Several weeks ago, I was at a party filled, largely, with people I didn’t know. I had all three girls with me and was bouncing among a few different tables as we sampled the food and looked at all of the gifts. A friend was holding the baby at a nearby table, while I enjoyed a conversation with my older daughters and a few ladies I had never met. They were asking the girls questions about school and all of the things that preteen girls enjoy. Eventually, I made my way back to the table where my youngest daughter was being held and, in true Kristin fashion, wiggled my way into the conversation. One of the ladies from earlier in the afternoon had also migrated there and upon realizing the baby was mine, said, “Are they all yours?”
I’ve gotten this question numerous times over the last six months and countless other variations in the nine months prior to Polly’s birth. I know that she wasn’t being critical and I embraced the opportunity to explain how wonderful this past year has been for our family. Having children in almost every developmental stage is not without its difficulties — I’ve tackled elementary school parties, middle school registration, and homecoming dress shopping with a baby in tow — but we have discovered far more exciting benefits than we ever could have imagined.
Our “big girls” have always been helpful, even if they needed a little extra encouragement sometimes, but that help has been invaluable to us during this adjustment period. While I was in the throes of first trimester morning sickness, it was such a blessing that they were old enough to take care of themselves. We ordered an alarm clock so they could wake up on their own and made sure our youngest could operate the laundry machines without assistance. I made sure to be up in time to sign homework and kiss their foreheads on their way out the door, but it was nice not to be chasing toddlers while running to and from the bathroom.
When we started planning for the baby and shopping for tiny clothes and accessories, our girls were old enough to participate. They had strong feelings about what baby should wear and how we might decorate a nursery. They helped to surprise me (a few times!) with a baby sprinkle in our back yard and were just as excited as we were about all the changes going on in our home. They got to join us for doctor’s visits, hear the heartbeat, and get excited about the tiniest thump of hiccups near my belly button. We watched documentaries together about how babies grow and took a family hospital tour in the weeks before our delivery.
One of the coolest parts of sharing this pregnancy with them was naming our baby. They were both old enough to contribute to our list of baby names, and almost none of their choices involved cartoon characters or action figures. We compiled lists of names that we all agreed on and looked forward to our baby’s arrival as a family. The girls made us promise that we wouldn’t name the baby without them and that no one would know if baby was a boy or girl until after they had been introduced. I will never forget the look on their faces when my husband first said she and we made a unanimous decision on her name.
Here we are, six months later, and we’re all still adjusting to a new routine. We might have to remind them to be quiet at bedtime, and we don’t get quite as many late night snuggles, since our room doubles as the nursery. We are, however, introducing Polly to plenty of things that we might not have thought to share with her for many months (or years) to come. We spend our Saturday mornings working jigsaw puzzles around the dining room table, and her high-chair is the perfect height to have her join us. She loves dancing around the kitchen while we’re cooking dinner, and we’re all thrilled to be dancing to good music instead of nursery rhymes. Sophie has a perfectly captive audience for her daily reading time, and Ella is as capable as I am to either care for the baby or prepare dinner in my place.
While we never planned to have such a big age gap between our girls, it has been the most wonderful surprise. I would certainly encourage more families to consider embracing the many unexpected benefits of a wider age gap. The most asked question we get is definitely Are they all yours?, but a pretty close second is Will you have any more? I’ve learned my lesson about saying never — the best things in life are often a surprise.