Friday, June 5, 2009

Numbers

Since I have become the mother of four children, there are certain things that have become abundantly clear in my life. Things that weren't as clear when I just had three kids, and certainly not before then. There is a knowledge that seems to be inherent in having a large family. There really is no other way to explain it.

When I had one kid, I couldn't seem to get anywhere on time. I was perpetually running late for doctor's appointments. If there was anywhere that I had to be at a set time, I could virtually guarantee that I wouldn't get there on time. It was a physical impossibility. Surely it was because I thought, incorrectly, that I couldn't attempt to go anywhere without having a fully stocked diaper bag, several toys, pacifiers, changes of clothes, etc.

Having four kids, you would think that it would be even harder for me to get anywhere on time. Truth is, I'm almost never late and usually arrive early for things. I figured out at some point when Ashley was a baby that I didn't need 90% of the stuff in the diaper bag, and the other 10% could just be stashed in the car. All I really ever needed was a diaper, wipes and some kind of kid-friendly snack food. Everything else was just more stuff to carry.

I get where I need to go these days because I have perfected the science of timing. I know precisely the amount of time that it takes for me to shower and get ready, whether I am happily alone or multitasking by washing one or both of the girls. I know exactly how far in advance I need to start my departure from the house. I know how long it takes for everyone to go to the bathroom, to find, match and put on socks and shoes. I know how long it will take to feed AJ and get him changed and into his car seat. And I know how long it takes me to do Ally's hair in at least 6 different ways. It's a science.

It's not a science that I couldn't have perfected with one child, or two, or three. It's just one that I never had to worry about until I got up in the numbers. Long before AJ was born, it was obvious that I needed to get really good at getting a lot of things done. I needed to be really organized. And I needed to perfect multitasking.

Another one of the things that has become clear with having four kids is that they have to behave. There isn't any other option. I get compliments from strangers all the time about how well behaved my kids are. It's not that they are terribly good at impulse control and are always angelic. It's that they learned, as did I, that bad behavior just isn't acceptable when there are this many people involved. I can't let them slide. I can't let someone wander off in a store to look at the things that catch their eye. I can't do it because if I do, someone else will inevitably wander in the exact opposite direction. And I simply cannot be in two places at once. They know that if they act up, we will leave and go home. No matter what. They know that they have to listen.

One of the strategies that appeared when AJ was born is a little thing I call forced compliance. No idea where it came from, but it seems to work pretty well. When the kids are being uncooperative, I stop and just tell them what they are going to do. And then I make them say, "Yes, Mom". You wouldn't think that something that simple works, but it seems to have magic powers. It's amazing.

I think part of it is that when you only have one or two kids, you can tolerate a certain level of naughtiness. You can look the other way, ignore the little things. You can do this because you have two hands, and there are only two of them. Worst case scenario, you can make them put something down, make them leave, make them sit. When you have four kids, the odds are no longer in your favor. I only have two hands. I can't make them do very much. I can wrangle most of them, sure. But I can't physically control all of them at the same time. It's impossible. I know this, but fortunately they haven't figured it out yet.

I get comments a lot about the kids, and questions from people about how hard it is to have them. It's not easy, it's true. But it's also not as hard as most people think. I honestly think that the transition to two kids is the hardest.

When you have your first child, everything is hard. You are learning everything for the first time, and are completely overwhelmed. And then you have another one. And not only are you still learning everything with the first one, but now you have another needy little person to take care of. Someone always needs you, and sometimes more than one someone needs you. It is a hard thing to get used to.

Having the third isn't as hard, which seems strange to most moms I talk to - at least the ones with one or two kids. They can't fathom how it isn't really, really hard to have three. The learning curve just isn't as steep, mostly because you have already gotten used to the reality that more than one person needs you. You are used to spreading yourself. By the time we had the fourth, it was literally just a matter of making room in the house and throwing another car seat in the van.

I never really pictured myself with a big family. We always planned to have two kids, but the plans changed. One thing that people always seem to question is how you can love another kid the same as you love the first. The moms tentative about adding another child to their family. How can you love the third as much as the second? It's easy. You just do. It's not a matter of scooting over and making room for them in your heart. Of giving everyone a smaller piece, a little less attention and love. It's a matter of finding the pieces of your heart that you never knew existed. And find them, you will.

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