Monday night was my night to cook. However, the lead-in to dinner prep was rather chaotic: Michael didn't get a sufficient nap, Mia had pretty much refused to nap at all, and Tom was itching to get outside and move around. He offered to take all three children on a walk, but I'd just given Mia a bath and didn't want her getting bathed again in the sweat from her daddy as he wore her in the Ergo. I suggested instead that he put Mia in the back of the double stroller, and Michael in the front, while I kept Abby with me in the kitchen.
So it was that I found myself watching Tom through the window as he retreated down the sidewalk, all the while positioning Abby in Michael's booster seat (the closest one at hand) and propping up the Kindle tablet on the kitchen island as Curious George began streaming over Netflix. Though she had a bad habit of reaching for the island and kicking the lower doors every few minutes, Abby stayed pretty well entranced with the available entertainment as I chopped, sauteed, boiled and mixed in the space around and behind her.
As he walked, Tom's mind no doubt strayed to the odd reversal he was experiencing: little one in the back and big one in the front, only this time it was Michael who defined "big." Just over a year ago he began the first of such walks around the neighborhood with Abby at the helm, Michael at her back, and Mia only a twinkle in my eye.
I was lost in a very different set of thoughts. I kept looking over at Abby and wondering what my life would be like were she my "only." How simple such a thing as dinner preparation suddenly became, even with her in the room! Though Curious George played a large part in ensuring her good behavior- I'm sure- even when I cut her off after two episodes she continued to amuse herself for the next twenty minutes, singing to herself and chatting with me.
Of course, the realization did not escape me that it's all relative. Were I childless, I would find the addition of Abby alone somewhat taxing and complicated suddenly mixed into my daily routine. When she was my "only," caring for her legitimately felt all-encompassing and overwhelming, the same way having three does now. Because, the truth is that what made it so hard (beyond the typical newborn stuff, which is behind us now) was that it required such a drastic life adjustment on my part. So many contingencies to account for. Later, multiplied by two. Then, three.
When over half of the contingencies suddenly fall away, the air is almost too pure to breathe, the silence near-deafening. I bask in the vacuum on such brief moments as these, but harbor equal amounts of fear and anticipation for the days when my children will be gone from me for far longer- all grown up and off to school in a future only seemingly so far away.
And I wonder, too, how much each little unit of my family is shaped by all of the others within it. Would Abby have learned to sit quite so patiently without the daily practice required of her as I triage a near-constant chorus of concerns? Would she have so impressively mastered the ability to self-amuse? Would she have developed a such a clear streak of independence? Would she so cherish her time in the kitchen with me were it a daily requirement, rather than a rare and special opportunity?
These are questions I'll never know the answers to (except maybe the last one- a resounding "no"), and I'm glad of it. As difficult as managing simple tasks might be right now, as exhausting my days, as practically nonexistent my free time, I love every little (and not-so-little) member of my family, and live in awe of the awesome dynamic it entails. I love that Abby has a constant playmate (and once Mia is mobile, she'll have two), and will have great opportunities to learn responsibility and leadership. I love that Michael gets to be both a big and a little brother. I love that Mia has two amazing older siblings who cherish her as much as I do.
So, while I can't deny the fleeting moments of envy I've experienced when I think about the (relative) simplicity my life would suddenly approach if we were still just a family of three, I couldn't really even imagine it, were I asked to. Though on a very basic level I can certainly remember a time before Abby, before Michael, before Mia, on a very visceral level I really cannot. Too much about me has changed since they came into my life that cannot be changed back. While I can access memories that existed before them, I couldn't possibly relive them now in the same way that I experienced them then.
And what would I do with all the time I'd suddenly have, anyway?
Sleep, though- sleep, I could use.