I was home alone for the first time with three kids. Aspen, our new baby was sleeping in the bouncer. I was in the kitchen, packing my lunch for the next day, feeling confident.
Mel, my wife, was out, signing our daughter up for soccer. My mother-in-law left two days earlier. Tristan, our 7-year-old, had come home from school early because he had a fever. He was sacked out on the sofa. Norah, our 4-year-old, had wrapped herself in a bath towel and was telling me that she was the fairy princess.
It was adorable.
I'd heard so many parents complain about the transition from two kids to three kids. "It's a real game changer. They outnumber you," was the biggest complaint. They spoke like they were co-captains on a boat. Having one extra crewmember turned the numbers, and suddenly there was a mutiny, and they lost command.
I thought about our ship, and how two of the crewmembers were sleeping, and one was being cute, and wondered what was wrong with these other parents. This wasn't so bad. In fact, it was enjoyable.
What a bunch of pansies, I thought
"You are the fairy king," Norah said and then she bowed.
Yes, I thought, I'm the king.
She asked if I wanted to see her fly, and I said, "Sure."
Norah ran into the living room, the towel on her arms spread wide like wings, and right into the bouncer. She didn't crash into it or anything -- more of just a hard bump that was strong enough to wake the baby, and set in motion a trip through hell.
Aspen started crying, which woke Tristan. Now that he was awake, he remembered that he was sick. So he started moaning, long dramatic cries. Then he ran into the bathroom and puked. Half of it got into the bowl; the other half ran down his shirt.
He sniffled and gagged, with big boogery cries.
I was holding the baby in my right arm, and rubbing Tristan's back with the left. I was standing awkwardly, leaning to the right, trying to keep Aspen away from Tristan so she wouldn't get sick. She was still crying, then she stopped for a moment and I noticed that she was trying to latch onto my bicep.
For the first time in my life, I wished I'd been born with breasts.
Breastfeeding makes me feel completely helpless. Our other two kids were bottle fed, and although Mel saw this as a mark of failure (she tried to breastfeed, but things kept getting in the way), I, at least, had more control over the situation. I could feed the baby. But right then, as Aspen rooted around for a nipple, I was 100 percent useless.
Tristan started gagging once again, and so did I from the smell of his puke. Then Norah, the fairy princess started tugging at the baby and saying, "What's wrong baby? What's wrong? Do you want me to kiss you?"
Norah really loves the baby. It's cute and wonderful that she want's to be a big helper. But honestly, in that moment, it was a huge pain in the ass. I was trying to comfort Tristan and the baby, while doing my best not to puke, and suddenly Norah was yanking at my arm, about to flip me over, so she could ram her face into Aspen's, pinch her cheeks, kiss her forehead, and say, "Don't cry little baby. Don't cry."
Norah thinks this is parenting. She thinks this will help, when the last thing Aspen wants is another kid getting all kissy with her. What she wanted was milk, from a boob, but no one in the house had them.
"Norah," I said, "You're not helping. Ok. Just leave the baby alone. Go watch a show on the iPad or something. I don't want you getting sick, and you're just making the baby angry."
She looked up at me with big soggy eyes, the towel still wrapped around her arms like wings, and said, "I'm never ever talking to you ever again!"
Then she went into her room and started crying.
All three kids were crying now.
One needed food that I couldn't give her. One was covered in vomit, and needed me to help change him. And the other needed comfort. All of them wanted me right then, and I all I could think about was the fact that I was now in hell. I knew that just one month ago, before we had Aspen, I could've easily handled this situation, but now, trying to hold a crying baby, while caring for a puking kid and an emotionally distraught little girl, felt like too much.
Suddenly having three kids felt like drowning.
I coached Tristan out of his puke soaked clothes and into his PJ's. Got him into bed with a puke bowl, all the while listening to Aspen cry, and Norah telling me I was a mean daddy.
Once I finished with Tristan, Mel was back. She took Aspen into the living room to feed her.
I went into Norah's room. She had her face buried into her pillow, hands over the back of her head.
I told her I was sorry and she said, "Go away, Daddy."
"That's too bad," I said. "As the fairy king, I really wanted to see you fly again. Perhaps I could even help."
She looked up at me and tried not to smile, but I could see it creeping into the side of her face.
"Do you want to fly like a fairy?" I asked.
She stood up, put the towel on her arms, and I lifted her up, and carried her around the house for a while. Suddenly we were good again. I got her into bed, and the house was quiet.
Two hours had been lost.
I sat down next to Mel. She was still feeding Aspen. I told her what happened while she was away.
"I don't ever want to be alone with all three of them ever again," I said. "That was hell. What were we thinking having three kids?"
"What are you complaining about?" Mel asked. "I'm going to be alone with them every day."
I looked at her in the eyes, and asked, "How are you going to keep from going crazy?"
Mel let out a breath and said, "I. Don't. Know."
At the time, it all seemed hopeless. As a parent, I had no idea how I was ever going to make three kids work. But at the same time, I didn't know I was ever going to make one kid work... or two. It's the transition, I think, the addition of a new child, that is the hardest. Not the number.
Mel let out a breath. "It will get better," she said. "I'm sure."
"Yes," I said. "Let's think happy thoughts."