Saturday, October 02, 2010

GUEST BLOG POST: Caboose Baby by Sharon Johnson O'Donnell

Starting over with the baby routine after your other children are in school has its ups and downs. Sure there were times at the mall I had to yell to my middle son, David, who was 6 when my youngest was a baby, “Don’t do wheelies with the stroller!” And yes, it was a pain to have to take the diaper bag with me again wherever we went, after going places hands-free for several years.

The age gap means that I’m considered an older mom this time around -- a mid-life mom, as they call it, since I had Jason when I was 38. Children who are born awhile after their siblings is often called a caboose baby. The last one, bringing up the rear, giving the illusion of straggling behind. This analogy is a sad one to me, as if the caboose is an afterthought, trying to keep up with the rest of the train. Jason, my youngest, was no afterthought; he was what I knew was needed to complete our family along with our other sons, David and Billy, who was 9 at the time.

I, too, was a caboose baby, with my 3 siblings all considerably older than I am. I was the youngest, the ‘baby’ of the family, and perhaps that’s why I wanted a caboose baby, too. One to hold, to savor, knowing it’s your last. And knowing from personal experience that yes, time really does go by quickly and he’ll be grown in no time.

Of course, the age gap means that my boys have been at different places along the road to maturity, so the body changes can sometimes be a source of insight. Several years ago, Billy - who was 15 - was lying on the coach asleep, his arm stretched out over his head. Jason, 6, surveyed his brother’s exposed underarm hair and screwed up his face in disgust. I grinned and explained, “That’s what happens when you get older.”

Still mesmerized by his brother’s armpits, he replied, “The thought of that happening to me sickens me.”

Jason, now 10, likes to still do things with his brothers, but as Billy and David get older, the age gap is more pronounced. When they were younger, I’d take all the boys trick-or treating together. But on Halloween night of 2008, Jason and I wandered the dark streets of our neighborhood practically alone. Everybody in our neighborhood was now evidently too old for Halloween. Was I the only mom out here anymore?

When I’d gone trick or treating with Billy and David, there had been other kids their age and other moms about my age going trick or treating too.. Was I the only mom out here anymore?

When Billy and David were young, I knew other moms with sons the same age and formed relationships with them; with Jason, I haven’t done that because the moms are younger and travel in different circles than I do, while I’ve been busy with my older sons. So I don’t really have a lot of peers who have kids Jason’s age. Often Jason and I do things together by ourselves. Nothing wrong with that, but I find myself remembering how Billy and David used to play together and pal around on vacations.

I know that our family vacations will soon change as college student Billy will opt not to go along and David will soon follow, meaning my husband, Jason, and I will at some point take vacations with just the three of us. I’d welcome the time to concentrate on just Jason, but I know I’ll also miss the times we were all together at Disney or at a Red Sox game or even in the camper. I’ll miss having my boys together, and I know, as one caboose baby to another, that Jason will miss it too.

As a caboose baby myself, I can relate to that. My mother was lucky enough to have some friends and relatives with children near my age, but the two of us frequently did things together. When I was searching for a card for my mom on Mother’s Day of 2010, I found the perfect one: on the cover, it read, “From Your Youngest”. I immediately picked it out of the card rack and read it, getting tears in my eyes. It read in part: “Baby of the family? I was, I guess, it’s true. But I didn’t mind the slightest bit because, Mom, I had you..” It continues and then ends with: “So growing up the youngest wasn’t very hard to do, because you were my mother, and I grew up loving you.” When I gave it to her, I offered to read it aloud to her, which I do quite often since her eyesight is poor due to macular degeneration. As I read, I got a lump in my throat, looking into her blue eyes and also knowing Jason was right there listening too. I wrote in the card, “ I hope I can be the mom to Jason like you were to me when my siblings were grown up.” My mother and Jason will never know how very much I meant that. I had my mom, and now my youngest child had me. And I, in turn, still had him. It seems like some sort of circle of life, and I relish the fact that I am an older mom.

Sharon Johnson O'Donnell, mom of 3 sons (ages 19, 16, and 10), is a published author and award-winning columnist. Her humor book, House of Testosterone – One Mom’s Survival in a Household of Males, was named a BookSense notable book selection in 2007 and was then published in paperback by Houghton Mifflin. From 1998-2010, she wrote a regular column for The Cary News that won several statewide awards in North Carolina. Sharon’s also written for Good Housekeeping and Better Homes & Gardens, as well as greeting cards for Blue Mountain Arts. She teaches writing workshops in schools through a United Arts Council program. Sharon and her agent are currently pitching her latest manuscript to publishers; the book is tentatively titled, “Please Don’t Let Me Be the Oldest Mom in the PTA!” More info about her can be found at

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Blogger Weasy said...

As an older mum myself I found your post really touching. Your sons are very lucky to have a mum like you and I'm sure your youngest will grow up feeling the same about you as you do about your mum. I was talking about being an older mum the other day to one of the Au Pairs in my group (I coordinate an Au Pair program)and she's also a caboose baby (though I have never heard it called that) and she feels very fortunate and loved. Thanks
Louise Edington

5:12 PM  

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