Four kids, the oldest is six.
To give some of the non-parents some insight as to what that means: little kids really can't take care of themselves. In fact, that's how they come--completely dependent on your time and energy. Everything they want out of life is provided by you.
If this were a hostage situation, then the silver lining to the situation is that their demands are simple--fresh milk every two hours, a new diaper about every 3-5 hours, and to be held or otherwise played with for at least 70% of their waking life. Since they sleep 16-20 hours a day, this really amounts to being half as productive as you'd otherwise be for 4 hours out of the day, dealing with some unpleasant smells, and mother having a highly irregular sleep routine.
And then they get older, and suddenly the hostage situation becomes a lot more real.
Fast forward two years, and suddenly they can walk, they can say words, they can climb, and their demands are no longer so simple or straightforward. They've, thankfully, realized that the bargaining position of, "mom never sleeps" is untenable. However, they now have some bargaining powers beyond screaming.
Negotiations take more effort, but less time, for example:
Me: Y, you've got to limit your dairy, or you'll get clogged up and put in a lot of pain.
Me: It's gonna hurt you
Y: Want cheese!
Me: We've had this conversation before, and if I cave in, then you'll be crying in pain tomorrow
Y then puts the cheese down, and will either fall back to her old methods of crying, or use her new bargaining chip of starting a fight with her sister.
Then onto the four year old. They've learned exactly which buttons of yours to push, and which not to by how you respond to them. This either means your kid starts to become a clear blessing to your house, or a curse--depends on what they learned from observation. For us, it's a bit of both. She's learned that we sometimes respond to extreme emotional outbursts--uncontrollable crying, whimpering in a corner, but still relies heavily on her old fallback of fighting with her sister.
V: Can I watch ponies?
Me: You've watched 3 hours of T.V. today, time to find something else
V then promptly finds a toy, and starts playing with it right in front of her sister, often taunting her with it until her 2-year-old will-power is all but spent and she grabs for it.
Me: Why are you fighting?
V: Y took my toy!
Me (thinking): Who does she think she's fooling here? I'm not gonna reward them for bad behavior, but I have been working 10 hour days for the past month and I just want this fighting to end.
Me (aloud) : Alright, I'm taking all the toys and everyone can just sit and stare at the wall
-- 10 minutes later, a fight breaks out over who gets to stare at what dot on the wall --
My hope of spending 20 minutes decompressing from the day is shot. It was held hostage, but I didn't meet the demand of unending entertainment, and now one of the hostages is dead.
Me: Go play in different rooms
-- They casually obey, but pretend like they didn't hear anything after 5 minutes and we're back to where we were before the first fight broke out, until I forget that V has watched 3 hours of T.V., give up, and put an educational show on --
Needless to say, I am not particularly proficient at hostage negotiations with the four year old yet.
Then there's the six year old. She's sweet, but devious. She can be bribed, because she's learned the value of helping around the house and doing her homework. With proper maneuvering, I can use this one against the other 3 and hopefully sneak away from parenting long enough to go to the bathroom if I play my cards right.
And then I hear all three of the mobile children screaming.
N: Y hit me!
Me: Why did she hit you?
N: I don't know. . .
Me: What do you want me to do about it?
N: Tell her to stop
Me: Do you think that will work?
N: Yeah. . .
Me: Do you know how many times I've asked her not to hit?
N: Hmmm. . .twice?
N: No. . .
Me: Look, I have never hit or pushed her. If she learned how to do that, she learned how to do it from you or from V. The best way to get her to stop pushing and fighting is to teach her by example and never hit or fight, but find other ways to solve the problem.
-- 10 minutes later all three are screaming again. I rush upstairs to find N tackling Y to the ground. My chances of playing SimCity tonight have become the most recent casualty --
Me: WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!?
N looks at me stupefied
Me: She obviously doesn't like that, she's trying to push you off. You're teaching her to fight again!
and at this point, the six-year-old falls back on her old standby of extreme emotional outbursts and starts crying uncontrollably in the corner.
Clearly I need work on my six-year-old negotiating skills, but I failed to meet the newborn's demands of a fresh diaper every 3-5 hours and he has, as a result, decided to hold all the air in the house hostage until his demands are met.
Oh well, maybe I'll get the smell aired out before tomorrow morning. . .
Welcome to parenthood!