My Dear Youngest Child,
When you were one, you sat in your high chair and threw your over-cooked pasta down at our family dog, laughing so hard each time she gobbled up your food, I thought your shiny, red cheeks were going to pop open.
I looked over at you sucking your fingers as you watched me trimming your sister’s hair, struggling to keep your eyes open. I looked at the clock above your head and realized you’d been sitting there for over a hour and you should have been down for your nap twenty minutes ago. The window was about to close and if I wanted you to nap that day, I needed to get on it.
I finished the haircut, then walked toward you to scoop you up. As I was heading towards you, I could practically see the love shooting out of your eyes. It took me a while to get the dried pasta sauce off of your face. Then I changed your sopping wet diaper and laid you in your crib. You put your fingers back in your mouth and your head turned to watch me leave. I’m sure you were asleep before I shut the door.
As I walked down the hall, I beat myself up for letting you sit in your high chair in a wet diaper for too long. I put you down for your nap late and I let that slide too. After being so damn uptight with your older brother about every little thing and keeping him on a strict schedule, watching the clock became something I did in my sleep. Then I had your sister on his heels, and I eased up a bit about doing all the things perfectly a bit. By the time you got here, slamming into my world unexpectedly, you blew the whole lid open and really taught me how to let go.
When I brought you home from the hospital, you didn’t want to be on anyone’s schedule but your own. You cried all the time, and I realized after the first week the only thing I could do to get through it all was to do the next thing, then the next. My plan about being an organized mom flew the coop in a flash.
But with its departure came the best version of me as a mom.
People seem to think the youngest gets the shortest end of the stick. The jokes about the hand-me-downs, not being heard, and the lack of baby pictures are plenty. The youngest gets left in the dust. They get breadcrumbs. They get the shaft.
But I disagree.
You, my love, YOU got the best of me.
By the time you got here, I had practice. My parenting skills were honed in a way they weren’t with your brother and sister. I could change your diaper with my eyes closed. I knew how to swaddle you so tight there was no way you’d break free. I knew if you cried it out, everything would be okay. I knew the signs of you being tired, hungry, or thirsty immediately.
But you also got the gift of me not being wound so tight I might explode at any moment. You got to see me play it by ear and go with the flow. You taught me that’s what I had to do in order to survive those years in the trenches when all three of you were in diapers at the same time and constantly needed your noses wiped.
You didn’t have to see me cry if I screwed up. You didn’t see me get anxious about trivial things, like shoes on the wrong feet or a dirty shirt. I didn’t stuff you into ridiculous outfits and make you pose for pictures until you cried. I didn’t cringe the first time you told me you didn’t like me. I didn’t make you eat as many vegetables.
Kid, you have it made.
Maybe your brother and sister got more attention, but I gave you more room to be you.
Maybe they never missed a nap, but you had more adventures.
Maybe they weren’t dragged around as much as you are, but you’ve learned resilience.
Maybe I didn’t hold you until you fell asleep each night, or nurse as long, but it taught you independence.
Maybe I let you get away with more, but that’s because I now know what’s worth getting my knickers in a twist about and what’s not. The three of you have given more practice than I’ll ever need and you, my youngest child, have benefited the most.
You are the baby of the family and while I know there are days when you feel like you got a raw deal and life pretty much sucks, remember this: Your older siblings didn’t get to stay up as late as you do when they were your age, I let you watch more garbage on television than they ever got to, and I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be more lenient with your curfew when the time comes.
You are getting the best version of me whether you know it or not. It won’t be long before you’ll be the only child living here and I’ll be paying so much attention to you, you’ll wish that you could go back to being “left in the dust.”
Really, the youngest child has it better than their siblings because the older kids have already broken us in and made us realize what’s worth the fight and what isn’t. Ride that wave, my darling.
And when you start to feel down that you don’t have a baby book, have peace of mind that means I don’t have any embarrassing baby photos of you to share when you are older.