3 times table

9th November 2007 at 00:00
Teachers cope with 30 children at once, so twins or triplets at home must be a doddle, right? Wrong. Take two teachers, add three babies and watch. Jackie Cockburn reports.John and Dawn Findlay aren't the only teacher-couple to spend their days surrounded by children before going home to look after their own. Nor are they the only ones to have three young children to take care of. But there can't be many who combine a busy teaching load with bringing up triplets.

There hasn't been much in the way of tranquillity in the Findlay household since the arrival of Sam, Jamie and Abi three years ago, but at least it's been an entertaining ride.

"I don't know if you are supposed to laugh at your own children, but we certainly do," says Dawn. "I have often said to John that we laugh a lot more now that they are in our lives than we ever did before."

But while the triplets are a never-ending source of fun for the couple, their arrival could hardly have come at a more stressful time.

John was just two weeks away from his final exams on a maths and education degree at Stirling University when Dawn gave birth. They also had to settle the tricky question of childcare arrangements.

The couple soon realised that John's probationer salary would not be enough to live on and considered the possibility that he would stay at home with the children. But, as Dawn was discovering, looking after the triplets full-time was too much for one person. In any case, they felt it was important John started his new teaching career as soon as possible.

The result was that they put the triplets into nursery at nine months so Dawn could resume her job as head of home economics at The Community School in Auchterarder in Perthshire. It proved to be a wise decision.

After several months of surviving on three hours' sleep a night, Dawn had thought she was suffering from post-natal depression. But a few days back in school dispelled her fears.

"The relentless nappies, crying, feeding and little sleep meant that returning to work was the better option for me," she says.

"Teaching saved my life. I could take a lunch break, have adult company and be me again. I never feel stressed at work now because I know what I can cope with at home. I am inspired to really do my best for the school because my children will go there soon."

Dawn has even had time to start a Christmas cookery club and a staff baking club at the school, a primary and secondary combined.

John, a late convert to teaching after working as a scrap metal merchant, started his job as a maths teacher at Kinross High School in Perthshire, where he also runs the volleyball club and the fantasy football league.

But there has been a downside to putting the children in nursery: the pound;18,000 bill virtually cancelled out John's salary, although it has since become more manageable.

"We have now dropped the huge nappy bill and the nursery fees decreased when the children were two years old, so now we are just looking forward to when they start school - we will feel so well off," he says.

"It has been the best move I ever made, coming into teaching," he adds.

Both John and Dawn say their colleagues have been very understanding, particularly when their two boys suffered seizures in the early years.

"I have left school in tears on my way to hospital, and the support from colleagues has been magnificent," John says. Thankfully, both boys seem to have grown out of the seizures.

The secret of running a smooth household with triplets is at least partly down to keeping to a strict routine.

John is first up at 5.55am to walk the family dogs, Kip and Sparky. He's back by 6.30am and the couple eat breakfast together, with John making five packed lunches.

They wake the children at 6.50am and John gives them their breakfast, a choice of nine cereals, with each child usually choosing three at a time.

John dresses the children while Dawn gets ready, then John has his turn to get dressed while Dawn does three sets of hair, teeth and shoes and checks nursery bags are in order.

John leaves at 8am with the children and drops them on his way to work, with Dawn leaving shortly afterwards.

On the return leg, one of them will pick the triplets up at 5.15pm. The children eat at nursery, so they spend the next hour playing. They don't watch television, although this is more a source of frustration than pride.

"We would love them to watch it now and again for peace and quiet, but our house is too exciting because there is always an instant playmate available," says John.

"But they have two teachers for parents, so they know we don't stand for any nonsense."

At 6.15pm, the children all get into the same bath, with John supervising, while Dawn starts the adult dinner. After bath time comes teeth brushing, jumping around on Mum and Dad's bed, then story time and lights out by 7pm. John and Dawn eat at 7.30pm, then start their marking and lesson preparation at 8pm. Because of the practical nature of her subject, Dawn always has less school work to do at home than John.

"I have to get to bed by 10, or I can't function," Dawn admits. "John can sometimes mark until 11."

"We had no social life at all for the first two years," John recalls. "But we get out occasionally now."

The weekends are full of going to the park, feeding the washing machine, playing and reading stories. Now the children have passed their third birthday, John and Dawn feel brave enough to look after them on their own and allow the other to have some free time at the weekend.

John has started golfing again, claiming four hours to himself on a Sunday, and Dawn has chosen a long lie-in on a Saturday morning.

Although the two boys are identical in looks, all three have distinct personalities. Sam, the eldest, enjoys making the others laugh and is always asking questions. He loves running and never sits still. Jamie is the quietest, although he likes nothing better than kicking a ball and jumping and climbing. Abi is a born organiser and seems to have her brothers wrapped around her little finger.

"She is very good at controlling them and getting them to play her games, without them even realising they are being manipulated," says Dawn.

But despite the routines, things don't always go to plan.

For this year's summer holiday, John and Dawn organised a month in France. An hour before boarding the Portsmouth ferry, they noticed a few spots on Sam's face. Within 30 minutes, all three children were covered and they had no choice but to turn the car around.

"I think I cried most of the way home," Dawn says. Undeterred, they have bought a caravan and are determined to go away next year. "At least this time we know that we have all had bloody chickenpox," says John.

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