Sometimes I think I can pinpoint the moment we decided that we wanted to stick at two children. It was the first Christmas after my second son was born. Both children were upset, it was Christmas after all. We allocated a child each and swooped in for a cuddle. We had made a neat little square of need and nurture. I wondered where a third upset child would fit into this formation. Perhaps they would be a fifth wheel, a tiny gooseberry sobbing into the scraps of wrapping paper. It was a question of basic mathematics: too many tears, not enough hands.
The argument is absurd of course. A family of five is normal and natural. I was one of three and I haven’t grown up feeling like I’ve withered through a lack of attention. But when the first of my pals announced that they were expecting a third it caused such a jolt in me they may as well have said they were expecting a badger. What I especially boggled at was the continuing, relentless requirement for energy this news meant for them.
My youngest has just turned two and I feel like we have we’ve downgraded from what I call “full court press”parenting. The full court press is a tactic in basketball in which teams aggressively badgers the opposition wherever they may be on the court, even if they’re pottering around by their own basket.
Up to this point we have had to maintain a round-the-clock security detail on our son to prevent him from maiming or throttling himself. But now we are relaxed enough to allow him to rampage around the lower floor of our house. Less because his sense of personal peril has diminished in any way and more that he is more robust and able deal with all the scrapes and sofa-tumbles.
Our home is also beginning to go through a process of decluttering. The baby gates have just shuffled off to the loft. The constant rockery of filled nappies won’t appear by the front door. Cots, buggies, cribs will be pensioned off to some future niece or nephew and there will be room again. We might get a cat just so we can swing it.
In the summer our boys will be sent out into the garden in the knowledge that they won’t attempt to swallow-dive through the slit in the trampoline net or sup at the stagnant contents of the paddling pool or shake hands with every prickly bush in the area. In fact the only presentable danger will be each other. With sticks. Perhaps my wife and I will raise a smug cup of lemonade and toast the fact that we’ve steered our sons through their most physically vulnerable years with only the loss of a small triangle of tooth.
And so there is a small sense of quitting while we’re on top. But mainly I cannot summon the oomph required to help rear another baby. It’s just that when I admit this to myself I can’t help pitching my imagination forward to a time when I am gazing at a third child cradled in my arms. And thinking: “I nearly couldn’t bothered with you”. And the pang of guilt that arrives almost gets my man-ovaries twitching again.