Two well-known women have made headlines recently for giving birth in their 40’s. Not their early 40’s, their late 40’s. The 49-year-old singer who just had her first child kept it a secret from the media, no doubt to avoid all the hysterical comments about selfishness, health fears for mother and baby and the usual drip, drip of negative opinion. Babies are beautiful and motherhood is beautiful whenever it happens. Having had babies both early and late, it is interesting to take stock of differences that age makes in mothering. And there are plenty.
If I could have the physical stamina I had with my first two babes along with the experience I have now, it would be a perfect match. But you can’t have both. I watch my daughter-in-law with our two grandbabies and marvel at how easily she does things. There is a lot to be said for being able to lift a 16-pound 4-month-old or carry him in a sling on your chest. I watch her do that and think, “Wow! Strong back, Laura.” It is amazing to watch how she does it all, and does it all so well.
Babies test you physically like nothing else. The cumulative loss of sleep, the lifting, the stress of determining why a baby is crying and crying with no visible cause, the constant vigilance, all of it is draining in a unique way. If you care for your baby full-time without child care help, it is a 24-hour a day job. Emotionally, it can be exhausting. Add a toddler and preschooler or two or three, and the challenges increase exponentially. Youth is a definite advantage!
I remember the first time the full job of caring for two babies hit me. Charlie and Sammy were 13 months apart. I was changing newborn Sam with 13-month-old Charlie in his crib watching. Sammy started crying with that little, funny newborn cry, and Charlie was terrified. Who was this little red-faced creature making that noise? He burst into tears, and for the first time I had to figure out how to comfort both babies. Quite a trick! In time, moms learn all kinds of tricks, and that’s the benefit of experience. I had youth on my side, however.
When our surprise baby came along in 2009, I was 42. With more older women having babies these days, it wasn’t as rare as it once might have been. (The number of even first-time older moms has shot up in recent years.) But it was shocking to me to think of starting over. And start over we did. How am I different as a mother with Emily than I was with the others? For one thing, things that concerned me years ago don’t anymore. Crumbs on the kitchen floor? Oh well. It will be cleaned up eventually. She wants to wear what combination of clothes? So what? We’re at home anyway. Who cares if she wants that polka dot t-shirt with striped leggings and bright red socks? Children’s television? Now that’s where I have significantly changed.
I loathe commercial TV and all the ads and trash cartoons, etc. I will never let Emily watch that junk. But I have found value in certain PBS programs that I heretofore dismissed. Charlie, Sammy, Will and Mary never watched TV. I checked out educational DVD’s from the library and that was about it. Emily is alone a great deal as a caboose child, and while she plays for hours on her own, she sometimes gets restless. I discovered that our local PBS station airs Thomas the Tank Engine at 11:30. She loves that one and also Super Readers which deals with letters and sounds. But her favorite is Daniel Tiger, created by the makers of Mr. Rogers. The little songs on there about helping, sharing, sleeping, manners and so forth I sometimes hear during the day when she she starts to sing them. It’s a gentle program, and it’s perfect for little ones. Her vocabulary has grown from these programs and letter sound skills have really taken off. So, yes, as an older mom, I am not panicking at the thought of certain TV programs, and it gives me a little break.
I don’t fool around on the floor as much as I once did with my preschoolers and toddlers, but once in a while, I can do a piggy back ride or tickle/kiss attack which she likes. Folding socks sometimes turns into a balled-up sock war. Times like that remind me of the early Mom-me and make me smile. Em, of course, gets a kick out of it.
Tom and I joke about being Team Emmy because getting her to bed sometimes seems to require both of us. You take the jammies, I’ll take the teeth, you help her with clean-up of toys, and I’ll read the story. Together, we get her into bed with her prayer and the little rituals that make bedtime sweet. But how I once did it with two toddlers at a time, I do not even recall. Two baths, two little bodies running around. Amazing. Come to think of it, I sometimes do look rather worn out in those old photographs! (There is one funny home video taken by Sammy, where I’m washing the kitchen floor at night on hands and knees- how I did that after a long day, I’m not sure – and Will is running around in just a diaper, taking cereal boxes out of the hutch and throwing them on the floor to the snickers of his older brothers. Yes, I remember those days!)
I’ve heard people say that late-in-life children keep you young. Despite the inevitable decline of energy, it really is true in the inside sense. How many times have we laughed at something our little girl has said or done? You see everything with fresh eyes and fresh appreciation. Emily comes running into the bedroom mornings to point out the sunrise or spots the moon through the little octagon window in our upper hallway. I would never have even seen that beauty without a young child to point it out.
In the middle of survival mode when Emily was a baby, both Tom and I tried hard to appreciate her babyness as much as possible. It is over in a blink of an eye. Every stage of life is so precious and so fleeting. Without a doubt, you are aware of the passage of time more acutely as older parents.
Never will I forget the phone call I made to a friend of mine in radio when I found out the news that Emily was on the way. I was in doom and gloom mode, full of worry, and the wonderful lady just went off on a joy jaunt on the phone. “FANTASTIC NEWS! PRAISE GOD! This is wonderful. Everything will be OK, just watch! How blessed you are.” That was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. So hats off to the new moms who are deemed “too old” by the detractors. Your challenges will be many, but the payoff of those beautiful babies is worth every moment.
P.S. On a separate but related note, here is a column from one of the young women our vile culture has produced. The poor thing suffers from embarrassing ignorance on so many fronts, my intent to respond to her point for point was replaced with too much disgust. All the work I have described above is not worthy of respect, according to the author. Amy Glass says that caring for children and husband is something to be looked down on. The poor girl has a lot of growing up to do, and I do wish her luck on finding a good man. That may actually be the source of the woman’s bitterness in the first place, and that’s sad.