Two’s company, three’s insane

It’s 2006.
After a busy morning picking Weetbix out of the carpet, holding the shaky feet of a toddler trying to climb a small fort and rock-a-byeing a bear on repeat, Master One is finally down for his afternoon nap.
I sit down with a toasted sandwich and a cup of tea and start the fifth season of the West Wing. He’ll be down at least two hours and nobody deserves the break more than me.
I give myself a pat on the back.

Fast-forward to 2013.
It goes pretty much the same, except this time it’s Lil Fatty.
And Breaking Bad.
The now-Master Seven is at school so I have to cap Lil Fatty’s sleep at two hours to go and pick him up.
I get back home with my two boys and take a coffee break.
Nobody deserves it more than me.
I give myself a pat on the back.

Fast-forward to 2015.
My morning is spent being dragged around by one child, while trying not to drop another.
That’s after I’ve taken the third to school.
I pick Weetbix out of the carpet, wipe pureed fruit off the lino and scrub poo off the couch.
I hold the shaky feet of a toddler trying to get on to the trampoline while a baby tries desperately to sleep in my arms.
Baby sucks furiously on my boob while I hold the potty under the bum of toddler.
I bath baby and make my bed, only to have toddler wee on baby – on my bed.
Toddler rolls out of towel while I try to put a nappy on baby.
Baby rolls out of nappy while I try to re wrap blue-lipped toddler.
I do the Hot Potato, mashing potato.
Mashed Banana, peeling bananas.
And desperately eat what’s left of their Cold Spaghetti for lunch.
Before a visitor arrives, I clean the toilet.
Then find a half-filled potty under the coffee table after they’ve left.
I put one child down for a nap only to hear the other wake up.
Right on cue.
Every day.
I was standing at the back door talking to my 70-year-old neighbour recently.
With Fairy Floss dribbling down my arm and Lil Fatty holding my free hand (and, with his free hand, his doodle), I moaned as I described the giant leap from two to three children.
But she already knew.
She had three herself.
“And I had to have the house clean, dinner cooked, and the kids bathed and ready for bed by the time my husband came home.”
That’s how it was done in her day.
I get one out of three.
Learner Dad invariably comes home to a hot dinner.
He also comes home to wet towels on the floor.
To kids that smell like poo, or wee, or spew, or all three.
To a bench strewn with carrot peel, blobs of ice-cream, stripped corn cobs.
His wife may or may not have washed her hair that day.
Whichever the case, it’s in a ‘mun’ (mum-bun).
And she’s most certainly wearing the same track pants her baby vomited on three days ago.
It’s not that mums of today are less capable than our predecessors.
It’s that the emphasis has been tipped from ‘good wife’ to ‘good mother’.
Instead of ironing hubby’s shirts, we watch our kids play on the trampoline.
We fuss over cupcakes rather than rump steaks.
And we make Lego cities that render vacuuming simply impossible.
If our husbands dare complain, they are quickly put in their place.
Which, in Learner Dad’s case, is eating his rapidly cooling dinner while balancing one child on his lap and reading a story between mouthfuls to another.
While mummy sits down to anything not on ABC4Kids.
And gives herself a well-deserved pat on the back.

The Computer Virus

“How are you feeling sweetheart?” I asked, gently placing a tray of food down in front of him.
“Ok, thanks,” he replied.
Master Seven was home from school, sick.
His teacher had called the day before and, with me at work, Learner Dad’s mum had picked him up for me.
By the time we all got home that night, he really seemed ok.
But it seemed a day spent being pampered with sweets and computer games had appealed to him and, the next morning, he burst into tears as he was getting ready for school.
“I still don’t feel well,” he’d complained sadly, rubbing his eyes.
Clearly exhausted, I told him he could stay home, but that it meant nourishing food, no computer games and, most importantly, bed rest.
All day.
“This’ll be interesting,” I muttered to Learner Dad as he left for work.
A full day in bed with nothing to do would determine just how sick this kid was.
The first hour passed.
I went down with some toast and he looked at me solemnly.
Remembering how much I’d loved being nursed by my own mother on a sick day, I continued to visit him every hour with something to eat or with a book to read.
Three hours after his bed rest began, I had Li’l Fatty down for a nap and was sitting on the couch watching Friday Night Lights.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Though I still doubted he was ill, Master Seven clearly understood what a sick day meant.
I was also slightly worried.
He wasn’t meant to be so… so content.
He wasn’t meant to enjoy a sick day.
At 1pm I popped down with an Easter egg and a hot pack for his aching legs.
His eyes lit up.
But he seemed distracted.
His eyes kept slipping sideways, glancing at something in his peripheral.
I looked in the same direction.
Under his Lego table I could see a tiny blue light winking back at me.
Realisation dawned.
His DS!
I whipped it out, pulling it roughly from the charger.
“Have you been playing this?” I asked, waving it in front of his face.
“Yes…” he admitted, casting his eyes as far down as was possible while stretched out on your back.
“For how long?” I asked, looking at his red-rimmed, slightly unfocused eyes.
“Since I got in to bed,” he answered quietly.
The four hours I’d thought he was sleeping, reading or simply just resting, he had spent hopfrogging his way through Mario Galaxy with his busy brain and even busier fingers.
He told me he’d been playing it while it was on the charger and that he’d simply jump back into bed every time he heard me coming.
Half an hour after I took the DS away, Master Seven was out of bed and playing basketball in the courtyard.
I didn’t try to stop him.
The more energetic he was, the more ammunition I’d have for sending him to school the next day.
The deceit astounded me.
My seven-year-old had not only tricked me into letting him stay home, he’d tricked me for hours after.
As I stood at the window, watching my son shoot hoops and dribble tricks, I realised I now had to be on MY game.
My little boy, who’d always been either clearly well or unwell, had learned the art of faking.
And I had a feeling this first attempt was an amateur one.
His best, ‘fully sick’ efforts were yet to come.

The care factor

“You mean she sends her kids to crèche even though she’s going to be at home all day?” a relative asked me recently.
I’d been talking about one of my friends, who was sending her toddler off to childcare a couple of days a week, even though she was at home with the baby.
Now I could have been talking about one of a dozen of my friends.
Because this is just the done thing.
Kids go to childcare even though they have a parent at home.
Is it right or wrong?
Well, for a start, is it really anyone else’s business?
I guess by putting it out there I’ve made it so, so let’s look at it.
Parents who send their kids to crèche all day every day while they go shopping or try to win big on the pokies?
That’s easy: wrong.
Mums who send their kids because they are tired and stressed with the new baby and simply can’t cope?
“Not in my day,” according to my relative. “If you’re going to be at home, why wouldn’t you look after your own child?”
But was there even a choice in her day?
How about parents who send their child to care because they feel he or she is becoming isolated and bored at home?
Many parents these days seem to enrol their kids in childcare because it has become less about babysitting and more about socialising and educating their children.
While, in the past, it might have been seen as a disadvantage for your little one to have to attend childcare, today many are seen as disadvantaged for NOT going.
Master Seven went to childcare for at least half a day a week from six-months-old.
It wasn’t a difficult decision – I really had no choice.
I’d been working as a freelance journalist and, when he was newborn, would either strap him to my chest or cart him in the capsule to each interview.
But, as time went on, the cute grins and sweet noises he’d charm the subjects with turned into screams and grunts to be put down so he could explore.
So, at six months old, off he went to care, for half a day a week.
I remember one Friday afternoon having all my work done within the first hour and deciding to use the rest of my free time seeing a movie.
I mentioned this to his carer when I went to pick him up and saw a dark cloud cross her eyes.
Was it the wrong thing to do?
He was only a baby after all.
As time went on, my little Master went more and more, varying from one to five days a week, depending on how much work I was getting at the time.
I wasn’t keen on enrolling him full-time and was lucky in my profession that I never had to.
Four centres and four years later, he graduated a well-adjusted, outgoing boy.
Was his behaviour influenced by childcare?
Undoubtedly.
He’d made little friends, tried new foods and picked up important social skills like sharing and packing up.
Because Master Seven started school well before Li’l Fatty came along, I haven’t had to worry about having time alone with the baby.
I’ve got it, six hours a day, five days a week, guilt-free and free of charge.
But would I have sent Master Seven to childcare if he’d actually been a toddler rather than a big kid when Li’l Fatty came along?
It’s hard to say.
On the one hand, I have the easiest baby ever (how else would I be able to write this blog?) so I’m not really sure I’d need to.
But, on the other, those few hours after school when I’m home with both boys… well, let’s just say I listen very intently for the sound of Learner Dad’s car in the driveway.
Will Li’l Fatty go to childcare?
With the end of maternity leave looming, it’s probably time for us to get his name on a waiting list.
There are two nannas with hands up to help out and Learner Dad has weekdays off, so it may not be necessary.
But then, if another Li’l Fatty were to come along, maybe we wouldn’t give it a second thought.

Toying with tradition

“Mum, can we also get a Mario toy to put in each one?” Master Seven asked, pouring the lollies out on the table.
“We most certainly cannot,” I answered. “One lolly per card per person. That’s plenty.”
I sighed.
What happened to just giving plain old Christmas cards in envelopes?
I’d only caved in to the lollies when I realised every card Master Seven was bringing home contained a little something extra.
Usually it was a small lolly that, like ours, had Shiploads written all over it.
A handful of kids had included candy canes or Freddo Frogs (which usually came home as an envelope full of hot chocolate).
Then, just when I thought I’d seen it all, one of his classmates went and upped the ante by putting a toy in Master Seven’s card.
That’s right – a small Transformers toy.
I know, I know, I hear you.
Cute.
Generous.
Blah.
Blah.
Suddenly the humble boiled lolly didn’t look all that great.
While kids have upped the game on Christmas cards, adults seem to be playing it down on presents.
“What? We’re just getting one voucher each this year?” my brother asked recently, when told of our new Secret Santa plan.
Once my generation started spawning children, us adults had stopped buying for each other.
That is except for one Secret Santa present, which we’d draw out of a hat in the weeks before the big day.
This year, we’d made it even more simple.
Instead of a present, we’d each get a $50 gift voucher.
I’d stolen the idea from Learner Dad’s family, who were trialling it themselves this year.
The plan was to find something original yet practical.
“I’ve got the best idea ever,” Learner Dad said excitedly, unveiling his voucher plan to me.
Only it turned out not to be so original when, doing our grocery shop, we noticed his very voucher on display at the supermarket.
In fact, there were dozens of varieties, meaning we clearly weren’t the only family simplifying things this year.
Bright and colourful, the vouchers were alluring.
Easy to buy, easy to use.
Easy to pop in an envelope.
‘In fact,’ I thought, ‘perfect to put in Master Seven’s Christmas cards next year.’
Won’t that put me ahead of the pack?