With Four You Get "Ummm..."
June 27, 2009
It is said that children are a gift from God. Naturally, that should make four children a heavenly basket of goodies for anyone to partake. God's math doesn't quite work the same as Newton's or Babbage's, however. Parents of more than three children know exactly what I'm talking about.
When babies and children start coming into the picture, a full childless night away is about the most desirable thing a couple can imagine. With one child in tow, it's usually just a simple phone call away. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, close friends, and even the creepy old lady on the corner are happy to take a single child for the night, spoil her rotten, and send her back the next morning. Everybody's happy, life goes on, and we get a small respite from our daily routine.
Not satisfied with one, many of us decide to have a second child. A little more work maybe, but nothing anyone can't handle. Overnights become more effort but are not impossible. You can forget about the creepy old lady and the close friends at this point, but it's no loss because there's still plenty of help. In fact, an entire weekend away is still manageable if you have generous grandparents. The two kids play with each other, the grandparents sit, watch, and spoil for a couple days, and the parents return, refreshed and thankful. A little more prodding than with just one perhaps, but it's basically rinse and repeat.
Then comes the third child. Maybe “three is the new two,” but suddenly the aunts and uncles are out of the picture – hey, if they wanted that many kids, they would have had their own fertility doctor appointments. Your only hope now is the grandparents, but you can forget about a weekend. Plan ahead a few months, make some provisions and future promises, and you might be able to finagle a late drop-off, early morning pickup if you're lucky. Oh, and there are structured rules now: no more than one night per year allowed, drop them off well fed and ready for bed, and return no later than the second cup of coffee at breakfast. At this point, the childless night becomes more of a chore than a reward, but we follow through in the hopes that one restful night will recharge the parental batteries.
Then there are those of us who are simply greedy. Whether it's through stubbornness, foolishness, a lack of knowledge about this so-called “rhythm method,” or perhaps just a penchant to be gluttons for punishment, we went ahead and had a fourth child. By now, the number far outweighs the actual behavior of the children in determining a night away. Grandparents say things like “my two little angels.” Regardless of your children's potential for sainthood, you're never going to hear “I'd love to watch your four little angels!” The entire focus is on the number four, like some unreachable summit in the mountain of kids. FOUR! Never mind that the oldest one can practically raise the other three by herself. FOUR! Never mind that the youngest is already self-sufficient, out of diapers, and telling you how to work the DVR. FOUR! That's the magic number for grandparents – the one that puts them out of overnight babysitting contention for the remainder of their natural lives.
For those parents that still have the gall to ask, responses always begin with “Ummm...” or some other common English stammer intended to give the grandparent an extra 20 seconds to concoct a sudden “can't miss” event on the EXACT same day you need them. It's an especially painful shot to the gut when you haven't even told them the date yet!
The odd thing is that offers still come in, but from the least likely source. The only people willing to watch four children for a night or two? People with multiple children of their own! Like I said: gluttons. Naturally, the honest offers like those are the ones we can't accept, so it's movie rentals and sleep at home for the next decade or so. Doris Day taught us in the late 60s that “With Six You Get Eggroll.” With four, however, you just have to settle for takeout and “Ummms.”