Being a family of five

Even writing the title for this post, I still cannot believe that we made, and are totally responsible for three. whole. little. people. THREE. Three. Let’s write it in French just to reinforce the point… j’ai trois enfants. I can’t believe it. Utterly, completely, mind-bottling. Three is a lot.

Am I right?

So what is it like? Will we have another and make it a nice even four?

Insane. And non.

As a quick recap, Monsieur FF and I were married nearly a decade ago (side note: holé molé). We waited for Big Bro (formerly known as Boddler, and prior to that, Bebe FF) and journeyed through some rough times, glaring lights, tears a plenty and hospital beds to get to him. Then, before we had even got a year of parenting under our belts, we learnt that we would have a little sister joining the clan. Bebette, as she was known, came rapidly into the world and brought with her a new level of chaos and a wonderful grumpy cat disposition. I have recently realised that navigating the horror that was bronchiolitis with her as a new born has left me with many gaps in my memory of Bebette’s early months. I existed in that first year with her bubble wrapped against my body, with a slightly feral twonager causing havoc around us.

Fast forward a couple of years and we felt like we were winning at life. There were signs of listening ears working, calmer mealtimes, sleeping peacefully through the night by everyone in allocated bed space, nappies and dummies disappearing…. amazeboobs. And then we launched in for our third and final chaotic Can-can. Why? We felt like there was space for one more little love, the energy for one last dance and the desire to experience the life-creating journey just one more time. If that was what fate had in store for us.

The last pregnancy was a tough one, with all the classic pregnancy ailments that I had previously dodged hitting me hard: mega sickness, hip pain, back pain, insomnia, exhaustion, bloating, aching, and generally cream-crackered 130% of the time. Papa FF can confirm I was rather grumpy. The post partum experience has been similarly extreme. My tired, geriatric body was in shock for months, my hair continues to fall like the autumn leaves… but more like the whole tree just collapsing, breastfeeding has been harder and more tiring than ever, despite the breasticlés being decidedly more …weathered, and my hormones are all over the place. ALL over.

Papa FF dealing with me like a pro

Now on this latter, those crazy pesky hormones, I should caveat that it might not just be hormones that have made me a mad folle. The effect of being in lockdown for months, having no family or friends to physically lean on, (and then going to France and coming back to be quarantined again) has been hard. I think most people would say the same, minus the hormones, new Bebe and hyper, frustrated little people. Being post partum has magnified the loss of personal space, the lack of sleep, and the simple complexity that is the daily grind during this strange lockdown period that I’m sure many of you can relate to.

However, it’s also important to say that there genuinely isn’t a day that goes by without me feeling each of these feels in a big old wave: grateful, shocked, baffled and delighted. And that’s just when I look at my breakfast.

She’s with me on the breakfast

Best wake up crew ever

As I attempt this “review” of life as a family of five, with our littlest love rapidly approaching 6 months, I am anxious.

I feel anxious a lot at the moment. Pandemics and post partum do that to a person. I’m constantly battling with some random worry about tripping or slipping or dropping the littlest lady. I’m anxious about losing my temper. I’m also anxious about sounding ungrateful. Or unhappy. I am neither of those things in any significant measure, but there have been moments when I have felt lost. Or like I’m losing it. So much noise, so much mess, so.much.washing. How can one or two humans possibly keep three little humans completely happy all of the time, AND look after each other? Well, my conclusion so far is it is not really possible. Not all of the time. And that’s ok.

We had a baby hours before our country entered lockdown, weeks after measures were introduced to try to manage a rapidly spreading deadly virus, affecting the NHS and management of hospitals like we’ve never seen before, and we were confined to our homes, without visitors, without freedom and without easy access to sanitary pads and nappies for months. This is not a normal way to launch into a new chapter.

A new life and new, altered family dynamics is difficult to manage in such strange times. There are many silver linings, moments of calm in those early sleepy days, safety in our bubble, getting to know each other and our newest addition. Those moments were magic. But then there were also those days when I wanted to snuggle under the duvet and hide from the world, but the world was in there with me, making noise and asking for a snack. We were in the trenches and this first season of the FF Five has been INTENSE.

Despite my current vocabulary being limited to saying things like “crazy” “insane” and “wild” on repeat, with associated panic eye movements, I’ve tried to synthesise my thoughts into 5 key descriptors. I’ve even made them do jazzy things to emphasise the point:

“Very strong, in a very great amount, a huge mass, overpowering…”
Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve found the addition of a third tiny human during the pandemic quite overwhelming. I didn’t fully appreciate the sheer volume of three people all crying out and screaming for attention at the same time. The noise alone has compromised many attempts to contact the outside world and engage in adult conversation – I simply can’t hear a blinking thing. Screams of “CAN SOMEONE WIPE MY BOTTOM?” “No I want MUMMY!” “Waaaaaaa <milk> Waaaaa <gas> Waaaaaaaawawawa <sleep>>” occur on a regular (say, 3 times a minute) basis from the crack of dawn until the sun goes to sleep, and then some. If I’m lucky Papa FF chimes in with his dance music and / or a conversation with one of his pals on loud speaker and we are at around 982 dB of noise. Ouch. That hurts.

Papa FF has taken on more than the lion’s share of caring for the older kids, jumping out of bed when they wander in and poke us in our bed, cooking, cleaning, even sorting out the socks, and STILL I wake up feeling like I’m drowning. Drowning in a tidal wave of nappies and sodden baby grows, tiredness, hair follicles, of odd socks and tutus, clothes that are too small, shopping lists and to do lists that never seem to end.

Whilst it has been overwhelming, I am grateful that those early days were very simple. Yes it was like Groundhog Day for a while, but I didn’t have to add to the worry the need to be somewhere at a certain time, the need to have clean clothes on or a bag packed. We didn’t have to worry about hosting or germs. Papa FF was on hand, not trying to dash for a train and factor in a commute. In many respects, it was the perfect start for a new baby, who had constant cuddles, milk on demand and only needed to get used to us. Perhaps that is why she has rolls and folds for days, and spends most of her time smiling. There’s a good reason for the approach that many cultures take to early parenthood – staying home for a month, being “confined”. How lucky we are to have had that time.

What a great word to describe parenting through a pandemic:
(Of something regarded as unpleasant) continuing without pause or interruption.
We have not stopped. We have not had a break. Until we escaped to introduce the littlest bébé to our closest family in the past month, we simply had not had un moment de calme. I know this one isn’t exclusive to us, and those that have been balancing full time work as well as all this, I take my hat off to you. Never have I felt so exhausted as these past months, and we had two of us available, plus some extra magic childcare hands. Notwithstanding this, every day felt like a military operation, getting everyone up, dressed (not all the time), fed, finding more food, exercising, not being outside too long but being outside, not watching too much TV but having some TV time, more meals, washing up, tidying up, bathing, getting kids to bed…. sounds kind of normal but it just wasn’t. Factor in the little screams of a newborn and the yelps of a sore, tired mama and an exhausted Papa and it was just … well incessant. There was no way to give each other a break, or to have some space. On the positive side, just before we went into lockdown we made a very smart investment in a trampoline and that absolutely saved our bacon. We opened the doors and sent the kids out for a good old bounce whilst we sorted out the next activity or meal or whatever. They spent hours out there bouncing and it was absolutely brilliant.
Chaos: “complete disorder and confusion”

Managing three children day in and day out requires some serious project management. Project management! Great! That’s something that both Papa FF and I have plenty of experience with. This should be a doddle!

Error. Effective project management of three littles requires communication skills of the highest order. It requires calm, respectful listening to each other, clear planning and understanding of schedules, aims and objectives, and efficient deployment of resources. When project management goes wrong, you can easily achieve complete disorder.

Here’s the recipe:

  • Take 1 mad mama: screaming, flapping, searching longingly for caffeine and chocolate, needs all the food, needs a seat, a cuddle, and any opportunity to close an eye for rest will be taken – operating on c. 2 hours of interrupted sleep. Does not understand schedule. Thinks she is listening but is actually having a nap.
  • Add a sprinkle of Big Brother: demanding, active, high levels of urgency and vast capacity to eat. Needs food often and needs undivided attention otherwise may cause harm. Listening not a strong skill.
  • Three spoons of Big Sister: 99% potty trained, 1% could have an accident at any time, sleepy but refuses to sleep, needs to copy Big Brother, may be attacked by him or cuddled until face is blue, doesn’t need to eat, but loves a snack. Needs frequent renditions of Bear Hunt, Nursery Rhymes and likes to yoga. Listening ears and tidying up hands work only intermittently.
  • A generous drizzle of Little Sis: can poop through anything, needs a breasticlé in close proximity most of the time, likes to observe older siblings, doesn’t like to be put down. Really doesn’t like the bath for the first 3 months. Not able to assist in household tasks.
  • A half a pound of Papa: juggling work, limited sleep, story-telling, food-making, and dishwasher-emptying. Needs caffeine. Needs a beer. Needs to party like its 1990, because amongst this chaos Papa is celebrating a big birthday and is fully entitled to have a midlife crisis. Claims to be deaf.
  • Pop it in the oven and you get a big old bowl of half-cooked, semi-crunchy, super crazy chaos.
Leading nicely into the next word of the season:
“Causing annoyance or upset because of an inability to change or achieve something”

Another fantastically appropriate term for post partum in pandemic. Inability to achieve “anything” is something I’m sure most new parents can relate to. This is where your friends jump in and exclaim that you are achieving things because everyone is fed and watered. Everyone is happy. Yes, they are (pretty much). That’s true. But in the moment, it’s hard to appreciate that this is enough. I always find this part hard, even in “normal” times, and all the more when we haven’t been able to get out and do the things. All those things we run around trying to do to justify our maternity leave and parenting ability. To prove to ourselves perhaps we are doing it. Parenting.

Flipping that thinking on its head, we weren’t allowed to do anything, so I suppose there was no “fail”. I did all the things I was able to do, which happened to be mostly staying at home, making as many rainbow-themed things as possible and baking. And by the fourth lot of banana muffins they actually started to taste pretty good. Go me!

I’ve said it to myself many times, the Mothership reminds me frequently, and I’ve got many wonderful friends and family who keep trying to reinforce the point, but I still struggle to apply it to my life. I will do better. I have done it the past months. Existing, being a family, surviving the day as I have said a lot of late; that is enough. That is achieving something. I’m going to add it to my CV.

And last but by no means least, my all time favourite word, my single, most used mantra:

Of course this new family of five situation is just JOYOUS. Despite the rollercoaster, chaotic, crazy, within the overwhelm there is overwhelming joy. All these little people, they love us. They need us. They want to talk to us and play with us and look at us adoringly. They are ours. We are their world. Especially in the last months we were literally the only people and the only comfort they had. What a privilege and a joy. When we take 20 minutes to get everyone strapped in the car, I’m smiling. It’s crazy. We have filled up a car with offspring. When I wake up with someone’s little fingers stroking my nose, or prodding my belly, I smile. What a wonderful way to start the day, to be reminded of what we’ve created and what we get to enjoy. When I go up to the bedroom, when the lights are down, and the noise is gone, and I see those sleeping babes, my heart is so very full. It’s a challenge having three kids, but boy is it a blessing.

Thank you to the amazeboobs Clare Long Photography for capturing the joy. You are the best!

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