The Will to Live

So I went to the toilet just before.  It occurred to me at the time that it was the first time I’d sat down for 7 hours.  Three kids is more work than a full-time job.  It is hard work.  Someone smarter than me once pointed out that any number of kids is a lot of kids.  This is true.  Especially if that number is three.  Some days are rather good, or at least my mood is sufficiently bolstered to see the good in anything at all.  I might not get anything done, but I can appreciate that nobody died and we probably ate more than one food group over the course of the day.  Probably.

Shhh!  You'll jinx it!

Shhh! You’ll jinx it!

That, and at this point we are up to the third child, we have the skills and confidence to handle things that totally freaked us right out when we had that first child.  It helps sometimes to step back and just appreciate how far we’ve really come.  I like to take a little pride in the progress I’ve made.

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That’s right baby, I changed the HECK out of that nappy.

There was one day recently where the children-of-chaos activity-meter was just off the charts, and I actually had to dress them in pretty clothes to make it easier to be nice to them.

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Aw, so precious.  I can almost forget the carnage you unleashed five minutes ago. ALMOST.

Some days are so overflowing with evil that even the cupboards are against me.

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Huh? Who, Me? Oh, just battling the overheads. No, I’m fine, don’t need any help, thanks. I have this.

This feeling is compounded by the endless, tedious, despicable housework, and also riddled with guilt over the irreversible psychological damage I figure I must be causing to my children, pretty much daily.   Just by, well, being me.  It stands to reason.

There are times when I’ve had the house to myself for a short while.  They are rare, but they happen.  I tend to squander them, by using that time to tidy up, which often means throwing away other people’s stuff, which I then have to hide underneath something else in the rubbish bin.

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Pictured: the agony and ecstasy of throwing other people’s stuff out.

Green child upset me quite a bit last week.  I picked her up from school, and announced that I’d just bought her a ton of painting paper, paints, brushes, art books and a rather full bag of all kinds of things to get super creative with.  She says flatly “ok, but what about getting me a present that says ‘I love you’?”  I was so upset I had to take her home immediately and dress her beautifully again.  Five-year-olds will hurt your feelings, man.

But she works well at the other end of that scale, as well.  Yesterday when I picked her up from school, I asked what she had learned for the day.  She said this:

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Hey, wait a – no, ok, I see your point.

I thought, well that’s hardly fair.  What about that kid with the invisible eye-brows?  Or the twins who walk their cat to school?  What about that family who ride those bicycles with no pedals?  But then she explained that they were learning odd and even numbers, and our family has 5 people in it.  That makes us odd.

Basically, raising kids is an emotional minefield, or rollercoaster, or some kind of juggernaut.  Or possibly an emotional cyclone.  Or quite likely all of the above.

Some days it must be written all over me, when I’m running out of … whatever it is that I’m using up when raising children.  That would be will to live, I suppose.  Or, “Life”, as we know it, for short.  I’m running out of life, and some days it must be just written all over me, in black and white print.  Because there are times when my husband looks at me, and says:

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Except I’m so low on life I don’t even realise how low I am.

Because I’ve had a HARD DAY and I Don’t Want to Talk About It.  Plus, in all honesty, I am suspicious of my husband’s motives at times.  It’s like: he’s a man… I’m exhausted… I can’t be too careful.

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Me, suspicious and exhausted. This is my emotional ground zero these days.

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Thankfully I can recognise when I’m being a complete twit, and when to show appreciation.  Although I am not great at reciprocal affection.  I have lots to learn about that, in fact.

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True story.

Mind you, I regained some of my will to live the other day.  Pink child was refusing to go to sleep, my husband kept putting her in bed, she kept getting up again.  She kept insisting she had to tell me something so I wouldn’t forget it.  Eventually he caved in a little, and let her come down to see me in the study.  I asked her what she wanted to tell me.  She said:

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Which is cuter than a bug’s ear, coming from a 3 year old.  So I said good night again and began to usher her back to bed.

And then she said this:

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My will to live is now completely restored.

Food Fight

Food and children is a battleground.  Well, maybe not for everyone.  But certainly for my kids this is true.  I want them to eat properly, vegetables and everything, with a knife and fork.  They want to eat garbage.  With their hands.  On a beanbag.  While yelling at maximum volume.  Upside-down.  With their mouths full.

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Pictured: the natural state of a 5 year old.

So when the opportunity comes up to go out for dinner, I have mixed feelings.

See, at our house, I do almost all of the cooking.

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Takeaway pizza notwithstanding.

I have learned over the years that cooking for others can quickly become a soul-destroying experience.

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Even if it is something they actually like, there is always one fussy eater who won’t co-operate.

I drew your face wonky because I don't like what you are saying.

I drew your face wonky because I don’t like what you are saying.

This is why I love restaurants.  I’m not responsible for what everyone eats for a change.  That, and the hugely rare experience of someone else serving me.  Whenever anyone else brings me food I have to fight to hold back my tears of gratitude.  You could serve me tepid microwave quick-oats but it will still feel like I’m being served seared unicorn cutlets garnished with the hanging gardens of Babylon.

Actually in all honesty I suck at microwave quick-oats.  They always seem to climb out of the bowl.

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Is it cooked or is it… sentient?

But while I may love going to restaurants, I was still apprehensive, because I have memories of the last time we tried to take the kids to a nice restaurant.

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It didn’t end well.

OK I’m exaggerating.  But not much.  So this time I thought we’d better get in some practice first.  Take them out for lunch at a regular café, get them practised at sitting still, eating with cutlery and so on, eating from their own plate and nobody else’s.  That kind of thing.  Things I am actually always trying to do anyway, but that become infinitely more important when eating in public.

We found a small fairly casual café, and were seated amongst other people.  Right there, that puts us at a disadvantage.

There were no other children in sight.  This is a blessing and a curse.  On one hand, other kids means other parents, who will commiserate and who understand and who won’t judge and hate us for ruining their day.  Probably.

The downside of having other kids nearby is that within about ten minutes this:

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Becomes this:

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So we sat, and opened our menus.  And our eldest daughter, let’s call her Sonia, starts getting antsy.  Not about the food, which is guaranteed to be a struggle at some point, but about the table (too wobbly).  Then the cutlery (too heavy).  Then it’s the seat (too high).  Then the fact that she has to sit still for more than 2 seconds at a time.

When her food arrives she eats about two mouthfuls then loses interest.  It’s impressive to me that my children never seem to eat anything throughout the whole meal, yet always manage to have their mouths full when talking.  I don’t know how they do it, it shouldn’t even be possible.  It’s as if the natural rules of physics are something you have to grow into.  Like, up until the age of 8 they are more guidelines than laws.  It rubs off on me as well.  I find myself saying nonsensical sentences like “I put nothing on her plate and it’s all still there, she hasn’t even touched it.”

So anyway.  She says she has “finished” eating.  She makes herself comfortable.

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While my lunch is going cold, we have an exchange of words.  She resumes her relaxed state.

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By now, the warmest thing on my plate is the salad.

Just to get her off the wall I suggest that my husband take her to view the cake display and choose a dessert for the kids to share.  This goes off without a hitch.  Until it arrives, with a huge mountain of cream on the side of the plate.

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Sonia doesn’t even blink, just dives on in and scoops up a handful of cream.  That’s not a figure of speech.  I mean an actual handful.

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Even the 3 year old was shocked.

At some point in the carnage that was them eating cake, someone spilled a drink.

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The liquid streaked across the table, and began pouring over the edge, straight into my handbag.  I was holding the baby, and I think I shrieked, when I saw my bag filling up with juice.  I reached down and grabbed the handles, and swung it upwards away from the juice, straight into the back of the head of the man behind me.

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Me, smugly saving the day.

He turned around to get angry, but deflated a little when he saw me.  I imagine it was seeing the  look of complete horror that was on his face, perfectly mirrored on mine.

It’s around about then that we left.  It’s possible the room applauded our departure.

Actually feel like applauding our departure myself.

Actually feel like applauding our departure myself.

So that was practice.

As a result, I am far more anxious about taking the kids to a restaurant.

Full House

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.

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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.

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Er… little help?

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:

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Now we call this a slow day.

These days I practically have to rely on sonar to find my children.

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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.

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I am not a morning person.

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.

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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.

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Also, my nose began to itch.

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.

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Another gold-star moment.

When we got back my unfettered hausfrau ambitions prompted me to begin making pumpkin soup.  With the baby nestled comfortably in the sling.

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OK… now what?

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.

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I’ll give you $100 if you’ll let me do it.

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.

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I’ll give you $1,000 if you’ll do it.

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.

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Even at the best of times, it’s still the worst of times.

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.

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Cos I just love thinking about food while handling poo.

And another person with a whole different set of problems.

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Pictured: A complete representation of the body’s relationship to solids

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.

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And I needed to pee.

Still not stressful enough?  Did I mention the rain?

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There you go.

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.

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Too grumpy to cry.

I am lately feeling rather like a cautionary tale.

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Or perhaps someone out of a nursery rhyme.

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.