The Third One
I am judging by the heaviness of my eyelids that it is about 3 am. I manage to pry one eye slightly open. I have no other option. There is relentless whining and crying only an inch away from my face. My blurry vision can make out the shape of a small figure in flannel, Dora the Explorer pyjamas standing beside my bed.
“Can I sleep with you mummy?”
My answer has always been, “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” for the last 7 years. My husband and draw the line at children getting into bed with us and we have always put them back into their beds if they woke up in the night. This time I am so tired, and my daughter’s room seems so far away- it is in fact, about four feet away from mine, but I go for the easy option. My arm scoops down like a crane, cradles her little bottom in my forearm, and in one clean swoop, she is snuggled up between my husband and I. Thankfully we are all back to sleep within seconds. I must confess that this isn’t the first time that I have caved regarding such a request. Why you might ask? I have three words for you…
The third child.
I would love to lie and say that I parented every child the same, but the truth is that it is almost impossible. The more children you have, the more experienced you are, the more relaxed you are, the more things change. We tried our hardest to raise each child the same way, but it just didn’t happen.
Let’s start with the laundry. When I had my first baby Eva, I can recall buying special, sensitive, baby laundry detergent and washing all my new baby clothes before putting them on her for the first time. Then, I happily ironed and folded them all perfectly. My first child’s drawers looked like a shop display for God’s sake! The second child had everything washed in preparation, but the clothes were thrown in with the rest of the family’s laundry and washed with the detergent that happened to be on sale at the local grocery store. By the third child, I pulled the hand-me-down baby clothes out of the garage container marked with the correct size, smelled them to make sure they didn’t smell too musty and put them straight into the bedroom. I was lucky if the clothes made it into the correct daughter’s drawer! As for washing, they were washed with my husband’s dirty, cricket clothes and put carelessly in the dryer because who had time to hang out all those tiny socks on the clothesline anymore? I would use up all my pegs and be out there all day!
Life changes in the way of cooking too. I don’t know when or how it all happened, but I used to be a big fan of homemade, organic snacks with no sugar. There were days when I remember making everything from scratch, steaming organic fruit and veggies and freezing them in little ice-cube trays for later. Now, there are days when afternoon tea is a box of crackers at the park or an icing-covered finger bun from the bakery. Dinner’s preparation sometimes involves opening a box of frozen fish and chips and pouring them on a tray and cooking them in the oven. Meals like this didn’t exist when I had one child, but they are a Friday night regular now that I have three kids.
How about cleaning? I wouldn’t say I was ever a neat freak, but I have relaxed more and more with each child. I have had less time and therefore less worry. When baby #1 arrived, I sterilized everything that touched her mouth and hands. I made everyone wash their hands with hand steriliser when they held the baby. I boiled bottles and dummies and washed all the toys she put in her mouth. By the time I had the last baby, her bottles were washed in the regular dishwater with the rest of the dishes and I wouldn't stress when her dummy would fall in the dirt in the garden and she would put it back in her mouth.
When it comes to attention from the parents, they all received a great deal, but when it came to the last two kids it wasn't as well documented. My first child has the most amazing baby book with every “first” recorded. There are photos of every time she tried new food, tried on a new outfit or lost a tooth. The second baby has a baby book, but it wasn’t really filled out past the first couple months. By the last child, I still haven’t put the pages in, due to time restraints.
There are pros and cons with the third one. She just seems to mould herself into the family unit with not much fuss or effort. We are relaxed and the older siblings always love to give her a lot of attention. A definite pro for us was that the third one seemed to do everything earlier and with less help. She walked earlier, talked earlier, dressed and was always trying to keep up with her siblings. She could manoeuvre a scooter, climb a ladder, kick a ball and put her shoes on earlier than many other kids. It was awesome how quickly she fed and toilet-trained herself, thanks to the help of her big sisters! I can recall cooking dinner while her siblings even helped her with homework.
Despite the benefits of being the third one, there are also downfalls. She ate sugar earlier, so her teeth are the worst as a result. I remember walking into the living room and seeing my middle child trying to feed the littlest one a Dorito before she was even on solid food! There was more guilt accompanied with the third one because I went back to work full time and didn't spend as much time with her. As a result, she didn't need me as much and often wanted her older sisters to help her instead of her own mother.
"No mummy, I want Eva to brush my hair,” she would say in the mornings.
Her sisters would do anything she demanded from them, from tying a shoe to looking everywhere for her favourite toy. Sometimes the third one is more spoiled or attention-seeking. Parents tend to bend the rules with the third one too, because they are the last and let’s face it, we are more tired and pressed for time.
So, this morning, I woke up with Cleo’s little arm wrapped around my neck and her head on my chest. I knew I had bent the rules yet again. I could feel her warm breath against my cheek. I paused for a minute and enjoyed it, rather than getting annoyed with myself for not sticking with my boundaries. I soaked up the feeling of cuddling the third and last little one that I will have in my bed.