Since moving to Tennessee, our oldest three children at home have found a tidy little side income in in-house pet sitting. On top of helping folks out, it’s given our kids a few days at a time to do something very important—make memories together, independent of Mom and Dad, that they will carry with them their whole lives. They pack up board games, instruments, and books, and cocoon, feasting on the goodies their clients always leave behind, and playing with a rotating cast of cats and dogs. I’m hopeful that it’s a tradition they’ll keep into adulthood; maybe not the animals, but definitely the ability to continue building their relationships with one another, and enjoying the bond God intended when he made them siblings.
The absence of our teens means that we are (for a few days, at least) a household of young children again. Even though it seems like just yesterday that my oldest was only 10, in truth it’s been more than a decade. The return to the rhythm of a family where the oldest responsible child is nine is a huge shift from the way a family with two very capable teenagers and a 20-year-old young woman all work together to assist the parents in moments of need.
Do I miss my older kids? Absolutely. The companionship of these people as they blossom and grow is more precious than I ever imagined as I was buckling car seat after car seat and trying to determine how badly I needed that gallon of milk in light of the ordeal it would take to bundle everyone in and out of the store. When they are present, there are constant conversations—some frighteningly deep, some challengingly spiritual, some refreshingly observant, some critically serious. There are plans and actions and a steady movement that anchors us—all of us—to the fact that we are a family in transition.
But something magical happens when they are gone, too. Priorities must, by necessity, shift. The dishes in the sink will just have to wait a bit, because there’s no one else to join in that game of Old Maid. Younger brothers who normally gravitate to the older ones for occupation instead seek out an even younger sibling, or maybe Momma or Dad to fill their time. Smaller voices, sometimes crowded by the big thoughts of the older people, are amplified, and captivate us all.
Removing the older kids, even for a few days, pulls us back to a place where bedtime means that Momma and Daddy are alone for three hours every night, where showers need to be coordinated, and where adult conversations are rarely joined by a third, fourth, or even fifth party. It also means that littles, in their own way, try on the shoes of being big.
Having just younger ones means that there are fewer chess partners, but more chances for the “little” to rise to the occasion and join Daddy in the field with a shovel, or Momma in the kitchen with a spatula. It’s time to be “middles,” guys. This past weekend, John Mark got to assist in the ongoing excavation of our septic line. He was an eager helper, which came in very handy.
Having just younger ones means that rest times are quiet for parents, too. Those two hour stretches of “stay in your room and read and play quietly” are so welcome. I managed to finish a little gift for a little girl due to be born to friends of ours in just a few days, as well as start on a Barley Hat for John Mark in some lovely warm wool.
Having just younger ones means smaller meals, though I can’t figure this one out just yet. I made two loaves of zucchini bread, expecting to need to add a pound of bacon. It turns out that four kids and two adults can breakfast on two loaves and have two slices left over. (Phin had his standard oatmeal with peanut butter, maple syrup, and coconut oil.)
Having just younger ones means that there’s no one in the house who is a certified Lego master, so you just have to go it alone. Mistakes will be made. There will be frustration. But you will conquer it on your own and get a step closer to the title of master yourself!
Having just littles in the house means more dishes and laundry and bathroom and farm chores…for everyone. Our most recent pullets have been moved to the main coop but seem a little daft when it comes to learning the ways of the flock. That means it’s taking two people to tend to them at night, instead of just one. Also, because of our septic issues, we’re running the grey water from our washer into five-gallon buckets that need to be emptied. Bucket relay races, anyone?
Having just littles in the house means that we’re us, but something’s missing. It’s good to know that even when these older folks have taken wing, we’ll find a new way of fitting all the pieces here. But for now, we look for the fledglings’ return home, and the fuller nest to which we’re all accustomed.