The One That Tips the Scales

Once upon a time, many moons ago, when people would ask me how I felt about children I would always tell them I wanted 4 or 5. I knew that was a big number, but I loved kids. They were fun to play with, funny to talk to, and they took naps pretty regularly. I was a daycare teacher who spent my days in a classroom with 12-30 children under 4. How hard could 5 children of my own possibly be?

Oh to be young and naive once again!

Then I had my first daughter. We had our ups and downs, but all in all, I could totally handle it. She wore correctly matched outfits and newborn sized shoes. She got a bath every day and we had a wonderfully relaxing, hour long bed time routine. When it came time for my second daughter’s arrival, I was ready and confident. I could totally have the time and energy to devote to two children! Things were a bit chaotic, but she was an easy baby. We got into a routine, there were baths every other day, clothes that almost always matched, and if I didn’t get very much sleep, it wasn’t such a big deal.

8 months into my journey of two children, I found out there would be a third. I will admit, there was initial panic. I was concerned about things like car space and sharing bedrooms. I worried about how my family and friends would react. I knew that people would be much more judgmental about a third baby announcement. I was right. People all wanted to know what I would do with a third child. They looked at me with something akin to pity. I was confused. Wasn’t I a good parent? My two little girls were sweet, smart, and relatively well-behaved. I kept them mostly clean and adequately fed. Why would anyone be concerned about my ability to add a third to the mix? How much more chaos could one child add to our already toddler filled house?

Turns out that most of those people weren’t being judgy.. they just had 3 kids.

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You see, I have found that three is a magic number when it comes to children. It is the number that tips the scales. I know a lot of parents. I have observed, polled, and assisted them. I have come to the conclusion that, for the most part, you can separate parents into two camps: parents of 1-2 kids, and parents of 3 or more. You can generally tell them apart by their attire. Parents of 1-2 children occasionally have time for planned outfits. Parents of 3+ have a much higher chance of wearing a hoodie and yesterday’s yoga pants, or threadbare cotton PJ pants.

I am by no means knocking being a parent to 1 or 2 children! Parenting, by its very nature is hard, frustrating and tedious as often as it is rewarding and fun. I am not in the habit of putting down any parent who is doing their best to raise decent children!

What I’m saying is those of us who have chosen to push our luck and have a third child (or more) face unique challenges. For example:

  • Two children can play together. In fact, if they don’t want to be alone, it is often their only option. And if they decide they don’t want to play together, they can both choose to play separately. Three (or more) children generally form themselves into shaky alliances. If someone wants a partner in crime/ play they have a choice of playmates. This could naturally sort itself out, but more often than not it results in tears, pint-sized politics, and someone left out.
  • In the car, two children can sit apart from each other, allowing for conversation, but no physical contact. Three children take up an entire back seat. The urge to invade someone’s personal space is far too strong to resist. Also there are only two window seats, which is occasionally catastrophic.
  • When you are out running all the errands that momma’s get stuck with and your children decide they are hungry, a snack can easily be split in half. However, a third of most things is not enough to qualify as a snack.
  • Crossing the street with two children is straight forward. You have a hand to hold on to each of them. However, crossing the street with three children means you have to trust an older child to hold hands with her sister, even if she sees money, trash or a pretty rock on the ground in the middle of the intersection.
  • Little legs get tired. Whether it is on a pretty trail in the woods, the soccer field, or you’ve just walked a little too long in the mall, sometimes they are going to need a lift. Two children can usually be persuaded to take turns and keep moving, and if not, carrying one and dragging the other is a feasible (if unappealing) option. If there are three children, the time between turns becomes far too long, and your chance of two of them continuing to walk instead of teaming up to mutiny are slim to none. [Edit: For those who say strollers are the answer, you have obviously never pushed a double stroller on anything other than a smooth, straight path. And you have definitely not attempted it while trying to keep tabs on whichever child(ren) you have been forced to leave free.)
  • Most people mothers can manage to follow two conversations at once, even if they are spoken with various speech impediments and are hardly relevant. The most skilled of us can even manage to respond to both conversations with appropriately time “uh huh”s and “oh yeah?”s. However, if you add in a third string of chatter, it all just dissolves into unintelligible noise that assaults your ears and steadily grows louder as they all try to outdo the others for a response.



Then there is the issue of logistics. I know that, in reality, 3 children cannot possibly make that many more dishes, laundry and general clutter than 2 children. However, that last 1/3 of mess makes a difference in one persons ability to clean it all up. I imagine/hope that as they grow older, three little girls will be a big help in the daily chore department. However, as I wait for that cold day in hell, I am stuck with three small children who love to “help” with chores. I try to encourage any offers of assistance, and I know they are learning, but these attempts almost always require me to go back and redo them later, and more often than not result in a bigger mess than I started with. Often times three.

There are three times the chance that someone will decide to play in in the bathroom instead of the playroom. There are three times as many random breakable/multi-piece toys that people insist on giving children for their birthdays. Three times the doctor, dentist, and therapy appointments. Three times the classes and activities you are guilted into encouraging your child to participate in.  Three times the chances that you will forget something (or someone!) at any given moment.

Basically it boils down to this: If you are an octopus and can clean/taxi/referee and generally mom at warp speed 24/7, the chances are you are already doing these things with 2 kids. If you are an octopus and actually enjoy the chaos and warp speed momming, than by all means, go for the 3rd, 4th, 16th kid. Just make sure you don’t like to sit down, because frankly, its definitely the third one that tips the scales.


A Lesson in Kindness


We recently spent a few months at the beach with my sister, enjoying the summer and trying to get Momma into a more positive mindset. While we were there, amongst the hustle and bustle of Ocean City life, my daughter managed, once again, to teach me a very important lesson.

We got there in May, so the beaches were pretty empty. This meant we got all the waves, and more importantly, all of the shells to ourselves! Bug loves to collect things, and she was thrilled to find so many shells just waiting for her to scoop them up. Personally, I was excited to find so many big unbroken shells. Of course, Bug didn’t care if they were big or small, whole or broken into a tiny sliver. She collected them all. I suggested once, as our second bucket began to overflow, that we consider leaving some of the broken ones and just find the rest of the pretty ones to take with us. As soon as she glanced up at me I remembered I was reasoning with the wrong child. With a huge smile she reached down, grabbed a busted up shell with a purple smudge on it and declared “ok, you hold onto this one and I’ll find more pretty ones”. That is the beauty of Bug. To her, all things are beautiful. Rocks, shells, grass, clouds, flowers, bugs, shadows, pictures, people… she sees the beauty in all of it, without even trying. Boo, on the other hand immediately cause a ruckus by snatching her bucket and proceeding to weed out the imperfect ones, which then got rescued and crammed into Bug’s bucket, of course.

So these beautiful shells (big, small, broken and whole) all ended up in a massive plastic tub on the deck. They played with them every day, washing them in the water table, building towers and hiding them for treasure hunts. A few days after we brought the first load home, we decided to go for an afternoon walk. As we were headed out, I noticed Bug was still on the porch. When I called her down she had a small bag filled with shells. I noticed, and knowing her, decided not to comment on it. After two or three blocks we came upon an older couple walking in the other direction. As  we drew even with them, but waved and started to approach them. We have been trying to work on caution with strangers, but my amiable child is having a tough time with the concept. As I reached out to reign her in, I caught her words.

As she reached into her tiny bag, she blocked the path of the unsuspecting couple and beamed “Hello,” she started brightly, “I am taking a walk, and I brought along some of my beautiful shell collection to share with strangers today. Being kind is a great way to make a friend!” and with that, she reached out and put a small chipped seashell in this man’s hand. I stood there, torn between pride and amusement, or mild embarrassment. Luckily, the couple didn’t seem to mind. In fact, quite the opposite. They smiled right back at my sweet girl and thanked her for the wonderful gift. The man put it in his pocket, told me what a good girl I was raising, and continued on with their day. With a skip in her step, and no further comment, Bug continued on her way as well.

And just like that, my 6 year old reminded me how easy it is to spread kindness. I still don’t know if she brought her shells with the intention of sharing, or if it just struck her in the moment. Either way, she decided to share one of her treasures with a complete stranger, with the aim of making a new friend. And not even a new friend to keep, just one more person on the street who didn’t have to be a complete stranger.

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Being her, Bug certainly did not stop there. Since the first attempt went so well, she continued to bring a pocket full of shells every time we walked to the beach. She would see people, young and old, and randomly decide to share her treasures and a smile. Most times she was given a smile and a kind word for her offerings. There were a few people who were not feeling particularly friendly, but Bug didn’t mind. These people got a smile anyway as she went off to find someone more receptive.

While I know, as a parent in this crazy world, I should maybe try a little harder to remind my overly friendly child about dangers. I try to remind her to only talk to people when I am with her, and I constantly remind her not to share personal details with people we do not know. I can’t, however, bring myself to scare her into hiding from people instead of spreading her joy. I hope that first couple had a wonderful day, and I hope that my little one never loses the ability to spread kindness wherever she goes.