When my husband and I moved to southern California from the northeast three years ago, we had a 2 1/2 year old and a 10-month old. We were also fortunate enough to have two good-friend couples, fellow New Englanders whom we’d known for almost a decade, living within an hour of the house we rent here; our three families meet up for part of a weekend every couple months. They’ve become like family — all the more since our actual families are 3,000 miles away.
There were three kids among the three families when we moved in 2008, two being ours. Today – three years later – we corporately have eight, going on nine children, all under 6. And let’s just say that the dynamics of our gatherings have changed. It used to be simple enough to put our kids to bed and enjoy a good meal that featured in-depth, adults-only conversation while we lingered over a bottle of wine. But those days are behind us.
I was reflecting on this last weekend as we ate a delicious meal at a perfectly set table… next to two kids’ tables and amidst continual interruptions by one kid or another every 60 to 90 seconds. Conversations were engaging… and absurdly fragmented. It’s a different season.
The couple in whose home we were dining have two girls, ages 23 months and 2 months. These cherubs were enthusiastic about the descent of six children on their home, and the toddler shared her toys with grace… but they were a little overwhelmed. Who wouldn’t be? And our crew of four kids were doing, in all fairness, the brunt of the overwhelming. Our two-year old hostess is accustomed to a fairly quiet, contained household and a high level of order; my children are certainly not. And while my husband and I work hard to keep our kids’ level of scrappiness as low as possible – down to a dull roar at best – there’s no escaping the fact that some scrappiness does in fact exist among our brood. With four kids under 6, some level of chaos is inescapable.
The thing that struck me most was how recently we were on the other end of that paradigm. My husband’s sister has five children, the youngest of whom is the same age as our oldest. I vividly remember bringing our little tyke down to visit his family, and he was completely overwhelmed by his five cousins (the oldest of whom is nine years his senior). The noise and activity levels were foreign to him, and he’d become exhausted and even agitated by all the commotion. We had to intentionally strategize how we planned to handle the visits to prevent him from becoming completely overstimulated.
But how quickly the scene changes. Now- just a few years later – our brood is on the overstimulating side of the coin, and we’re having to be mindful (and try to train our kids to be mindful) of the overwhelmed state of younger kids with quieter households.Even though I’ve ruminated before over the changing seasons that come with motherhood, I’ve got to admit that this was an odd thing for me to realize.
It makes me think again of the often-trumpeted passage in Ecclesiastes about their being a time for every purpose under heaven: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build; a time to weep and a time to laugh…” In our case it’s, “A time to be overwhelmed by other kids, and a time to overwhelm them.”
You know how, when you’re a mother of young children, older people are forever telling you to cherish this era because it goes by so fast and they can’t believe their own kids are grown? (And if you do, you probably also know how difficult that can be to hear, depending on the kind of day you’re having with the little people you’re supposed to be cherishing…) The realization of the change of “seasons” (in this arena) that the past three years have brought has made that reality seem a little realer to me. Time slips by and dynamics change, and suddenly it sneaks up on you that you’re a different kind of family then you were only recently.
May I be like the writer of Ecclesiastes, mindful – as the seasons change – that “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” God give us grace, each of us mothers, to embrace the beauty of the season we’re in with our kids, truly viewing it as beautiful in its time.