I secretly think these people return to their cars, or walk ahead of me into a store, or sprint ahead of me into preschool to get out of the cold because they aren't trying to simultaneously maneuver a double stroller and coax a pokey three-year-old into the warm building, thanking their lucky stars that they aren't me. 13-month-old twins and a three-year-old. Whoo, baby. I hope that mom has lots of patience and energy. I know I couldn't do it.
Funny thing. I most often can't. If I was to spend any time at all thinking about whether it's wise to take three small kids just about anywhere, I would never leave the house. I do it because I have to.
But I've had a few experiences lately that have shed some perspective on the insanity of the life I lead.
There are two-year-old triplets who attend the "young nursery" at Isabella's school. They are adorable.
But Oh.My.God. Two-Year-Old Triplets.
Last week I pulled up behind a minivan in the drop-off lane at school. We had had the first real snowfall of the season the night before, it was freezing, and as I was circling around to the back of my car I was dreading having to push my functional, yet pretty bare-bones hand-me-down double umbrella stroller through the snow and slush. I unloaded the stroller, strapped in Luci, and was unbuckling Nicholas from his car seat when I glanced at the minivan and realized it belonged to the triplet mom.
As I worked on getting Nico strapped in, and Isabella out of her car seat, I watched her unload one, two, and then three toddlers. One had taken off his coat and was playing in dirty snow on the sidewalk, another was crying and refusing to let his mother put him down, and the third stood on the sidewalk, a piece of toast clutched in her hand. The mom remained completely calm amidst the chaos that must occur several dozen times in each day of her life as she attempted to wrangle them into the building. I stood there thinking how the tasks I find challenging with twins and a preschooler must be exponentially more so with triplets. I can fit a side-by-side double stroller down the narrow halls of the preschool. A triple stroller wouldn't fit. I have two hands in which to grasp a twin hand in each. She must rely on a sibling to hold her third child's hand, or else trust that a curious two-year-old isn't going to run off at any time. I can (and do) carry both Luci and Nico at once to avoid multiple trips. She may be able to manage two in her arms when circumstances warrant carrying them, but certainly not three. And the list goes on.
I'm sure she never envisioned her life as a mother to triplets.
I could have had triplets. My life could have been her life.
My life could also have been mother to two.
Last week, I took Nicholas to the doctor because he breathes pretty heavily and I wanted to ensure he wasn't suffering from allergies (he's not). The process of getting one baby dressed for the day, bundled into coat and hat and strapped into a car seat was infinitely more simple than doing the same tasks for two. We arrived at the doctor and the double stroller stayed in the car. I carried him in. I didn't have to divide my attention between the baby getting examined by the pediatrician and the one fussing in the stroller.
We went to the grocery store afterward to pick up a few things. It was Nico's first trip there, since even if I could figure out how to take two non-walking, too-small-for-the-car-cart babies plus a three-year-old to the store, I'm not sure I would want to. The entire time I was alone with Nicholas, I couldn't help but think how different things would be if I had had a Luci or a Nicholas instead of a Luci and a Nicholas. How much more mobility and freedom I would have. How much easier it would be to find a babysitter for a preschooler and a baby instead of a preschooler and two babies. How much more enriched their lives would be, since taking one baby to storytime at the library or the children's museum or shopping while their older sister is in preschool is a breeze, while taking two is damn near impossible.My life could also have been mother to one.
Last week, Isabella got up before her brother and sister several times, and we were able to spend around 30 minutes of uninterrupted, quiet time together. She opened her Advent calendar to reveal her small, daily surprise. We ate breakfast together at the counter in the kitchen. We talked without having to talk over the sound of babies crying, which is as constant a sound in our house as the hum of the furnace or the ticking of the clock in the kitchen. And I thought that this is what my life would look like if I wasn't able to have the second child I had always wanted. I would have so much more time to devote to Isabella and her interests. I wouldn't be simultaneously pulled in three directions every minute of every day. The house would be so much more quiet. I couldn't help but think that Isabella's quality of life right now might be better as an only child, since her brother and sister are still so young, and not exactly offering up much to foster a sibling bond just yet.
Was I meant to be the mother of three, even though I had never wanted more than two children? Is my life what God and the universe had in store for me long before children were ever thought of? Was I given more than I can handle for a reason?
Being a mother to three young children is by far the most challenging thing I have ever done. It's a life I never would have envisioned for myself four years ago. Motherhood gives me more joy and more pain than anything else in my life.
But it's also something on which I desperately need perspective. The triplet mom's life is almost certainly more insane than my own. The lives of many of the other preschool moms who drop off their three-year-olds with their singleton babies in their arms are almost certainly easier than my own.
In the end, though, I am simply doing the best job I can. I just have to accept that for right now, that's enough.