Having three kids with three distinct personalities and extremely high energy always has the potential for chaos.
But right now, chaos is our default setting. My 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old twins do not allow boredom to occur during a global health crisis. It’s loud here. It’s sticky too — literally sticky, because I am pretty sure my kids coat all of their meals with maple syrup. I try to cheer my kids through their homeschooling, but some days the best we can do is play blackjack and call it math. Every single educational app needs a password that seems to change every time I try to sign in.
I can’t keep class Zoom meetings straight, and my kids get their science from The Magic School Bus. They are acting out and resisting everything I suggest or ask them to do while simultaneously wanting and needing more attention than usual. They are volatile and clingy creatures, and I have a constant headache. I know this is all normal given the situation, but it’s rough. However, even on the hardest days, I am glad they have each other.
Not every moment of every day is exhausting, but I and other parents juggling this new normal will tell you that collectively the highs and lows of each day create a sensation of being slammed against a rock by wind and waves all day long. Some moments we are lulled out to sea, while others keep us pressed against a hard place. It’s impossible to give my kids or myself what any of us need to a satisfactory degree; the demand will always exceed the supply.
Yet my kids seem to find what they need in each other, whether their moods are joyous or cranky. They are each other’s only option for companionship, entertainment, and sparring partners. They use each other as places to put their frustration, but at the risk of jinxing it, they are getting along more than not.
Because they are so close in age, they tend to enjoy similar activities. They play board games together, their imaginations tend to flow in and out of sense with each other during imaginative play, and they like the same video games, movies, and television shows. Together they binge-watch shows on Netflix and then talk about the episodes throughout the day and incorporate story lines into their playtime.
Their latest series was Odd Squad on PBS Kids. They have inside jokes about the characters, repeat lines from the show, and recently discovered that Alexa will play songs from the show’s soundtrack. Your dance party is no match for the one happening in my kitchen by three dorky but very happy kids jamming to “Zoological” by Paul Buckley & Soundcheck.
When I force them outside, my kids roam the yard as a pack. When one swings, rides their bike, or decides 45 degrees is warm enough to run through the sprinkler, they all join in. During their free time to video chat with friends, they tend to talk to each other from separate rooms in the house. They play interactive games together on Messenger Kids and send group messages to each other with GIFs, emojis, and selfies. Nothing says “I love you” like a cat filter.
We recently walked by a friend’s house to see their new dog. We used proper social distancing practices, I promise. This meant I stood in the driveway while the happy new dog owners sat on their front stoop and my three children spun in unison on their lawn, close to the side of the road. The street is quiet — they were fine, just obnoxious, and at risk of falling on the pavement. I wasn’t worried about passing cars, but I didn’t want to deal with a scraped knee.
As they counted down from three, they screamed the numbers and then started chanting some unknowable saying from Puppy Dog Pals as they rotated and bounced off each other like unstable molecules. They would fall, laugh, and then do it again. And again. My friend is used to the crazy my family brings to the table, but even she gave me the “How ya doing?” look. I’m not great.
Having three young kids is maddening and physically exhausting during the best of times. It’s that 10 times over right now, but if sheltering in place at home strengthens their bond, that will be the silver lining to all of this. Their experience during the health crisis is a shared one. They have one another to lament and celebrate our time at home.
They are learning that they can and will get through anything as long as they have each other. They may not always like each other, and I may not always like that I am outnumbered, talked over, and ganged up on, but three really is a magic number.