My children are five and ten months. Sometimes people are surprised at the age gap – they have a soft puzzled look on their faces, but they rarely ask why. Others say “Smart. We planned ours that way too – couldn’t handle two in diapers.”
But I didn’t plan their ages this way. This almost five year age difference was not how I daydreamed about my unborn children’s lives, back before I got married. I wanted three kids, stair step, two-ish years apart. (Like my own family – me, my brother, my sister – when I was growing up.) That is not how it happened for us.
Mattie we welcomed easily and with little thought to how simply she was able to join our small family. Our dog was downgraded to being the “second” child and Mattie took first place in our hearts.
And then. Spencer took almost three years to arrive. Two years of fertility treatments, six miscarriages, including twins, emergency surgery for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, two rounds of IVF, one frozen, and then finally, finally, a terrifying but ultimately happy ultrasound that showed Spencer’s heartbeat.
Everyone’s baby journey is different and personal. Some have experiences that are devastating; others have few if any bumps along the road. Ours was painful, and often felt very isolating. I grieved profoundly for the family my husband and I dreamed of. I grieved for the simple joy and unfathomable depths of love a child brings — love I knew firsthand because of Mattie. I know I notice more than anyone the age gap between my children, because I still remember what was going on in our lives those four years between Mattie and Spencer’s birthdays. It’s a scar that will heal over time, eventually. We are so fortunate that the healing process is very much eased because of Spencer’s arrival.
While not how I planned it, the age gap between my children has allowed for several things those whose children who are closer together might not experience. For instance, I have thoroughly, and I mean completely, been able to exhaust Mattie’s babyhood. She was my only baby for more than four years, and so I easily focused on every single minute with her. Her funny sayings when she learned to talk, her sweet hugs, many, many books at night, fun trips to Atlanta to the aquarium and to Disney. I didn’t have a second child’s needs to take time from my relationship with her (as much as I wanted one). There was much I was able to do with her: endless crafts, trips to the pool or park after work, cooking, baking, two different dance classes, trips to get ice cream on Saturday afternoons. I didn’t, until now, have to balance another child’s nap with what Mattie and I wanted to do with our afternoon. I am thankful for those special days with her.
With Spencer, given that I have a self-sufficient five year old that I can park at the kitchen table with a pile of crayons and a plate of mac and cheese, I can linger over his bath and laugh at his cheerful splashing. In the same way I was able to with Mattie because she was my only child, I can hold and rock Spencer before I put him down at night, because Mattie is great at playing by herself when I ask her to, and I don’t worry too much about her getting into trouble like a younger child might. And when Mattie is absorbed in a playdate with a friend or having her required quiet time on the couch with a movie, I can give Spencer my full attention. I again can appreciate and pay close attention to every baby moment – I soak it in!
Now that Mattie is five, I have fun doing things five year olds can do with her, like swim or read, Legos or puzzles, mazes or connect the dots. She loves to play dominoes and Uno, and we make it a point to play a game of her choice almost every night after Spencer’s asleep to spend some special time with her.
And with Spencer, I am able to delight in every baby step or advancement he makes and share it with Mattie, who is old enough to be excited too.
This is not how I planned it. But I know how fortunate we are to have Spencer. And I’m taking care to not mind the gap, and instead trying to take full advantage of it!