As I write this Elma is sat at the end of the dinner table stacking her block crayons up to make a castle. It’s past her bedtime but as I came downstairs with Pip this afternoon to find her crashed out and fast asleep in the lounge doorway it’s perhaps not surprising she’s not that sleepy.
OK scrap that, now she’s climbed up into my lap and she’s snuggling into my shoulder in what I hope is a most encouraging way. Kitty is fast asleep sprawled across her bed and I’m keeping everything crossed that my sleepy little Pip is dreaming sweetly too.
I don’t really mind. I wish she was asleep because she’s going to be horribly tired tomorrow and there’s a risk that she’ll fall into a cycle of too long naps and too late nights but it’s been nice to have a cuddle, to be able to snuggle her up in my arms without having to answer twenty other questions about what’s for lunch tomorrow, what day it is, or watch Pip’s face crumple into a wail as he realises that his Mama is in the room but not cuddling him (and in his mind I’m very much his, not anyone else).
I’ve always been so very happy in my own company, happy to the point of craving time to myself and even now I cherish time when the house is quiet and all the children asleep and I can just sit and think and read and knit or sew or be still.
But right now I am never alone. Not in the truest sense, I mean occasionally I’m the only person in the room and once I even had a bath without the girls bringing me either bath toys or their baby brother. Pip is a nursing baby who categorises people as Mummy, Not-Mummy and a small side category of Sisters. Only Mummy will really do and so where I go, so does he. And then there’s Kitty and Elma too, cuddled up on my lap or holding my hair or just shouting “Mummmmmeeeeee” from the other end of the house to summon me to sort out some sisterly dispute.
As you have more children and get further down the road as a parent so much becomes automatic; you suddenly realise that even when you’re in one room, you’re automatically still listening for the noises off, the little squeaks or thuds or patters that suggest that someone’s awake, or that you’ve cut up the children’s jacket potatoes and added butter and then moved straight on to do the same for your husband. Actually that one might just be me, but I’m certain I’m not the only one who’s referred to themselves in the plural when actually they just mean themself. And one of the biggest changes for me has been the shift in what alone means. Because right now, alone pretty much means just one child. If I go to the supermarket with just Pip that’s a huge treat (and so quiet), or when Pip and Elma are having a rare nap together and I get to spend time chatting with Kitty and find out what she thinks should happen in a Rapunzel sequel (spoiler: they go to a cafe with pink and purple chairs and then to see her Auntie and cousin, you heard it here first). Or if I need to get something done, or just want to do something that’s wholly for me then it’s easy enough to find a way to entertain just one or let just one help in whatever I’m doing.
There are times when three little ones feels a bit smothering, when I get so utterly touched out I’ve been known to retreat to the bathroom just for five minutes peace, but it’s a feeling that passes quickly enough. I can remember the days when if I wanted to I could spend the entire of a weekend holed up in my sewing room, long before my sewing room became a nursery, but not with longing, just with fondness for a time past. One of these days I’ll wake up and they’ll all have grown up and I’ll have more time that I want, and I know I’ll miss the chatter and the bustle and the feeling that comes from knowing that you are so essentially needed.
So right now I might be the Mummy casting longing glances at the fabric sitting on the back of the sofa waiting to be cut up for my next quilt, or the Mummy wondering whether it is possible to have children and read more than one sentence of anything other than their books or a recipe book at any one time, but I’m also the Mummy who when woken up in the morning by at least one small daughter jumping on my legs and Pip squirming in H’s arms to get to me, or more accurately, to get to the milk, while another girl gently wakes up from a night peacefully sleeping across as much of our bed as is humanely possible, looks around at her life and knows that she wouldn’t change it for the world.