The Truth About Having Four Children

It was almost as though G and I were trying to design our own twisted version of The Amazing Race. The first four years of our marriage moved at break neck speed: international moves, pregnancy tests in foreign languages, buying yet another refrigerator for yet another different power socket and voltage. As we raced towards each self inflicted pitt stop an announcement would be made. A new job, a pregnancy, a physical challenge of a 18 hour plane ride with a newborn, a toddler, and a child struggling with the concept of toilet training. What had begun as a two person journey in a rather nice hotel in tropical Jakarta, was now an arrival to a dusty pink house in the suburbs complete with minivan, high chair, and portable cots (there were two).

We lived in a  state of continual sleep deprivation, a morning and an afternoon nap for the newborn, a midday nap for the toddler, and a four year old who wondered just when she would have her minute that was continuously promised. “In a minute…” I’d say as I burped a baby, “In a minute…” again as I spooned food into a toddlers mouth. It was because of these days that I declared we were “three and we’re done”, but it was in spite of these days that I kept looking at people with four. By the time our baby was about 14 months old, I’d began to consider another. Our neighbours had four, I went straight to the source.

“What’s it like? Having four?”

“It’s great. It’s busy. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I feel though, that we no sooner have one issue resolved and worked on with one child, that we realise we’ve completely neglected another.”

I didn’t really understand it at the time. My issues with my children at that stage were very immediate. Wet pants were changed to dry. A hungry child was fed. A cut or bruise was kissed and attended to. We were yet to get to school to hear which areas needed work. No-one had not made the team. We had not held the hand of a tween and willed them to see themselves the way that we saw them.

While the tugging of my shirt has almost disappeared, it has been replaced in a different form. An email lands in my inbox from school. “It’s our turn to do snack”. I drive people to parties, pick up extra children, make beds for sleepovers and sign up to help out in the concession stand. There is more though, it’s no longer the physical, it is the emotional. The emotional is what is now juggled, unable to be scheduled into the calendar, it pops up in a surprise fashion when you least expect it.

I went for a beer with a friend last week after a particularly harrowing parental day of surprises. “I feel like last week when we were sorting out one child’s problems we didn’t even notice that another child was screaming out for help. I can’t get on top of it. We’re just constantly putting out fires.”

“It’s like whack a mole” she said. Issues pop up and you whack em back down again before the next one arrives.

One child had raced towards me with a heart melting grin “I’m a pirate! I’m a pirate!” he couldn’t wait to tell me he’d made it into the school play. There was hugging. The back story (because there always is one) was that his nerves had got to him in the week leading up to the audition, he was desperate to back out, his father and I had coaxed and counselled with no idea if he’d go through with it. He did. Whack a mole.

As we waited for another child I began to worry I’d got our meeting time wrong. I hadn’t. She was in the office, writing a reflection. Reflections are a large part of the American Schooling system, we reflect a lot, from a very young age. Sometimes when we don’t reflect properly we then reflect on our reflections. We reflect on whether we’ve hurt someone’s feelings, forgotten the schools values or in this case, been an absolute idiot. A school prank that she’d got herself involved in, with an excuse of “the boys told me to do it.” I whacked – I missed. Out of my mouth came the brilliant parental advice of “I would rather hear you’d masterminded the entire plan than a boy told you to do it. I did not raise girls who do things because boys tell them to. Come up with your own pranks!” Her cheeks quivered. My heart sank. We held hands, I read the reflection. Lets reflect together I said with a smile. “Can I still get a lolly from the shop?” she asked.

When we got to the car explanations were made, I was handed a piece of paper. A child who had been the focus of everyone’s attention last week, the concern, the meeting, the grades, the extra help required, passed me a piece of paper “my math test”. An A, in the top right hand corner of the page. She grinned, my eyes glistened. “I’m so happy for you, I’m just so happy for you. You must be so proud of yourself? Well done. Just, well done.” I took a photo, sent it to G, who I knew would have the same reaction. “You can put it on the fridge if you like” she giggled.

As my babies have grown I’ve contemplated how to slow it down, how not to get so emotional. It’s impossible. Having children is unpredictable, sometimes intensely boring, other times wild, always beautiful. It’s like being on a roller coaster which often stops to a complete halt only to then speed up and change tack, throwing in a spin, a turn or a bump. On a parental report card an A for effort will result in, well, nothing, because there’s no correct end result. There’s no perfect family. No perfect child. It’s the ride that you get to have along the way. We chose four because ultimately we wanted them to have each other as much as we wanted them ourselves.

Last week as I sat upstairs collecting the latest lot of debris I overheard a conversation between travellers two and three. He was going to a neighbours, she was heading out to a friends for a sleepover. As he raced out the door he said goodbye, “have a good time at Maeve’s” he said as he closed the door. “Thanks” she said with a mouth full of food.

Thirty seconds later I heard the door open again “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, I was eating.” she laughed.

“Are you sure you’re okay, you sounded sad.”

“Nah, I’m fine.”

“Okay, have a good time at your sleepover.”

“Yeah, you too.”

Math tests, school pranks, auditions and team trials. They are the bumps, the turns, the surprise twists. We learn to deal with them, because it’s the moments when the roller coaster stops, if only just for a second on the way to a sleepover, that mean everything.


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