Swimming in the Sea of Three

Though it feels like a lifetime ago, I vividly remember nearly every detail of my first triathlon. My excitement was palpable, as were my nerves. Having spent my first decade and a half on swim team, I was most looking forward to the swim portion of the race. But the morning of the triathlon ushered in a wind so unruly and fierce, whipping the water of the Boulder Reservoir up into actual waves with whitecaps. Standing in the wild waves, swim cap and goggles in place, I awaited the sound of the whistle, signaling the start of the race.

And like that, we were off, our bodies cutting through the angry water. But the waves, they were intense, churning me about, threatening to suck me under at any moment. While I remained afloat, barely, every stroke felt like it zapped the energy of five. As I rounded the last buoy and headed for the shore, my muscles were voicing the soft cry of fatigue, and I questioned my ability to complete the bike and run that were to follow. I dragged my tired body out of the water and willed myself to the transition area where I prepared for the bike portion of the race. And one pedal, one mile, one step at a time, I completed the bike and the run, and thus the race. It wasn't pretty, and it certainly wasn't enjoyable every moment of the way. In fact, brutal might be my descriptor of choice, but I was buoyed by a deep sense of contentment as I pushed through each hard moment, and crossed the finish line with an explosion of pure joy.

Fast forward to my life today, the one in which I find myself adjusting to three kids, a whirlwind of activity, and a life always on the move. When people ask me how it's going with three kids, I can't help but remember that first triathlon. Life today feels much like my effort to swim through the choppy water of the Boulder Res on that day long ago. Life with three -  I'm constantly being churned about by a stormy sea, trying desperately to stay afloat, while the threat of drowning feels altogether real. And though I'm thoroughly fatigued, I'm still in it, doing it, day after day, filled with a strange sense of peace and contentment as I go. It's wild and unpredictable; challenging and exhausting. And I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Not too long ago, at the end of a wonderfully packed but loooong day with the kids, Tom asked me if I wanted him to go out and get some wine. I quickly snapped, "NOOOO. I want to go. All by myself, with no human attached to me." So I went, I browsed, and I lingered, admiring all of the pretty, shiny labels. I assembled a lovely case of wine and prepared myself to head back to my den of chaos. When I pulled into my driveway, I just sat there, staring up at the stars, giving myself a much needed pep talk to exit the car. 

I opened the door to the house, only to be greeted by my 5 yr old donning mismatched pjs, a pair of underwear on his head fashioned like a superhero helmet, and displaying a tongue so green it could only be described as phospho luminescent. Somebody who shall remain nameless, thought it was a good idea to let him use **liquid** food coloring {I meant the color decorating gel when I said he could use food coloring} to decorate his freshly made cookies. Face palm. I was also quickly informed that his brand new white shirt had become a canvas for said green food coloring, but that Dad had applied some stain remover and it was already soaking as we spoke. Husband had handled it. Thank God. I mean that literally, because while it's all funny now {especially because the stain came out - thank you, OxiClean}, in that moment, I felts as though I had no capacity to handle it, certainly not well anyway. I was simply too exhausted in every way. 

It's not even that any one of my kids is particularly difficult. It's the sheer number of them that does me in. And I know, three is not a large number, but it is one more than I had before, so I'm being stretched in new ways. There's one more to feed; one more to schedule doctor appointments for; one more to do laundry for {oh, the laundry}; there are now three kids who could potentially burrow their way into our bed at night; and three kids with near constant needs and whose wants are always intersecting with moods, producing a mountain of big feelings. Big feelings everywhere. It often feels like there aren't enough hours in the day nor energy in my tank to address all of the needs and big feelings in a way that feels right to me. 

I recently explained to Tom how I'm someone who tends to live in the present. Most of my time is spent living not in the past nor the future, but in the here and now. And life with kids presents a serious challenge to my way of living because it's as though I'm engaged in a never ending game of chess, requiring me to think three moves ahead at all times.  I'm always strategizing - how can I get the groceries, feed the baby, fold the laundry, call the client, prep the dinner, call the doctor, and get the baby some unwanted tummy time, and feed the her again, all before afternoon school pick-ups begin. This is the life of any parent, and the addition of each child brings a new normal with added layers of planning and responsibility. The constant need to plan ahead wreaks havoc on my natural desire to live in the here and now.

I don't know how people with 4 or 5 or 6 kids do it, except that I do. Because they tell me, "we just do it. It's what we know," which is exactly what I used to say when asked how I managed with a 17 month old and a newborn. I just did it. And isn't that the truth for all of us, for whatever challenging circumstances we find ourselves in? We just do it. We just keep putting one foot in front of the other, we keep going, tired and weary, but nevertheless clinging to the hope that buoys our being and pressing on until we cross the finish line. 

And while there are now three children to think about, whose needs must be met, it means there are also three children who fill my heart with love - three healthy children to give thanks for; three wildly different personalities; three children who make me smile and laugh daily; three children whose growth and development I get to play witness to. These are but a few of the positive intangibles in a world of easy-to-decribe negative tangibles. 

So, while I may be exhausted, swimming in my sea of three, it's a contented kind of exhaustion, and I will just keep swimming, because I wouldn't have it any other way. My hands are full, but oh, so is my heart.