It’s a fair question.
And the answer is both dramatic and incredibly mundate. In November of 2011, just after taking the photos of Quinn’s first haircut featured in my last post almost two years ago, I began to feel that by then familiar feeling that I’ve never quite gotten used to: morning sickness. And despite my deepest hopes and my excitement over the impending birth of our third child, the nausea and sickness came quickly and stuck around for the better part of the pregnancy. It was more intense and longer lasting than before, and it was accompanied by all kinds of new ailments that resulted, I’m guessing, from the fact that my body had been through this all before and just wanted a chance to mix it up a bit. On one occasion, I confided in a very good friend that I could just see it in people’s faces when they asked me how I was doing and, months into the pregnancy, I recounted yet another story of just how uncomfortable, how sick, and how drained I was, they were just so tired of hearing about it. “You know you can always talk to me about how you’re feeling,” she told me helpfully. Yes, I knew that, I told her, and I was so grateful, “But the truth is, I’m sick of hearing myself talk about it.” It was often a struggle to make it through the day with the boys; countless evenings saw me collapsing on the sofa as soon as Jeremy made it through the door, begging him to once again handle dinner, bath time, and bedtime on his own.
Of course, it was all worth it when little Ada joined our lives the following June. It has been so amazing, as it always is, to watch her grow from newborn to giggling baby, to crawler, to toddling one-year-old. And it is a different, but wonderful, experience to see her do it all with her two big brothers at her side, coddling her, cuddling her, surprising themselves with their absolute awe of her.
But it has also been utterly exhausting and overwhelming. There is something about that third little person in your charge, that extra body to manage, mouth to feed, bottom to wipe, that just tips one over the proverbial edge. And while the chaos can be wonderfully intoxicating, it can also be grating, annoying, and downright infuriating. Especially when the little buggers have such a knack for sensing stress. Sometimes it’s as if they smell my fear and their eyes just light up with glee at the prospect of the ridiculous mayhem they now have the power to unleash.
And unleash they do.
When my uncomfortable pregnancy was over, we barely had time to catch our breath before we were thrown into the heat wave that caused a days’ long power outage and had us living with my parents for the better part of a week with a brand new baby and two preschoolers, the missed deadlines for the summer camps I promised Xavier I’d sign him up for, the missed vacation and two days spent at the hospital with Ada when, at five weeks old, she became the inevitable fourth victim in the family to get hand, foot, and mouth disease, the acrobatics of juggling the vice presidency at the kids’ cooperative preschool and all of their many activities throughout the school year, not to mention my very slow but steady work on my dissertation. And in addition to all of these surprises and commitments, there was the day-to-day management of three little ones under the age of five who seemed to be taking turns being alternately incredibly patient and infuriatingly difficult, like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.
Ada’s first year went by so quickly. Despite the madness, I’ve done my best to capture it. In obvious ways, it’s much more difficult to stay on top of the milestones and the all important photographs and videos. Long gone are the days I could just sit on the floor with my newborn and drink that little one in. In some ways, though, it’s been easier to document her life. I feel like I have a much better understanding of just how fast it goes and I push myself to capture as much of it as I can. And somehow, it’s easier with a whole family of people–and not just Jeremy and I–who are downright giddy at each of her little milestones, who genuinely delight in each and every one of them. Pushing myself to try to take in and capture as much as I can–all of those little crazy moments with those three crazy kids–feels just like that: pushing. It’s an effort, but an effort that’s worth it, but is often made with a little one climbing onto my back and another chirping away and pulling at my sleeve.
But something odd has happened in these last few months. It’s not a dramatic change, but a perfectly gradual and ever-evolving transition. This year, at the beginning of what we call like to call “birthday season” (as all of our birthdays are in the spring and summer), Quinn celebrated his third birthday with a train party. And he just seemed to be coming into his own, celebrating with the children he’s grown up with and, for the first time, all of his preschool friends. It was a wonder to watch him, happy and wonderfully aware of all of our birthday rituals. Then, Xavier graduated from preschool, a step that is not inherently a big deal, but really felt huge around here because of just how downright proud that little boy was of himself (and proud he should be). He felt so big, so accomplished, and he simply beamed with self-confidence in a way that just made you want to hold onto the moment forever.
His graduation reminded me of my mental accounting of what our first year with Ada would be like when I was still pregnant with her and I realized that things were never going to ‘settle down’ the way they seemed to right before Quinn’s birth. I told myself that the first year with Ada would be absolutely crazy. With the exception of a precious few preschool hours and a few hours with a babysitter watching the kids while I tried to cram in all my work on my dissertation, I would have all of the children home with me for the entire year and they would all be younger than five. I expected it to be crazy and overwhelming. But then, I reminded myself, Xavier will go off to school, and that would simply be the beginning of that same cycle for each of the kids, each of them going off to school in turn, and the house growing quietier and quietier during the day. It will eventually slow down, I told myself, and I will finally catch my breath, but I’ll also be a little sad, and I’ll have to try to remember that in the most chaotic moments.
This summer, with Xavier’s impending entry to elementary school on the horizon and my warning to myself in the back of my mind, I really tried to pack it all in. Honestly, it makes me tired just thinking about it. I signed up Xavier for a zillion different summer camps and as soon as Quinn was potty trained, I added him to the mix. I planned beach vacations, a couple of trips to the cabin, birthday parties for Xavier and Ada, swim lessons, and so many more activities, and topped them all off with a decision to drive to and from Bar Harbor, Maine for our annual vacation in mid-August. It was too much. But so many parts of it were just so wonderful.
And on the heels of this insanity and repeated reminders to myself to do a better job of paring down the list next summer, I also find myself for the very first time in my life not wanting the summer to end. Fall is my absolute favorite season, the crispness of it, the smells, the colors, the activities, the start of new things, the start of the new school year. And despite my absolute joy at Xavier’s journey into kindergarten, I’ve been ridiculously weepy and sentimental about the whole thing.
So here I am, not quite hitting my stride, not quite finding the perfect balance. But somehow, I’ve discovered that what’s most important for me right now is deciding to embrace the chaos when I can, take deep breaths when the craziness seems too much to handle, and try as hard as I can to capture what I can and accept imperfection when I need to (which, let’s face it, is a daily occurrence).
And in the midst of this chaos and change and the mundane but hectic work of each day, I find myself missing this space, using it as a way to record, as motivation to finish projects, take more photographs, share with you. Not because things have settled down enough to allow me the time to do it. Because, let’s be frank, I absolutely do not have the time do this. But I’m going to do it anyway.
This is me deciding to occasionally take a few moments to ignore the piles of unsent thank you notes mounted on my desk, the drafted dissertation chapters awaiting my attention, the children pulling at my shirt. I’ll decide to be okay with letting some other thing drop by the wayside to do the important work of recording and remembering, finding joy in the reflection.
I hope you’re up for it. This ride just got a whole lot wilder.