I remember the moment. I was walking down our New England driveway with my friend Trish, who had five children compared to my one toddler. And she said, quite casually, “Sometimes I think having one kid was hardest. You’re just alone all day and you feel like you’re talking to yourself. Once there’s more, they’re never all going through crises at once. Maybe one is going through a really difficult phase, but another is just learning how to read or asking really interesting questions. One doesn’t nap, but one does. And you have someone to talk to all day.”
I remembered what she said, but I’m not really sure I believed it, not at first. There were days, especially before my firstborn began to talk, when it felt like I was just hanging out with something volatile, like a cute alarm clock, or maybe some sort of ticking time bomb. I’d be exhausted and lulled into a false sense of security, reach for my book, and BLAMO! Baby’s screaming, alarm’s off and now you have to figure out how to disarm the bomb. One was really hard! Surely more than one would be HARD multiplied by X number of children, right?
But I’m here to tell you that hasn’t really been the case, at least for me. In very many ways, three is easier than one.
For one thing, I can’t take the crises and regressions and challenges as seriously. Roo wouldn’t go down for her morning nap but hey!!! We have to do school now so I can’t spend any more time trying to get her down while reviewing everything I’ve read about how sleep deprivation damages kids neurologically. Someone’s had a huge playground meltdown but someone else has been perfectly polite to the children’s librarian. Every day I get in a fight with someone, and every day someone else gives me top-rate snuggles, and it’s usually not the same kid two days running.
And with three, I can’t see them, usually, as overmuch a reflection on me. Three gives me a wide enough sample to see that my kids seem to come pretty much pre-assembled with their own strengths and weaknesses. I can claim some clear parenting victories, I guess (nappism, maybe) and admit weaknesses in others (picky eating, for starters), but mostly, they are just themselves, and I’m along for the ride. It doesn’t mean I’m not embarrassed when someone acts out in public, but it does mean that it’s easier to see that their failures aren’t always my failures.
And along the way, I get to see the friendships that are developing between these three little personalities. They’re still so little that it doesn’t usually mean that I get heaps more freedom. (If I leave Pippin alone he’s pretty reliable, but if I leave him with Scout there’s usually just an endless round of tattling.) I can see the future, though, and it is good: little kids enjoying more freedom because of Pippin’s benevolent dictatorship and Pippin enjoying more pride and responsibility because of his little sisters. Someday it will mean less of me entertaining three than I would one — even if it will also mean much more housework than in the days of one kid.
I do remember when Scout was a baby asking my friend Abbey, who has four children, what to do when all the kids are screaming at once. “I think you just survive it,” she answered with a wry smile.
There is, it must be admitted, a lot more noise in our house now that I share it with three screeching eels instead of one. But when I think of those hushed, interminable afternoons at home with a single baby, more than nostalgia for whole books finished in one sitting, I remember the bored dread. I was just surviving it, waiting for the world to open back up, and now I’m knee-deep in all the chaotic joy of a passel of little folks. Except for when everyone’s screaming (let’s be honest, a not infrequent occurrence) I feel like these days I’m beyond survival mode and mostly thriving.
Three is noisy, but it certainly isn’t boring.