They say that the biggest change for parents is going from having no children to having children. The birth of that first child is the biggest learning curve parents will face. This is very true. That first child is akin to trial by fire. But what is less often talked about is how the third child impacts a family.
Back at the start, immediately upon becoming parents, my husband and I both found ourselves in situations we were ill-equipped to handle. We were challenged in ways we’d never imagined.
Sometimes we took it out on each other. OK, I lie. It was most of the time.
It always reminded me of that old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” I could see where that was coming from.
Also, I used to find that I was one arm short. I have two hands, one was always holding a baby. In general, I think that nature caters beautifully for everything. However in the case of human parents, I suspect that nature got it wrong. With the birth of any child, to better manage the new workload, both parents should each grow a new arm. It’s only fair.
For example, after your first child, you should have three arms.
Then simple things like laundry wouldn’t completely paralyse me.
And, by simple extrapolation, after having three kids, you should have five arms. Because after having three children, two arms is laughably inadequate.
Before we had three children; I used to think that this was a mess:
These days I practically have to rely on sonar to find my children.
Even though one of our kids is completely immobile, I am hopelessly outnumbered. The overall effect is that I have downgraded my expectations of my day significantly. I used to think it was reasonable to expect the house to be clean (ish), dinner of some sort to be prepared, and that I would get a shower daily. Often I would also get plenty of sleep, find time for a haircut when necessary, and have a few hours each week to play computer games or get a shoulder massage or something.
Parents of three or more children will find this hilarious. Some may even by crying by now.
These days my expectations of every day are simple: Get through it.
That’s it. Survive. That’s all I can aim for. Anything else is a bonus. If I get some laundry done, then I give myself a big gold star. I stick it on my baby-vomit-stained shirt and wear that bad boy like a medal. Do you know how long it takes to get three young children dressed, breakfasted, and all their teeth brushed? Saturday.
After three kids, your days are never, ever productive. They are not even predictable. Heck, they are barely tolerable.
I will give you an example.
This afternoon, I accidentally dropped my keys in the toilet. (I will spare you an illustration of that.) Yet I can honestly say that this wasn’t even the worst part of my day.
That’s what having three kids is like. You fish those keys out and keep going. You have no choice, you HAVE to keep going. While quietly making plans to buy a new car and move house, because now you can’t bear to touch your keys.
But seriously, my day was actually fairly typical of this “new normal”. It began as they always do.
I was feeling a little extra flat than usual, so I thought I would have a second cup of coffee. By now the baby was awake. So I put her in the sling, thinking that this would free up my hands at least enough to make more coffee. The older kids were playing quietly together, and I got all ambitious and decided to make real coffee. Because I will never again have time to buy it in a real café. So I fired up the machine and went at it.
My first mistake was thinking I could steam milk. I used the hand furthest from baby, because safety is the cornerstone of success. Or at least, safety is the cornerstone of not spending the day in an intensive care unit.
For a brief, shining moment I actually believed I could achieve my aim. But then I realised I couldn’t use the other hand to feel if the jug base was warm. And I had no way of turning the steam off, without either nearly scalding the baby or actually scalding myself.
While this dilemma played out in my mind and I grew more and more anxious and the milk steamed hotter and hotter, the baby began to fuss, the kids erupted into a huge brawl which tumbled into the kitchen, and the phone rang. All. At. Once.
I only got out of it when realised I could turn the power off at the wall, using my foot. So I gave myself a gold star for making to 9:00 am without giving third degree burns to anyone.
Soon after, my husband took the older kids to the park. Because I told him to. One might even say I begged. So in those quiet moments after they’d gone, I decided to take the baby for a quick walk.
It took an aeon to pack the baby bag, dress her warmly, find my walking shoes, find myself some clean clothes, wrangle the enormous pram out the back door and down the steps while holding the baby in the sling. All of those things combined took longer than the walk would take. Even then, as I was about to place the baby in the pram, I realised that the tyres were flat. And the rear of the house is kind of, well, cat-litter-y, so I had to keep holding the baby while I pumped the tyres back up. Using one hand and two feet.
When we got back my unfettered hausfrau ambitions prompted me to begin making pumpkin soup. With the baby nestled comfortably in the sling.
I did not get very far.
My husband and older kids eventually returned. I realised we need a few things from the supermarket and I said as much to my husband.
He got all excited, because going to the shops is a legitimate reason to escape from the house for a time, and get some relative peace and quiet. We tend to squabble over those small opportunities for solitude. They are rare and precious… so very, very precious.
After his offer, I pointed out that the kids already knew about it, and were insisting that they be allowed to come too. Suddenly it lost all its appeal.
I love my husband. And I know it’s true love, because even after three children, when he leaves his dirty laundry beside the laundry basket instead of inside it, when he doesn’t change a toilet roll, or forgets to put the rubbish bins out, or uses an entire packet of wipes on one (one!) nappy change, I still haven’t divorced him. THAT is true love, right there. Either that or it is fatigue. I am too busy to know the difference any more. Or to care.
So anyway. I am certain that we’ve all, us parents, had the moment where we are changing one nappy/diaper too many, and our spirit is just starting to flag. There is something about the monotonous inevitability of someone else’s endless stream of poop that can really wear you down. I really felt myself really sagging today, over this one soiled nappy.
OK to be fair it was REALLY soiled. I mean, there was a deep end, just like at the local swimming pool. Looking at it, I felt all the fight in me just draining away.
So I changed the nappy.
Except it wasn’t like this. This picture is positively serene. This picture shows a person who can achieve their aim. This picture shows a woman in control of the situation. The reality was a tad more… dynamic.
First, there was another person around. With other-person type demands.
And another person with a whole different set of problems.
Oh yeah, and we weren’t at home. We were in a car park. And this particular explosive nappy situation was a bona fide poop emergency.
Still not stressful enough? Did I mention the rain?
Whatever you think you can handle, kids will always, always¸ find a way to make you handle just a little bit more. And then a bit more. And then a bit more. And then nature comes along to finish you off. And there you are, soggy and defeated in a car park.
But that wasn’t the worst part of my day either.
The worst part was after the evening kafuffle to get the kids into bed, complete with demands for extra stories, the frantic cleaning to find the floor and the cat once again, wiping the slime off the sofa, washing all the dishes and tidying everything up, I had enough time to watch a movie we’d rented. And to make my aching old feet more comfortable, I removed my shoes, stood on a splinter, and spent the entire film trying to extract it.
I am lately feeling rather like a cautionary tale.
I am really starting to understand what that old woman in the shoe was about. I don’t know what gruel is though, and it sounds like something made by wringing out a water rat. I wouldn’t want to eat that. So instead I road-tested a microwave brownie-in-a-mug recipe, which lived up to the hype. So I can thankfully say that the day ended on a high note.
Who can even imagine what tomorrow will bring.
I am living in interesting times.