My youngest child turns four next week. He will have his first real birthday party! He has grown up in so many ways since his last birthday, when he was still in diapers, still in a crib (albeit with the back down so he could get in and out), and still using his “na-nas” (pacifiers). That said, even if he has grown up a lot, he is still marching to the beat of his own drummer. He has been doing this since he elected to send me into a very quick labor 8 hours before I was scheduled to be induced (I gave birth 19 minutes after we pulled into the hospital parking lot).
His birthday also marks four years of me being the mother of four children. Because he was a bit of a surprise, we never had a protracted should-we-have-a-fourth-kid discussion. Which may be just as well, because who knows what topics we would have hemmed and hawed about. There have been challenges. He has not been an easy kid. He has a lot of energy. He’s not big on sleep, though as he gets older, the downsides of this are mitigated (more specifically: he’s willing to watch videos on YouTube for an hour while we sleep in the morning). He’s insatiably curious, which means he runs his own science experiments: what happens if I do this? Here’s what happens: things get broken, or he gets hurt. This raises the stress dial on many situations.
But, boy is he cute. Incredibly bright. And so sweet when he wants to be.
And I really like having a big family! I recall reading the Anne of Green Gables books as a kid, and liking the image of grown-up Anne with her six children. Six would be a bit much, but four has been doable. I like turning around from the front seat of the minivan and seeing them all there. I like lining up four plates for weekend dinners, or setting up four stockings by the fireplace for Christmas. Lining up four coats and pairs of shoes…
Since I’ve been tracking my time since the little guy was 3 months old, I know that he has featured in many of my hours. I do sometimes wonder what I would have done with my time if the past four years had not been occupied by another little person. Maybe I would have paid more attention to my bigger kids? (though I hardly think they’re neglected!) Maybe I would have read more books? Perhaps we would have done more travel, but we’ve actually done a reasonable amount of big-kid-only travel in the last two years (Hawaii, the UK, Yellowstone…). While in the abstract it seems like having a fourth kid might have distracted me from work, my particular work is such that this hasn’t been the case. I write about time management. I did not have a fourth kid to boost my personal brand, but people definitely cite it as a credential. My speaking career is in a far better place now than it was four years ago. So who knows. Time is always filled with something. I would have filled the hours in some fashion. So I may as well have gotten this fascinating little person to fill my time with.
Obviously, not everyone wants four kids. Even if people have 3, there are things to consider in having another one. You might need a bigger car (we wound up buying a minivan). Childcare costs aren’t negligible. A lot of the 4-kid families I know wind up hiring at least a part-time sitter (or getting a lot of help from relatives), even if one parent stays home. This is because dragging little kids to older kids’ activities is incredibly frustrating and, depending on the age split, can lead to pushed-back bedtimes. There is a lot of schedule coordination. Many logistics. Two of my boys share a bedroom, even in our not-so-small house. I think this is fine, but we’ll see if they wind up harboring resentment about it.
I think there are upsides for my kids in having lots of siblings — though again, it’s complicated. The little guy is not always the easiest playmate (see above about breaking things) but he’s getting better. And my kids always have someone to play with, even if that sometimes means someone to compete with. When they do all play together and have fun together, it’s a joy to watch.
Here’s hoping the next few years bring a few more instances of good playing, and fewer early wake-ups!
Photo: My boots, plus the kids’ four sets of boots