and a robot, because of course.
It means trips to Disneyland are filled with a magic and wonder you would have never expected. Sure, you knew your preschooler would go apeshit over Doc McStuffins, but you had no idea your 9-year-old would scream, “I love you, Ariel!” during the evening parade.
Having kids five years apart means constant amazement that your children actually play together and that they genuinely enjoy it. Whatever Jungle Kids is, it seems to be the game everyone can agree on. It means marveling on a daily basis at how much your kids love each other.
Having kids five years apart is equal parts humbling gratitude, teeth-gritting frustration and total delight. It’s not the way I planned things, that’s for sure. But, say it with me: I wouldn’t have it any other way.