They say, your children teach you how to be a parent; that you can try to force them into your preconceived ideas on what your family should be like, but ultimately, what doesn't bend, breaks.
Even as young as 3 1/2, my 5 year-old boy has had an extraordinary ability to focus on building Lego worlds. Left alone in his room with a 500 piece set, he can assemble the entire thing without a lick of help. This awesomely peaceful time recharges all of us. However, despite his love of long, solitary hours of building, he needs to know I'm still keeping an eye on him....otherwise he launches into brutal, piece-by-piece tutorial that painstakingly teaches me how he built his vehicles. When he's caught me ignoring him for too long, he shows no mercy and milks my mommy-guilt like a newborn. Glance away for a millisecond? He starts over.
As a baby/toddler, he could only fall asleep on the move; and the louder the environment, the better. We could (and were motivated) to tote him to parties, to the theater, to restaurants and The Nap Master would sleep....until, of course, we were at home, at night.
This boy has taught me how to be the parent I am. Feel a "class" is about to start? I now know to bathe him in my undivided attention while changing the topic. Won't admit to being tired? There's "a quick errand" in the car we need to run. Doesn't get hurt despite how bad the spill seems? Sure you can climb on the outside of the tube-slide.
How different would life be if my kids had been born in reverse order?
My 5 month old baby refuses to sleep in the car and in a stroller, nor will he doze off if there is any noise or light. Yikes! BUT...he sleeps through the night*. He won't let me nurse him to sleep in front of the TV or con him into a nap by circling the block a few times. Nope. He forces me to take him to my room, and lay him down in dark silence. Then, he'll see me in the morning. Had he been my first child, I would have probably had our family on a strict schedule from the beginning. Then my other one would have been born into an organized household and adapted to it, because that's just how he is. We'd all be well-rested, perky, with bluebirds landing upon our shoulders as our four-part harmonies clear the clouds from the skies.
Then, of course, I never would have learned to love running.
I wouldn't have so desperately strapped him into a stroller and hit the road in attempt to get him to sleep. Had I not already experience the joy that comes after the first 6 sucky weeks of getting back into shape, I wouldn't have gotten my butt out the door a second time because this baby HATES the stroller. My parenting arsenal wouldn't have included "attitude adjustment" runs - the kind that inspired my boy to say (when he was old enough to form his own thoughts):"Mommy, you're nicer after you run." I wouldn't have met my best friend Kelly during marathon training, or seen the sun rise from the Biscayne Bridge, or eaten at Amy's Ice Cream 3 days in a row without guilt. I wouldn't have found that cool stream my boy and I skim rocks in. I wouldn't have traded in wine for my new favorite drug: runner's high. (Okay, maybe "supplemented" would have been more appropriate).
How different would it have been? Well, my first-born inadvertently made me a runner, and being a runner makes me a better mom to my kids. So, I guess all those sleepless nights were worth it. It's not like I could sing well enough to harmonize with the family anyway.
*If you don't count all these sick days recently!