Pssst. Listen. You hear that? No, not THAT. THAT is the sound of a mother going crazy. Behind that sound, another — the manic musicality of three young children vying for top billing. Take a closer listen:
“Mommy, I want milk.”
“I want milk too.”
“Mommy, can you read this?”
“Hey, I wanted to read that. I had it first.”
“No, I had it first”
“Stop copying me!’
“Maaama!” (Whining now)
“I want to sit down.”
“I’m sitting here.”
“Mommy, she said I can’t sit there. Humph!”
That is a typical one-minute snippet from my mornings with the three bears — a 5-year-old who goes to preschool in the afternoon and her 2-year-old twin siblings, a girl and a boy, who happens to have Down syndrome.
I never expected to have, or dreamed of having, three children. I had always planned on having two. I thought people who actually wanted more than that in this day and age were crazy. I had solid evidence to back this up, you see. Like the city editor at the newspaper where I used to work — he had two kids himself, but I’ll never forget the day he told me about his friend who had just added a third child to the tight quarters of their New York City apartment.
“You can have two kids in New York,” he recalled his friend saying, “and it’s still manageable. You can get dinner on the table, do bedtime at a reasonable hour, and have the house in relative order on most days.” But add a third kid, and that’s the tipping point. Forget about having dinner parties or even getting out of the house. “And it really was true for him,” my colleague said. “We went over their house after the third one came and it was a whole different world — kids running around uncontrollable, the house a mess, the parents exhausted.” I never forgot that, he said, smiling contentedly at the thought of his two neat little packages at home. I never forgot that either. It scared the living daylights out of me.
So you might imagine how I felt when we got the great surprise of twins with our second pregnancy. I still remember the first ultrasound at 7 weeks, when not one, but two little gummy-bear shaped creatures stared out from that screen. They seemed to be — waving? — and saying “Hey, Mom and Dad! Get ready for the ride of your life.” My OB helpfully informed me after the fact that sometimes older (ahem) mommies, those over the ripe old age of 35, release two eggs per cycle instead of one. Thank you, body, for the egg party.
In any case, we have what I fondly call a brood. And since it has happened to me I can say with firm conviction: broods are the best! Life feels filled up with three — more fun, more energy, more work but more rewards. As my friend Sara once said, having three makes your family feel complete.
When we had our first daughter, it was of course a huge life change, but with one I felt able to preserve a lot of my former self. With three, my old self is pretty much pulverized. And as messy as she is, I have to say I like the new me much better. She knows what’s important and what isn’t (most of the time). She’s not very put together, but she’s got an attitude, and some confidence for once — having cubs brings out the bear in you. Watch out!
And broods are such a great way to raise a special needs child. My son’s siblings have been his greatest teachers, his biggest fans, his worst influences. Now I understand something about the dynamic of big families that I didn’t before: having children can be slightly addictive. It’s not just the magic of the birth experience or those pudgy sausage-like baby arms and legs. It’s seeing your children together and realizing that happiness multiplies the more siblings are experiencing it at the same time. This is not to say that one child cannot be deliriously happy too. But there is something about kid energy that seeks its likeness, and it’s just convenient to have it in the same household. As for three kids being the tipping point where a light hold on sanity turns to madness, I think my co-worker’s friend was right about that. But hey, we’re in Charlotte now, which means we at least have more space in which to be insane.
From conversations I’ve had, it seems that parents who have a child with Down syndrome struggle a little bit more than average with the decision of whether to have another child, especially if their special child is the first or second. All sorts of questions and worries abound: Will we be able to handle another, emotionally and financially? What if we have another child with special needs? If the Down syndrome child is their first, they wonder what is better: to devote all their resources to this one child’s extra needs, or to give him or her a sibling who can inspire and push. And what of that sibling — when she grows up, will she carry the burden of looking after her special brother or sister alone? Maybe we should have a third, they think (and often do), so that won’t be an issue. All of these thoughts would have crossed my mind too if the solution had not been provided for us.
When the twins were first born, I couldn’t help thinking that it was our daughter who was meant to be sibling number two, the “typical” kid, the little sister for our first daughter. Our son was the special blessing, the extra challenge. But now that I know them, and myself, better, I think I see what really happened. It was our son who was supposed to be kid number two. But then some wiseacre of an angel elbowed God in the side and said “Are you sure you want to give that lady a special needs child? She’s a little cuckoo, right?” And God thought for a minute. “Yes, you’re right, ” he replied. “I’ll send along a little helper. She’ll be good for her brother, mostly, but she’ll also give her mother solace when she’s at an impasse with her son’s special needs. And best of all, she’ll keep her brother smelling like a rose. She’s quite the handful, and in comparison the boy will be the easy twin.”
So for everyone thinking about starting or expanding their family, I wish you nothing but the best. I hope the universe gives you the answer you want, or better yet, the one you didn’t expect that turns out to be just fabulous.
Footnote: Here is Anna Quindlen writing about raising her brood of three. It’s a great piece, republished by Lisa Belkin on her Motherlode blog over at The New York Times. Reading it was a great relief to me, because Anna Quindlen talks about how things just keep getting better as the years pass. She even loved the teenage years! Please take a minute to read the essay and page through the blog to hear what these eloquent mother-writers have to say.