THE SMOKE FROM his first birthday candle has barely dissipated, and they’re off again with the loaded questions. ‘Sooooo … will you go again?’, they ask with a twinkle in their eye and a suggestive raised eyebrow. ‘Ah, you’ll have another one, you will…?’
They make the inquiry with the same mischievous tone of voice used to suggest another double vodka – right before you have to make a panicked dash to the loos – as if such a monumental, life-altering decision is somehow a rhetorical one. Because, whilst in so many ways it would be pure madness to consider having another child, you and they both know that you probably will anyway. Since when did logic ever enter into such decisions? No more than the obligatory one for the road, sheer chaos will inevitably ensue, but sure what the hell – bring it on, baby.
So what is the magic number? As the curtain closes on the BBC’s Outnumbered, I wondered: when is enough, enough? Where is the dividing line between doing one’s bit for the survival of the species, and becoming the modern day equivalent of The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe? Yes, your unconditional love for each little mini me will no doubt stretch to whatever number your reproductive organs are generous enough to produce. But will your sanity? Or your relationship? Or your bank balance?
How many, is too many?
My mother was the eldest of eleven, and whilst she loved her siblings dearly, I suspect she thought the ‘magic number’ had been long since exceeded. But that was back in the 1950s. Sixty years later, for those of us who are lucky enough to be blessed with the choice, how many, is too many?
Those who make a conscious decision to say ‘zero’ I can’t help but admire. They choose life. No, sorry. lifestyle (with the emphasis on ‘style’). Exotic holidays and good wine. Boobs that remain unsavaged and upright, together with the correct proportion of skin to flab around their middle, fillers, botox–while the closest I’ll ever to get to botulism will be via some toddler supergerm courtesy of the crèche. They steadfastly refuse to subdivide their lives, and instead focus on (shock, horror!) fulfilling their own potential as individuals. Makes a whole lotta sense on a whole lotta levels if you think about it.
What about just one child. (Only one?!) Why not? And yet it’s always assumed that one is never enough. That siblings are a necessary addition. And that, without them, you risk raising a spoiled brat who thinks the world revolves around them; that an only child ‘misses out’ by not having siblings. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but don’t the vast majority of us spend much of our short lives wanting to throttle our siblings? Be that subtly around the Christmas dinner table as adults, or more openly by way of a box in the head as toddlers. The only thing that evolves is the subtlety with which we express our annoyance at having to share our little universes with them.
The arrival of my two year old’s younger brother did not mean she suddenly stopped thinking the world revolved around her. Au contraire. She still thinks it does. The only difference is that now she’s an angry, spoiled brat because she has a little brother to put up with alongside the same inept parents.
In for a penny, in for a pound
Two? In spite of the above, one to two seems to generally be considered a bit of a no-brainer. Expected. In for a penny, in for a pound. Yes, a neat little two is considered to be very civilised indeed. Particularly if it’s one of each. A ‘gentleman’s’ family, or so I have been repeatedly told since successfully spawning a second of an alternative gender. Although I can’t help but think that there is nothing in the least bit ‘genteel’ nor ‘civilised’ about our household, particularly between the hours of 6pm and 8pm where there is n’ere a lady nor a gent to be found. Just my son with his hand down his pants, as my daughter proudly informs me that she’s going behind the couch to do a poo.
Three? Two’s company, three’s a crowd? The theory goes that odds are difficult, evens are easier, ie number one’s a killer, two’s not too bad, three ‘nearly breaks you’, four makes little difference, etc. So if one to two is generally considered to be a bit of no brainer, two to three is much more of an actual decision. How many neat two-year gaps do you come across, followed by a much longer one as the parents brace themselves for the chaos of a third?
Not enough hands to hold little fingers. Not enough seats to the buggy. Not enough space in the car. And the complete and absolute obliteration of any free time. The transition I’ve heard likened to going from keeping a ‘couple of pets’, to ‘running a zoo’. Turning from amateur to professional. That being the case, I’m in no rush to turn pro yet, thanks.
God bless anyone who’s brave enough
Four? Hats off to anyone who braves the retro approach. Where back in the day they could walk to school by themselves and could be thrown into the back of a Fiesta to get them home – when Findus Crispy Pancakes and Nutella sandwiches were considered a balanced diet, and ‘social media’ was the house phone and the possibility of the odd chain letter – four nowadays must be exponentially more difficult. God bless anyone who’s that brave. May the force be with you.
Any number is, of course, a blessing that we wouldn’t trade for the world. But in making the monumental decision to ‘try for another’, to take that next gargantuan step to Two, Three, Four, whatever your magic number is, I just can’t escape the conclusion that any such decision shouldn’t be taken whilst sleep deprived. Or broody. Or horny. Or drunk at a friend’s wedding. And that the more you have, the less energy you inevitably have left to enjoy the whole experience!
Claire Micks is the mother of a (reasonably behaved) two year old girl and an (entirely spoilt) 14 month old boy. She survives by day and writes by night. Croaks rather than tweets, but despite that somehow manages to get her ramblings published on occasion.