Three children aged 13, 12 and 8-going-on-13
My second son was a peaceful, agreeable child and I thought that I’d cracked this parenthood lark. But two kids felt too neat and tidy, so we “went back” for another.
Two kids is a pair, three is a pack and I found myself spread as thinly as the butter on Victoria Beckham’s toast. Yes, I know, that high-flyer in the City has eight. But with two nannies on a round-the-clock rota, it’s not herself she’s spreading, is it?
So was that it for us? My husband never wanted the expense of four: end of story. My mother wanted her once-educated daughter back from the land of barefoot and pregnant. And yet, and yet . . . in a woman’s heart there is always room for one more child. I know so many women – some far beyond menopause – who live with this regret. There is a deep-seated longing to know how the recipe might turn out next time.
If you have a single-sex family, heading back to the lucky dip for “one last go” seems especially tantalising. While my sons were in Cornwall last summer, I found myself wistfully picturing my friend Amy’s youngest. In sandy knickers, with bucket and spade, she would have made a jolly addition to our family.
Perspective was restored by an e-mail from Amy herself: “Owing to the impossibility of entertaining four across a nine-year age gap, I have perfected the art of reading the paper while the little darlings maraud over the wreckage of my life’s aspirations.” Yes, putting one’s own life on hold may seem seductive but you can’t keep the nest full for ever.
The logistics are more challenging than running a FTSE 100 company, minus the status. Swimming is one entertainment for all ages, but the pool won’t admit you if three are under 8. And the older your eldest, the less hope of having them all abed by 7pm to get some recovery time. I see the weariness in Amy. There’s a funny, driven woman in there but she’s Not Available Until Further Notice.
You have to know your limits. Instead of a fourth baby, we got a dog. He’s cuddly and loving, yet when I’ve had enough of his whining I can shut him in a cage and go out on my own.
Nevertheless, I picture my old age, with my sons’ love transferred elsewhere. Meanwhile, Amy will have two lovely daughters to help her choose a new coat.
Perhaps it's not too late to go back for one more after all. You can rationalise that it’s not a good idea, yet this is irrational territory. The door is shutting on a powerful experience, and it’s still mighty tempting to go back and fling it open.