Columnist Greg Bruce reflects on his fantasy of a big family
In the early days of our relationship, and then more frequently during Zanna’s first pregnancy, we used to have the type of silly, fantasy conversations about our family-tobe that I imagine all ignorant soon-to-be parents have. In it, we fantasised about a family life of love and happy movie nights that, we know now, does not exist. When people asked us about our family plans, as they increasingly did while Zanna’s belly swelled with what would become Tallulah, I found myself throwing around the number four. Four children! What was I thinking? By the time Tallulah was six months old and not sleeping through the night or even any significant portion of it, I had reduced that number to one, and I wondered if even that was too much. Zanna had never specifically ruled out the number four but her own preference had always been for three. None of that mattered because, by the time we were deep in the darkness that was Tallulah’s night-wakings, we discussed neither the number of children we wanted nor almost anything else. We were too tired, too distraught. Zanna kept telling me that this was all temporary, the terrible sleeping and the existential despair that went with it, that one day it would just feel like the horrible nightmare it was. I suspected that she was probably right, but that future felt so far off as to be fundamentally worthless. As time went by, though, I guess Zanna began to adapt faster than me, because she started agitating for a second child. I would deal with it by making jokes, by changing the subject, by shutting my eyes tightly and pretending to be asleep. While I was doing my best to avoid the subject, Zanna somehow got pregnant again. There was something lovely about her pregnancy with Clara, although much of that loveliness was because pregnancy had brought with it another fantasy: this one about our proper family, a little brother or sister for Tallulah to love. We had Clara a little over a year ago. From the start, she was a great sleeper, able to be put down and left in the cot for long periods. And, of course, Zanna was right about Tallulah. Now three, her sleep issues are mostly sorted and those dark days would be basically forgotten. But, in the meantime, we have discovered that the challenges of having two children are about more than sleeplessness. Our days are now spent mostly in mediation over sibling conflict. Leaving them alone in the lounge for just the few seconds it takes to, say, rinse poo out of a nappy, you can count down from five and guarantee you will never get to zero before somebody starts yelling at you. Still, the fantasy is not always so far from reality. Whenever I try to explain the experience of being a parent of two, the word “thickness” comes to mind. Sometimes it is hard, but that’s not all it is. Still, there are limits. When I tell people now about how I once wanted four children, I say it with a shake of my head. It’s a funny story, about an idiot, and people generally look at me with shock. After we had Clara, Zanna’s dad said, “That’s enough now.” Things weren’t easy at that stage, but still I wasn’t totally sure if I agreed with him. Two months ago, Zanna told me she was pregnant. To some extent, it was a surprise, but on another level, it was inevitable. As the shock began to fade, I started to fantasise about the maelstrom of family life that lay nine months away. I felt happy; I felt done. As she descended over the following weeks into the morning sickness that is the default state of all her pregnancies, she looked at me and said, “You can get the snip now”. I had seldom, if ever, been so in love with her.