When I tell people that we raised six children, the inevitable comment is: “That must have been a challenge.”
“It was total chaos,” I reply, “but worth every minute.”
Chaos theory states that a tiny disturbance in a proceeding will cause a major change in its outcome. Our chaos arose from a decision my husband and I made 43 years ago that changed our lives forever. Bill and I married in 1972, and for the next seven years we had many adventures—none of which, unfortunately, equipped us for the greatest adventure of all: learning to be parents to one tiny baby.
We embarked upon this undertaking in total ignorance of the challenges ahead, a kindness, in retrospect. Bill’s total experience with babies was confined to gatherings where someone would say “Here, hold this kid for a minute while I grab a beer.” For me it was the three months I spent at age 18 babysitting for a working mother. Lullabies, peekaboo, stroller time—I thought I had a handle on this baby business until the morning I arrived to find his mother warming a jar of baby food in a pan of water on the stove. I thought it best not to mention that I had been giving it to him straight out of the refrigerator.
Flash forward to the day we brought our daughter Sarah home from the hospital. My mother had come to stay with us for two weeks, guiding us through the intricacies of diaper changes and swaddling and breastfeeding. The day she left I remember standing on the doorstep with a squirming infant in my arms, waving goodbye, and thinking: “Now what?”
But we all survived, and Sarah is now a healthy, happy mom dealing with her own chaos of running a family business while raising three children and a husband.
And, new parents, you will survive as well. Trust me. I would like to offer a few tips gleaned during the early months, which helped immensely during the ensuing years.
Tip #1: This, too, will pass.
A friend told me to write this phrase in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. Not only would I be buoyed up by these comforting words, she said, but it would be the only time I would be applying lipstick for the foreseeable future.
Tip #2: Relax.
Shortly after Sarah’s birth we were in a restaurant with friends who had raised a lively son and twin girls. Our newborn began to fuss, and our frantic efforts to quiet her just made things worse. The couple exchanged knowing smiles. The wife said, “Look around you.” Puzzled, we gazed at the other diners. “There are thirty people in this room,” she said, “and the only ones disturbed by your baby’s behaviour are her parents.” She was right! And as we relaxed, so did our child.
Tip #3: Accept help.
We owned a small-town weekly newspaper in Burns Lake. When Sarah was two months old, we attended a newspaper publishers’ conference. Picture this: Around a long dining table sit fifteen men in suits and one extremely nervous woman with a sleeping baby in her lap. Halfway through the meal, Sarah wakes up and starts to fuss. The man next to me says “May I hold the baby?” To my amazement, she stops crying and gazes into his bearded face. “Three kids of my own,” he explains. The man next to him says “Give me that sweet baby!” “My turn!” says the next guy. As my child is passed around the table, to the obvious delight of all parties, I realize that angels sometimes wear tweed. Who knew?
Tip #4: Take time for yourself.
While visiting my parents in Abbotsford, Bill and I decided to spend a day in Vancouver and—despite my mom’s offer to babysit—took eight-month-old Sarah with us. The day was hot, and she soon tired of shopping. Passing the Varsity Theatre, we noticed that a matinee performance of the new Star Wars sequel “The Empire Strikes Back” was about to start. The Varsity had air conditioning! It was naptime! So in we went, hoping Sarah would sleep through the movie.
We were unaware, however, that the Varsity had recently installed “Surround Sound.” We soon found out. Sounds of battle assailed us from all quarters! The walls literally shook! Sarah woke up and began to wail. I retreated to the “mother’s room,” a stifling closet at the top of a long flight of stairs. During the rest of the movie we took turns running our child back and forth between the vibrating theatre and the sweltering attic room. Two hours later we emerged—parents exhausted, baby none the worse for wear —wishing we had taken my mother up on her offer to babysit.
Tip #5: Be kind to yourself.
Yes, you will make mistakes. Often you will feel like this journey is impossible. But you will survive. Get up every morning, read your mirror, put on your lipstick and enjoy the chaos.