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Like A Train Wreck (In a Good Way)
By Jennifer Eyre White
My favorite thing about being a writer has been the emails I've gotten from other parents, many of whom have asked me for advice on whether to have a third child. Since I have trouble figuring out whether I should have had a third kid myself -- even 16 months after the fact -- I'm probably not qualified to offer an opinion.
But if I were going to offer one, I'd start by asking some questions. Questions like, "How close are you to a Starbucks drive-through?" "Do you have easy access to a variety of high-quality medications?" "Are you comfortable with the idea of needing a cattle prod -- or possibly a border collie -- to control your herd of young?"
Lately I've been thinking that the most important question I should ask is, "What's your tolerance for noise?" Because the difference between two kids and three is about 80 decibels.
I know this because I've had the opportunity to do repeated back-to-back comparisons. See, we have a non-traditional family situation here--my daughter Riley has a different dad than my two younger kids, and she spends every other week at her dad's house. So we go back and forth between having two kids and three. Trust me when I say that even two feral little boys can't generate the noise level that the three of them create when they're together. It's like they feed off of each other, with each kid cranking up their volume to compete with the others. Maybe I should have devoted my engineering career to developing home noise cancellation devices. Seriously.
Anyway, I briefly forgot how noisy three kids can be when Kennard and I went on a four-day vacation without them. The morning after we returned we were sitting at the kitchen counter trying to have a conversation, when we noticed something. The kids were doing what they usually do -- running in circles around the dining room table and howling like wild animals and periodically crashing into things. But something seemed different. Kennard looked at me in puzzlement and said, "Was our house always this loud? Because it seems a lot louder now."
"WHAT?" I said, leaning closer to him.
"I SAID, WAS OUR HOUSE ALWAYS THIS LOUD?"
"I THINK SO," I yelled. "IT'S KIND OF ANNOYING, HUH."
In fact, ever since Baby Kirby was born, our house often sounds a lot like a train wreck. It's just that before our trip we were used to it, and after our trip we weren't. It took us several days (and most of a bottle of Advil) to readjust to our native environment.
This readjustment period served as an interesting reminder of how our house must seem to other people. Sometimes when friends come to visit us, friends who have no kids or perhaps only one, they get a certain look in their eyes. It's a look that says, essentially, YIKES. I usually offer them an Advil.
We find it's best to keep an ample supply of painkillers on hand because our house not only sounds like a train wreck, it often feels like one. Like yesterday, when I was standing in the living room sorting mail with little Kirby playing quietly nearby. Four-year-old Ben came hurtling around the corner clutching something in his hand, with ten-year-old Riley close on his heels. Ben slammed into me and nearly knocked me off my feet. (He's a skinny little guy, barely on the weight charts, but thanks to physics he's still capable of flattening me. This is because Force = Mass times Acceleration, and I'd guess he's in about the 98th percentile for acceleration.)
"OOOF," I gasped, putting a hand out to catch myself against the wall. Ben fell backwards onto his butt and started crying. Kirby started bawling too, just to keep him company.
"WHAT WAS THAT?" Kennard yelled from the kitchen.
"THAT WAS THE SOUND OF MY RETINAS DETACHING," I yelled back. "I THINK I HAVE SHAKEN MOTHER SYNDROME."
"WHAT?" he yelled.
These days, we live our lives mostly in upper case. Whole days go by when we forget what lower case letters are for.
Riley yelled, "MAAAAMMAAAAAAA, BEN STOLE MY SHIN GUARDS!"
To which I responded, "AND I SHOULD CARE ABOUT THAT . . . WHY?"
This response is a form of self defense; if I get in the middle of their arguments it's like volunteering to be the pinata at a kid's birthday party. And anyway, I can't involve myself in all their problems. When the three of them are at home, the average amount of time between some kid crying and calling MAMA is about 4.2 minutes --less if I'm on the phone or attempting anything related to personal hygiene. (I recently got a new cell phone, and Kennard asked me what ring tone I wanted. "You need to pick one that you'll recognize as yours," he said helpfully. "Do they have one where the phone says 'Mama! MAMAMAMAMAMA!!!' and then bursts into tears if I don't answer it within 2 seconds?" I said.)
Yeah, it's noisy in our house, but the truth is that this noise, this chaos, was actually what Kennard and I wanted. Maybe we never said to each other, "We want a really loud train wreck of a house, so let's breed like bunnies." But we did agree that we thought it would be more fun and less lonely for us -- and for the kids -- if we had a bigger family. I suppose I imagined that our family would be sort of like an unending summer camp -- a happy, raucous place where there was always a lot happening and other kids to play with.
On good days, when Riley is here and we're in full swing, it is like that. So I was right. I will say, however, that the camp counselors have a serious attitude problem. Rarely do I wake up and think, "Oh bliss, oh joy, it is morning time again in my happy, summer-camp-like family!" Mostly I think things like, "Where's my damn coffee?" And, "Why can't any child in this house sleep past 7?" And, "Was I in a train wreck yesterday?" And, "Three freakin' kids! WHAT WAS I THINKING??"
The fact is, Kennard and I have given up a lot of things to have three kids, and quiet is only one of them. Is it worth it? Yeah, mostly. Depends on when you ask.
So, should you have three kids? Heck, why not. But don't say I didn't warn you about the noise.
This essay originally appeared on literarymama.com.