I always wanted four children. When I was little, my best friend was the eldest of four and whenever I went there for tea there was always something going on. It was noisy and busy and slightly chaotic and I loved it. Of course, a child's perspective of a house full of children is very different to that of the adult trying to maintain some kind of order. I never really thought about that until it was too late.
When I grew up I had a plan. Of course. Married by 28, first child by 30 and by some strange quirk of fate that was exactly how it turned out. Child number one came and our world was turned on its head as is generally the way. We decided that whilst we were in the thick of it, we might as well get on with making number two and ten months after the eldest was born, I was pregnant again. When she was born all hell broke loose. With two babies and a full time job that I was trying to fit in to four days I thought life could never get any busier. I was wrong.
Whilst you are deep in that toddler thing, you can only believe that it will get easier as they get older and to an extent it does. You start to get a little more time to yourself and when sleeping patterns are restored it's easier to function effectively. However, people kept telling me that it gets harder as the children get older. I couldn't imagine how they could possibly be right but I kept that thought at the back of my mind.
And that was it, or so we thought. We were done with two. Two adults, two children. One each or one for each hand depending on the situation. Our family unit was complete.
Then we went on holiday to France. There was a family staying at the gite next to ours with three kids. Suddenly, I remembered that two children were never supposed to have been enough. A scary thought occurred to me. We could have another baby. I was only 34. There was still plenty of time. But we were just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. With one at school and one fast approaching it, I could see a time when I would have a part of my life back. We could to restaurants and didn't need a high chair. We could go to the pictures and sit through the whole film. We no longer needed nappies.
But once the seed was planted in my brain there was no turning back and along came number three. Within a month I could see the flaw in the plan. With the elder two at school, number three would effectively become an only child. The first two are incredibly close and I couldn't imagine not giving number three the opportunity to have that kind of relationship. And therefore, in the car on the way to visit the friend with three brothers with whom the dream began, we decided to go for number four. Sixteen months later he was born and my family was finally complete.
To start with it was OK. Two at school. Two at home. We quickly slipped into a routine of sorts and things ran relatively smoothly. I asked no one for help and accepted very little of what was offered. I just got on with it and most of the time it was fine. Every so often I would have a huge wobble, weep for hours and through the sobs tell my husband that I couldn't cope for another minute. Then I would pick myself up and carry on. And gradually as mile stones were reached and passed, the day to day grind became easier. Sleeping through, walking, eating without help, leaving nappies behind, playgroup.
But as the actual looking after of them became easier, the parenting got harder and harder. I discovered early on that it doesn't matter how well trained you have them at home, as soon as you bring other people in to the equation, it becomes much more difficult. By year 2 at school, my eldest had begun to realise that other children in other families did things differently, were allowed things that she was not, stayed up later. And privileges depend on where you fall in the pecking order. She is my first and is forging the way. But many of her friends have older siblings and parents who no longer had the time or the inclination to be precious about the things that I was fretting about. The first time she brought bad language back from the playground I was mortified. Now my little darlings hear far worse at home but then I felt like my baby's innocence was being stolen from me right in front of my eyes and that there was nothing I could do.
Over the years all the issues that we have had have been generated by someone outside the family. Peer pressure, disputes, insecurities, friendship issues. They all begin somewhere outside my realm and consequently outside my control.
And now, suddenly, I feel like I have hit a maelstrom. I can do the day to day stuff - the laundry, food, housework. I am used to that. Where I am starting to struggle is keeping on top of each child's individual needs which, of course, are all different. I try to give them each some kind of individual attention every day but as this can't always be at a time that suits me, it doesn't always happen. A request for help with a play doh model, for example, is unlikely to be met with a favourable response if it is made whilst I am pulling the evening meal together. It seems to be a case of he or she that shouts loudest will lay claim to my time. So the eldest , who fluctuates between a sweet and entertaining child and an hormonal monster, and the youngest who just keeps talking until someone listens get more than their fair share of my attention.
But worse than this is the sheer volume of things that have to be done for each child. Compared to some of their friends, my children seem to have a modest list of extra curricular activities. My eldest spends her time performing in one way or another and number two's list seems to have a sporting bent. Number three has so far amassed only dancing, Rainbows and swimming and the little one just swims. The difficulty is that everything is multiplied by four. I didn't really consider that when I had four children. I thought of big, noisy family dinners and exciting Christmases but not the day to day issues of trying to supervise four lots of homework or ferry four children around town.
Each Sunday I sit with the pile of letters and invitations that have come in during the course of the week and my cheque book and diary and carefully note everything that I need to do on the planner for the coming week. But it's getting harder and harder to keep on top of it all. In recent weeks we have had a party that was almost missed, an extra ballet lesson that was overlooked and an optician's appointment that I failed to keep. This is not like me. Nothing has ever slipped through the net before. I run a tight ship and until now have kept on top of it all with relative ease. But the volume of stuff that four children generate is beginning to get out of hand.
To add to my difficulties we are chartering unknown waters on the parenting front as well. Child number one is pushing hard at her boundaries and doing hand to hand combat with her hormones. I need to formulate myself a strategy for dealing with this new development. The one I have been adopting so far of saying no a lot and then shouting at her when she shouts at me is poor parenting at best and doesn't seem to work. I need her to take responsibility for her share of the weekly burden rather than relying entirely on me to do all her thinking for her and it would be quite nice if I didn't get the blame for everything. But I need to not shout and criticise her and be patient whilst she works her way through it. Easier said than done!
Like all things new it is a bit scary at the moment. I am a self confessed control freak and the edges of my world go fuzzy if things start to get away from me. I know that I should try and adopted a more relaxed attitude but then stuff would get missed and that isn't fair for anyone. Until the children are mature enough to take responsibility for running their own lives then the burden falls squarely at my door. As each new parenting issues raises its head I have to decide what I need to achieve and how best to get there. Which battles need fighting and which will wait for another day. And in the meantime I need to buy a much bigger wall planner and some new coloured pens.