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Yes, my hands are full: What it’s really like to have three under three

Angela Cuming has three children under three – all boys. Here she talks about the joys and challenges of her family life.

My name is Angela, I have three boys under three and I haven’t slept in three-and-half years.

There’s Charlie, he came first and when he was 20 months old we welcomed identical twins Tommy and Henry into the world.

People always seem curious about how we cope, or don’t cope, and I can confirm that yes, we do have our hands full.

There are three babies in this photo.

There are three babies in this photo.

Sleep, or lack of it, is the real killer. Charlie is almost three and has only just started to sort-of sleep through the night, but if he does wake and call out for me he usually wakes a twin up, or vice-versa.

Despite being identical twins, Tommy and Henry have very different ideas about sleep. Henry appears to love it but his brother Tommy will wake two or three times each night and bangs his head on the cot mattress to “self-soothe” himself back to sleep.

My husband and I often swap daydreams about what illness or injury we would like to get, something that makes us sick enough to have to spend a few days in hospital on bed rest without feeling guilty about leaving the other at home to deal with the boys. He actually once wound up in hospital because he thought he was having a heart attack.

The boys start to wake from about 4am each day and their eventual bedtime can be anywhere from 6pm to 10pm. Forget all that “expert advice” about getting twins on the same routine, I am flat out remembering who is who and have they actually been fed. And yes, I still get them mixed up. Tommy mercifully has a birthmark on the back of his neck for quick identification.

Meals (because there is no set “mealtime”, ever) are literally a moving feast. I get so sick of plopping the twins in their high chairs and pulling them out again that I end up crawling after them on the floor, shoving bits of pre-cooked Hellers sausage into their mouth. Charlie is easier to deal with as he only eats cheese sandwiches, of which I make about 17 a day. He eats about two of them, but hey, the birds are well fed.

All three are still in nappies, so when I am not feeding them I am changing them. Our bins get so full that my husband has to wait until bin night and, under the cover of darkness, will place black bin bags in neighbours’ driveways because we always exceed the two-bag limit.

Going out by myself with all three is almost impossible. I tried once, to a local shopping centre, and it ended with the toddler throwing the mother of all tantrums and refusing to walk back to the car so a stranger had to carry him for me.

Parks and playgrounds are OK, but the twins will always crawl off in different directions while Charlie wants me to help him down the slide, and by the time we get there anyway at least one baby wants feeding or needs to go home for a nap and that’s too unfair on their big brother.

I can never do things like pop them in the car to pick up a few things from the supermarket. A grocery shop is something I have to do late at night when they are all in bed, but it’s sadly fun for me because it gets me out of the house. I take them to Playcentre twice a week, which has saved me, and them, from virtual house arrest.

Everyone said it would get easier when the twins turned one, but to be honest it’s getting harder. They want to walk but can’t, and cry in frustration. They bite me when they are teething, and if you turn your back on them for a second they are opening drawers and tipping over toy boxes and eating old food off the floor.

But we muddle through each day, and each day does eventually end and they all do eventually go to sleep.

Some days are harder than others, like when they are sick or I am dog tired and all they want to do it play. I’ve sat on the twins’ bedroom floor at 3am and sobbed and locked myself in the en suite at lunchtime to take a few deep breaths and drink a cold cup of tea.

Do I have moments where I wish I was things were different? Sure, and I bet everybody does. The twins weren’t planned, and boy they were a surprise. I never realised identical twins don’t run in families, they are a kind of freak of nature, and they can strike anyone at any time. We had decided we only wanted two children, and I still feel wistful at times about the “singleton” baby I never had.

But then, just when you think it can’t possibly get any harder I find the twins sitting outside in the sun happily picking daisies from the lawn and Charlie will look over and say “mama, I love Tommy and Henry, they are my little brothers”.

And I guess that’s it, the secret of why all us parents do what we do. It’s all for them. And it’s a job I wouldn’t swap for all the sleep in the world.

Angela Cuming is a print and radio journalist and a mum to three boys under three. Follow her on Twitter.

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