Sometimes I hear my 5-year-old son say things, or watch him do things, that I’ve been meaning to teach him but haven’t. I was totally planning on doing it, it’s just that I hadn’t had time yet, or the teachable moment hadn’t happened. And yet, he knew it already.
His brother and sisters taught him.
I was 42 years old when Liam was born. He was a surprise baby. A wonderful surprise, absolutely, one that I am eternally grateful for. But when he was born, I worried about parenting him. I am busier than I was when my eldest was born 20 years ago; I now work full-time at a very challenging job. I don’t have the time that I used to.
Also, I’m a little worn out. My older children are 20, 19, 14, and 10. I’ve done so many Halloweens and first days of school and played so many games of Checkers and dress-up and Legos, taken a million (well, okay, maybe not a million, but it feels that way) trips to the pool and the park. I’ve spent hours and hours teaching safety, manners, safety, potty usage, study habits, and all those other important lessons we parents are supposed to teach. Would I be able to generate the energy to be enthusiastic about doing it all over again?
I shouldn’t have worried. Turns out, I have helpers.
“Say please, Liam”, his siblings tell him when he asks for the salt. “Clear your plate. No, you have to scrape it before you put it in the dishwasher.” “Liam, you need to share your toys with our guests.” “No, you can’t cross the street. Hold my hand and we‘ll look both ways together.” It’s everything my husband and I have said, coming out of our children’s mouths.
The other day Liam pointed to a commercial for a TV show. “I can’t watch that, ” he said. “Elsa says it’s inappropriate for me.” I almost spit out the water I was drinking. Elsa was absolutely right about the show, but I couldn’t believe the word “inappropriate” was coming out of a 5-year-old.
It’s not just correcting that they do with him. They taught him to play Checkers and how to boogie board on waves at the beach. They get down on the floor with him and play with his little cars. They celebrate his successes, from potty training to the first day of school to his memorization of Green Day songs (I’m a little less excited about the last, but at least it’s not gangster rap). Liam gets loved and celebrated not just by me and my husband, but by four other people who are just as devoted to him and invested in him as we are.
When you start a family, you don’t really think about it as something that could have a life of its own. But that really is what happens. The years of love and lessons and shared experience, mixed with growing unique individuals, build something that is bigger and richer than you could ever predict at the beginning.
Liam isn’t getting the short end of the stick by being the last one. On the contrary: he is the luckiest of them all.