Today I was at the playground with some members of my homeschool group. There is something about playgrounds that crystallizes certain truths about children. Allow me to share what I learned at the playground today.
1. Children really do grow up lightning fast. One of the milestones I most remember about my kids' maturing was when I no longer needed to follow them around on the playground. Everyone is now able to swing himself, keep himself reasonably safe on slides and such, and, in general, amuse himself. I remember thinking this day would never come. Just yesterday, it seems, I had to swing two twins at the same time, while simultaneously trying to keep a four year-old boy from injuring himself or someone else!
2. The ease with which you raise your very young children has everything to do with your firstborn. I had four children in 40 months. If I had not had Therese first, I likely would have done myself a grave injury. It blows my mind that she was only 3 1/2 when I expected her to help me with three younger kids! Okay, I didn't actually *expect* her to help, but it only seemed natural when she did. I trusted her implicitly to make sure the twins were okay if I fell asleep for an hour on the couch! In fact, so much of where I am in life today is due to Therese's birth order. If I had had any other child, or combination of children, first, I probably would not have been able to finish my Ph.D. To this day, if I find myself wishing Therese would just act her age, I realize she *is* acting her age! She is just preternaturally mature; most of the time she is acting five years older.
3. Some kids know how to treat littler kids, and some don't. Nicky once told me that when he sees a little kid, he sees a flashing yellow "caution" sign. He treats kids just like that. He slows down, veers carefully around, and keeps going. Michael, on the other hand, will help the kid onto a piece of equipment, go find their moms if they want something he can't do, and follow them around if he thinks they are too small to be on the playground by themselves. Both of my boys know how to treat little kids, but Michael has such a rapport with them that I have no trouble visualizing him as a parish priest. Kids just trust him. Both of my sons know how to treat little kids, but one of them feels very called to them.
4. I *still* sometimes feel like I don't belong on the playground! Much like I felt when I was a child, it sometimes seems like everyone already has friends, and I...don't. I know now (only took me 30 years to figure it out!) that I have to make an effort to fit in. I embody "fake it 'til you make it," and many people who don't know me all that well would be shocked to find out how shy I am. If I can give my kids anything, it will be the confidence to join a group and jump into the conversation. Life is too short to feel left out.