On having a third child

My mom once told me that after she had my brother — her third child — she started wearing sneakers every day. Her days started early and ended late, and she spent them gardening, hanging laundry on the clothesline, making pickles, sewing, leading Girl Scouts — oh, and taking care of three kids. To make it through the day she needed support. She needed a good shoe.

That’s the kind of anecdote I hear about having a third child. It’s not the sort of anecdote you hear when you’re having your first or second baby. People tell me it’s going to be crazy or hard or wild. Oh, and a lot of fun, too. Did I forget to mention fun? Also, we’ll pray for you.

A lot of people have told me that the hardest transition for their family was from two to three children. For us, one to two was a challenge, but zero to one was the hardest.

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David was a grumpy baby, and a headstrong toddler. And the other day we were playing at Tom’s parents house and he gathered up a bunch of toys, handed them to me and whispered, “Mommy. Go put these in your purse.” After that Tom added a new line item in our budget: Bail money.

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Even though David was a challenge, the transition from zero children to one was hard because of me. I wasn’t even a little bit prepared for the screeching halt and 180 my life would take. I wasn’t prepared for the physical drain of caring for a child, or how my love for that child would expose me to fear and anxiety. I wasn’t prepared for how I would change.

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I don’t think having my third child will be as hard as having my first child, but I do think it’ll be very, very hard.

Even though we both wanted this baby (And we don’t claim that the pregnancy was an “accident”. Ahem. Did you know I don’t believe in “oops” when it comes to pregnancy?) Tom and I are both a little bit petrified. Mary Virginia will be 23 months old with this baby arrives, David was about 21 months when Mary Virginia was born, so we don’t feel like we’ve been able to catch our breath.

This time, we know what’s coming. The discomfort of late pregnancy, childbirth, recovery, and caring for a newborn is no longer uncharted territory. Though each child is different, perhaps the one quality that links all newborns is that they’re very, very demanding.

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Tom and I sometimes joke that behind our backs people are wondering why we think we’re ready for a third child, “Obviously they have no idea what they’re doing, why are they having ANOTHER one?”

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Maybe no one’s saying that, but if they are, they’d be completely right; it’s exactly what I’m thinking. What are we going to do with three babies?

Nearly every day I wonder at my ability to care for three little ones. Like I said, as it is I don’t feel like I have a handle on my household. I often say I need someone to follow me around everywhere to pick up things I’ve dropped and forgotten. It’s a joke, but the true part is that I never feel completely together; I’m always late, forgetting or misplacing something. I’m always making concessions.

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I tell myself that if Mary Virginia would just sleep a bit better, or if David would just obey me one time, or if Tom would just stop making me cut his hair, then I could finally regain my feet. I know that isn’t true, but it’s tempting to blame the fact that at the end of each day I feel wrung out and drop-kicked.

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When I wrote the first draft of this post, it included these two paragraphs:

Paragraph 1 [originally at the top of the post]:

But, really, it’s not the baby I’m worried about. In the past few years I’ve discovered that I really enjoy caring for a newborn and having a sweet cloth-diapered bottomed baby in the house. Beyond caring for a newborn, it’s the daily grind — getting all three into the car, doctors appointments, grocery shopping, making dinner, sneaking away to brush my teeth, juggling the schedules of three different babies.  Those are the things that I actually can’t imagine doing. How will I ever have time to go running again? To tend a garden? To vacuum and do laundry? To make a cake that takes 12 hours? WHEN WILL I HAVE TIME TO BLOG!?

Paragraph 2 [originally at the bottom of the post]:

Here’s the truth about me: I’m ok with a messy house and skipping showers. I’m ok with eating the same boring simple meals for 12 months. I’m ok with vacuuming only occasionally and never getting to the bottom of the laundry pile. I’m ok with that. But I don’t like giving relationships fifty percent. I don’t like how chaos and exhaustion tempts me to impatience with my kids, selfishness with my husband, dismissiveness with my friends.

Those two paragraphs contradict each other. So maybe I’m just unsure about it all. There’s a gamut and it starts somewhere at laundry, spans to exhaustion and ends at being a good mom and wife.

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I suppose I’m asking a lot of questions. How will our family function with three kids? How will I fare as a mom? Can I trust that God will be faithful in the mundane, day-to-day grind?

I know we aren’t the first people to ever have three children, but it still feels like very, very uncharted territory. (Sidenote: my childhood best friend is pregnant with her seventh child and she isn’t whining.)

Parents of multiples, tell me your secrets. Besides supportive shoes, what else do I need to know? And don’t tell me to lower my standards because, believe me, we did that a long time ago.

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Semantics

David: Mommy, is tomorrow Friday?

Me: No, tomorrow is Tuesday.

David: But it’s not raining!

Me: That’s because it rains some days but not other days.

Since we’ve never really talked very much about the days of the week, I wonder if he’s asking these questions because he’s learning about them in school. So I ask:

Me: If yesterday was Sunday, and tomorrow is Tuesday, do you know today is?

David: Today is COLD!

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Month Twenty

Here we are, it’s February 17, and Mary Virginia is 20 months, one week and three days old. I thought about just skipping this month  — I’ve done it before — but then I realized it would be a mistake. Blogging is getting harder; I have less free time during the day by and when the kids are in bed at night I’m too tired to do anything but watch three hours of the Bachelor. [THREE HOURS!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME ABC!?]

But, as I looked at pictures of Mary Virginia from this month, I remembered that I’m only going to do a few more of these. I stopped monthly updates for David after 21 months, when Mary Virginia was born. Soon, a new baby will come and the same thing will happen with Mary Virginia’s updates. So, consider this post part of an ongoing effort to savor the time Mary Virginia has left as baby of the family.

Also, I don’t want to forget that Mary Virginia had a runny nose for most of this month, and whenever I wiped it she arched her back, waved her arms, and kicked her legs like I was holding her head underwater.

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Here’s a challenge: try to think of one word to describe someone you love deeply.

When I write these, I try to include things that would help someone know my kid. Last weekend I was visiting my sister and she called Mary Virginia a little punk, and a light bulb went off. Yes, Mary Virginia is a punk. That’s her word. She’s an adorable, sweet, cuddly little punk with a curl just above her ear. If you knew her, you’d call her a punk, too. How else can you describe a toddler who lays down on the couch and demands I put her to sleep — complete with song and blankets — but will not sleep through the night. Or will NOT put clothes on until I tell her that the clothes are someone else’s. That pair of pants? They’re her friend, Layne’s. These socks? They’re Gabby’s. OH! Those boots? They’re David. Shhhh, don’t tell. It works instantly. She goes from writhing to gloating and whispering, “I’m wearin Da-din’s boots.”

Whatever gets us out the door.

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Mary Virginia is so verbal; it’s a daily source of delight to Tom and me. She’s a parrot, repeating everything we say. When I tell Tom to preheat the oven to 350, she walks into the kitchen and reiterates, “Pe-heat. Oben tree fidy.” Once I told her she almost fell down, and for the rest of the week every time her balance feigned, she stopped, looked up and said, “Oh. I almost fall down.”

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Because she hears David doing it, she can count almost all the way to 10, and knows a lot of the alphabet. She can sing lots of nursery rhymes and some of the words to the theme to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

She also learned how to say “because,” and uses it like someone learning a second language. I’ll be talking to Tom, using a lot of adult words and to her, the whole thing probably sounds like, “Blahblahblahblah WHY blahblah.” And as soon as she hears WHY she perks up and says, “Um. DE-dause!”

Also from David, she knows these words: mine, my, no, stop, and — my favorite — I no like. She says: I no like Dada, I no like lunch, I no like ni-night. And, after she spent all morning chanting about playing in the snow and I wrestled her into a snowsuit and gloves telling her they were Gabby’s snowsuit! Layne’s gloves! She played for five minutes and then came back in, snotty and screaming: I no like this snow!

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Mary Virginia is very, very opinionated about what she’s wearing. In the morning, she demands her red shoes and red jacket. I consent, and then try to find girly accouterments to make the outfit look a bit feminine. Despite my efforts, she looks like a boy most days. A boy, except for the a tiny pink stripe on her ruffly socks.

Mary Virginia loves playing with keys and ducks, and slinging a bag over her arm and saying, “Bye, bye, see you later!” She hates baths so much I’m not sure when I’ll ever manage to actually wash her hair. She loves eating yogurt, playing peek-a-boo, rap music, scowling at people who try to make her smile, and doing absolutely anything her brother is doing. She colors when he colors, they run laps around the house with their strollers, play monster trucks, and smother the cat together. She’ll even sit in time out with him. The only thing she won’t do with him is watch TV, because if the TV is on it’s probably because Mama needs some mental health time, which means Mama must need to hold her baby girl.

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Oh, did I mention she has a wild streak. Unfortunately she’s a climber who loves jumping off things.

Even though she’s wild, she’s also sensitive and really, really dramatic anytime she gets hurt.  At her very core, she’s a cuddler. She loves being close, very close. When you hold her, she tucks her arms under her body and wiggles until she finds a comfy spot. She wants to be held, hugged, curled up on a lap, and snuggled. David only acts like that when he has a fever.

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Dear Mary Virginia,

I have an app on my phone that tells me that in around 85 days, you’ll be our middle child. Our baby will be here and your world will change forever. You probably won’t remember the days you spent as the baby of the family — the 23 or so months that I spent holding you, cuddling with you, and refilling your kitty cat sippy cup within five seconds of your requests.

With all the change coming, I hope we’ve set a firm foundation that will not change — that you are loved. That we love you so much and you are such a unique, important, wonderful, delightful, beautiful part of our family. You make us laugh and smile and grit our teeth. You help us slow down, read books, come home for naps, and look for pictures of ducks wherever we go. We’re so thankful for you.

At night, I’m sorry to say, you’re still dreadful. You wake up once a night and very, very early in the morning. Like 4:40 a.m., which is actually still the middle of the night. Still ni-night time.

When you wake up sometimes it’s because you need your blankets, sometimes you need me to rub your back and sing a song, sometimes you need me to rock you until you fall back asleep. On those nights, you nuzzle your head under my neck and struggle to get comfortable. You have two things going against you — my lap is getting smaller, and you’re getting bigger. (Actually, the problem is that you need to be in your bed.) But those moments when you shift and snuggle in my lap, remind me that you’re getting bigger. You’re growing and unfolding and soon you will be a sweet young lady. But you aren’t too big yet to snuggle with Mama. Not now, not ever, my sweet baby girl.

Love,

Mama

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