I’ve been the mother of three for eight months now and I still don’t have the hang of it. Mostly I feel like a six-year-old kid trying to walk a 90-pound Great Dane puppy: I’m nominally the one in charge, but it’s difficult to tell that from watching. A lot of things get knocked over. My arms are sore.
Here are a few other observations:
1.) Going anywhere with three kids feels like a huge accomplishment. When Kirby was three months old, I took him, Riley, and Ben to a movie all by myself. Not only did we sit through Shrek 2 in its entirety, I actually managed to buy popcorn and not lose any of the kids. This was in spite of the fact that Riley and Ben kept heading in different directions and I had to track them while carrying Baby Kirby and pushing a stroller and weaving through the 10,000 other people who went to the movies that day. All four of us were happy for two whole hours — even Kirby, who spent the movie clamped onto my breast like a tick.
When I got home I was flushed with adrenaline as though I’d just done something perilous and daring. I’m more proud of being able to wrangle three kids in public than of anything on my resume.
2.) Whenever I’m out with the kids I constantly have to count them. Somehow I can no longer immediately remember how many kids I have. So there I am in the grocery store muttering, “One, two, three . . . okay, is that all? Three? Yes, yes, that’s all.” Then five minutes later I have to do it again.
3.) The bad news is that we never leave all the kids with a babysitter, so Kennard and I are hardly ever alone. The good news is that now when we’re down to one kid it feels like a vacation. Like on one recent weekend, when Riley was away at a sleepover and Ben was down at Grandma’s house and all we had left was Baby Kirby. For two whole days.
At all times, one of us was off-duty. When Kirby napped, we were both off-duty. There were no playdates or birthday parties, only one bath, only one bedtime routine. It was practically like being at Club Med.
For dinner, we ate huge bags of potato chips while swigging margaritas. After the baby was in bed we stayed up late doing what we’ve been wanting to do for ages but which is almost impossible to do with three kids in the house — we varnished our cork floors.
It was like being on a date, maybe the best date we’d had all year. We slopped varnish all over the place while dancing to music on an all-80’s radio station. We made naughty remarks about other uses for slippery, varnish-like substances. It was especially fun at the end when (after three margaritas apiece) we discovered we’d missed several spots the size of dinner plates. We went skating barefoot across the slick, wet varnish to fix them, pinwheeling our arms for balance, nearly weeping with laughter.
Afterwards we sat on the side of the tub together trying to un-varnish our feet. “I can’t remember what I thought was so hard about having one measly baby,” I sniggered.
The next morning I remembered, too late, one thing that was hard about it — getting up at 5:30 am. I also remembered our sacred rule about drinking, which is that three drinks is always too many. Kennard and I trudged downstairs, our heads pounding, to find the harsh light of day shining on our handiwork. This was when we realized that, in our only-one-kid exuberance, we’d neglected to prepare the floor quite as well as we should have. As a result we’d sealed in a fair amount of red Play-Doh, plus a couple of dead flies under the window. Our floor now has an unusual nubby texture. But it was a damn good date.
4.) We’ve only had three kids for eight months, but already there have been nights when we’ve needed three vaporizers. Nights when we’ve needed three barf bowls. These are not good nights. I’ve concluded that we’ve reached the critical population size in which there are enough hosts to allow viruses to mutate and reinfect the original host. We can pass around a bug for months at a time.
Apparently, it’s practically illegal to be as sick as we’ve been. One afternoon I went to the drug store and loaded up my basket with various packages of infant decongestant, infant Motrin, children’s Sudafed chewables, children’s Motrin, adult Sudafed, and Nyquil.
When the checker got to the adult Sudafed, he told me, “I can’t sell this to you. You’ve exceeded the legal limit for over-the-counter drugs.”
I looked at him blearily, coughed, and said “Please tell me you’re kidding.”
He shook his head and informed me that pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in Sudafed, can be used to make methamphetamine. Obviously I don’t have my finger on the pulse of illicit drug production, as this was news to me. I reluctantly handed back the adult meds, figuring that Kennard and I could just eat a bunch of the kids’ chewables.
This was not the first time that I wondered how all those moms with six kids manage. Do they traffic in black-market decongestants? Do they skip the vaporizers and just convert the family room into a steam room? Do they have banks of washing machines to handle all the barf-covered clothing, bedding, and towels when everyone has the flu?
5.) Somehow, even though the house is unbelievably noisy and messy and I can hardly catch my breath and sometimes wonder if I’ll ever again be anything other than a servant, having three kids feels right. Three is enough in a way that two wasn’t quite. Three is joyful, crazy-making chaos.