To Moms of Only Little Kids: psst, the magic number is ten

Dear Mom With Two or Three or More Small Children,

Your life is hard right now. I know, I've been there. You wanted these children, or maybe you didn't at first (oops) but you do now, and you love them like you never imagined you could love anything, but also they frustrate and overwhelm and scare you.

You are, or at least you think you should be, grateful to be able to stay home with your kids, but you also fantasize like a junkie about where your next shower is coming from and sometimes you think maybe when your husband comes home from work you'll just hand him the baby and run out the door and keep running for a long, long time. (Maybe your husband is awesome and sometimes lets you actually do it.)

You are a good Catholic, which means you want to/think you should/are resigned to the fact that you probably will have more. But right now you can't understand how that could be possible because even though it is great, mostly IT IS HARD.

Well, I've got good news and bad news for you: It's going to get better. But not really, really soon.

I'm not sure the rule applies to smaller families, but I can tell you from my own personal experience and that of friends who also have many children . . . Your life will become unimaginably easier when your oldest child turns ten.
And if you're thinking "Um, that's great, but my oldest is two, so this does not help me..."

Well, then you're where I was when I first found out.

We were guests in the home of the husband's college mentor, who has eleven children (plus one in heaven). The kids were aged 3-21 at the time and the family was (and still is I'm sure) uh-may-zing. They ran like a well-oiled machine.

MY kids were 2 months and 21 months old on our trip and we had already made one emergency room visit for what turned out to be a mild case of swimmer's ear and my son had peed in their easy chair. So, pretty standard vacation so far.

And, kind of out of the blue, the dad of all these polite and good-looking children who did things without being asked, looked at me and said, "It's hard now, but things will really calm down when your oldest is ten."

So, I'm thinking: How badly must I be doing this if he feels like he needs to volunteer this information? And, seriously? I have EIGHT MORE YEARS of things being hard and not calmed down?

But, he was absolutely dead-on right. So for better or worse, I'm telling you: It was hard for ten years and now it's not nearly so hard. Sometimes it's downright easy.

I had a hard first baby. He never slept voluntarily or in a crib or swing or car-seat, ONLY on me or moving in the stroller (even in the middle of the night). He was a terrible napper. Some things he did while he was supposed to be napping: ate about a quarter of a board book, threw all of his clothes out the second story window. Not the clothes he was wearing, ALL OF HIS CLOTHING. As a toddler, when I gave him a popsicle after he got sick, he started throwing up every night at dinner until I figured it out and stopped giving him popsicles. I once had to drag him by the foot out from underneath the exam table at the pediatrician's office so they could give him his shots.

Two kids was hard, not because my second baby was hard but because I now had to look after my challenging toddler and a perfectly nice baby who needed to eat and have her diapers changed.

My third was the easiest-going of the bunch, but my now three-and-a-half year old was busy pulling the above stunts and my hands were full of younger siblings so it was really hard to stop him.

Overall, three kids under four was hardest for me. I cried at the kitchen table when my parents went home two weeks after the baby was born. I was outnumbered. But what I didn't realize was that I was getting the hang of this baby thing. With my third baby, I finally knew what to expect, I knew what was coming, I wasn't caught off guard by everything. Maybe the rest of it was still out of control, but at least I knew how to mother a baby.

And, somehow, four kids was easier than three. By the time my fourth arrived, I felt like a seasoned veteran of babies. But I was still trying to do everything in the house myself. My oldest was almost six, and I was only just introducing the concept of chores. There was considerable resistance. But it had to be done, because I could not physically accomplish everything that needed doing in a day around my house. I had to teach them to help. So I did. Once I put in that work, things really turned around.

When babies five and then six arrived, we had chores all sorted out. Our home had a rhythm. People knew what needed to be done and occasionally even did it without being asked. I knew how to parent so that my children would listen to me. I knew how NOT to take it personally when number six turned out to be just as challenging a baby as my first one had been.

And then, a magical thing happened: My oldest turned ten. And the same kid who once intentionally dropped a full cup of orange juice on the floor of an airport restaurant because it "felt funny" in his hands could now make scrambled eggs for breakfast for all of his siblings (not to mention care for the hens who laid those eggs). My second was now an eight-year-old girl, and eight-year-old girls and babies are a match made in heaven. Even my easy-going-to-the-point-of-lethargy third child was much more useful as a six-year-old than the older two had been, because I had taught him how to be.

I wasn't the only one in the house who could clean up a spill, or buckle a car-seat, or change a load of laundry, or read a bedtime story. It was no longer me vs. the kids. Now we were a team.

I no longer had to worry about where my next shower would come from. If I needed a moment, the big kids could take the little ones out to play in the yard, or out for a walk in the stroller. I was no longer a slave to nap-time. If I needed to run to the grocery store for a few things, I could do it, because my big kids were perfectly capable of getting a snack for the little ones when they woke up. I could even send the two big ones off on their bikes to pick something up at the store for me!

For ten years, I felt like I was at least somewhat underwater the whole time. But then, even in the midst of my hard baby, I felt like I broke through the surface again. I had time for personal side projects like writing my book and starting this blog. And I'm not sweating the arrival of baby number seven in November, because we have this under control.

It's not always easy, but it is much easi-er than I ever imagined it would be back when I had two under two and three under four. Seven under twelve can be nothing compared to that.

So, while I wish I could give you a magic formula to make it easy now, I hope you'll remember (as I always did) that light at the end of the tunnel. Because it will come eventually, and just think how clean you'll be then.


And because you deserve a professional segue . . . Look what else big kids can do: My nine-year-old daughter took these photos! So in case anyone's interested, here's What I Wore Sunday.

Shirt: a Costco roadshow impulse buy
Skirt: Ann Taylor (from my sister via our shared maternity box)
Shoes: Target
Accessories you've seen before: Anthropologie earrings, etsy necklace, super-cool hair elastic bracelet
Bump: 21 weeks (Hooray for Texas!)

Thanks to the ladies at Fine Linen and Purple for hosting the What I Wore Sunday blog link-up!