The same week we sent our oldest off to kindergarten, we brought our fourth child home from the hospital. Four kids in 5 years. All mostly planned. (Yes, stranger at Walmart, I DO in fact know what causes “all those kids,” but thanks for checking).
At home, things were harried at best, every day repeated itself like that Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day: wake up five-year-old and send her off to kindergarten; feed, diaper change, feed again, and nap a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and a newborn; try to make dinner; try to eat dinner; try to keep house clean; try to survive the bedtime routine that lasts a lifetime.
Every. Single. Day.
In retrospect, those years of non-stop tiny, sticky fingers, of worrying about bottle or breastfeeding, of “sorry, we can’t hang out because the children need to nap,” I realize I was in survival mode.
“How do you do it?,” people would ask, “how do you handle all the young kids?” which I’d respond to with nothing more than a blank stare and some slow blinks. I didn’t even know where to start other than to just say “THIS UNDER 3 PARENTING STAGE IS FREAKIN’ HARD.”
Because it is.
You just don’t realize how hard at the time.
One night, amidst the chaos of my life, a fellow mother of 4, said, “You know the fog will lift once your youngest turns 3.”
Excuuuse me, I thought. I’m doing just fine. I didn’t even realize I was in the fog, that I was simply surviving.
Fast forward a bit and my youngest turned three, and the fog I didn’t even know existed lifted. Suddenly, I had no babies anymore; suddenly, their complete dependence on me had dissipated. . . and it was kind of wonderful. I enjoyed those survival days; they aren’t far behind me, but, now, now, the fog has lifted which means:
I wake up to an alarm, not a baby crying. The kids wake up to alarms too because they have to go to school. Do they always wake up in their own beds? No. Usually mine. But, we’re all sleeping, and that’s what counts.
All the kids can eat regular food that they feed to themselves while I eat too, having deep conversations about philosophy and theology. Not really, we’re usually arguing about how many bites they have to eat of dinner before they can make themselves a sandwich. But, did you catch that? They can make themselves a sandwich. While I eat my hot meal.
Three out of four of my kids can now puke in a bucket instead of wherever they happen to be when the puking happens. This is a huge step in the right direction.
Three out of four of my kids can click and unclick their seatbelts. This saves me approximately 1 zillion hours a week of clicking and unclicking seatbelts.
All the kids are potty-trained. I changed diapers without a break for over 8 years. EIGHT. Sometimes two kids at a time. Now, I haven’t changed a diaper in 6 months. I’m not sure what I’ve been doing with all the time and money this has freed up, but whatever it is, it’s better than changing diapers.
All the kids shower themselves. No longer am I wrangling four slippery naked kids in a bathtub. Now, I wander from shower to shower yelling over their vibrato-filled-Disney toons: “Wash your hair!” “Not that much shampoo!” “Stop laying down in the shower!”
All the kids put on their own clothes and shoes. They almost never match, and their shoes are frequently on the wrong feet. Whatever. They did it on their own. This progress alone saves me approximately 7000 hours a week.
Don’t get me wrong: even now, I sometimes miss their dependence on me. And, yet, the fog has lifted, and I feel like a new woman.
I know we will have new challenges ahead, bigger, important challenges as the kids get older, and while I’m by no means wishing away their childhood, I’m thoroughly enjoying life without the fog that the littlest years bring.
So, hang in there, mother of littles: Just wait. Soon your youngest child will be three (and then four, and then in kindergarten). Soon, they will sleep through the night, pee in the potty, puke in a bucket, and buckle their own seatbelts in a non-5-point harness carseat.
Hang in there. Soon the fog will lift.
Bio: Alissa Keith, married to Josh, enjoys living a crazy life with four kids. She teaches Spanish and English at Liberty University Online, loves coffee, literature and running trails with friends in search of gorgeous views and adventures.