The third child
August 2017. My wife and I were out for a meal in Leeds, a date night if you will – we were going to an upmarket Chinese restaurant which had recently opened and was getting great reviews. Life recently had been very settled – business going well, two happy and healthy children aged 9 and 7, but it was all about to change. A common topic of conversation between us in the preceding couple of years was whether to have another baby, I was probably 60:40 against, she was 60:40 for. As Mary approached 40 the biological clock was imposing something of a deadline and there was a growing need to get to some kind of resolution in the discussion. Slowly my pattern of thought was changing, our two kids were getting older and not needing us quite as much, and I definitely had it in me to do the baby thing all over again. I mean who has a baby and actually regrets it? So we threw caution to the wind, and sure enough within a couple of months Mary fell pregnant. We found out just before heading out to the Chinese restaurant, which meant we were all set for a long evening of duck spring rolls and baby chat.
Nine months later Lila Rose arrived. At first it was joyous, Lila was super cute and was sleeping the standard 16 hours a day averaged by newborns. Finn and especially Flo loved having a baby sister, bickering about who got to hold her whilst mummy and daddy took short breaks to tidy, cook and clean. But the honeymoon period did not last long. Lila’s true character soon emerged and it turned out that she was one grumpy human being. The nights were okay, with her establishing a manageable routine fairly quickly, but she seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time crying. Was this normal? Did our other two cry as much as this? As Lila turned 3 months old the summer holidays were approaching, and my wife recoiled in horror at the prospect of entertaining two kids whilst looking after a baby. I tried to help by working more flexibly but by August we realised we needed help and recruited a nanny who would help us three afternoons a week, allowing Mary to do some activities with the big kids whilst Lila was looked after.
But coming out of those summer holidays Lila’s disposition had not improved and she continued to be angry at everyone and everything. I had hazy, stylized memories of the baby years with my first two, that mainly involved cuddles, tickles and giggles, but time with Lila was the opposite, it generally consisted of holding her whilst she grizzled and groaned, and moaned further if you dared to put her down. There was no reciprocated affection, and she seemed impervious to our attempts to teach her how to kiss and cuddle.
I was the lucky one, I could escape the house for the sanctity of work, but Mary was the one literally left holding the baby and she took her to the doctors on at least 3 occasions just to make sure there was actually nothing wrong with her. The initial cuteness having passed my older kids were now also giving Lila a wide berth, and probably secretly resenting their parents for spending so much time with the time burglar in the house.
One of our coping strategies was the development of a fairly dark sense of humour around her. We would openly joke about why we bothered, and how easy life was before she came along. My elder kids initiated a game where they asked me to apportion my love between my three kids, and they would delight in me answering 40 / 40 and 20%, always with Lila receiving the minority share. Don’t get me wrong, we loved her and we were committed to taking care of her, but we didn’t always like her.
And then, just as she was approaching 18 months old and we had resigned ourselves to the fact she had some kind of behavioural problem, everything changed. She suddenly cheered up and discovered the concept of joy, as if someone had removed an itchy spur from the inside of her jumper that had been nagging her since birth. She started picking up words fast – mama, and dadda, and boy (Finn) but also our favourite – boobies. She discovered that if she poked her finger in our belly buttons we would all make a buzzing sound (hysterical) and that if she lifted her arms up when having her nappy changed, she would get a very tickly raspberry in her armpits (hilarious). She discovered her family were actually quite fun, and when any of us came back into the house after going out, she would shout “door!”, run to the door and greet us with a hug. And there’s nothing better than a hug from a toddler. In fact her interpersonal skills have gone from non-existent to highly sensitive within a couple of months, to the point where she has developed attachments to me and Mary and will cry when we leave the room. And as she improves our cruel comments have faded away. Mary and I have decided we quite like her now and don’t regret having a third child. And I’ve warned the other two that they need to stay on their A game, Lila might not quite be at 33.3% yet but she is probably at 30% and it’s rising fast.