Raising a Third Child: When Ketchup Counts as a Vegetable

A son's annual check-up gets his mother wondering what happens between raising the first child and the last.

The other day, my son kicked me out of his doctor’s appointment.

Somewhere around the age of acne explosions, smelly feet and hair product, pediatric annual check-ups include an option for a parent-free zone to promote a personal discussion with a health care professional. This is a great idea, and I think adolescents should take full advantage of this opportunity. Correction: this is a great idea, and I think other people’s kids should take full advantage of it. My kids? They have nothing to hide.

As a seasoned parent when it comes to these "special" visits, I was well prepared. This was my third child, after all. I like to think of myself as a fairly liberal, tolerant and accepting person, who prides herself in keeping communication lines open when it comes to my family. Ours is the house where no topic is taboo. Got a question about sex, drugs, pornography,  or whatever else is being discussed at the playground or lunchroom or bathroom or camp bus or on the internet, and we’ll chat about it over dinner. 

So, like his older brother and sister before him, I was sure my third child would be totally comfortable with me staying in the room for his chat with the doc. We’d already covered the major taboos. Wrong-o.

“Mom, out.” was all he said.  And with those two words, I was banished to the waiting room.  Me. The one mom who always gets to stay. There I was, left alone in the waiting room with hoards of other parents and their dripping babies and toddlers. 

Didn’t my son get the memo? Why didn’t my older offspring tell him I could handle this? What questions could my kid, yes, my kid, possibly have that he couldn’t ask with me around? 

So I began to list mentally all the possibilities in my head: puberty, masturbation, the birds and the bees, sexually transmitted infections, dating, bullying, smoking, drinking, inappropriate touching, drugs.... My mind whirled. 

Just as I was about to give up, I witnessed two small children playing with a plastic triceratops or stegosaurus or some kind of prehistoric beast. One child accidentally stabbed his brother in the cheek with a horn, causing tears and commotion.  The children’s genie-of-a-mother was at their sides in no time and produced one magical juice box to calm the impaled child and an iPhone to appease the assailant. In my nearly 21-years of child rearing, I have never seen such speed and competence. Had I a trophy to give, I would have awarded it on the spot to this fast-acting, peacekeeping mom that no pediatric waiting room should be without. 

When I praised Wonder Mom, she looked up without batting an eye and said, “Oh this is nothing. I have two older kids at home.” 

Wait a minute, I thought. Juice boxes and an iPhone? What kind of parenting is that? Sugary drinks for quieting a scream and excess screen time as a reward for bad behavior is no way to handle the situation.  So why did I think it was so great? 

Because I’ve given up, that’s why.  Sometimes we older parents will do “whatever” in order to keep the peace.  We’ve tried the reasoning. We’ve experimented with time-outs. We’ve been to the land of “I don’t care who started it, I’m stopping it.” And we’re tired. 

That fatigue got me worried. Let’s say my son was in the back room because he truly had unanswered questions. Fine. But what I clearly dreaded were the trick questions the doc throws in there at the end. Those questions range from asking about the daily number of fruit and vegetable servings eaten, to the frequency of home pizza deliveries. Those doctors inquire into bedtimes and extracurricular reading habits. Guess who was about to get busted?

Me. By the third kid, parents are the first ones asleep in the house. Who knows if they’re reading or watching their millionth episode of Family Guy? I’m tired. I used to care if my kids ate fruit. Pizza used to be a treat. But somewhere between child the first and child the last, I fell into the world of Ronald Reagan. That’s right, ketchup… and pizza sauce, for that matter… are vegetables. You got a problem with that?

Was it hot in that waiting room, or was it just me? 

I looked up, and there was my son. “So. How did it go in there?”

“Fine,” he said. 

“What did you talk about?” I asked.

“Mom, it’s private,” he said.

“OK,” I said, “But you know you can tell me anything.”

“You promise you won’t be mad?” he said.

“Yes.” I said, bracing myself.

“I asked if I could use the blood pressure machine you never let me touch.” 

We went home and ordered pizza.

wendy gimbel November 10, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Don't worry Betsy. The third child is the most self sufficient because, fortunately for them, you are not hovering over them to be of service! They are also more flexible and wake up in better moods because when they were babies they were pulled out of naps to pick up their older siblings on a daily basis. All children should be lucky enough to be born third!
MizMam2You November 11, 2012 at 07:36 AM
I was child number one. I was truly bitter when I saw siblings number 4,5 and 6 had designer clothes and xbox. I had responsibilities, a sense of purpose and was even a birthing coach for my mothers births and aunts births by the age of 12. I was sooooo jelous at how easy they had it. Back talk was a life style for these kids. But when I look at my adult life my work ethic, my fighter style, my sense of responsibility for myself, I wasn't mad anymore. Child 6 is 18 now and sees nothing wrong with applying for welfare to start his adult life, child 4 got married in Vegas ,but can't hold a job at 22. Child 5 has now taken to drinkin+ throws tantrums when mom won't let him in. Child 3 died as a baby. Child 2 and me are the only productive strong adults. The rest, I love them but the are spoiled, rotten, lazy no coping skills and are still in and out of moms house. You gotta continue what you started. Raise the babies or they babies for life.
Lou November 11, 2012 at 02:14 PM
I was number 5. Parents often confused my name with older sibs. Never got the biggest piece of meat, too slow. Beat up by older brothers and sisters teased me. Psychiatrists were not available but matches for starting fires were, best fun I ever had was watching dry leaves go up in smoke, in the living room. The yelling and screaming after that made everyone know I was actually a person with hopes and dreams not addressed. Worst part of being "what's his name", wearing hand me downs that always fit wrong somewhere, usually too tight or too short. There was always someone to compare me to that did things better than I did, "why don't you read a book instead of throwing rocks at the cars on the street?" Used my tumult as a child in therapy sessions for other unknown souls. Would I want to be number 5 over again, are you kidding?
victoria smith November 11, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Only child here.....Had its positives and negatives. Wasn't spoiled, but according to my friends that came from 6 other sibblings I was. My voice was heard, response not always to my liking, first set of rules never deviated,no chores to share, no hand me downs, never waited for my turn borrowing the car, the list goes on. Would I have liked an older sibbling? Yes, for numerous reasons, but no matter what number you are in line, you had family!
Christine Wolf December 07, 2012 at 07:15 PM
GREAT post, Betsy. I, too, have 3 children, and only the first has a baby book (the youngest child is now 9...). It's mayhem and humility all rolled up together, isn't it? I'm guessing you're like me -- wouldn't have it any other way. Cheers.


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