I didn’t even make it to the parking garage after finding out I was pregnant with twins before hearing the phrase that would follow me for the next two years of my life: “Wow,” the ultrasound technician said while probing my stomach, “Three under 3. You’re going to have your hands full.” Yes. “Yes, ma’am,” I said, wiping the entire tube’s worth of lubricant off the top of my butt where it had pooled. Yes, I certainly will have my hands full.
When we broke the news to family, we heard some rendition of this one from all branches of the family tree: “But you live in a two-bedroom house. Two bedrooms. Five people. You don’t even have a garage.” I’m not sure who they thought we were going to stow in the garage, but yes, their point was correct. As was their next, when they peered in the window of my little silver hatchback and asked, “How are you going to fit three car seats plus a double stroller in there?” How, indeed?
And I didn’t make it off the maternity ward after delivering those twins without the lactation consultant sizing me up and saying, “That’ll be eight feedings a day times two for you,” like she’s tallying up a dinner tab. And then she leaned in close, hovering over my left breast, as if she was speaking to that one in particular, and said, “that’s 16…if you’re lucky.” We weren’t. I settled in at an average of 20 or so a day those first few months, my ravenous kids.
When we took our first trip to Costco to buy the truckload of diapers which would be our standard weekly purchase, the cashier looked down the line at my oldest, who has cerebral palsy and will be in diapers for the foreseeable future and at the twins strapped to my chest and said, “Three in diapers, huh? That’ll cost you a pretty penny.” We both looked at the total in green on the screen. She was correct.
When my maternity leave came to an end, human resources was kind enough to do this math for me: to put my three kids in the daycare at work, even with the generous 50% discount, my paycheck would, in fact, turn into a bill. We had fallen into negative numbers. It was cheaper to quit. The new math, five people on one income, was a fun one to juggle. And while it did save us money, it didn’t do a lot for my psyche. When people saw my caravan approaching, I’d get arm pats and quick hugs and this over the din of one or three kids screaming: “There’s only 24 hours in a day. You can’t do everything.” But if I don’t, I wanted to ask. Who will?
On the first day of preschool for the twins, I took their older brother with me to drop them off. Their new teacher asked his age. When I told her, she put her hands to her cheeks, a middle-aged Munch scream. “Oh dear,” she said, “three college tuitions at once. My goodness.” I went home and googled Gerber college funds and health savings programs.
As time has passed and some of the equations have come and gone, the most common refrain has stayed the same. This is the one I think all mothers get in some form or fashion from parents of all ages. You know the one I mean, the one that should be written in cursive and probably already is on a Hallmark card: “The days are long, but the years are short.” As I am still in the long desert days of potty training and boogers wiping, I can’t confirm this bit of math, but I suspect it’s true. One day, I will look back and sigh over the speed of it all.
I was always pretty good at math. I was no Stephen Hawking, but I could hold my own. So, none of this was a surprise — these statements of the obvious over the course of my early motherhood. But for the most part, I took them for what they were, a tiny acknowledgement of how hard it was on us for a while and that somebody took a minute to make note of it. Nonetheless, I think the next time I see a mother of three under 3, I’ll just get her a Starbuck’s gift card and keep the math to myself.