I remember listening to a Bill Cosby routine where he said he didn't think people with only 1 child were "real parents". While I disagree with him on that statement, I know where he was going.
When there was only one child in our home, she lived under laser focus from her parents. She couldn't breathe sideways without one of us giving her encouragement, advice, criticism, pointers, consequences, etc. That same child recently looked at me in indignation when one of her siblings committed a rule infraction that would have caused her serious consequences and my response? "Oh well. She won't die."
No one could pick on her because she was never more than an arms length away. Her father began teaching her shapes with flashcards when she was 2 1/2. "Circle, square, parallelogram..." Brilliance in the making. Now her siblings are home schooled and she frequently asks with a hint of indignation in her voice, "Did you even DO school today?" As I sit there, all of us still in PJ's and answer back, "Why yes, we did. We were done by lunchtime. Just in time for a nap!" I wonder why she asked that?
The oldest child was always dressed perfectly, hair in cute little braids, shoes matching...at least she was until she developed an opinion about her clothes. Her mother usually looked fairly neat at least and didn't leave the house without make up.
The siblings, they started that way. Efforts were made to have matching bows, cute shoes, shirts without holes, hair brushed neatly. Somewhere it just got to be too much. Now they wear their PJ's all day and beg the mother to put on shorts and a t-shirt. The mother doesn't wear make up unless she's meeting someone new and frequently applies it in the car!
The oldest child rarely got into trouble. Not because she is so perfect. Because she had limited resources. It was just her and her imagination. You put 4 kids together and you just quadrupled the trouble-making potential! 4 times the creativity, ideas, and, strength.
For example, in our last house, the gate on our chain link back fence disappeared. Just flat gone. When I inquired if anyone had an idea of when it disappeared, because it had not yet occurred to me that my children would have removed a 3'x4' 30 lb metal gate, they told me "those people who live back there took it! So I'm ready to call the police to report the theft when they followed it up with, "It was in our fort one day and gone the next so we know they took it!"
"Come again? It was in your fort?" That is the point when your mom voice begins to raise several octaves. Kids frequently view this as mom going nuts but fail to see it as the danger warning that it is. Apparently when some workmen bent it they heard me say, "I guess we'll have to get a new one" and assumed I'd just presented it to them as a gift!
Or there was the more recent moment when our 6 year old opened her bedroom window to holler at her siblings on the back deck below. "Throw it to me" seemed like a logical suggestion to them so she pushed out her screen and they commenced a game of 'catch the dog's toy' while she hung out the 2nd story window. I now understand why Bill Cosby said his wife would talk to herself!
Now the very supportive father of these darling little geniuses recently informed me that he can tell the kind of day the children have had by how he is greeted at the door.
Smiling, talking wife means the children rose above all expectations and behaved. All day. And got along. All day. I think that's happened once or twice.
Wife on Face Book, grunting hello means we've had a tough day and will you please put those monsters to bed while I veg. Then fix me a glass of vino, por favor!
Then there's "Kari" mom. That, he explained to me, is when he can tell we need a vacation. He arrives home to find the children already in bed. Usually been there since like 4:00. Or lunchtime. The wife greets him at the door a bit like Kari from the Incredibles greets the "replacement sitter" after 24 hours babysitting Jack-Jack the exploding baby! This is when he realizes it's time to get his wife away from reality for a day or 2!
What Bill Cosby described as "The same thing happens every night", bath time snafu, when I only had 1 child I really didn't understand. Why couldn't they just follow mom's directions, bathe, and get dressed for bed? How hard can that be? Our child did it just fine. Now I totally get it!
For your joy, laughter, and sympathy, let me present to you the same skit of "The same thing happens every night" at our house:
I am present for all bath time activities for all children under 10 in our house, mainly because I want soap and shampoo to last past 1 day. So, I put it up where no one can reach it but me. It has very little to do with insuring cleanliness. On the rare occasions when the father is asked to bathe the children he has to come ask where I've hidden the shampoo. I am present and chaos still ensues!!
I line up the little people and bathe them one at a time. The other 2 are supposed to undress, put their clothes in the dirty laundry hamper, then sit quietly waiting their turn. Instead they begin to chase each other around, throwing dirty clothes like missiles, while I wash the 3 year old. "Stop that, daddy is trying to get some work done!" I'd tell them, while the 3 year old would yell their names in my ear, trying to get their attention.
I manage to get the 3 year old clean and dried off and call her 6 year old sister to get in the tub. The 6 year old decides I want to play chase and won't get in the tub. Finally I yell, they all freeze and look at me like I'm nuts. She gets in the tub subdued while the 3 year old throws down her towel and goes over to dip her hands in to splash her sister, me, and the bathroom. The boy child is standing in the doorway saluting when he decides to dance naked to entertain the now wet again 3 year old. I make him sit on the toilet seat and tell the 3 year old to get her pajamas on NOW! She dashes from the room to hopefully fulfill her orders.
I finish bathing the 6 year old, call to the 3 year old, "Are you in your PJ's?" "Almost" she responds. Hmm. The 6 year old gets out and is not quite dry when her naked sister reappears wearing flip flops, a hat, and sunglasses. Carrying a purse. She has the nerve to look shocked when I ask where are her pajamas.
I send them away with threats of a lifetime in timeout and commence bathing the boy. He is telling me telling me how he can wash himself without help and demonstrates the "washed but not clean in 0-15 seconds" method. Meanwhile the teenager appears in the bathroom door annoyed to tell me that 2 naked girls keep banging on her bedroom door. I tell her to watch the boy wash over again and head out to do crowd control.
Both girls are running around the upstairs naked, and when I say, "Go get your pajamas on!" that just sends them in to Vector (from Despicable Me) imitations, "They're NOT pajamas!" they yell giggling and then they are dancing like Gru and Vector naked in the hallway. At this point I usually blow my threats by laughing at them before I manhandle them into PJ's.
Just as I get them calm the boy comes dancing in, still wet and naked, to tell us he's done. The teenager, thoroughly disgusted that she had to watch her little brother shower, goes to hide in her room in protest. I have begun banishing them to their rooms while one bathes in the interest of self-preservation!
Then there's the whole sibling thing. I had no idea that a 3 year old could throw a punch but our 6 year old has the bruises to prove it. Apparently you don't take back the barbie the 3 year old stole from you unless you are prepared to defend yourself.
Of course the 3 year old learned everything she knows from that older sister who, when she was 3 would notice her barely toddling little sister look sideways at her toys and proceed to pull hair and bite. She learned well.
And the shrillness of a sibling who has had something taken from them is amazing. I had no idea a voice could go that high and not shatter glass!
Going to the pool is like an exercise in preparation for a heart attack. My inner lifeguard is still on duty and is quite uptight!
The boy dives and flips where he shouldn't, runs on wet cement, and stays underwater as long as he can, all to make me think he is a second away from death the entire time we are at the pool.
The 6 year old swims better than she thinks she can so she panics every 15 seconds and sometimes grabs on a smaller child thinking that will hold her up. The other day she yells to my friend, "catch me" and swims away from the side of the pool in water too deep for her to stand in. Now my friend already was holding a 2 year old and "catching" her own 6 year old. It's a wonder they didn't all go down when the S.S. Lydia dove into them!
The 3 year old spends the entire 2-3 hour excursion "jumping to mommy" and I spend the whole time wiping water out of my eyes to check on everyone else. All 3 of them want me to watch everything they do so their yells of "Mommy" mingle with the other 25 kids yelling the same thing.
All the while the teenager stands by my side wanting to tell me about something and I want to be present and listen to her while wiping the water from my eyes from catching the 3 year old and scanning the pool for the boy and the 6 year old to make sure they haven't drowned yet. And my friends keep wondering why we don't want to go to the pool more often. Give me a sprinkler in the backyard, thank you.
It's funny how in the moment most of these experiences make me wonder whose neck to ring. Sometimes I even wonder if God knew what he was doing giving me these children. I wonder if we really should adopt more or just quit while we're ahead. But in these rare moments of retrospection when all is peaceful, I think back and they just make me smile. I guess we're having one of those rare days when everyone is getting along and hopefully daddy will be greeted by a smiling wife tonight. Of course we did just go on vacation. ;)