Following a question put to me by Plan B I decided that I ought to get back to what this blog is all about. Namely, revealing the truth of what it's like to raise a family of four. So here's my list of the skills necessary to cling on to shreds of sanity amidst the chaos of children:
Even when the twins were newborn I had to learn how to tune out their wails as it's simply impossible to meet everyone's needs the moment they arise. It's hard to step over a child whose face is justifiably slick with snot and tears because he has just fallen over, because his baby brother is about to kill himself by toppling head first down a flight of stairs, but it has to be done. It is hard to ignore a tiny baby screaming for a bottle, because you have to wipe his brother's bum before he takes off and leaves an unmentionable trail around the house, but needs must when you are a mum of four.
This is a subset of point one, but to run a family of four you need to be a genius with logistics and learn to prioritise. I can almost see my brain colour-coding the boys in relation to the severity of their needs. Code red is imminent danger of death, while a serene green is whinging because they are hungry/bored/in need of a nap. It's a complex balancing act making sure that just enough of their needs are met to keep them all happyish.
A self sacrificing nature
I sometimes look back on the days pre four children when my husband or I used to get the odd break. Perhaps one of us with push our two boys to the park and leave the other to read the paper, watch a Grand Prix or just some time for his or herself. This doesn't happen any more, neither of us will willingly take all four out alone, as we know that the fine balancing act mentioned above is prone to unravel in the great outdoors. As you struggle to change the nappy of a wriggling twin, his brother will rapidly crawl off to teeter beside the brook that handily runs next to our local playground, while the older brothers will take advantage of your inattention to try to poke each other's eyes out with a stick.
You will need it by the bucketload if you are going to persuade anyone to babysit, let alone take on all four of your children so you can go away for more than a few hours. Grandparents love to dandle a baby, and are happy to manage two or so grandchildren, but once you hit four the offers to take them on dissolve faster than Disprin.
I remember when I used to only have two children I could spend short snatches of the day sitting down, now when I look after all four my bum doesn't see sight of a cushion from morning til night. The moment one is calmly occupied, the next will require your attention, and that's not to mention the mountain of housework left in the wake of four small children. I cannot count the number of times our washing machine goes on in one week, and the trail of toys is never ending. Once you have finished picking up one pile of plastic detritus another has mysteriously accumulated while your back was turned.
A blind eye
For turning on the mess that was once your pristine home, on the screaming children you are avoiding while you attempt to cook tea/empty the washing machine/answer the telephone and on the plaintive looks from your husband who you last seduced circa 2003, which is coincidentally also the year our first son was born.
I know that money isn't the key to a happy childhood, although my older boys would surely disagree as they think that if I were to buy them both a DS they'd be ecstatic, but even if you skimp and scrimp four children don't come cheap. When our family expanded from two to four with the birth of the twins we shelled out tens of thousands of pounds on essentials such as a loft extension so there was somewhere for everyone to sleep and a new car that had enough seats for us all to travel together. Since then hidden costs have burst out from their hiding places, for example we have discovered that the only restaurant where it's feasible for us all to go out for a family meal is MacD's, and we have had to think long and hard about which boys we like best in order to decide who gets to do extra activities.
A big heart
For all the negatives of having four children, I couldn't imagine my life without any one of them now. Although I don't think I would ever have chosen to have four, now that they are here I wouldn't change a thing. When I am sitting on the sofa, twins on my knees and big boys draped over me, I am the happiest I have ever been. I love to watch the boys interact with each other, to see the oldest playing gently with his baby brother is adorable in the extreme. I have found my heart has expanded with each new addition to the family as I learn to love them all.
So in answer to the original question, which was whether I would recommend having four children. I would have to say no sane person would even consider it, but then I've always thought sanity was much overrated.