This year hasn’t been my most productive for writing blog posts. Our youngest, Robin has been the hardest of all of them as a baby and toddler, and with his evening crying about sleeping coinciding with my eldest developing anxiety over bedtimes, plus building work happening on the house, our lives have been pretty full on over the last year. Having 4 children has made me slow down with my endless busy-ness late into the evenings, and when the house is finally quiet at the end of the day, most evenings all I have been able to do is to collapse on the sofa and enjoy the deafening silence. It has also meant I’ve had to cut down on any unnecessary activities and obligations (like writing blog posts!) and simplify my life as much as possible.
I have always considered myself very lucky that my first three were pretty straight forward with sleeping as babies. So being pregnant again with the fourth I felt sure my luck was going to be up and this one was going to be some kind of monster to make up for the other ones! How right I was. This adorable, moon faced little boy who lit up our family with his arrival in December 2015, managed to turn our lives upside down with endless nights of screaming and pacing with him in our arms (which we still seem to be doing now, 20 months on somehow!), and sometimes made me doubt how much more motherly strength I had left in me. He has been such a blessing but also such a ratbag. If Immie (my third) was the angel baby to make me want to do it again, Robin has been the baby to make me (at times) never want to repeat it (no promises though!).
Those moments in the middle of the night where you can’t really see him, when he’s screaming and raging about teething, about sleeping, about being too hot, about wanting to come in our bed, and you feel like you could never love him again. And then you come and get him in the morning and see this face and all is forgiven.
Part of the reason I convinced myself 4 children was better than 3 was so that Immie would have a little friend. Having two older brothers were great, but what use are they when they are at school most of the time, and out playing football or building Lego when they are home?! “It’s all about even numbers” a friend told me once, and I think I agree. Robin has finally got to an age where he and his sister can play together and watching them make friends has been magic.
Since having Robin, the older boys have obviously had less of my time. I am constantly juggling with the puzzle of who to give my attention to next; who is highest on the priority list? Robin could be crying, Immie might want me to watch her on the trampoline (at the far end of the garden), Oscar will want me to play football with him and Jack wants me to help him with his homework – all while trying to make the dinner. WHO YOU DO CHOOSE?! Obviously, it usually starts with the youngest (and the food prep) and works upwards by age, but I do find I have less and less time to give the older boys, and this is something I often feel guilty about.
But somehow it all works out. The small moments of quiet when you do have time to spend with them on their own become more special. It means taking out and sacrificing chunks of “our time” on weekend evenings when the little ones are asleep to do a “movie night” or take them out swimming. With their bedtimes getting a bit later (and the summer holidays) the boys have started going out to watch Lance play football. Lance has also joined Beavers as a leader so he goes to this with them every week. Making the effort to climb into bed with them and really have a cuddle and talk about their day rather than a rushed kiss and hug good night has also become more important.
If I look back on my own childhood as one of four (second eldest), I don’t remember ever feeling hard done by having younger siblings. As long as my mum was there when i needed her, being my constant, that was the important thing. Whether she joined in our games or not was never something I considered as important – this is what I try to remind myself to snuff out that mother’s guilt.
Although the older boys get less of our individual attention for themselves, the balance is also weighed out with the benefits of having another sibling to love and play with. As much as they find their tantrums and demands on me annoying, they both adore the little ones and Jack especially is often more affectionate with them than he ever is with us. The boys have got so good at keeping their eyes on them when I can’t, making sure Robin doesn’t get lost in the shops, hasn’t put anything in his mouth or taking felt tip pens away from him before he reaches the sofa… It fosters a responsibility and awareness of younger children that I think is hard to train in any other way.
Pope John Paul II once said “Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom – it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one’s freedom on behalf of another.” When I think about how little time I find for myself, how much of myself I have to give to my children every day, this quote helps to remind me of the reason why I shouldn’t regret this – it is purely because of how much of love I have in my life. Love should always involve sacrifice of some kind, and heaven knows, children ask for a lot of those. At the moment life has evened out a bit – Robin is sleeping a bit better, the children are happily settled into school and nursery, and we have finally found a rhythm in life that works most of the time (finely balanced as it may be): no one is ill or having major sleeping problems, the building has finished and life is steady again. And so we wait for the next change, the next chapter that God has planned for us. Until then I will enjoy the air, the sun on my face and the love in my life.