When my husband and I were dating, he informed me that he wanted to have six children. Being raised essentially as an only child, with two much older half siblings, I feared his notions of the large family dynamic might be a tad…. romanticized. So I would simply smile, and then suggest the safer and more logical two-child family concept as an alternative idea.
After nearly five years of marriage, I began to question if we would ever have any children. We were very comfortable in our childless-state. So I suggested we introduce a dog into the mix as a first step towards selflessness and accountability. Dogs of course are a gateway towards having dependents. Not long after Lego, the poodle, joined our family, I discovered I was expecting our first child.
When the Boy was around a year old, my husband looked at me one day, and said, “I hope you love this baby a lot, because I’m thinking he should be our only child.” Children were clearly much more of an effort than my husband had realized when he zealously suggested a brood of six all those years ago.
I’m not an only child kind of person, and so I convinced my husband we should at least consider the notion of a second child. He warmed to the idea once the Boy had fully left the baby stage. It’s amazing how one’s mind cannot fathom a second baby…when you have a current baby in the mix, and not long after the Blonde was added to our crew.
I won’t lie the Brunette was a bit of a surprise, and with the arrival of the Baby strangers began to ask me if I understood how babies are made. I do…just to clarify. Don’t worry there will be no child referred to as Bonus in my future tales. There’s now a period on the end of our family’s sentence.
I personally believe that the shift from no children to that first child is hands down the hardest step. Your life as you have known it gets turned upside down. You have to plan and coordinate events around a little person. Selflessness is not a natural trait. Should you want to do something spontaneous…well…good luck.
Don’t get me wrong you can still have fun. You need to have fun. Its crucial that you maintain a sense of your coupleness…..but it requires a calendar, and a babysitter. In my opinion; however, once you have already waded into the murky waters, and embraced the dark symbol of parenthood……the minivan…. you might as well just fill that thing up.
From my perch in the bathroom this morning, I overheard snippets of the conversations the children were having with my husband. I was warmed to hear the Baby proclaim, “Happy Father’s Day, dad,” …totally unprompted. She’s a very socially aware two year old.
A few moments later I overheard the Blonde nostalgically ask, “Dad, do you remember the time we went to the animal zoo?”
My husband laughed and replied, “Yes, I think I do remember something about that.”
“I think we need to go to the zoo…. again…. so my little sisters can see the bunnies,” the Blonde replied. She went on to recount, with great fondness and in some detail, the events of her first trip to the zoo. I was actually quite impressed.
“The children think we need to head to the zoo this morning,” my husband informed me as I emerged from the bathroom.
“Well, it is that special time again,” I replied, “Why don’t we go out to breakfast first, and then we can make our way to the zoo.”
Each year we take one trip to the Reston zoo, which I should clarify is defiantly more of a petting zoo than a traditional zoo. It’s heavily weighted with farm animals like sheep, goats, pigs, cows, and rabbits. There is also a smattering of more exotic friends like creepy reptiles, a kangaroo, a giraffe, a camel, and a pair of zebras.
I suddenly realized that the call of the wild seems to happen each year around the same time for our family. As I look back at photos of our trips to the zoo, they almost always occur around Father’s Day. If you know my husband at all; you will understand he is not a fan of nature….or crowds. So a petting zoo on a holiday weekend is pretty much the last place he would ever choose to spend the morning.
My husband is intentional with how he invests his time. He believes memories last much longer than things, and so whether or not it’s his idea of how to spend a morning…he takes them….year….after year….he takes them.
For my children, a trip to the zoo is as close to nature as they will ever get living here in suburbia. The Brunette, who loves all things animal, is beyond excited that we have agreed to this outing. The Boy seems indifferent. He has already figured out that this animal park trek means less time for MineCraft.
This year’s zoo pilgrimage consisted of standing at a safe distance from a rather agitated and molting camel. Followed by the feeding of some very zealous baby goats and sheep which is the highlight of the entire experience in my opinion. The Blonde was careful to demonstrate proper baby animal feeding techniques to her little sisters. Because in life…it’s all fun and games until someone looses a finger to an animal. I think I saw that on a pillow once.
We make a quick loop through the reptile house. The snakes are okay. The spiders are deemed horrifying. We gander at some bunnies which seem too terrified by the squeals of children to do anything of consequence. Then I suggest heading in the direction of the more classically zoo-ish friends.
Rounding the corner I spotted a giraffe enclosure. The giraffe remained at a distance, obviously preferring the shade which reveals to me he has forgotten his African roots, and has instead adapted to his more first world environment. Just when I thought the giraffe was going to be a bust, and began to usher the children away; the giraffe pulled out some rather fancy foot work. The Blonde proclaimed him to be an excellent dancer. I have to be honest….I don’t classically think of giraffes as dancers, but the evidence seems to speak for itself. I swear I saw a shuffle-ball-step. If they ever made a Dancing With the Animals, he would undoubtably be a finalist.
Our next stop was the kangaroo. I recalled with fondness the year the Blonde was allowed to pet the infant kangaroo. Even now I can still see the look of wonder on her face, and it was a glorious memory-making-moment. It’s a few years later of course, so I am not certain what to expect.
Sadly, today the very same kangaroo took one look at us, and then proceeded to seclude himself in the shadows of the little shanty located near the rear of his enclosure. I personally felt that was a rather antisocial move, but the children didn’t seem to notice. They were beginning to fade in the sun.
It was clearly time to bring this expedition to a close and so I tipped my head in the direction of the capstone wagon ride. This area of the zoo, accessible only on tractor pulled wagon, allowed the children to see emus, some deer, two melancholy zebra, and some rather enthusiastic pigs. Those pigs had clearly figured out that an approaching wagon meant the arrival of people, and more importantly cups of food. Those pigs had the wind in their hair, and charged us at full speed. If we have been standing on the ground it would have been a terrifying site, but safe in our perch on the wagon the Baby squealed with delight.
I must say their enthusiasm was refreshing because the two zebras seemed to care less about the presence of humans. They simply looked in the direction of the wagon, and then sighed. I saw actual sighing…. and possibly even an eye roll. Their melancholy was a little of a downer for the end of our tour, but they were acting about how the children were feeling so perhaps it was appropriate.
All in all the morning was a success. As we made our way back to the van, the Baby and I were a few steps behind the rest of the pack. I couldn’t help but smile as I looked at my husband interacting with the three older children. I realized in that moment, that even amidst their unique personalities, each of my children have traces of their father within them.
The Boy has his father’s head for business, and his spirit of imagination.
The Blonde has her father’s love for learning, and his spirit of ingenuity.
The Brunette has her father’s passion for life, and his spirit of adventure.
The Baby has her father’s sense of humor, and his spirit of mischief.
I do not know what lies ahead for my children. I do know that they adore their father, and that they are all better people for having him in their lives.
The Motherhood in Technicolor Memo:
The role of a father in children’s lives is not only essential to their current development, but I believe it’s foundational to their future contributions. The mother’s role is centered on nurturing healthy, confident, and well-adjusted children. However; it is easy to forget that these same children will one day grow up, and one of the father’s most crucial roles is to help shepherd those same children into becoming well-adjusted, contributing adults.
Being a father isn’t just about having children….it’s about leading by example….it’s about developing confidence…..it’s about harnessing problem solving skills…..it’s about igniting imagination….and it’s about turning beloved children into extraordinary adults. I do not believe the word father is noun…but rather a verb….and a beloved call to action.
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Summer Smith is a speaker, writer, and motherhood blogger. She and her family are currently navigating the suburbs of Northern Virginia. As the mother to four young children, Summer maintains her sanity thanks to her sense of humor, copious amounts of coffee, and Amazon Prime. Maya Angelou once said, when reflecting on her childhood, that her mother left an impression like technicolor stars in the midnight sky. Influenced by these words, Summer blogs at her website Motherhood in Technicolor, and can also be found on her Motherhood in Technicolor Facebook page.