4 under 6

The moment every parent of a toddler dreads came on a Sunday night: Archie discovered he can climb out of his crib.

 What made this discovery particularly nefarious is that Kate was only 3 weeks old. So the intermittent sleep I was getting with a newborn suddenly got even choppier, as Archie alternated his late-night exits with Kate’s feedings.

 At 3 am, the specter of a toddler soundlessly hovering above the co-sleeper staring at the baby was terrifying.

 Archie had been emancipated, and the feeling that first arose once Kate was born intensified: all bets are off.

 I’ve learned to brace for Murphy’s Law, that other unfortunate changes seem to sync with the advent of a baby. An older sibling gets sick. The washing machine breaks. Something you depend on to keep things humming along stops working.  

That thing can include the mature behavior of an older child, whose behavior regresses when Baby arrives.

 Kate’s birth coincided with our fridge breaking. It took nearly a month and multiple repairmen to correct the problem and, ultimately, get a new fridge.

The transition from three to four kids hasn’t been effortless. I think I had underestimated it, given how easy it was to transition from two to three.

For one, Kate cannot be left unattended when Archie is nearby. The big girls were gentler when they got new siblings at age 2, but Archie loves to rough house.

Also, this is the first time we’ve had a newborn along with a child in school. I’ve dropped the ball on a few things we normally have down pat.

It recently struck me that Maria was due for an out-of-uniform day at school, which happens once a month. When I mentioned this to Maria, she said she had had a recent out-of-uniform day but we had forgotten. It had taken me weeks to realize my oversight. But Maria hadn’t said a peep.

When we discussed it, she assured me that she wasn’t the only one in her class who had arrived that day in a uniform. #blessherheart

We were also late to bring in empty boxes of food for a play area in the classroom. When I texted a fellow mom about the request, she said she’d sent her daughter in with extra food boxes to cover for classmates. #blessherheart

I love that we moms are looking out for each other, helping each other along the way.

The postpartum period offers an important reminder that we all drop the ball from time to time and that it’s OK to relax certain standards.

For instance, we opted to not have a big party for Archie’s second birthday. He doesn’t care or know the difference. So on the evening of his birthday, a Tuesday, we invited two guests over: my mom and dad. 

It was low key -- balloons, some Peppa Pig decor and a strawberry cake -- just right for us. He had the best day!

I’m trying to maintain other standards, but they have required more of a push as I adjust to four kids under age 6. And so, on the night before Valentine’s Day, I found myself at The Dollar Store minutes before close, feverishly rocking my shopping cart in a slow-motion check-out lane as Kate screamed.

Thankfully, the sound of a crying baby doesn’t rattle me the way it once did. I pulled off the Valentine’s Day I had been envisioning, with decorations, balloons and our traditional heart-shaped strawberry pancakes for breakfast. The girls were so excited when they woke up and pranced around, taking in the scene.

“How did you do this all?” Maria asked me. “You must be tired.” #blessherheart

Also working in our favor this time around: We’ve refined (a.k.a. simplified) our bedtime routine. Two years ago it was more work!

Deciding which standards to maintain and which to let go is a constant balancing act in parenthood. It just takes on added urgency during the first sleep-deprived weeks with a baby. My next-door neighbor cautioned me about this during my first pregnancy -- one over-achiever to another, urging me to accept the “good enough.”

And here I am, on my fourth baby, Googling if it’s OK to not change your newborn’s diaper in the middle of the night. (The verdict: Change the poopy ones, but if she’s sleeping or sleepy and you don’t want to rouse her, it’s OK to wait on a wet one.)

Funny how, even when we’re veteran parents, each baby feels new. We forget some bits of newborn care and do others differently.  

During our transition to four, I’ve been buoyed by our little village. Chili from a neighbor. Supportive texts and oatmeal cookies from my mom. Help with laundry. (This baby spits up more than the other three combined.) Secondhand nursing clothes from my cousin. Instacart deliveries. Gifts for the big siblings, not just the newborn. (My favorite kind of gift!) Saturday outings for the big kids with Grandpa. And an amazing husband.

Also a lifesaver: a baby carrier and a pacifier. Armed with that powerful combination, I feel capable of anything. The carrier has worked its magic with all four of my kids, putting each one to sleep and freeing my hands up, which has proved more valuable with each additional kid.

About a month after Kate’s birth, I noticed, we started to feel like us again, as a family. Our new normal was emerging. The six of us even made a trek down to hang out at the neighborhood pond, our favorite winter past-time. A bonfire was crackling, the girls skated and Archie dragged a hockey stick around as he dodged kisses from a neighbor’s black lab. Kate slept the whole time, bundled up and snug in my carrier.

It felt so good to get some fresh air and enjoy a simple outing together.

Life with four kids under age 6 will be a circus -- but a happy one!

The key will be keeping our sense of humor. We’ll make like Peppa Pig’s family, embracing the mess (a.k.a. “muddy puddles”) and finding amusement in every mishap. Their episodes are often resolved with the entire family rolling on the floor laughing.

We’ll try to follow suit.


Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and four children in Inver Grove Heights. Read all her posts at mnparent.com/charmed