I Said Everybody One, Everybody Two....
We love our sports metaphors, and when it comes to modern parenting it's no different. One of the frequent comments I received when people found out we would be having our third child was that we'd be going to a "zone defense" instead of "man-to-man coverage". There is a standard football defensive strategy referred to as the Cover 3. The general premise (yes, I had to look it up since I've relatively football illiterate), is to utilize three defensive backs to provide the good balance of run & pass defenders, attempting to avert the big play downfield.
While my defensive strategy looks nothing like the Cover 3 (if run correctly), I have taken to utilizing the term when describing my approach to surviving the day with my three kids. The caveat is that instead of having three defenders to cover the receivers (the kids), the two cornerbacks have tripped over their own shoelaces at the line of scrimmage, and I am the free safety solely responsible for stopping the big play, or in my world, preventing injury that requires immediate medical attention. And it's not even like I'm a good free safety like Ed Reed. I'm probably more along the lines of Bacarri Rambo. Who, you ask? Exactly.
As we were approaching Havi's first birthday, our second, and youngest at the time, I made the comment to my wife that I was very content with two kids. While we by no means had things under control, they seemed at least manageable. I objectively observed that having a third would likely necessitate us getting a larger vehicle and making some bedroom adjustments. I also felt no burning need to have male offspring that could carry on the family name. Yes, I was perfectly fine with our family of four. Jess responded that she didn't quite feel done, but wasn't ready to add a third yet. Maybe when Isla was in kindergarten. The best laid plans, I guess (pun intended).
After we found out we were expecting again, I tried to think of the number of couples I knew who were within a few years of my wife and I who also had three kids. It wasn't many, and I think I can count on one hand the number of couples who have them spaced out as congruently as we do - every two years. Most rational ones seemed to follow my wife's thought of getting one or even two into school before adding anymore. The national average still hovers around 2.6 kids per family. There was actually an ever so slight uptick in that stat after the 2010 census, which was preceded by a solid 50 year decline in the family size. Of course we've always tried to be just above average, especially since we live in Lake Wobegon.
It is a little crazy to think that having three kids has become the new "big family", and that making the jump from two to three seems, well, crazy. Don't get me wrong, it's absurdly crazy. But consider that a generation ago, a three kid family would seem relatively small. Both my Mom and Mother-in-Law came from families that were probably "medium-sized" for the mid-20th century - 6 & 8 kids respectively. My Dad, being the youngest of four kids, had a small family by the norms of the day. My Father-In-Law was even more of an anomaly, having only an older sister. But these days, going from two to three is portrayed as rocket-launching yourself off of the sane planet. This Huffington Post article gives a good and humorous synopsis.
With three under the age of five, there are definitely a few new-found realities in our day-to-day operations. No longer can I attempt to control the direction of what unfolds during our day. Inevitably we will have at least one child crying in our house at all times. Sometimes two, and occasionally it will be a trio of tears. Luckily(?) it seems like after the third, the volume gets turned down a few notches (or my hearing has started to go from all of the crying and screaming). Unfortunately, despite homo sapiens being the "masters of evolution", as you add offspring to your fold, you do not grow any additional helpful appendages or eyes in the back of your head (despite what you tell your children). As another father of three fittingly stated, it's pure triage.
Fortunately our oldest two play pretty well together, until they don't, which is when they bicker like teenagers (a sign of things to come I've sure). This definitely helps out when Gus needs some undivided attention, like most babies do from time to time, for feedings and bio-hazard clean-ups following diaper blow-outs that go up to the back of the neck. Sometimes Isla and Havi will want to assist, and I should commend them for wanting to be helpful but usually it creates additional work for you. "No, you cannot try some of the bottle, only your brother gets the liquid gold. You two have to drink the watered skim milk, which I've watered down more so it will go further." "Please step away from your brother's fecal matter. Please, do not touch that. Okay, go wash your hands."
They don't always want to help though, and would rather be doing something else. Plus there are always occasions when you need a small amount of time to take care of your own business matters, which you may or may not get the privacy you desire for such activity. This has forced me to understand that I can't always keep tabs on everything my kids are doing, at least within my own house, especially with the two that are mobile and familiar with the floor plan. I can only assume that they're playing nicely together (when I don't hear screams and sobs) with age appropriate toys and activities. But for all I know they could be performing minor surgical operations on each other, doing illicit drugs, or reading anarchist zines.
Timing also becomes vitally important and something you lack a significant amount of control over. When you have kids, multi-tasking becomes second nature (more on that later), and you learn how to take advantage of every seemingly free second you have. With three kids on pretty different schedules, to survive I essentially always have to be doing something, usually two things, all the time. I brush my teeth at the most bizarre times. I ridiculously attempt to work in my "APA recommended amount of daily physical activity" during lulls in the action (more on that later too). And it never fails that once I sit down to give Gus a bottle, Havi will decide that she has to use the potty and need assistance. It is amazing how you can learn to transition somewhat seamlessly from wiping a butt to making a bottle, or changing an exploded-out-of diaper to fixing lunch - washing your hands in between of course (usually).
Sometimes timing can work in your favor, if all of the Gods of every religion happen to feel like giving you a break for a few minutes, and you can miraculously get three kids all sleeping at the same time (like I actually had for about 15 minutes earlier today). When that happens you must either take a nap yourself, even if it is just for 3 minutes, or mix yourself a very stiff cocktail. It's almost better than winning the lottery, and I was actually fortunate to experience this during one of the first few weeks after my wife went back to work. I was brought back to earth when I found out how quickly the dynamic can change for a tranquil house of three sleeping children to a house of pure chaos. It's a relatively entertaining story (to me at least), and I think it somewhat aptly portrays the variable nature of being at home with three young kids.
We had just gotten back from picking up Isla at preschool, and Gus was overseeing my lunch prep while the girls were playing in the other room. They were playing fine, when Isla decided to go upstairs to the room she shares with Havi. As I was dishing up some lunch for Havi, I got a call from an old work colleague wondering if he could stop by. Having not heard anything from Isla for about 15 minutes, I went to let her know that lunch was ready, only to find her fast asleep in bed. When I got back downstairs, Havi had finished most of her lunch, and informs me that she wants to go lay down with Isla too (they share a bed). I moved Gus from the bumbo chair on the island (since it directly says on it to never use on an elevated surface) to the portable crib we have set-up in the dining room. When I get back downstairs after putting Havi down (and miraculously not waking up Isla), Gus is also passed out and just like that I have three sleeping children. My buddy arrives, scoffs at how easy I have it, and we proceed to have a leisurely two hour lunch (cocktails excluded this time).
His departure times the plot twist. The girls are in desperate need of finger and toenail attention, so to bribe them, I promised nail painting after clipping. After their dad provided mani-pedis, I attempt to clip Gus fingernails too, which also need attention. I start on an index finger, and after making my first snip, he gives me the 2 second delayed blood-curdling wail that usually happens after shots at the doctors office. I look down to see that I've cut a small part (at least I think it's a small part) of the skin on the tip of his finger. There is blood, so I grab some tissue and apply pressure, figuring it will stop quickly.
It doesn't stop quickly. It actually doesn't want to stop at all. I go for the band-aids, and put one on. It doesn't stay and it's not holding the blood in, which seems to be coming out at the rate of your average Red Cross blood donation. I double it up - one around the finger and one over the top. This seems to help, but naturally he now wants to put his hand in his mouth and suck on that particular finger. This causes the band-aids to come off, and for a very long 10 seconds, I swear they are in his mouth ready to be swallowed and subsequently choked on. Luckily the band-aids are located (not in his mouth), but at this point he has blood on his face and outfit, looking much like an extra in a Quentin Tarantino film. After a few more failed attempts with applying pressure, I finally get some band-aids to stay and promptly put a sock over his hand to keep him from gnawing on his wound. As he yawns and rubs his eyes, I observe the amount of blood stains covering his blanket and burp rag and hoping he's just ready for an actual nap, and not passing out from the loss of blood.
Of course the older two do little to help me during my frantic crisis management. They spend most of the time cashing in on my nonobservance by jumping on the couch(es) and requesting assistance with the potty at the most inopportune times, allowing you to momentarily ponder what is worse, a kid bleeding on themselves or peeing in their pants. They will relay my nail cutting debacle to my wife when she gets home from work (after they show off the rainbow of colors painted on their own nails), and I will be temporarily banned from cutting Gus' fingernails for the next year. That's alright with me though, we all have our strengths and weaknesses I guess (more to come on that later).
So it's an adventure here at the Bruns' household with our #partyoffive*, and it's actually given me an idea for a new business venture. An experiential 24-hour workshop to help prevent teen pregnancy. For a nominal fee, parents can send their pubescent teenage son to spend a day and night with me and my kids. Highlights to include multiple overnight wake-ups to calm crying children, changing dirty diapers and assisting with toilet usage, driving the minivan while bringing kids out in public, making and negotiating the consumption of healthy meals and snacks, and reading approximately 300 bedtime stories. It's guaranteed to scare them abstinent until they're at least 25, so let me know if you're interested.
*Used without permission from Troy Applen. It was too good to pass up.