This morning, I was out running errands with our 2 month old strapped to me, the little lump peacefully sleeping in a makeshift jersey womb. Along the way, I spotted a newly opened shop in our neighbourhood and walked in, happy and poised to splash some of my fast depleting savings in support of a local small business. As soon as I stepped in, the contents of my chest pouch decided to ping her eyes wide open and start wailing. Refusing to let a tiny child dictate whether I could stay in the shop or not (I’m the mama, I’m in charge goddamit) I tried to settle her with surreptitious shush-pats as I shoved her tiny head back into the fabric in which she had once been so quietly nestled. This had the opposite effect and the wails soon escalated into howls.
At this point the cries were bouncing off the minimalistic plywood pegboard walls of the shop and there was nowhere for me to hide. I burst out ‘SORRY!’ to which the lovely young sales assistant simply said ‘it’s OK! How old? 2 months, wow. Is it your first? ‘
Now, I don’t remember being asked this question before. But perhaps I never found it an awkward one to answer – so never noticed. I don’t think many people expect you to actually want to have more than two kids. So when I say with a hint of embarrassment ‘Oh, it’s actually my third’, the response isn’t ever as enthusiastic as when you say it’s your first. It’s almost – apologetic, I think, with a touch of pity. And most of the time they say ‘Wow you must be very brave’ except I think instead of brave they mean crazy.
And this response is completely justified. They are right. You do have to be a little bit crazy to actually choose to be outnumbered by your own offspring. People often ask me ‘So, what is it like with three?’ And the truth is, it’s f*cking horrendous at times.
We are in a constant state of exhaustion. There are no more breaks in the day because when one goes down for a nap another wakes up. We haven’t had a solid night’s sleep in 4.5 years. Because amidst the baby waking for feeds there’s also the occasional toddler wandering out of her bed in the middle of the night, or a kid who’s woken up crying from a Ninjago induced bad dream.
And then there’s the stuff. We are laden with stuff. Stuff that the kids can’t yet carry for themselves like bicycles and balance bikes and scooters and helmets. Nappies. Nappy changing stuff. Snacks. Water. Magazines. Crap toys from magazines. Jumpers that they decide they don’t want to wear. Coats in case it rains. We can’t actually go for a swim at the local pool without bringing three huge Sainbury’s bags with us.
Probably the toughest thing about having three kids at this point is the feeling of being so close and yet so far. To have raised the other two to a point where a simpler, normal, restful life is just in sight, and to suddenly be back at square one, tending to the relentless demands of a small baby- is frustrating to say the least. I had a frightening reality check the other day whilst searching for holidays, and found myself entering ‘3’ into the field for ‘Number of Children’. We are an actual family of five now. Holy crap. We can no longer afford a nice summer holiday abroad, even if we did muster up the courage to actually do it and risk tormenting a plane load of people with our children’s antics. It’s Camp Bestival this weekend. We’ve always fancied going – ‘Maybe when H is two’. Except when he turned two, M was born. And now M is 2 .. we have N. So, nearly 5 years have gone by and no Camp Bestival for us yet.
But this is what we signed up for. We knew what we were getting into and believe it or not, having three was always part of the plan.
The squabbling, the fussiness, the snatching, the whinging and crying is ample and free flowing at the moment. It’s tedious and boring and exasperating. And yet, we’re happier than we’ve ever been. Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation talking but dealing with the madness does come with its perks. The cuddles are great. The chats about which Pokemon we are are profound (I’m Ash, M is Pikachu, H is Charmander and N is Drowzee. Dadallama is Geodude). And don’t get me started on the lols – there’s nothing quite like 2.5 nude children disco dancing to Everything is Awesome to make everything in the world right again, if only for that moment.
When you have three kids, you’re parenting on expert mode- I love and hate this part. I hate the bit when I’m deep in the trenches of dealing with the sass of a 4 year old and the tantrums of a 2 year old – all to the stress inducing backdrop of a screaming baby. But boy do I love it when it’s over and I can actually say – I got through it – they are fed and washed and in bed! Dadallama and I hi-5 ourselves when we manage to pack the three of them in the car before 10am. Yesterday I needed to get some carrots from the shop for our Sunday Roast – and all the kids decided that they would come along. I have this thing where I always underestimate how much effort it will be to take them all, and then realize way too late that the size of the task increases exponentially to the power of the number of children you take along with you. My 15 minute task took an hour. Instead of just carrots I came back with 2 kids magazines and a pack of Bombay mix, amongst other random things. But I did it – Level Up! And once you level up, you start getting the courage to take on more tasks that in involve you vs three kids. I used think it would be impossible to give all of them their bath at the same time – but one day dadallama had an emergency and I was forced to do it. The process involved half a bottle of baby soap being dispensed into the bath (More soap mummy! My do it!) and me washing and rinsing both kids with one hand and balancing the baby with the other. Sure they probably weren’t that clean but I did it!
So I guess Camp Bestival and our fancy European summer holidays will have to wait. Our time will come. In the meantime we’ll work on figuring out our new rhythm as a team of five. And the next time someone asks me if the baby on my chest is my first, I’ll try not to be embarrassed and proudly say that it’s my third. Because it may be madness, but 3 is okay.