Sunday, November 23, 2014

Becoming a Family of Five

I've wanted to post on this topic for a while. After Mattias was born, I did a similar post, about becoming a family of four. Somehow, the jump to five people (3 kids) has been a lot more difficult than the jump to four (2 kids). I've needed more time to truly process the change and not simply spew out my frustration.

Trixie reached 18 months earlier this month. I still believe Mean Jean's Theory of 18 months has validity; that is, it take 18 months to really adapt to major life changes. So, instead of writing a post at twelve months, I waited. It is tempting to constantly write posts under the topic of How I Overcame Something Difficult For Me. Maybe 18 months will be magic, I thought. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that if I kept waiting for that kind of closure, I might never post this.

SO. Without further ado, here are the changes I've noticed in our new, larger family:

There's no hiding for either parent. Funny, how Fritz used to go out to the garage to change a flat tire on his bike and emerge 4 hours later, having swept the garage and rearranged the scrap wood and labeled the tool drawers, all while I took care of the kids. Nope, doesn't happen like that anymore. If you are on our property, it is pretty much impossible not to be with the children/a child at all times. If Fritz disappears into the garage, it only takes about 10 minutes before the boys head out to see what he's doing. Before you know it, they're scootering in circles around the dust piles.  I think a portion of this intense togetherness is their ages, but a portion of it is the fact that they outnumber us, and they're mobile, so it feels like they're everywhere.

The burden falls more often at Fritz's feet than ever before (when he's home). I've nursed all three kids. In the first six month, all that nursing can really start to feel like a ball and chain. Fritz has never experienced this, and many times, I've felt envious of his freedom from nursing. But this is less the case with each successive child. There were times with Trixie when I was happy to disappear quietly into the bedroom, while leaving Fritz to referee the boys' disagreement over – I don't know – a straw wrapper. Nighttime parenting has seen a similar trend. Fritz tends to the boys (who need him less often) while I tend to Trixie. Trixie still wakes up more often but still shares a room with us; The boys wake up less often, but there are two of them and tending to them requires walking down the hallway. And if the two boys are sick, well, it definitely feels like I have the better deal.

BUT I still carry most of the unpleasant parts of parenting. Like triage. Oh, so much triage. Some people like to refer to three-plus-child-parenting as running a zonal defense versus a one-on-one defense. Maybe I'm too harsh, but I think of it as doing triage. When all three kids are crying at once, over different things (happens!), you have to decide which child to leave behind on the Battlefield of Childhood Woes. You have only two hands and some of them take up so much physical space. It's just not possible to comfort all of them at once. So you pick. This sucks. It sucks hard. In the early days of three kids, I was exhausted from constantly making the decision of which-kid-to-ignore and handling the consequences of my choice. Eventually I toughened up and making the choice cost me less. I even learned to have conversations with myself over screaming from the backseat while driving. But you know what? I don't think the toughness has made me a better parent. I think it's made me a worse parent. More insensitive. Less attentive. More sarcastic. Less charmed. More impatient. Less kind.

On practical level, with two hands occupied, I find myself telling the kids what to do more than ever. That would be the diplomatic way of saying barking orders at them or yelling or snapping. No matter how you phrase it, I rely on my voice more than I did before. I used to be much more action/modeling/showing as a parenting technique. But it just isn't as effective when you've got three kids. Sad. I liked the action/modeling/showing approach better.

Family-ness. Our family gained a certain gravitas when the second child was born. With the third child, I feel like our family is spinning even faster. Before we had a spin that created gravity, now we're more like a spinning tornado. Watch out for the centripetal force! Our chaos spin off us and slams into those around us! Words and phrases that come to mind to describe our interactions with others: Tentative. At arms length. Under conditions. Limited. Not that I blame anyone for keeping their distance from us. Do the kids run the show around here? Um, yes. This morning we went for a walk and we had to stop three times in the first block to address somebody's breakdown.

On the positive side, as a family unit we can be more efficient than ever before. Certainly our Costco receipts would lead you to believe the Wyses are running a mini-compound. It's kind of cool: we really do eat ALL of the bulk produce we buy before it goes bad. Ten pounds of carrots? NO PROBLEM. We also have the eating power to constantly have a more diverse amount of food in the fridge. For example, we never used to have all the ingredients for my favorite Brasil Club on hand at one time, unless I made a special shopping trip. Now, we almost always have all the ingredients.

Oh, and you know that thing where the older kids take care of the younger kids and it's SO DAMN CUTE? Yup, we got it. Book reading, carrying, giggling, handholding all over the place. Nonstop cuteness.

Friends. By choice or by necessity, some of my friendships have faded since Trixie was born. I think it's a special frame of mind that you live in when you have a baby. Once out of it, I think we forget what it's like. It's been more difficult than ever to relate to people who are not carrying a kid on their hip. I think of parenting three children like this: I'm treading water as fast as I can. I'm not even swimming. My eyes are just BARELY over the water. I can see a distance of three feet, at most. Can you talk to me about what's within my three foot range? No? Okay, sorry, can't talk, got to focus on my treading.

Additionally, the number of people who can understand the stresses of three kids are a smaller group. I find myself seeking out new friends with three or more children for commiseration. Sometimes I have to restrain myself from grabbing their hand and asking them how they're doing it.

You know: for years I was lonely because we were always moving to a new place. When we settled in here, it was such a relief to know that we were staying; and then to be thrust back into the isolation of having a baby and finding some new friends.... I guess it doesn't take a move to be lonely. SIGH. It's working out, but it's slow-going.

Diversity. I loved how two kids brought diversity and balance to our home. Three kids is even more diversity! That's nice. Sometimes, though, it feel like a little too much. Mostly, it's a challenge to address all the different needs of kids who span 6 years in age. Some of the young (childless) nannies I see at preschool drop off love to talk with me about age spacing of children. They all seem to think it's best to push kids out as fast as possible. They're planning it for their own futures. I'm not sure I agree, but the last 18 months has left me feeling that I'm not giving any of my three kids what they need in an age-appropriate way. Maybe it would be easier if they were closer together in age? Or maybe it would just be more chaotic.... With two children, I felt like there was more time to cultivate an individual relationship with both of them. I'm still not able to do that very well with three children, although I maintain hope.

All this said, holy shit, three kids has stretched us THIN. Frtiz and I are more grouchy, more argumentative and more stressed than we have ever been in our marriage. I really feel like all our various types of resources are scarcer than ever before. And there's not much we can do about it.

For what it's worth, the process of being stretched thin by children hasn't been linear: we were generally happier after Mattias (the 2nd) was born. But both Noah (the 1st) and Trixie (the 3rd) have been had steep learning curves associated with their arrival. I live on the hope that's getting easier – it will be easier – it is already easier – it IS A Learning Curve, so it's not permanent. I hope. After all, I did have the time to type this up, right?

Things that help (What? didn't I mention that it's hard for me not to write self-help posts???): Wine. Occasionally letting the television babysit. iPad Apps. Not mentioning that we've become a cliche. Reminding Fritz that he thought 2 children was spie├čig (translated form German: anal, middle-class in a derogatory way) and three kids was preferable when he complains about the endless chaos.

Also, if you are considering three kids, I think it's best to be really sure you want another child. Walking into the third child as a surprise or half-decision was an additional layer of difficulty.

Oomph. That was all fun to confess.


Pregnantly Plump said...

I'm sorry it's been so hard! I know it is. It is rough. I think it does get better. Two for me wasn't a big deal at all, but the jump to three was just harder. I was telling Bob the other day that we were crazy to decide to be outnumbered by small, unreasonable people. It is hard when they all want something different at the same time. I often say, "There's one of me and three of you. I will get to you. But it's going to take me some time." It's been easier this semester. I think a big thing has been having Cheese Puff potty-trained. It's so nice not having to think about a diaper bag.
And I'm sorry about the friendships. I really am. That's tough. It's hard feeling isolated and frustrated. I'm glad you have all your crafting projects. I'm sure it helps.

Ann Wyse said...

"...outnumbered by small, unreasonable people!" Ha! Both Fritz and I are laughing over that.

I'm always up for hearing that it gets easier - and it does seem like it *might* be. I'm always hesitant to speak too soon.

Thank you, M. Your words are good to read.

Jennifer said...

That was really brave of you to share! For what it's worth, you still seem to me to manage the chaos with grace. When we move, I will stock up my garage fridge with wine and you can run over anytime for a little "assistance"!