When my first baby was born, I was 21. I was a college graduate, a farmer’s wife, and a newspaper reporter. I was pretty sure I could handle parenting. I had it all under control.
I found motherhood to be fairly easy. The baby needed held, fed, changed, burped, and entertained. I could handle all those tasks with ease. I could do several of those tasks simultaneously while stirring the gravy with my free hand.
The child was quite portable, so I took him with me when I was reporting on bull sales and ag field days. He went with me to feed the chickens, to gather the firewood, and to see Daddy in the field.
I considered the well child visits at the doctor to be performance exams. I began planning for each visit two days in advance, scheduling out the feedings so that I could manage a bath 20 minutes prior to leaving so he wouldn’t spit up on the outfit I had carefully selected for his appointment. His hair was freshly washed and fluffed. His blankets were spotless. His pacifier was attached to his shirt with a string to prevent the horror of it dropping on the floor.
I expected the doctor to recognize my superiority as a mother and to voice her approval. Instead, she casually mentioned that there is such a thing as washing a baby too often.
When my fourth baby was born, I was 29. I was a college graduate, a farmer’s wife, and a mom with three kids at home and one in school. I realized that evolution was not just a theory; it’s a natural process.
Evolution in motherhood begins with the birth of the second child and progresses more rapidly with each successive birth. It happens at such a rate that a person doesn’t perceive it until she finds herself in the parking lot of the hospital clinic frantically scrubbing the fourth baby with a wet wipe prior to the child’s well baby visit.
The first child’s pacifier was tied on a string to prevent it from falling. The fourth child’s pacifier was lost somewhere in the couch and recovered six months later when she would no longer take it.
The first child’s feedings were scheduled for regular intervals throughout the day. The fourth child ate whenever she cried because we couldn’t locate the pacifier.
The first child went with me to do the chores, packed securely in a carrier on my chest. The fourth child was plunked in a playpen under the observation of the eight-year-old because I was too tired to bundle everyone up to go to the corral.
The first child was always dressed in clean, matching clothes, no matter how many changes that required during any given day. The fourth child has been known to visit the grocery store in an orange shirt stained with chocolate milk, a blue plaid skirt, and pink cowboy boots.
The first child had a basket full of age appropriate, educational toys that were always returned to their place before another toy was removed. The fourth child takes her sister’s Barbies swimming in the mud puddle and gives the kittens rides in her brother’s Tonka truck.
The first child did not know of the existence of Pop Tarts until he turned 10. The fourth child ate her first Pop Tart at age 2 because they were on sale.
The evolution in this case is not the evolution of an organism or a species or a society. It’s actually just the transformation of a mother whose circumstances change with the growth of her family. She realizes that parents aren’t graded on how well groomed their babies appear at the doctor’s office; in fact, parenthood isn’t a test at all. It’s a process.
I didn’t have anything under control at age 21; I was just too young and inexperienced to know that I needed to relinquish control.
There is no doubt that the fourth child is dirtier, more independent, and more extroverted than her older brother. Those differences are to be expected; after all, she has been raised by a different mother. I have evolved. I have re-prioritized. I have aged. I have become dependent on coffee in the morning and chocolate in the afternoon. I have realized that dirt, mud, bugs, and an occasional bite of dog food or cow salt are all just a part of growing up a country kid.
My days are well spent teaching right from wrong, responsibility, and kindness. And I may just throw in a few words about evolution along the way.