Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Three's a Crowd, Chaos, and Comforting

It's been over six months since our game changer, baby number three (better know as Mari), arrived on the scene. We knew that the shift to three would present some additional challenges - bunk beds, a larger car, extended daycare, etc. - but didn't realize just how significant the change would be.

Talking with parents who have three kids, or kids from larger families, I've learned that, on average, having three kids takes you through the looking glass. Packing kids on top of that number adds to the workload, but at least you remain in that same altered reality you entered with number three (and no, I'm not willing to test this hypothesis).

With two kids, at least in a two-parent household, the tables are leveled. Even if there's the rare total meltdown with both kids, there are two supposedly older and wiser adults who can step in , one per child. With just one parent on call, it's still relatively manageable. 95% of the time, one child will lose it, but the other one will be stable enough to set aside while you wrangle the troublemaker. For instance, in the pic below, we all know that this sweetness will quickly end with one child running off, tripping, or pushing the other into a pole. That will generally leave one child needing assistance, and the other laughing or nursing a grudge.
With two kids, you still have a chance of getting a decent first-day-of-school picture (never will more than one of my children smile for a camera at a time).
Two kids can also work on a puzzle together, sometimes actually solving it faster than either would have done on his or her own.
And, once one of them gets older, they can even read together.
Of course, it helps if the older sibling is kind enough to choose a book the younger one will like (Mimi chose "Cars" for Kuri below).
And even fights with two kids can be solved if at least one is willing to let go a bit. In getting ready for Japanese school, we needed to give Mimi my backpack because she had so much to take. Kuri immediately saw this and needed to take part.
Thankfully, Mimi was kind enough to let Kuri try it on.
Now, of course, life with two kids does not normally go this easily. Usually, there's kicking and screaming softened by constant cajoling to help them get along. But at least with two, you can usually avert a meltdown or help a child understand how they might be able to have more fun by sharing (which, as all parents know, isn't always true. Sorry kids.).

With two kids I often thought of parenting as an "us vs. them" kind of arrangement. A very loving one, naturally, but still, I thought, "I'm the dad and I'm going to maintain control. You're the kids, and I'll eventually get my way." But now, with three kids, I'm beginning to realize how ridiculous this is. It's like facing a power play in hockey, but for the whole game. You're constantly a man down. As such, "winning" isn't the end goal. Survival - that's the strategy.

Thankfully, three kids can play well together, especially when the first two monsters absolutely adore the baby.
Below is the best picture I could get with three kids. I took over 15. Even so, we have one smile, one funny face, and one "looking at the camera." For me, that's success.
You also sometimes get moments like these. Sumie and Kuri would occasionally cuddle, but Mari has really brought them together. I had thought that the third would just be an additional factor to handle (and she often is), but what I didn't expect was how she'd act as a bridge for her brother and sister - helping them develop their own relationship and consideration for each other.
Six months ago, there were activities I knew I'd have to attempt on my own with three kids that scared me to death. One of those was attempting a Costco run. I remember the first time I look just Mimi and Kuri to Costco. When we left, with both kids and their father still alive, I was immensely proud. But three? How would that work? Surprisingly well, actually. I'm not sure if I'm learning, but it does seem to be getting easier.
If your hobby is classic cars, three kids can pose a challenge. I bought the kind of Porsche I did specifically so that I could take more than one kid at a time. Amazingly, even with three and all their car seats and strollers, it still works. Yes, it takes about 20 minutes to load the car, but you can actually get out there with all of them. That's pretty remarkable.
Three has been an eye-opener. I think I'm getting better at being a dad, but, more importantly, I think Mimi, Kuri, and Mari have taught me something important about my job as a father: let go. When Mari first came I thought I'd be overwhelmed. And, to be honest, I often felt like I was.  But as time has moved on, I've realized that looking at this life with kids like a power play, one in which I can never really win, has been liberating. I'm not going to win. And more than that, I don't need to. Rather, I just need to play the game as well as I can. Though we're playing against each other, we're really part of the same team. If the kids eventually win, if they put up the good fight, then I'll win, too.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Smallest, Bestest Fair of All

The Marin County Fair - small, local, a complete blast (and also held at the beginning of July, so you can see how well I've been keeping up with my writing).

Held at the Marin County Civic Center, the Marin County Fair has remarkable, but considerably compact, grounds. In terms of feel, it is tremendously low-key, which is perfect for us. This year, we made it to the fair, with all kids, two days in a row. The primary reason for this, as anyone with kids might imagine, is access to the midway.

Growing up, it was the midway at the Silver Dollar Fair in Chico, California that beckoned. As I recall, admission to the fair was cheap, but you had to pay the piper when it came to rides. The first time we hit the midway in Marin, though, we were happily surprised. The admission was somewhat steep at the gate (around 15 bucks), but all the rides were free upon entry. This was a huge bonus for us as, with the kids at this age, they generally needed some parental encouragement.

Kuri's first ride, sadly, was a bit of a shock for him.  Normally he loves cars, but man, did he hate the bouncing buggies. Even his sister's reassurances were to no avail.
With Kuri on the sidelines, Mimi jumped on a motorcycle. No fear for her.
Taking a break from the rides, we headed over to the exhibits. This being Marin county, we were greeted, quite kindly, by The Empire.
Mimi got to meet R2D2...
...and her favorite, BB-8.
Kuri, who was a bit too scared to deal with the droids we were looking for, did manage to join his sister in the throne room.
Walking through the exhibits, we happened to recall that Mimi's teacher entered some class artwork. After a quick search, we found Mimi had received her first blue ribbon!
Later that day we went on our first Ferris Wheel ride, which Mimi loved,
then found a nice, gentle train that was much more Kuri's speed.
And Mari? No rides for her, but plenty of smiles as she watched her big brother and big sister play. Well, at least until it was time to go home.
The following day found us at the gate just after opening, Mimi chomping at the bit to get on the rides. She grudgingly went on some kiddie rides with Kuri...
...but the main thing she was looking forward to were the big rides with Papa. Swings were a favorite, but she really went mad over the Tilt-A-Whirl. This little girl really loves her adventure rides. I think frequent windy-road adventures in the Porsche may have helped in this respect.

Later on the second day we headed over to see the animals. All was well until we hit the petting zoo. No, it wasn't an Evil Petting Zoo, but to Kuri, it might as well have been.
Poor kid. Much like his dad, he doesn't do particularly well with animals. I think we're both of the mindset that it pays to be wary around things that have a mind of their own. Yes, cars, motorcycles, and mechanical things may fail, but they're far less likely to throw you off or knock you over because they see someone has a carrot.

Back on the home front, Mari is now sitting up with support from her chair and her brother and sister.
She's entering that stage in which everything must be grabbed and put in her mouth, especially her siblings' hair.
We're looking forward to the fair next year. Mari will probably be too young for rides, but hopefully Kuri will be game for something a little more adventurous. And Mimi, we're just waiting for her to be ready to attempt The Zipper.