My Third Child Basically Raised Himself

by Jill Soloway Johnson
My Third Child Basically Raised Himself
Courtesy of Jill Soloway Johnson

Our third child—Number 3—has basically raised himself since he was born.

When he arrived, I was already a mom to a two-year-old and a toddler. I have plenty of home videos from his first year of life, but he almost never actually appears in them. More often, you can hear him crying in the background while the camera is focused on something adorable Number 1 or Number 2 is doing.

Number 3 had a bit of a flat head, from when he spent waaaay too much time in the car seat while I was driving number 1 and number 2 all over the place, while yelling out, “Hurry up! We’re going to be late!”

One of my favorite memories of Number 3 was a day out in the park. When I felt brave enough to leave the comfort of our home, I would usually take the three of them to the park around the corner. The older kids would unbuckle themselves, open the minivan door, and run off in opposite directions, leaving me with Number 3 (and a heavy dose of adrenaline). I’d quickly grab Number 3, tuck him under my arm, football-style, and run over to the bucket swing. With Number 3 shoved into the bucket swing (no soft blanket, no special care taken), I knew he couldn’t wander off on his own—meaning I could just focus on corralling Numbers 1 and 2.

One day, I was racing after Number 2 and Number 1 as they performed feats normally reserved for circus performers and Olympic runners. Number 3 was (as usual) observing the chaos from the bucket swing where I had plopped him down upon arrival. I was the mom of the kid performing circus acts on the very top of the monkey bars, and also the mom of the kid running wild, hell-bent on getting as far away from me as she could. And, oh yeah—I almost forgot—the mom of the poor kid basically abandoned in the bucket swing (thank you, whoever invented that swing!).

All of this happened in a split second. My mom-brain was running full throttle. In a split second I assessed which kid was in the most danger, and I decided to sprint after the one running toward the street, as I knew the monkey bar kid had the balancing skills to stay up there for at least another minute or two. The one in the bucket swing couldn’t go anywhere…

Courtesy of Jill Soloway Johnson

So I sprinted after Number 2, swooped her up, and brought her back to the play area. Sweating, heart pounding, I was just catching my breath as I overheard Number 3’s sweet, confident little toddler voice, saying to whoever happened to be nearby: “Hey—could you push me please? My mom is kind of busy.”

It was that moment. Sitting at the park, wondering what I had gotten myself into—three kids in two and a half years!—stressed out, consumed with guilt, and swearing never to leave home again. In that moment, when I heard Number 3 ask a stranger to push him in the bucket swing, I knew he would be okay. He learned to ask for what he needs, and is an expert at assessing situations, strategizing. Looking for the most efficient way to get his needs met.

He learned that skill by spending many a park outing in the bucket swing.

Life Lesson: Sometimes getting a push from a stranger can be life changing. Also: Always look for a park with a bucket swing.

I went through so much guilt about Number 3 crying in his car seat, Number 3 not being in the home videos, Number 3 just watching the other kids play while he hung there in the bucket swing. GUILT. But that seat—where no one was hovering, checking in, interrupting thoughts, redirecting—that seat gave him the best view of how life worked. It strengthened his observation skills, and helped him understand the subtle nuances of human interaction. From his bucket swing, he observed me, frantically running after his siblings, and there he learned that if he wanted to have a good time at the park, he needed to find someone who could help him. He could see that my hands were literally full.

Number 3 is now sixteen. He is confident, independent, and kind—and he always, always spots the kid in the park who may need a push in the bucket swing.

P.S. I would like to take this moment to thank all of the people at the park who took the time to push my Number 3 in the swing. Good on ya!