Three’s A Crowd

I have a lot of children. There are four small bodies (Big Sister, Mr. Twin, Miss Twin, and Little Sister), but they group, and scatter, and regroup into many more combinations. There are The Twins, and The Should’ve-Been-Twins. Big Sister and Mr. Twin have more matching genetics than the actual twins, including both being left-handed (Miss Twin is right-handed), matching dispositions (Miss Twin is opposite), and even a matching hairline and cowlick, according to our kid stylist at the last haircut appointment.

Kid Pinwheel1We have One + Twins, and Twins + One. I can solve the ongoing debate about which order is easier: Twins + One. They already know how to share, and after you’ve held two crying babies, and worked out which non-walker to leave in the car on a cold winter day while you take the other inside, and potty-trained two toddlers, one little body is a plain old piece of cake!

We have a Big Sister who’s as comfortable wrestling in the mud as she is wearing a skirt and playing Barbies, and boy/girl playmates who are happy to oblige either mood. Little Sister is now 2 years old, and eager to join in playtime (or, at least, walk off with the big kids’ stuff), so we have an ebb and flow of 2 + 2, or 3 + 1, or, on really spectacular days, 4 + 0, which means Daddy and I get to sit down to read a book and drink coffee! It might last 5 minutes, but that’s an improvement.

Kid Pinwheel2There was a time when I was thrilled that we had gotten three kids for the price of two, and I thought our family was complete. Then, Little Sister defied every odd and redefined all of us. The miracle combined with the four-year age gap made me wonder if she would be more spoiled than the others. Discipline was easy with them, because it’s survival when you’re outnumbered 3:1! Everyone had the same rules, everyone was told “no” when they asked for things in a store (or, sometimes, “I’ll remember that for Christmas”), and everyone saw everyone else have the same rules. Being outnumbered then created the reward now of being able to take three kids to Toys R Us, and having an enjoyable time shopping for someone else’s birthday present!

Then, bring on one adorable small girl, with a grin and a “pleeeeeaaase” to melt any grownup’s heart, and I thought my resolve might buckle. The first time she tried to work her charm on me, my instinct replied before I could even think about it, “Nope, not today,” and she said, “Ok.”

Wait. What?!

Kid Pinwheel3Maybe parenting is like riding a bike. We get on with no idea how to steer, we wobble, we fall down, we try again, we scrape a knee, we hit a wall, we ride, we go with the flow, it becomes second nature—and when someone shows us a new bike, we find the pedaling isn’t all that different. I also have three big kids keeping me accountable, so being outnumbered still works.

I used to plan my day, my week, my life by the minute. I had charts and to-do lists and expectations as high as the sky. Then, I had three babies in two years, and survival took all my energy. I think Life taught me a lot during that time, but just to make sure I really got it, Life handed me a fourth baby. I’m finally starting to appreciate the ebb and flow. Some days, parents know best. Some days, kids might know best. (Let’s not discount their wisdom just because we have more years on them.) Some days, it feels like Snow White’s Dwarves have moved in, with a Grumpy, a Happy, a Doc (who knows everything), and a Sleepy, and just when I’m used to that, they switch roles. Some days, I’m patient and wise. Some days, I slam doors too loudly and talk too much without listening. Some days, we make a fantastic team, and some, we fail miserably, brush ourselves off, and try again. The great thing about ebb and flow is that it averages out.

I have happy memories of all the fun things I did with my crowd of three, and I assumed that I would do the same things with Little Sister. But, I don’t. The sanity-saving family music class, which got four of us out of the house, is too far to drive for just two of us. The gymnastics classes that burned my preschool crowd’s energy don’t work with my big kids’ activity schedules. Instead, we’re doing new things, like rambling in the woods more, and going out for lunch (it’s possible with one toddler, but not two toddlers + a four year old!), and living spontaneously. I felt like she might be missing the opportunities the other kids had, but, then, I realized that we’re creating different happy memories. Quite often, Little Sister wants her brother and sisters’ help more than she wants mine. In short, I’m not the center of her universe, like I was for my Trio.

20150621-PlambeckFamily-7I’m not always the center of theirs anymore either. Little Sister has taken on the job of waking up the big kids for school. She recently held up her hand to stop me, and said, “No, Mommy. You sit back. I wake up.” She did, and Big Sister reported that she likes it better when Little Sister wakes her up than when I do. I say that’s a win-win. Three’s a crowd, but there’s room for a fourth, and I’m starting to understand the ebb and flow of parents stepping back and kids stepping up. It’s a new journey, on a new bike, but pedaling feels pretty much the same.

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