Friday, January 16, 2015

And Then There Were Four: Or, Barnum & Bailey, Family-Style

I am a researcher by nature.  I make decisions slowly (or not at all).  I like to have all the facts before I act.  So, when I began contemplating a fourth baby, I went to the experts.  I asked my mother-of-four-still-small-children friends what to expect.  "What is it like?" I asked.  "Not taking into account how wonderful your individual children are, or which one you would be getting rid of if you down-sized, would you do it again?"

Their answers were all similar.  It's crazy.  You should totally do it.

We did.  We're only seven months into this family-of-six venture, but I've realized they were right.  I've also realized something else: I should have asked for more specifics.

So, if you're contemplating the jump from three to four, here are some of our more specific experiences - A Mother's Guide to Bringing Home Your Fourth Baby: The Cliffs Notes version, if you will.

1.  Everyone becomes an expert on (or worrier about) logistics.

We were due to give birth to our fourth during our older two kids' spring soccer season.  Nathan was excited to be welcoming another younger brother, just as long as that brother didn't interfere with the game schedule.  "Mom, what will happen if you have the baby while driving to soccer?" (The kids began asking their father to drive them to the majority of their practices after this question was posed.)

Luckily, Ethan arrived on a day that worked with everyone's schedule.  Now, the children are worried about a different sort of logistics.  They've taken to packing their own bags for events.  They no longer trust their mother's brain to remember it all (possibly, because it doesn't).  The eight-year-old has taken to packing bags of snacks and tossing in a few extra diapers, just in case.  Last Monday, the three-year-old packed himself a bag of toys to take to a two-hour meeting I had at the library.  Unfortunately, he forgot to carry the bag into the library once we got there.  His mother didn't remember the bag, either.  

2. Suddenly, everyone has a job.  You might be given the job of an asparagus.  

The more children we have, the more we find ourselves taking the divide-and-conquer approach to events.  Most soccer nights, one parent would take Audrey to practice while the other fed the boys and readied them for bed at home.  Audrey requested that her father take her to as many practices as possible.  One night, en route, she explained, "You know when you go to the grocery store and there's the part where you get the vegetables and the part where you get the treats?"


"Well, mom is like the vegetables, and you're like the treats.  You know the vegetables are better for you, but what you really want are the treats."

3. It's a little exhausting.  For everyone. 

Children, who claim to have outgrown naps, and adults (who would pay for naps) have been known, post-baby, to conk out suddenly, anywhere.  Even standing up.

4. Chances are, you'll lose your short-term memory.  Your children will notice.

Jack: Mommy, by the way, our dad is Jason.

You will notice, too.  Unfortunately, it will be too late to be helpful.

You know those morning routine charts?  Parents make them for their children to check off the boxes of get dressed, eat breakfast, and brush teeth, hoping that with a wing and a prayer and some smiley face stickers, they'll all make it to the bus stop on time.  I made one of those.  For myself.

Just kidding.  I don't have the brainpower required to remember to make one for myself.  But, I need one.  Because, some mornings, I know that I've brushed at least three sets of teeth.  I just can't remember if any of them were mine.  Most mornings, this realization hits en route to an activity, like library class.  Luckily, this only happened once.  Twice.  Okay, three times.  It happened three times. If you see me around town, just don't stand too close.

5. You might feel tempted during those first late night feedings, to watch an episode of the Duggar's 19 Kids and Counting, thinking you might glean some pointers on how to handle the demands of a larger household.  Don't.

This will only make you feel more inept than anyone on a two-hour sleep/feeding rotation schedule has the emotional capacity to feel.  Michelle Duggar is well on her way to whisper-talking herself into world domination and you can't even remember to brush your teeth.  Do yourself a favor and change the channel, maybe to Bravo's reality TV selections, instead.  You'll feel better, at least about yourself.

6. Everyone has an opinion. 

Complete strangers will feel compelled to tell you their thoughts about the size of your family (as you try to corral four children and a cart of food down the grocery aisle).  I don't take this personally.  I understand that the size of my family can momentarily stun innocent bystanders.  In fact, grown men have been known to forget everything they've ever learned about sports at the sight of us.

Innocent male bystander who passed us on the sidewalk in downtown Indianapolis: You almost have enough for a baseball team.

Um, no.

But don't worry, with a family of six, there is no reason to consult an outsider for an opinion.  There are enough floating around under your roof to keep you occupied.

Jason (to Audrey): What do you think of Ethan's name?

Audrey: Well, it's not the sharpest name in the box.  (She had told us a few months earlier that she thought Nolan was a nice name, and asked that we please choose something like that.  Nathan was hoping for Bob.  Jack preferred Sunrise.)

7.  You're not going to please everyone.

There's a chance that not everyone will be happy with the way things come out in the wash.  Namely, if you have one daughter with three younger brothers and a houseful of Ninja Turtles and superhero action figures, she might feel a little slighted by the odds.  You're going to hear about it.

This summer while playing at the park, we saw a family with seven boys and one girl.  I pointed them out to Audrey and told her that perhaps, having only three brothers wasn't so bad.

"That would probably be me in another life," she said.

You might also end up explaining probabilities and what you can remember from high school genetics a lot earlier than you anticipated.

Experiencing a bout of morning sickness during my pregnancy with Ethan, I took the easy way out and turned on the TV to keep the kids busy for a few minutes.  I tuned it to the Food Network during a Chopped episode, thinking I'd chosen an option that would bring my day less grief.  I was wrong.

One of the chefs was a transgendered man who began to tell his story of never feeling right in the female body into which he was born.  I looked to Audrey.  Her face was that of someone putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  "So, there's a chance that my baby brother could turn into a sister?"

It doesn't matter how many times you go over the rules of statistics and laws of genetics with your child.  Second graders have their own ideas about probabilities.

Audrey and I were driving home from a mother/daughter bingo night with her girl scout troop.  She was lamenting about her lack of a sister.  Again.

"Mom, surely God wouldn't give you four boys in a row.  I think it's time you and Daddy have another baby."

"Yes, honey, I'm pretty sure He would, and Daddy and I are still getting used to the baby we have."

"Mom!  He's been here a long time!"  (Ethan was six-months old.)

(She still calls Ethan the best baby in the world, even though he's not a sister.)

8. The best toys are the baby's toys (except to the baby).

(They told me they were playing zoo animals.)

Having already had three babies, we assumed we already had everything we needed to welcome a fourth.  We were wrong.  It turns out that baby toys look a whole lot like playground equipment to preschool-aged boys.  I pulled the baby bouncer and swing out of storage while still pregnant.  I never caught the perpetrator, but the bouncer was broken before Ethan was ever born.  I did catch the older boys pushing each other on the swing several times after we brought Ethan home (and no number of timeouts could convince them that there might be a better use of their time).  The swing lasted two months before I found it cracked down the side.  I'm an idiot optimist, so I replaced the bouncer and swing with a secondhand walker I found for fifteen dollars.  Finally, I've found a toy that the older boys don't try to get into.  They simply stand on the back of it and propel it forward like a scooter - with their baby brother inside.  Naturally.  I'm signing them up for the San Clemente Fourth of July Office Chair Race this year.  With all the practice they're getting, surely the can bring home a prize.

9. Your nighttime routine might grow exponentially longer.

Our children used to go to bed with a simple routine of prayers, a hug, and a kiss goodnight. Now, each older child has to rub and kiss the top of the baby's head multiple times, as if I've just given birth to a living Blarney Stone.

10.  Things go "bump" in the night.

You work hard all day.  Night is a time for rest, at least that's what we keep telling the children.  Small noises seem to pervade our nights.  A door is opened, a toilet lid clinked, a faucet turned on (a light left on for me to get up and turn off because the kids are afraid of the dark).  Bigger noises also pervade our nights, most times in the form of crying.  But, Saturday night, at 4 a.m., we were awaken by the sound of steady hammering.  Jason got up to investigate.  He assumed it was one of the older boys.  It wasn't.  It was Ethan, wide awake, banging his pacifier against the wooden slats of his crib like an inmate.  Jason brought him into our bed, where he played a riveting game of Grope Your Mother, yodeled a few love songs, and finally fell asleep.  On my face.  Luckily, his slumber only lasted four minutes.  Apparently, my nose is very uncomfortable.

11. Several couples remodel or readjust how they use their living spaces as their family grows.  You might, too.

Jason (upon coming home from work):  Where's Ethan?

Me: In the closet.

Before Ethan was born, we moved the older boys into the same bedroom, so Ethan could have the smallest bedroom to himself as the nursery.  It seemed like a foolproof plan.  Apparently, we're not your average fools.  I tried to let Ethan use his room like any respectable baby would.  I rocked him to sleep in the afternoon, gently put him in his crib (holding my breath as to not wake him), tiptoed out of the room, and quietly closed the door behind me.  I came downstairs to do the dishes.  Twenty minutes later, I would hear crying, find Ethan's door wide open, and the perpetrator in hiding.  Threats ("Anyone who wakes up the baby during naptime will not get to hold him when it's their turn.") worked, sometimes.  But, something a little more drastic seemed necessary.  We enrolled Ethan in the Infant Naptime Protection Program.  I would rock him to sleep.  I would tuck him into his car seat.  I would hide the car seat somewhere his siblings would never suspect, rotating on a sporadic schedule.  Ethan took naps hidden to the side of my bed, behind the printer in the office, nestled to the side of the buffet in the dining room, and (most often) hidden behind the closed door of the master bedroom closet.

The Infant Naptime Protection Program worked while we waited for the novelty of the baby to wear off.  It also led to a couple of interesting moments when friends or relatives would come to visit and offer to go get the baby from his nap, instinctively heading toward the nursery as I darted up the stairs ahead of them toward my closed bedroom door yelling, "You could try, but you'd never find him."  

12. They eat.  Like Hobbits.

The unfortunate thing about realizing that you're now living with the cast of Lord of the Rings, is that you're delegated to the duties of Craft Services.  You may have just fed your cast and crew at eight o' clock.  But, they are children.  They believe anything is possible.  Even second breakfast.  At nine o' clock.

13.  Some days, it's a bit like Animal House.  

Especially, if there's a big sister on the loose who feels that depantsing her younger brother, sticking a visitor's badge to his underwear, and shoving a stuffed animal up his shirt while he sleeps might tilt the injustice of a male-dominated household a little closer to her favor, even if only until he wakes up.  (I actually have a picture of this incident - because I believe in reprimanding my children for their unkind behavior and then confusing them by documenting it with my camera, so I can laugh at it over and over again.  I chose not to post it for the sake of the child who fell victim to the prank, just in case he ever decides to run for political office, or tries to find a girlfriend.)

My little sister called me shortly after I became a mother of four.  She asked what I had asked several mothers before me, "What is it like with four?"

"It's the circus you expect it to be," I said.  "Someone is crying or screaming every thirty minutes.  The trick, is to make sure the one crying isn't you."

Our circus is one of many rings.  Every day holds a little tightrope walking, some lion taming, and lots of clowning around.  Mostly, it holds wonder, magic, and the excitement in knowing that absolutely anything can happen, and probably will.

It's crazy.  You should totally do it. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I have missed your blog! This is True - even with only 3, but in some whack job way it makes me want 4. Especially when I see Baby Ethan smile with his adorable Don King hair, I want another one. It is Crazy.