We’re 3 months into life with four kids, and I figured I’d write a post about it for posterity’s sake. This is going to be very stream of conscious style because that’s how I roll these days.
4 kids. B and I look at our kids sometimes and look at each other and say, “Man, we have a lot of kids.” Everywhere we go, people ask us if we’ve figured out how babies are made yet. I can’t go anywhere without being told my hands are full (they are!). We are, most places except Costco, treated like a walking circus act. And it’s wonderful. Crazy, but wonderful.
Truth be told, when I found out I was pregnant with Graham, I was a bit shaky. I was never convinced we were “done”, but Peter was a really tough baby and I knew that at a minimum, I needed some time to just enjoy our family of 5. I prayed a lot asking for guidance on our family size. Not looking for controversy here, just saying: I’m Catholic, but I take issue with the Catholic church’s stance on birth control and strongly believe that a couple needs to make choices for their family – after lots of prayer, I felt pulled to research and consider an IUD, and scheduled an appointment with my OB. We were in Hawaii and I was watching our kids play on the beach (at the ages of 5, 3 and 15 months) and thinking, “Wow! I feel really at peace with this being our family. I’m good with this. Two years from now, I might actually get to read a book on vacation.” And then I found out that I was pregnant – while we were in Hawaii. Not a subtle answer to that prayer. The receptionist at my doctor laughed when I called to change that IUD appointment to a prenatal appointment. I told her, “I know it’s funny. I’m not there yet, but I will be someday.” I talked B into finding out if Graham was a boy or a girl – because the kids wanted to know, but I also think I secretly hoped it would help me connect to the idea of having another baby. Life was just busy already, and I didn’t have time to sit and savor the kicks or think about who this baby might be.
But, the second he was born? I couldn’t imagine our family any other way. I will pile my kids in the car or the stroller and I will think, “This is exactly how our family is supposed to be.” It helps that Graham is the best baby ever – we’re all smitten with him. I’d gotten rid of all the baby gear almost a year to the day before he was born, and we didn’t purchase much. I had kept our double stroller (though had told B 2 weeks before I found out I was pregnant – the day I sold our carseat – ha! – that I thought we were probably getting close to being able to sell it and just have a single stroller – LOLZ), the pack n’ play (Peter still uses it on trips) and our bouncer seat and the rock n’ play for visiting babies, so we had those. I found a Britax carseat and stroller system on clearance at Target right after Christmas and scooped up 2 – one for me and one for one of my best friends who was also pregnant after getting rid of the baby stuff. I bought a Solly Wrap because I wanted something cute and new and knew I’d be wearing this baby enough to justify the purchase. I recently bought a play gym mat and a sitting-up device, and that’s what we have for baby gear. And it’s great. I’m not looking disdainfully at giant plastic exersaucers in the middle of the floor.
So reality with 4 kids (ages 6, 4, 2.5 and 3 months): It’s nuts. 4 year olds are great with new babies. Thomas was awesome with Peter when he was born two years ago, and Nell is in LOVE with Graham. We’re pretty sure she thinks he’s her own real life baby doll. Thomas is in love with his baby brother, but he has a bigger life now – school and neighborhood friends and sports, and so while he loves his Graham time, he’s not overly interested. And Peter. He loves Graham. He loves him hard and he loves him fiercely, and the sentiment behind that love is wonderful, but it means Graham is attached to me in a babywearing device of some kind at all times that Peter is awake.
Logistically, we’ve kind of settled into 4 kids easily, though there are some learning curves we’re still working through. The first two weeks home were nuts – Graham was a great baby, but the other kids and their dynamics made those two weeks a blur. I felt like I was just starting to get my feet under me, and then we spent 3 days in the NICU with Graham (he’s fine, thank you, Jesus! – had some gagging issues that doctors couldn’t figure out, but it ended up being silent reflux – which B and I thought from the start until doctors started scaring the pants off of us), but after that coming home was crazy. I was on edge about Graham while he was asleep, trying to love on my big kids but really just wanting to hold that baby who had scared us to death. I would say it took another 3 – 4 weeks – when I went off dairy and Graham stopped gagging – for us to really take a deep breath.
Now that our days are more normal, things are better. I do lose my patience more than I used to, and I’m working on that and asking for forgiveness when I do yell. Totally honest here: Especially earlier in the summer, I didn’t want to play with my big kids. I was tired and hormonal and on edge about Graham, and I felt like as soon as I sat down to play, Graham was awake or Peter was trying to feed Graham a baseball and I had to stop the games and it was way more effort than it was worth. I felt a ton of guilt over this, so I do make a better effort to play with them each day, though the really beautiful thing about having kids close in age is that they do just play together. I think Thomas has noticed this more than anyone and I’ve noticed that in his attitude – a little eye rolling and sighing and what I interpreted at the beginning of the summer to be a lack of appreciation for the things he does get to do. Part of that is normal for his age, part of it is my time being spread more thin – and all of it is being handled with parenting and one-on-one time when it makes sense for our family. Our best weeks are the weeks when B is out of town for work only because I always approach those weeks with plans: activities, help dialed in, meals figured out in advance, etc. Which tells me I just need to be better about scheduling our time and asking for help when B is IN town, but that’s not natural for me as I normally just like easy, relaxed days with my kids.
Room sharing is…interesting. It’s been almost 6 months since we moved Peter and Tom together and Peter does not fall asleep before 9pm because he’s so busy talking. This was a kid I put into his crib at 7 and he’d be asleep by 7:15 when he was in his own room. So, we’re working on that – putting Pete to bed first, trying to give him some wind down time before bedtime. It’s still a work in progress. B asked me the other day, “How much longer do we give this experiment?” as we listened to Peter chatter at Tom (not with – Tom was sound asleep) until 9:15. I looked at him, truly baffled, and said, “Honey, this isn’t an experiment. This is our life.” We laughed, he mentioned that we could bunk Tom and Nell together or put Graham in our room for a few months and give everyone their own rooms again. I feel like we need to stay the course, but I do feel guilt about it. I KNOW kids share rooms all the time, but Tom is an introvert and he craves his alone time and right now Peter is not really at a reasonable age. I KNOW that this will be good for both of them long term, but six months into this non-experiment experiment, I still feel guilty. I’ve googled “making a bedroom over a two story family room” more times than you want to know. It doesn’t look like a good idea. I’ve setup searches for houses in our neighborhood that have 5 upstairs bedrooms – they don’t appear to exist. We will stay the course, but if anyone has advice, I’m listening.
For the most part though, it’s crazy and loud and really fun. I love our family of 6. I do have to make a more concerted effort to spend time with each kid individually. B and I are trying to carve out date nights. Getting places on time (which is important to me!) is tough, and we have to get in the car about 10 minutes before we have to leave to make sure we are good, but we do it. We’ve booked our first vacation as a family of 6 and we feel confident that we can rock it. We broke down at bought a Toyota Sienna (we ordered it over a month ago, but we just got it last week) after trying to get us all to the mountains for the 4th of July and realizing we just can’t get our whole family and gear places in the Honda Pilot. I knew it was practical, but I was reserved in my enthusiasm for that van. But after one day of running errands with all 4 kids in it and I’m googly-eyed in love with it for it’s function (that’s not to say that I’ll want to drive it forever, but for the next 6 – 10 years, it’s going to be great). I wish we’d bought it 2 years ago when we just had 3. Everyone asked me right after Graham was born and school was finishing what our plans for summer were and I would answer, “Survive with a smile on my face”, and I’d say I’ve done that. I love our wild, crazy family. I am excited that as our kids grow up together, they will have the chance to be the best of friends. I love the idea of an overflowing Thanksgiving table when all our kids are home for the holidays in the future.
As for if there will be more? Nope. I mentioned above that I think couples need to make decisions for their marriage and their families – in our case with prayerful guidance – and our family needs to be done expanding until our kids get married and have babies of their own. Could we handle more? Probably. But I want to be present for all four of my children. I want to be at their games, and sit with them before they go to bed at night and talk to them about their days. I want to continue to prioritize my marriage. By the time I wean Graham after he turns one, I will have been pregnant or breastfeeding for 7 and a half years of my life. That’s a lot. And I loved that phase, but I will be okay with that phase being over when that time comes, and I’m looking forward to the next phase, however that may look!