Dear Dave

Friday 5 September 2008

A seat at the table

Dear Dave,

So... Are you thinking of having another one yet?

Yes, yes, I know you're fed up with people asking. I know you're tired of giving vague answers in reply. And I know you've had enough of spending your mornings avoiding going into details on the subject during coffee time at parent and toddler.

I'm still asking anyway.

Remember, though, I'm not asking if you are going to have another one. I'm asking if you're thinking about it... because you should be. If you and Liz decide you're not going to have any more children, then you can surprise the more inquisitive souls at toddler group by off-loading cribs and babygros and goodness knows what else on them while they're holding a hot cup of coffee and can't run away. It will help you clear some serious space in your house.

If, however, you do determine there's an empty slot at your kitchen table, there are plenty of advantages to having your third child sooner rather than later. You're still in the habit of changing nappies, pushing a buggy, sleeping poorly and barely having a moment of peace. In another couple of years, Daisy will be three and you'll hopefully be beyond that. You'll definitely be looking forward to being beyond that. Going back to Nappy 1 will be difficult.

As far as the kids themselves are concerned, there's much more chance of them sticking together and treating each other as equals if their ages are close together. I'm the youngest of four but the nearly-ten-year gap between me and the next one up means I sort of missed out on being part of a big family. I was both a youngest child and an only child, which has doubtless messed with my head in all kinds of interesting ways. In contrast, Fraser and Lewis are merely twenty-two months apart and act like an old married couple, frequently bickering but banding together when threatened and feeling confused when separated for any great length of time. What's more, they're starting to treat Marie less like a pet, so the three of them may soon be able to find stuff to do that they can all enjoy and participate in. I'll be able to set them playing Monopoly and sneak off for a lie down.

Oh, and as a bonus, if you get cracking in the near future, your kids will be grown up and out the door a year or two before you feel compelled to join a bowls club.

Of course, there are disadvantages. Having three young children at the same time is a little... tiring. It's almost constant effort. Oddly, though, I do find that having more around can make things 'easier'. As I've already said, they can entertain each other, but when they don't, I have the option of distraction tactics. If Marie is pestering me, I can send her off to find out what Lewis is doing. She'll either end up watching him or wandering after something pink and shiny she passes on the way. I can easily buy myself twenty minutes. If Lewis has been talking for half an hour about his latest Mario game, I can claim any number of legitimate reasons to go check on Marie. Lewis will have gone to harangue Fraser by the time I get back. If Fraser then arrives to complain that Lewis won't stop talking, I can send him to go tell Lewis to find Marie, who will doubtless wonder what's going on and send Lewis to find Fraser to ask why I sent him to tell Lewis to find her. In turn, he will... Well, you get the idea. The possibilities for miscommunication, confusion and endless traipsing around the house become vast at this point.

If I tip-toe into the cupboard under the stairs with a book and a torch, it'll hours before they notice I'm gone.

Three children means there's never any sitting around wondering what to do and I don't get trapped playing Snakes and Ladders all afternoon. There's always something that has to be done, always someone who wants their turn. The times when I only have one to look after are tedious in comparison - there's less challenge, more repetition and little chance of being left alone. They follow me around, demanding to play Mouse Trap. Eventually, I have to give in...

Admittedly, having more kids means less 'quality time' for each child. Three children puts you on the border between involved parenting and crowd control. Stimulation and nurturing give way to organisation and peace-keeping. Four or five family members speaking at once means that conversations cease to have a gentle to-and-fro dynamic like tennis - they end up more like dodgeball. This is stimulating in its own way, certainly, but can be overwhelming (and loud).

I just have to hope that having to share my attentions is teaching the kids self-reliance and patience, while dealing with each other is helping them learn to be considerate and cooperative.


OK, that doesn't appear be happening but I don't care, to be honest. They seem pretty happy to have each other around and we're glad we've got them. That's about as much as we can ask for.

There are plenty of reasons for and against having more children but, truth be told, they're not that important. This isn't necessarily a logical decision. Any biological difficulties aside, it really does come down to how empty that seat looks at the kitchen table.

When we announced Marie was on the way, we had a markedly different response from people than we'd had with the boys. Quite a few checked we were pleased before wishing us congratulations. Life wasn't going hugely well for us at the time and choosing to have another child must have seemed to verge on foolishness.

We definitely felt we were missing one, though. We knew our difficulties would pass eventually and that we wouldn't get another chance to have a little brood of wee ones. With these things in mind, we never felt we were unable to cope. Even when it turned out that Marie was a difficult baby, we were able to keep going.

Having said that, we felt quite stretched for months at a time. We had enough slack in the system to deal with her horrendous sleeping, constant illness and willful craziness but we've maybe reached our limit.

We could manage another one like Lewis. He was very contented as a baby. He smelled terrible but that wasn't so bad. It didn't keep us awake at night, for instance. Marie, meanwhile, refused to eat or sleep. She'd regularly wake up at 3 in the morning to cry for a couple of hours. (She was probably annoyed that she was tired and hungry.)

I can't really be doing with that again.

We might get another Lewis...

...we'd have to be prepared for a Marie.

I love her dearly but our kitchen table is looking pretty full right now.

How about yours?

Yours in a woman's world,


PS We were visiting my parents last year and an old lady at church asked me, "Are you planning any more?"

I laughed nervously at the thought but before I could answer properly, my mum did it for me. "Three children is plenty for anyone," she said.

Hello!? Your fourth child standing right here, mum...


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