I chase my 14-month-old around round the venue, dodging all dangers while handing her small pieces of ripped pizza crust to keep her from melting down. We are at a 6-year-old’s birthday party and my three older kids are sitting in the excited audience of attendees, all excited for the komodo dragon unveiling.
Within five minutes, just as the second animal is being revealed, my 6-year-old spots a balloon that has come loose from a decorative arch. Before I can intervene he grabs it and makes his way to the back of the room. Alone, he decides to play an aggressive game where he tries to continuously hit the balloon while making sure it stays in the air. My oldest instantly spots him and joins in — and there they are, yelling, dodging tables and chairs, now completely disinterested in the reptilian entertainment.
My daughter remains seated in the group, seemingly entertained by the tree frog perched on the presenter’s hand. Until, of course, she isn’t — and she begins doing a strange version of yoga, on all-fours with her ass in the air, yelling to me that she is thirsty. As I scan the room I notice that my kids are not the only ones making their own entertainment, separate from the show. There are others — but we are the only entire family. I am four for four. And it is no surprise. Because while most families have at least one kid with some chill, I have none. And I am really tired.
Everything we do is loud and messy. Trips to the local park typically involve two boys covered in swamp water, one 4-year-old climbing up the slide — yelling at her oncoming traffic, and a baby eating mulch. Dinners out include fistfights, spilled drinks, order changes, and — one memorable time — a napkin set on fire in the middle of the table. I have four of one kind: fiery, boisterous, and high maintenance.
I watch my friends with three or more kids and everyone seems to have at least one slightly passive, steady “non-factor.” You know — one you don’t need to make all the plans around. One who will attempt to calm the others when they escalate and is rarely the reason you turn the car around early. One who plays independently and doesn’t always have a huge opinion. I need one of those. I need someone who will curl up and get lost in a Harry Potter book. Someone who will wear what I pick out for them and eat what is on their plate. Someone who isn’t always looking to up the ante in every given situation.
My kids’ motto is “anything for a laugh.” So normal scenes, ones I watch other kids assimilate into seamlessly, instantly turn into oddly dangerous improv shows when my kids arrive. Like when we are waiting in front of the school to pick my oldest up from an activity. All the young siblings are out of their cars, playing together unsupervised. I watch them frolic nicely on the concrete entryway — a benign, unassuming scene.
And then my middle two get out of the car. My 7-year-old promptly starts his own parkour olympics — jumping very unsafely from bench, to boulder, to tree branch. I yell for him to stop just in time for him to jump down and hit the griddy, looking quickly at his peers to see who is impressed.
My 4-year-old daughter has made her way to the front window, where she has spotted someone inside. Hands-on-hips, she shakes her butt and laughs, waving her finger at whoever she’s taunting. The baby screams breathlessly from the backseat, in disbelief that she is forced to entertain herself for a few minutes, and I wrangle the kids back into the car. Finally my oldest hops in and we drive off, just in time for him to amp up to red-level mad when his brother touches his shoulder the wrong way. It is some version of this loud, chaotic, zero-chill display each and every time.
One single child with a big, bold personality can impact a family in an enormous way. Their mood sets the tone for the day, and their presence can engulf a crowd. Having four of these, all jockeying for their own stage time, has made life in our house complicated and chaotic. Emotions always run high, as none of them seem to have the ability to self-regulate the way others do. Sometimes it feels like they are inside out — all of their feelings exposed for the world to see. All of them without any zen. Just pure, electric, volatility from everyone, over everything, all of the time.
But with all the activity and energy also comes unparalleled joy. While other parents are able to carve out moments of calm, I am living in the kind of unpredictable circus that great sitcoms are made of. Where laughs are full-bellied and hugs are aggressive. Expressions of excitement and happiness are loud and contagious. An insane, wild, fun-as-hell life with four uniquely energetic kids. But at some point, I could use a nap.
Samm Burnham Davidson is an ex-lawyer mom of four who swears a lot. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.