Family Model Trade-In
Family Model Trade-In
From Youngest to Only
My middle child noted the upgrades long before I did. Because middles have a special gift for tracking these things. “You actually make his school lunch?”
At first, I was a bit defensive. After all, didn’t I once slice her processed cheese into cute little lunchtime puzzles? Remember how fun those were, honey? “This? It’s just a little sun-dried tomato wrap with a pesto spread, blackened chicken, and aged cheddar…with fresh romaine, arugula, and tomato slices… It’s basically a turkey sandwich.” Move along, nothing to see here… But there were dinner upgrades as well. Menus crafted around her brother’s favorite foods, more frequent non-fast-food takeout on the nights I was too weary to microwave. Finally, I had to admit she was right. When Matt segued from being the occasionally forgotten youngest child— “Wait a minute, we have another one!”— to his present-day reign as my in-house link to motherhood, he essentially evolved into an “only.” He’d traded family models, and the new version had a passenger seat pre-equipped to his preferences.
But I grieved for his loss: the banter, the fun, the ready company of his older brother and sister. Our four-bedroom house still held faint echoes of the busy hub it had been, but while I once coordinated schedules with the intensity of an air traffic controller on a holiday weekend, my job had been downgraded to fielding texted ground delays from a single pilot with his own private parking spot.
“He gets to park in the garage?!”
Somedays, I missed the chaos. Poor Matt… I broached it once after our dog Lily died. “It’s pretty different, huh? I bet you really miss your brother and sister sometimes.” He shrugged, giving me the hint of a smile. “It’s OK.”
“No, I understand. I’m good as far as moms go, but I think it’s normal to miss all the excitement of having a bigger group around all the time.”
He smiled again and raised an eyebrow. “Really Mom. It’s all right.”
And it finally dawned on me… Matt was living the life my youngest sister dropped into after three of us left for college. A life with sugared breakfast cereals and a new dog instead of the Cheerios and “no pets” policy of my youth; a life with unlimited hot water and phone privileges. On my visits home, her suffering over sibling loss appeared to be, well, minimal. “Hey! Who ate the Cocoa Krispies?!”
And like my youngest sister, Matt seems to be managing the adjustments quite handily. While he’s visibly glad when his brother comes over for dinner and a Scrabble game, and he’ll disappear for long periods of time to talk by phone with his sister at college, the kids have taken their connections outside of this house. They make space for one another in their lives. Which is exactly the kind of family I’d hoped to grow.
I’ve a faint glimmer into why my mom seemed eager to cater to whims and wishes that were unheard of when I lived under the same roof. Maybe she, like me, was simply savoring the end of an era. From this point of motherhood, I can see that it matters not which child lands in the position of youngest, gaining that eventual solo spot, because I find myself pouring my love for each of them through this last remaining funnel named “Matt.”
These truly have been “the best years.” Just as the ones before them were, and as even the ones to come will be. Because I’m fully confident at even this very edge of active motherhood, that while different is strange and often difficult, ultimately, it’s always as good as we allow it to be.
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Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director, Ohio Newspaper Association, Columbus Ohio; President, Ohio Coalition for Open Government; award-winning author of Killing the Curse and Season of Lies