Any time someone ventures, with a hint of seriousness, interest in having a third child, I hear myself saying the same thing: the third child is nectar. For me, the nectar is named Remy—and he’s turning seven (gasp!).
It’s hard to accurately travel back in time (at least for me, I have a kind of live-it-forget-it mode in the world much of the time), but I know a few things about September seven years ago: 1) I was really, truly done being pregnant, 2) I was nervous about my return visit to baby-land, and 3) deep down I knew I was having a boy—but wanting a girl (and hint, eventually, Saskia came into our lives, and although being parent to four children was not my expressed plan or desire, I would not want it any other way, and would not change any part of it, including the three boys and a girl constellation).
Starting with the really, truly done being pregnant part, let me simply say that I found pregnancy a nauseating experience, long after the barfing (of which there was plenty) ended. It was isolating, because I felt depressed. With this last pregnancy, I’d endured some considerable lower back pain (imagine sacrum feeling as if it were being split open about four months into the pregnancy). I’d never glowed with pregnancy (any of them), but I think it’s safe to say that by September 28th, 2002, I was—at least I felt like I was—glowering. Boot that kid out, puh-leeze.
Labor lasted not quite forty minutes (and could have been shorter, if only I’d been less determined—hold-legs-together-tightly—to get to the hospital).
By the time we got around to having a third child, Lucien was over four and Ezekiel was turning seven. We’d suffered a lot of loss between Lucien’s arrival and this third baby: Hosea’s grandmother and his papa—an extended illness, a feisty patient, a hugely extraordinary wonderful man, a pretty harrowingly hard, terribly sad and important experience all around—as well as my beloved aunt, my grandmother, and a couple of important friends, who died far too young. I can’t quite go back, because I felt like the emotional equivalent of a leaf pulled from a tree on a blowy autumn morning; I had not floated from the tree, I’d been whipped around in the air a bunch. And while three years seemed like a reasonable spread, we were looking at four plus. That’s why it took me about ten trips to the supermarket before I braved the diaper aisle. Never mind that my belly was watermelon round or that the baby had dropped, so my belly was watermelon round and kind of felt as if the watermelon was gunning for a less-than-probable exit through a narrow passage, I just couldn’t quite reach for the diapers on the first try. Once I bought them, though, I knew I was going to have a baby. Truth may have belied this conviction, but diapers on checkout conveyor represented my no-turning-back moment.
Plus, there was that girl thing. At first, when I lobbied (and make no mistake about it, I lobbied, hard) for a third kid, the hope for or wish for or want for a girl definitely fueled it (although, to be honest, I just wanted to have one more kid—suddenly, the idea of three had become really appealing). Amongst my reasons, aside from gender, were breaking up the intensity of the dyad dynamic I’d grown up with, the sense that a larger family seemed expansive and raucous and fun and honestly, first and foremost that I wanted to have an infant when there was less medical crisis in our lives, so we could enjoy babyhood more (I felt, in some way, I’d missed Lucien’s).
Dear (and reasonable) hub wasn’t so keen on the idea. Afraid of being outnumbered—he pointed out in no uncertain terms, we would be outnumbered—he argued that zone defense was overwhelming for a non-basketball playing guy. He made (again, reasonable) the case that we’d be going back to diapers, sleep deprivation, and that endless wandering after toddler phase, and not being able to sit down through supper (as I write this, I see again, how very right he was about all of this, and more—the early years are time consuming in a particularly relentless way, not necessarily emotionally or intellectually complex, just, well, tiring).
I think I squeaked the third baby in mostly because I am married to someone who cares a great deal about my happiness (thankfully) and because he, too, was intrigued by the notion of raising a shorthaired daughter alongside our longhaired sons.
Fast forward from those dreamy notions of our fantasy trio: we now have a longhaired, blond and blue-eyed boy. He is speedy on his bicycle. He has strong legs. He has a wonderfully impish smile, with a very sweet little dimple on his right cheek. He’s learning (somewhat reluctantly) to read. He is an artist. He complains, a lot. He makes people laugh.
About a week before Remy was born, Ezekiel, just turned seven, was sick and the doctor, concerned about his shallow breathing, sent us to the Emergency Room for a chest x-ray to see whether he had pneumonia. Somehow, I managed to pick my small (for seven) but not so small (for a very, pregnant woman) boy up and carry his wheezy, somewhat flaccid, heavy body from the car across the hospital’s parking lot and into the ER. It’s become a little piece of family lore, my saying to him as we lurched across the parking lot, “I thought the next time I’d be here would be to have a baby.” Fortunately, he did not have pneumonia. Fortunately, he was healthy by the time his baby brother arrived.
I had a contraction standing in front of the ER’s sliding doors (we were coming in too early for the main entrance to be open yet). Hosea was parking the car and when he found me still outside a few moments later, he knew we were extremely fortunate to have made it there at all. The midwife called his cell phone as we walked through the doors. She said, “I didn’t know Sarah was in labor.” He replied, “Neither did we.” (The actual best and most heartbreaking line had come just a bit earlier when four year-old Lucien walked into the bathroom as I was throwing up while my water gushed onto the floor at the very same moment leading me to explain, as I pulled on dry pants that we’re going to the hospital to have the baby. Lucien: “Now? Today?” His face crumbled, and he started to cry, wailing loud with this plea, “Don’t go!” How terribly I felt leaving him in our friend Michael’s arms. It was well over a year before he really began to embrace being a big brother; I’m not sure he’s ever forgiven us for making him a middle child).
Within two minutes (literally) of reaching the labor room, Remy emerged. Instantly, my back felt much better and I think I was as euphoric during those first moments of Remy’s life on earth about no longer being pregnant as I was about this beautiful bundle of baby in my arms. He seemed, for all the girl dreams, so absolutely like the baby I was waiting for and dreaming of and ready to love. Remiel, archangel of compassion, born only a few months before the country went to war, a year after the country writ large found itself unexpectedly vulnerable, and a year after I found myself feeling unexpectedly vulnerable, too, upon losing my friend, Mary Geske, to breast cancer (after so many other losses).
I started off simply wanting to write about the sweet gifts the third child brings, and got sidetracked by some time travel, etc. In a way, the third child transforms your sense of time as a parent; that’s much of the sweetener, really.
With the first child, in my experience personally and watching my friends and family members parent, there’s anxiety and excitement about reaching each milestone: when will the first smile or step or lost tooth or team ribbon come? You are grappling with all kinds of new times. There’s the endless daylong three-(or so)-month odyssey of newborn nights. There’s toddlerhood, that seemingly endless mind-numbing period of following a teetering small person for the critical reason that you are afraid that person is about to tumble into his or her doom (a step, a hill, a crack in the sidewalk, a choke hazard, an oncoming car driving down your street, you name it). There’s preschool. There’s kindergarten. There’s uncertainty the whole way through, along with so many wondrous delights, from smiles to language to reading to bike riding… There’s a question mark, always, when will we be out of diapers or not picking up after them? (Answer to the second question, apparently, never).
The third child arrives with none of those questions attached. You know this childhood thing is fleeting (save for picking up after children of any age). You are relaxed in that knowledge and so you savor all of it that much more. I remember saying to my mother, of the sleeplessness: it’s kind of like being on some drug trip. Everything passes, is what I was saying. Soon enough, he was sleeping more. It’s like freed from that constraint of worrying, you can taste the nectar.
My beloved aunt, May, must have experienced this with her third, David, because she thought he was, as my grandmother would have said, the bee’s knees. She loved him, and let him do anything (picture May stopping the car at the bottom of the driveway, David getting out, David climbing onto the roof of the car, May driving up the incline to the house). We all looked on in horror at how spoiled he was. You know what? David turned out great: funny, relaxed, smart, and super nice. Every time we indulge Remy’s whims (and believe me, we do), Hosea and I look at each other and say, “David Shayne.”
I can’t get to this seventh birthday, though, and say I’ve been cool as a cucumber throughout. Remy is bright and creative; he is prickly and particular, too. As a baby, he had reflux and showered me with milk constantly and as a result, never took a bottle. He got clingy and cranky near his fifth birthday, and struggled with separating from me (and refused to play with any friends out of school, even his closest pal was utterly rejected) for many, many months. Slowly, he came through that acutely sensitive stretch (although he remains easily overwhelmed by noisy places, tags on the back of clothing, and angry tones). He complains mightily about certain things—let’s say, school, for example—but sometimes it seems the complaining is a way to gear up or cool down, because he looks pretty darn happy in school.
Very often, his grumpiness reminds me of his grandfather, Leonard, and I have thought a lot about how Leonard’s bark was, perhaps, a way to fend the world off a bit when it overwhelmed him. Remy tends to bark at me rather than at the world, but it feels as if there are eerie similarities: crankiness, creativity, and covetousness of certain stuff (small objects, really, and a penchant for compiling little collections). That’s another thing about time, how he so brings his grandfather back for me, which is a little eerie, and kind of wonderful.
So, seven is upon us. I am beyond grateful to get to love this cuddly, cranky, sweet boy, the nectar that is, for me, Remy.