GOOD THINGS COME IN THREES
Just as GREG BRUCE begins to feel settled as a father of two, he realises his world is about to be shaken all over again
Columnist Greg Bruce ponders what life will be like as a father of three
Alittle over three years ago I had no babies and in a little over six weeks I will have three. I know that this is neither an unusual number of babies nor an unusual period of time over which to have them, but that doesn’t make it any less frightening. One day during the Christmas/new Year period, I took my two daughters to the playground and while I was squatting in a bark garden trying to find a leaking water bottle on a puddle of wet clothes at the bottom of an overstuffed nappy bag, a woman with kind, tired eyes tapped me on the shoulder and told me I could share the adjacent picnic table with her. A gang of three children intermittently assailed her with requests. She told me that the three had been born within three years of each other. The youngest was now two and a half. When I told her I was soon to have a similar sized group and gap between them, and asked her for advice or support, she looked at me apologetically and told me that it gets better when the youngest can wipe their own bum. She had those kind eyes and I could see that they recognised the fear in my own eyes and she was trying to reassure me. Also, her youngest was two and a half, which would be awfully young to be wiping his own bum – I don’t think I accomplished that same goal much before starting school. For parents considering going from two children to three, no topic is more interesting than whether that is survivable. The anxious parent, just coming to grips with life as a father of two, might seek reassurance from acquaintances and strangers who are either in it up to their eyeballs or who recently have been. The feedback is unequivocally mixed and, I’ve come to realise, reflects more about the parent than it does about the child. One father of three I was chatting with recently told me not to believe the people who tell me life is about to get dramatically harder: “By having two,” he said, “you’ve already given up everything to be a parent. How much harder could it be?” The question was supposed to be rhetorical, but was it? I think back to the time when I was waiting for my first baby and a friend who had one child of six or seven told me, “It’s easy. Easy and wonderful.” He looked at the mother of his child and said something like “Isn’t that right?” I’ve never forgotten the way her murmur of agreement disagreed so completely with the look on her face. I only have two children and already I feel life and the time to live it spraying everywhere, out of control, like a rampant, high pressure shower hose. But then, the other day, in one of the most joyful moments of my life, I walked into my three and a half year old’s bedroom to see her putting her 18-month-old sister into her pyjamas. Nothing stays the same for ever. As some things get harder, other things get easier. This is the story not just of parenthood but of life. Soon enough, so many people have told me, I will look back on this chaotic time and miss it, but when you are deep in the difficulties of parenting, that can be a hard concept to appreciate. Until recently, I could only imagine my eldest child as a baby, but now she can get herself in the car and half buckle herself into her car seat, she can go to the toilet largely by herself, she can get herself dressed in the morning and she can play independently for short but much appreciated stretches on Saturdays while her sister sleeps and I read the newspaper. Sometimes, in these and other moments of quiet respite, I flash back to when she was a small baby, sleepless and overly demanding, with two parents at the ends of their tethers, and, although I know that things were hard then, I can remember only the joy.