Mind the Gap

“You’re having another one?”

“Was that planned?”

“Are you mad!?”

“Oh! That’s … um … wow! Congratulations!”

These were among the responses to the news, five years ago, that I was expecting my third child. People seemed taken aback; baffled, even. After all, I had my boy and I had my girl, so they couldn’t ask whether my husband and I were “trying for” one or the other (I always think that particular question is such an insult to parents of just boys or just girls, and their families).

More to the point, though, my children would be 10 and eight when the new baby was born. And on that level I could completely understand any reservations. I felt them myself. After all, you grow with your children; you move on as a family. Don’t you? Alex and I had done all the baby stuff: the broken nights, the nappies, the weaning, the crying; and the toddler stuff: the broken nights, the tantrums, the teething, the crying – and, still comfortably in our thirties, had arrived at a Very Civilised Place. Our children were excellent company and no longer overwhelmingly needy (and they were big enough to enjoy the same rides as us at Disney). I was starting to earn decent money again, and Alex began to contemplate a couple of big trips he’d always wanted to make just with me. “If we go when Toby’s 16, we’ll still only be in our mid-forties.”

We were indeed a neat, even little unit, and we were about to become sprawling; uneven.

My reasons for wanting a third child are my own, and from the moment she arrived I morphed effortlessly back into New Mum mode, but there were many times during that pregnancy that I reflected uneasily on how much more complicated and difficult our lives were likely to become. Not less happy – never that – but more difficult. Numerous issues needed to be considered: my job; finances; space; childcare; the multitasking; the potential impact on the older two and whether I’d be able to find anything like the same amount of time for them. That last one caused me a great deal of anxiety and guilt.

Logistics fell into place to a lesser or greater extent, as they tend to do if you help them along. My music room ceased to be, the piano was plonked unceremoniously in the dining room (where it resides to this day), and at eight months pregnant I emerged from my state of semi-denial and took up my paintbrush. The garage conversion was transformed into a lilac-and-purple palace for ten-year-old Francesca, Toby then jubilantly moved from his Buzz Lightyear box room into his big sister’s hastily decorated old room (a metallic blue and orange creation that didn’t quite work), and poor old Buzz was blotted out with yellow paint and a teddy bear border that B&Q were practically giving away at 99p a roll.

Then of course, we didn’t have any baby stuff. It had all been given away, sold or thrown out years ago. Friends and family, and Alex’s sister in particular, were incredibly kind and generous here and gave or lent us all kinds of things. Skint as ever, my biggest purchase was a second hand pram/buggy combo from an NCT Nearly New Sale, which set us back £50. We’d done it all before; I couldn’t get excited about the prospect of baby-debt.

My ex-employer had a ball with my poor blood pressure, doing everything possible to wriggle out of paying me the maternity leave to which I was entitled, but I discovered that as I had additionally been self-employed during that period I could claim maternity allowance instead. I never did go back and haul them over the coals for shafting me like that. I never had the time.

And so Nancy arrived, and we progressed from a happy family of four to a happy family of five. I think I still found time for the older two. I hope I did. Those early days quickly become hazy. The practical worries we had anticipated sorted themselves out in the form of a new, part-time job for me after my year off, and a childminder who agreed to a term-time only contract. The house was big enough to be going on with, and everybody could fit into the car.

Four and a half years later, we’re still muddling along OK. My hopes that a new baby might help Francesca and Toby resolve their differences sadly proved unfounded, but I could not have dreamed how close a bond each of them would form with their new sister. Watching my son transform from a timid, over-sensitive little boy into a confident, relaxed, responsible older brother has been a source of deep joy.

I had feared that our precious family days out would consist of one parent supervising Nancy while the other went off somewhere with the older children, but it hasn’t turned out like that at all. We adapted. It does require more thought and planning these days, but we still enjoy doing things together. National Trust membership helps. Special occasions have gained a fresh injection of extra sparkle, especially Christmas. An unexpected benefit of a big age gap is that you can (if you dare) ask your older children how they feel you handled a particular situation when they were younger. You do risk opening the flood gates, but so far my two have been pretty kind. The issue of Father Christmas is a perfect example.

“Do you wish I had told you there was no Father Christmas when you were tiny?”

“No.”

“Has it led you to trust me any less on other matters?”

“No.”

“Do you think I should be honest with Nancy about Father Christmas while she’s still tiny?”

“No! Please don’t!”

Life is sweet and motherhood is a blessing. I have, however, entitled this article Mind the Gap for good reason, so here is my personal, hand-on-heart list of the bits I wish others had told me:

  1. You’re older this time. Francesca said recently that one of the boys at her primary school used to fancy me. The boys at Nancy’s primary school may well think I’m her granny.
  2. You forget what a pain in the arse car seats are.
  3. Not so much a gap issue as a larger family issue, but trying to find a UK hotel room for a family of five is nigh on impossible once the third child has outgrown a cot.
  4. If you were previously blessed with good sleepers, it may be time for a bad one. Steel yourself.
  5. You may tell yourself that the new arrival will ‘just have to fit in’. They won’t, but that’s OK because you’ll adapt to fit around them.
  6. Your sensible teens, who of course know Little One better than most, can become excellent babysitters. Ask, pay and thank them as you would any other babysitter.
  7. Older siblings can instil over-confidence into a much younger child (as well as Family Guy quotes and a preference for YouTube videos over Doc McStuffins, but that’s OK because you don’t have to endure another seven years of relentless kids’ TV. Really, you don’t. Feel free to pour yourself a shaky glass of wine and have a giggly, relieved weep while you absorb this information.)
  8. You may feel less inclined to join the PTA or volunteer hours and hours of your time at your small child’s school this time around, and that’s fine. Don’t feel guilty about it. Then again, if you did bugger all previously, now might be the time.
  9. It is absolutely possible to be simultaneously on the same wavelength as your older kids and your younger one, which is pretty cool.
  10. If someone says “Rather you than me”, respond with a cold “Absolutely rather me than you.” Never underestimate the love that any new child brings along with them. That stuff moves mountains.

Happy Mothering Sunday.