A few years ago when I was sailing a lot, sometimes up to 4 harbour races a week and offshore ones when possible, I used to get very specific tan lines on my hands. My hands looked white apart from the tips of my thumbs, perfectly matching my sailing gloves. We called it the Mickey Mouse tan.
The other day I looked at my hands and I realised there was a tan pattern on them now, too, a totally different one: fingers white up to the second phalanges then tanned evenly. It took me a moment to realise that the tan lines are caused by my pushing a pram every day, sometimes more than once a day. What a great metaphor of how my life changed, I thought. I used to be a very involved sailor and now I am a mother.
Some people, including my own mother, expressed astonishment at the fact that I am now a mother of three (granted, I was as surprised as anyone when we discovered that instead of leaping from one to two we skipped a step and jumped straight to three; nobody plans for twins). Some thought I was too interested in other, non maternal things like my career (or sailing), others no doubt remembered how much I struggled adjusting to having just one child. Yet the astonishment stings a bit too, as I probably invested more in being a great mother to my first than in anything else in my life and I never had any doubt I’d do my best with more than one, too.
Having three has been chaos. The twins are two months old and have already copped a few daycare colds brought home by Riley. A congested newborn is not a happy baby. I’ve listened to my oldest child cry for me in the middle of the night as I was pinned down by a feeding pillow with two newborns on it; my child who was never left to cry, used to reliably being comforted by me, was scared in the middle of the night in her own bed alone in her room and I wasn’t able to help. Sometimes all three cry at the same time. Sometimes I join in the crying, too.
I feel like I need to write about the upside of having multiple kids at this point of my blog post. How blessed we are to have three healthy kids (despite the copious amounts of snot in every single nose in this house right now), how sweet the babies are and how cute and funny Riley is. How James turned into a great father who is confidently taking all three kids out by himself while I try to catch up on at least some sleep. Mostly though we are surviving. We keep reminding ourselves not to wish time away and maybe one day I will miss this season when I am so desperately needed by all my children but right now I just keep saying to myself that the hardest days will pass and we’ll have the reward of children who learn how to play and share with others (I am sure I will regret these words in the future), who will always have each other even when they are adults. I’m reminding myself that our Christmas will be far more magical for having multiple kids, that I will be able to watch each of them grow into their own person which is my favourite part of parenting. And then I catch myself awash with the same astonishment I find so hurtful in others: how could it be that I am a mother of three?
Some people climb mountains, going all the way to the top where they are oxygen starved, freezing and in constant danger of dying where nobody will be able to retrieve their bodies. Some do long offshore races, soaked to the bone, fighting off nausea and tethered to the sides of the boat trying not to fall out. By far more people have multiple children and while some seem to breeze through that experience, a lot of us struggle with round the clock care duties, sleep deprivation and the constant terror of doing something wrong and scarring a person fully dependent on us for life. It’s not considered special by society because it’s so common yet as a way to find meaning bringing up kids can be more relentless than an offshore sailing race, more intimidating than climbing a mountain peak. We can’t turn back and so we continue on our way, clutching on to every tiny pleasure along the way. With time the relentlessness of it somewhat eases, our kids need us a bit less until they seemingly don’t need us at all – and then we’ll have to reinvent ourselves again. Who knows what my tan line is going to be then.
I can’t say I ever fully planned my life and so far what worked for me was doing my best with what I’ve got and letting things happen. And as I look into two brand new little faces all I can do is hope everything will turn out great for them, too.