When I first got married I was so idealistic. I thought nothing of the idea of having six kids. After all a big family would be close and loving and helpful and, well, the words exhausting, expensive and exhilarating all in one breath just never entered my mind.
Now some 20 years later, I am a single parent and I am so grateful that I stopped after number three (not that there is anything wrong with more if you can handle it but I definitely would not be cut out for six). The major thing that comes to mind these days is the fact that I am just so outnumbered no matter how I look at it.
When my children were young, I would bundle them up, pile them into a double stroller and make my way around the streets of Toronto, never thinking how busy I was with three children under the age of five.
Now that they are older, it frequently occurs to me that I have three teenagers who in some ways are more demanding of my time than when they were two. I often find myself thinking, “There are three of them and just one of me”. While this should seem to work in my favor, in certain circumstances: I find over and over again that this constantly works against me.
A prime example of this phenomenon is when it is time to divide up chores. In my mind, with three of them, it should rationally take each a third of the time to get all the housework done as it would take me. That is, if you don’t account for the time it takes them to fight over who should be doing what and when; even when I have laid it all out for them on a chart.
Sometimes it is just easier to bite the bullet and do it myself. But then I realize they are not learning from this so I let them fight it out until I deem they have spent enough time fighting and step in to hand out what was already set in place a week before.
Then of course there is that age-old argument of who sits in the front seat. When they were little, there was no choice; they had to sit in the back. As they grew older this became a bit more complex. It is bad enough when there are two of them battling it out, but when there are three, it can become down right nasty.
The air bag took care of the issue for a little while longer, until they each hit that required size and the desire for the seat next to Mom for some reason became prime. (I believe it is actually being closer to the radio dial but then half of the time they all have earphones plugged into their heads).
In time, taking turns became more dependant on speed as they all tried to be the first to call ‘shot-gun,’ the winner getting the prized front seat. As amazing as it was, they all seemed fine with this idea for a while, even if they kept losing out. Eventually, never riding in the front caught up to us and we were left once again with taking turns according to Mom.
Time has a way of stepping in and letting nature take its course. As my son now 19 year-old son got bigger and my car got smaller, it became apparent to everyone that his riding in the back made for a miserable time.
The girls took sympathy and decided he should always get the front seat, which mainly meant driving to school, as he was developing outside interests more and more that took him away from us. Now most of the time we are down to two and shotgun seems to work for the ride out, with a switch on the
way back. Fortunately none of them actually have their drivers licence yet, so we haven’t had to face the issue of who gets the car when: but I know it is coming soon.
When they were little and I was on the phone, they could always find me. This hasn’t changed. Trust me. No matter where I go, it seems they still have that naturally built-in sonar system that says, ‘She is near it - Attack.’ And dare I get on the phone; well then someone always needs something that is of the utmost urgency immediately.
If it were just one person, you could deal with it. But when it is at least two, if not all three, I have to wonder how the universe has stacked the odds so against my favor, so consistently.
While my children are all bright, independent, creative individuals, they also seem to lose it around food. Whenever I am on the phone at least one (and usually more) seems to want me to help them to find something to eat because our too-full fridge yields nothing that they feel like eating right then and there.
It was so much easier when you could just put pureed carrots in front of them and they cooed and awed!
The thing that I find most amazing, though, is how we all survive with only one bathroom. I know we did when I was growing up, but this generation seems different to me.
They are used to being driven around, having answers at their finger tips by Googling, and having more than one bathroom. But the bathroom never seems to be an issue. Every morning they get up for school with just enough staggered time so that everyone has their needs met.
Everyone but me. In order to accommodate what I need to do, I have to get up a half hour earlier than anyone else. If I sleep in, it throws off everyone’s schedule and accommodating abilities.
Some mornings, when one of the girls has to shower, they get up early to allow time for my son, who has to shower everyday. They make it work without me and as I am not being a great morning person, I am so grateful for this. It is worth the extra time I have to spend awake not to hear shouting or accusations.
But it is during the summer months or holidays that I notice how outnumbered I really am.
Being the parent of three, I learned early on that you just don’t get a lot of sleep. Someone is sick or has a bad dream and needs you. This doesn’t change as they grow older. The thing that does change when they are teens is the fact that everyone now seems able to stay up past ten o’clock except you. I still have to get up and go to work in the morning. I still have to cook dinner the next night. I still have to make sure there are groceries and need to think clearly enough to help them sort out that chore chart so the house is clean when I come home.
Suddenly staying up all night with friends is a challenge to them and sleeping in beats the Saturday morning cartoons. And if I thought I was outnumbered before, it is nothing to how I feel to come home to find six extra kids in my living room waiting for someone to call out dinner.
But as outnumbered as I feel a lot of the time, I can’t complain. I am so lucky and I am so grateful for the ‘thank yous’ and ‘I love yous’ and the cards and hugs and wonderful moments I share with my children.
While I maybe outnumbered when it comes to using the bathroom or sleeping or getting things done, it also means the joy is far more than I ever could have imagined.
As they grow older, I have the privilege of discussing their world views with them, of sitting with them through their heartaches, and of sharing in their success. They are all incredible people who care very deeply for one another and I am proud to know each and everyone of them.
While there are a few things I would change logistically, there is nothing I would change in terms of who they are as people. And I wouldn’t give up one single moment with them, whether it is waiting for them to get in the car, or seeing them walk across the street to their first sleepover. Life is good and being outnumbered means triple the good times with some extraordinary individuals.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem