If she were my first child, she’d have been my last. Or at least, that’s the phrase we use around the house when discussing our youngest, Aspen.
It’s funny, because we used to complain about our oldest, Tristan. We talked about how wild he was. How he didn’t sleep well, and how I couldn’t get him to stop moving no matter what. It wasn’t until we had our third child, Aspen, that everything came into perspective. After living with that wild honey badger for a few years, we discovered that Tristan really wasn’t all that bad. In fact, he was close to a saint.
Now listen, I just re-read the above paragraph, and it makes it sound like I dislike my youngest. And you know what? Nothing could be further from the truth. I think she is the funniest little person I’ve ever been around. She has this passion for life that I’ve never seen in another human.
But I must say, she is determined and hard-headed, and she wears me out.
She’s the child running to the pulpit at church each Sunday with her dad chasing her (hoping to catch her right before she slams her little hands down on the organ keys).
She’s the child ripping at the artificial plants at the doctor’s office, or sneaking away to pound the computer keys and mess up some poor patient’s file.
She’s the child who, regardless of how far I park the cart away from the grocery store shelf, still manages to grab at a bottle of spaghetti sauce and smash it to the ground.
She is, more or less, a ninja.
She doesn’t throw a whole lot of fits. Rather, she just moves on to the next problem.
Just a few weeks ago she was sent to sit in the main office at preschool for refusing to do a class activity. When Ms. Frank told Aspen that she needed to get to work, Aspen called her and a few classmates losers. This is preschool, people, not even elementary school, and although she’s the youngest, she’s the first of our three children to be sent to the office. And I honestly don’t know where she picked up “loser” because we don’t use it around the house.
Yet here we are.
I don’t want to speak for all the thirds in the family, but whenever I bring up Aspen’s antics with other parents, the common refrain is, “It’s always the third.” Then they give me some story that is equally as embarrassing as the one I just told about my daughter.
Maybe your third child is a little saint, but I’ve heard about the third child situation from enough friends and family to know that there are plenty of people at this moment who are reading my essay with one eye on their screen, the other on their third, waiting for the inevitable crashing sound.
Now check it out, I’m not a psychologist; I studied English. But the more I think about this third child phenomenon, the more I wonder if it has more to do with me than her.
A few weeks ago Aspen fell while running to the playground, scuffed her knee, and cried. I swept her up into my arms, and carried her back to the van, her head buried into my chest, tears and boogers and heavy breathing. All I could think about was how many more of these moments we had left.
I hated that she was hurt, sure, but there’s something so wonderful about having my littlest one cling to me, arms around my neck, crying into my chest, clearly knowing that I was the source of all comfort and protection.
During that moment, I had a lot questions: how much longer would my kisses mean something? How much longer would she be small enough to be carried, and how much longer would she allow me to do so?
As I tended to Aspen’s knee, I tried to remember the last time my older two needed help with a cut, or needed to be carried, or kissed, or allowed me to hug them in front of their friends, and I couldn’t.
It happened so gradually, and yet, it happened. And there I was, wishing I could get those little people back, and knowing that it was happening with Aspen, right there, right then.
So I gave her an extra kiss, and carried her back to the playground even though she didn’t need me to, savoring that warm, tender moment.
What I’m getting at is that I’m a little more sentimental in my mid-30s. I’m a little more patient, and I’m a little more willing to shrug off some of those ridiculous things kids do because I know, in the long run, it isn’t all that big of a deal.
Between my first and my third, I slowly started to put parenting, my life, all of it, into perspective. I have fewer hands available, so Aspen has been allowed to grow and develop a little more independently. She’s a little more free-range than our other two, and I’m a little less likely to feel shame when she does something a little nutty, and all of that combined has caused her to be a little wilder, and a little more independent.
And although I often discuss my daughter’s antics, the reality is, I wouldn’t change a thing about her, or the parent I have slowly become.