This week, Emily does the big reveal on her ‘secret’ behind surviving juggling three very young children…
Previous columns have alluded to the lack of originality apparent in remarks from well-meaning, yet misguided passers-by. (If you missed my thoughts on this, here’s a quick summary: DON’T ask me if multiples run in my family, DON’T ask if they’re identical, and DON’T ask if I knew I was having twins. You may, however, ask if I would like some babysitting assistance, or indeed a second glass of wine. The answer to both questions will be a resounding yes).
A frequent query is how on earth do you do it? Some days I feel a more apt line of interrogation would seek to establish just why on earth I do it, but nevertheless, it is a reasonable question. I fear I may be setting sail into treacherous waters by releasing my answer into the public domain, however, I’ll just whisper it very quietly. Routine. There, it’ done. Bring out the placards of protest and label me a bad mother if you must, but my life is ruled by the clock. As a mother of one, it is easy to be flexible. I have no doubt that with large age gaps it is achievable with two. With three children under sixteen months it is not only impossible to pander to the whims and fancies of each child in turn, but frankly undesirable, unless you wish your house to resemble a bomb-site and your fridge a ghetto of unwanted veg.
Parents on the baby-circuit are divided into two camps; those for whom the word routine is akin to feeding one’s newborn diet Coke, and those who worship at the altar of the likes of Gina Ford. Parents of multiple children almost always fall firmly in the latter camp. There is a simple technique to finding out where your new baby friends sit; simply send out a round-robin e-mail at precisely 12 noon. Within thirty seconds there will be a flurry of responses from fellow nazi-mothers, whose babies were allocated fifteen minutes of pea and pear puree before being hurtled upstairs to a darkened room and hypnotised into a two-hour sleep. The remainder of your friends’ e-mails will filter through over the next few hours, days and weeks, typed hurriedly between impromptu feeds, nappy changes and yogic baby massage. It is of course just as well not everyone subscribes to the Goddess of Routine; the National Grid can barely cope as it is with the upsurge in power required at 9am, noon and 7pm, as Stepford mothers across the country simultaneously switch on household appliances.
For the first three weeks of multiple motherhood, I went with the flow. I demand breastfed and watched the dirty dishes snake across the kitchen. I allowed the babies to fall asleep when they wanted; held them when they didn’t, and watched the laundry rise, Pisa-like, above the washing basket. Finally, I watched my marbles drop one by one out of my post-partum mind and disappear into an abyss of nappies, as I neither slept nor ate. Something had to give. Without regular feed times, I was forever breastfeeding, becoming an expert at feeding whilst loading the dishwasher, bathing a toddler or preparing a casserole. Occasionally the babies demands would sync and I’d perform the circus display that is a tandem breast-feed, only for the toddler to choose that very moment to wreak havoc in another room, forcing me to leap up to intervene, a baby swinging from each nipple.
Fast-forward a few weeks and The Routine was entrenched into our lives, transforming the household into a Contented Little Family. Three children sleeping on cue and a two hour daily lunch-break for me, as I blow a whistle and babies troop, Von Trapp like, up the stairs. Of course, I can’t leave the house for longer than an hour, being forced to refuse all lunch invitations and can’t stay anywhere overnight without black-out blinds, but it’s a small price to pay for my sanity. Show me a mother of more than two small children who doesn’t have a routine, and I’ll show you her Valium prescription.
Emily Carlisle is a freelance writer living in the Cotswolds with her husband and three small children. You can read her take on extreme parenting at More Than Just a Mother.