Act I, sc i
[in the kitchen, my 4 year old is crying because his homemade toilet paper roll nunchucks broke]
Me: (trying to distract him) OOH, is it snowing yet?
4 yo: (mumbles) I don’t know.
Me: (pointing to the window) Maybe you should check…
4 yo: I can’t. I don’t have an iPhone.
If in the last week we’ve run into you at school, in the supermarket, at the playground, in church — or if you simply live within a two state radius of New Jersey — then I’m sure you have heard: my youngest son got bunk beds for his birthday. He’s a little excited. Me, not so much. In addition to the logistical nightmare of making a bed that looms 4 inches above my eye-level, I have some concerns about him falling and hurting himself — not during the night, per se, but I involuntarily hold my breath watching his wiry body climb up and down the ladder. Since he has spent most of the last four days on the ladder, I’m feeling a little lightheaded. I’m not the only one who harbors lukewarm feelings toward this new piece of furniture. My 13 year old son, having always wanted bunk beds himself as a little boy, sat perched on the top bunk surveying the room below and stated, “My childhood has just been ruined. This is awesome.”
The truth is, of course, that my youngest doesn’t need a bunk bed. There is no sibling with whom he must share his room. We don’t have a regular rotation of houseguests. Perhaps, someday, the second mattress will be used occasionally for sleepovers, but I’ve learned from my older children that when friends sleepover, they’re usually happy to throw sleeping bags on the floor so they can be next to each other — and they’ll eventually forgo bedrooms altogether for the couches, and the television, in the basement. But the real reason we got him the bunk beds is quite simple: it’s because he asked. Can you hear my 13 year old groaning?
As I’ve discussed before, with a significant age difference between my older children and my youngest, there have been adjustments in mine and my husband’s parenting styles. We knew that there would come a day that our older children would be fairly independent from us, leaving us alone with our youngest — that we’d go from regularly operating as a family of five, to commonly traveling as a threesome. We just didn’t anticipate it happening so soon. More and more, we find that we have a pseudo-only child. My youngest doesn’t seem to feel it. Just as he can easily hang out with kids 8 to 10 years his senior, he will also happily hop in the car with just my husband and I and enjoy the attention. The thing with the third child, who through logistics and circumstance operates frequently as an only, is that he can easily function within a larger family unit or as a lone child. As the mother, however, my perspective is slightly different. Ultimately, as I watch my older two leave the house, busy with friends and activities that do not involve me, I am left behind with my little guy in his slightly-too-small Spiderman t-shirt and a keen sense of the rapid passage of time.
There are definitely indulgences that my older children missed, things they wanted that I would not allow (admittedly, somewhat arbitrarily). Those ugly sneakers that light up when he runs, for example? I wouldn’t let my older children have them but my youngest has a pair in lime green that look like Ninja Turtles. They are horrible. No matter how nicely I dress him, when he wears them all I see are his feet. But he loves them and he will outgrow them in one season. That sugary cereal with Star Wars on the box? I used to only allow it on vacations. Now, occasionally, I’ll buy it for our house. The 5 year old will probably eat little of it, anyway — and my older children can eat it until their hearts delight, revisiting their stymied childhood ambitions. And, those bunk beds? By the time my 5 year old gets too old for them, there’s a good chance that one or both of his siblings will be at college and we may reconfigure furniture and bedrooms accordingly (by the way, if you see a woman crying in Pottery Barn Kids, she may be grappling with that realization. I may be speaking from experience on this one, so please be kind to her).
My youngest is either getting the best or worst of two worlds: baby of the family and only child. I would like to think that this makes him adaptable, though my older two argue that this makes him impossible. Either way, I’m holding onto this one a little longer, while he lets me. Because while his body barely fills his bed right now, the day will come when I’ll be standing on my tiptoes to kiss him goodnight not because he’s in a top bunk, but because he’s taller than me. It may be that I say yes to him more than I did the others, but I’m pretty sure that he’s not really the one I’m indulging.