QUIET in the house on a rainy afternoon. I walk through the rooms. Feeling a familiar tightening, I breathe slowly and deeply. I'm expecting my third child. One of the things that strikes me most about this is other people's surprise. Not so many years ago ours would have been a small family; today people greet my news - or, now that I'm seven months pregnant, my swelling form - with varying degrees of wonderment. In fact, I've even been asked if it was planned. It was, though we do have moments of surprise ourselves. I still can't grasp the fact that in a few months there'll be a new baby in the house. There's a lot of advice in parents' magazines about preparing an older sibling for a newborn, and it's frequently offered with the assumption that there will be only two children in the scenario - the first-born and the new or impending arrival.
But what if baby will be No. 3 (Or 4, or 5)? Will our oldest, David, who's been through this once, find it easier to handle a second time around? Will Daniel, still a toddler, feel jealousy? He himself appeared on the scene when David was almost 5, so we haven't experienced the dynamics of having a two-year-old and a newborn simultaneously.
Not that I really want a whole lot of counsel on these matters. Sometimes I still read child-care magazines and books. But nowadays I find myself preferring articles meant to amuse, entertain, and make one feel that one's parental blunders are not really going to ruin children's lives.
There's advice on everything. But whether you start a family before, after, or in the middle of forging a career, it's not generally considered advisable to have a child (let alone three) while still living in a small five-room apartment.
People look around this place and ask, where on earth are you going to put the baby? I sometimes wonder myself. The boys share one of the bedrooms, which looks today, as usual, like the aftermath of a tornado. We can't put the baby in there; we'd never be able to find it.
The other bedroom has been turned into an office: In fact, when I enter this monument to consumerism (while at the same moment homeless people are sleeping in the streets), I can't help but feel somewhat uncomfortable with my grousing about cramped quarters.
Newborn babies, after all, don't really need that much space. When we lived in a tiny apartment in a city in the mountains of Italy - where I, a teacher of English from England, had met my husband, a medical student from New York - we didn't even have a crib for our first-born, David. For the first few days of his life he slept in a small box, comfortably lined; and he was very cozy.
It was nine years ago last month that we met there in Italy, and now, here we are about to have a third baby. The anxieties that sometimes assail me about space (and do I mean physical space or space in our lives?), about sibling rivalry, and about our general ability to cope are normal, I know. Today, I realize how small these worries really are and how the atmosphere of our never-satisfied society encourages them.
Enough of advice, of do's and don'ts! Enough of agonizing over which high-tech playpen or learning toy is best, of analyzing in detail every aspect of our children's lives to produce the perfect environment, and the perfect child!
What happened to simple enjoyment of the children? Of the tender newborn, of the toddler's grin, of the seven-year-old's amazingly inventive mind? Of times like yesterday when David came home from school, and Daniel, waking from his nap, saw him and said immediately, drowsily, ``I love you, David''?
I'm not going to let myself worry anymore: not when people look at me, bulging with my third child, as at someone who prepares to walk a tightrope or go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Not when I trip on yet another toy in the middle of the floor. Not when David is sulking because his little brother won't let him whatever it is....
No, I'm going to breathe deeply. I'm going to relax. To be glad of it all - toys, mess, sticky hugs, the roof over our soon-to-be-five heads. It's time to put up a firm resistance against the contagious habit of taking everything too seriously.... Of course it's easy now to say all this. As I write, the house is blessedly quiet. It's not that the children have fallen asleep or fought each other senseless. It's better than that: They've gone to Grandma's for the day.