In March of 2005, my spouse and I went from a comfortable man-on-man defense to the somewhat frenetic zone method when we welcomed our third-born child. Two years later, when our youngest arrived, we were hopelessly outnumbered. I don’t use the descriptor “hopelessly” lightly. We really needed to abandon all hope in the notion that the two of us would be able to give the four of them everything that we saw other parents providing for their children. I’m not referring exclusively to material comforts, though those are reduced/recycled/repurposed in our house; also the simple calculus of time is affected.
Just this morning I was thinking about taking the children back-to-school shopping and briefly considered taking them each individually. Then it dawned on me that in order to do so, I’d need to eat up four out of five days during the week, when I have other matters on which to focus. So I reframed this idea to all of us going together. The optics on that aren’t pretty, but the length of the torture of shopping is greatly reduced when we all go together, and there’s a clear statement that “we’re only doing this once, so focus.”
One of the positive side effects (in my estimation) of having so many small humans in a house is the “built-in” playdate. When they were littler and would ask to have a friend over, I would say, “You’ve got three friends right here,” for I knew were I to have said “sure thing” to one of them, the other three would insist on each having a friend.
Then it’d be 8 vs. 1, and we never have the right ingredients in the house to cover that many grilled cheese sandwiches.
(Side note: Many a friend who has visited our house has gone home to (likely) report, “We had carrot sticks and brown rice with spread for lunch.” There were times I considered serving kale: a sure disincentive for a repeat playdate at our house where fruit-roll-ups and Doritos don’t exist.)
Over the last many days, my two younger children have been invited to go to a local pool, sleep over, go to a fair, and ride bikes to get ice cream, play mini-golf and ride the bumper boats. I wonder if this is “normal” summer stuff for their peers, seeing as though I drag them to the local lake, eschew sleepovers, skip fairs, and think that mini-golf and bumper boats are pricey.
This isn’t to say that I don’t hand over cash to my kids and their friends when they want to rent a canoe, nor that I never permit their pals to spend the night. (Both of these happened this summer.)
Rather, my approach to most of their socialization is to stay out of it, thinking “if they want to do something with a friend, they’ll ask.” (Knowing that they will potentially be told, “Play with your siblings.” “Go on a bike ride.” “Take the dogs for a walk.” “Split wood.” “Sweep.” “Vacuum.” “Find something to do.”
Over the last ten years, outnumbered 4 to 2 (4 to 1 when I’m the only adult in the house), I have allowed myself to grow complacent about their activities and friendships. While I don’t foresee that changing for me, I am grateful for every invitation they receive and for the moms (and the occasional dad) who are attentive to the social needs of their children. These parents have a level of class that I do not. Without these invitations, my four would be stuck with only each other all summer, because, admittedly, I can’t be bothered to be their “entertainment planner” for 11 weeks.
T-minus 25 days and counting.