My cousin's daughter recently had triplets.

My cousin's daughter recently had triplets.

Triplets still elicit a gasp of amazement, even in a blasť world accustomed to twins and fertility drugs.

Not that I really think twins have lost their ability to capture the imagination. Where would we be without the Olsens, the Bobbseys (two sets, don't forget), that insipid Sweet Valley pair and the Doublemint Twins, who said "Two, two, two mints in one!" so well in the 1950s that new twins were recently engaged to continue the campaign? Where would we be without Hayley Mills, Patty Duke and Lindsay Lohan, all of whom played twins in movies and television? (OK, OK, Patty Duke played look-alike cousins. The effect was twins.)

The very fact that triplets are all but absent in both the real world and the world of books and movies proves my point. The only ones I can think of offhand are the Triplets of Belleville, and a weirder trio may never have been conceived, though my husband and I were both fond of the dog.

Imagine, though: triplets! More babies than you have hands! Outnumbered in your own household!

Having experienced only single births, I couldn't offer any pinpoint advice to this first cousin's daughter, even if I knew her, which I don't. All I can do is dredge up some bits of general advice about babies, not that anyone's asked me for it. But that's the thing about babies being born - by themselves or in groups: It inspires everyone who has ever had a baby to start tossing out advice like Shriners throwing candy in a parade.

Much of that advice has to do with schedules. Some say put the baby on a schedule; others say forget the schedule and feed the baby on demand. As for me, I never bothered to put either of my daughters on a schedule because I didn't know the meaning of the word. What schedule? Whose schedule? Beyond reminding the baby from time to time that she would have to fit into the world as it was because the world was not going to fit itself into her whims and impulses, I did whatever made both of us the most comfortable. As for advice, I gave it liberally: Don't bottle feed! Nature's way is so much more convenient, so much easier, so much less fuss, not to mention muss.

Frankly, I couldn't imagine getting up in the night, struggling to the kitchen, fumbling around with pans and milk jugs and so on when I could pick up the baby and sit down in the nearest rocking chair, which not coincidentally was right there. Who would choose another option unless the first one was unavailable?

I tried to make it clear to all the young mothers I counseled that my motives were entirely hedonistic. "Your life will be simpler! You'll get back to sleep sooner!" Of course, I also was interested in giving the baby all those immune system benefits and so on, but trust me, at 2 a.m., immunities or even giving the baby a higher IQ were not among my primary motives. Getting us both back to sleep was.

The same general philosophy applied when solid food was introduced. Why buy prepared baby food when mooshing up what we were having for dinner was faster and cheaper?

Besides, I told the baby as I zoomed the spoon toward her mouth like a bomber coming in to the flight deck, you have to learn to eat the world's food. After all, the world won't offer baby food in restaurants and at school picnics just because you like it. How the world wasn't going to adapt itself to the baby was a popular theme of mine back then.

It was the same reason I refused to remake the entire house into a sort of Disneyland-children's Utopia-Pleasure Island: because the world was not going to turn itself into Disneyland, a children's Utopia, etc., etc., etc. Better our daughters learned to live in a world where most electrical switch plates did not feature Tinkerbell or the Little Mermaid.

Of course, I was making all of these wise, motherly pronouncements at a time when we didn't so much as own a single television set. Was I teaching my daughters that they needed to live in a world that didn't have televisions in every corner? If so, I was leading them down the garden path. Just last night, my husband and I had dinner at a small restaurant with no fewer than six large, flat-screen TVs, one in each corner and two over the bar. Measured in square feet, the televisions took up more room than the tables.

Other advice I felt qualified to dispense when I had babies of my own? Don't worry so much, I said. People who are nuts about their babies will instinctively protect them. Probably overprotect them, but they certainly aren't going to let them fall out of third-story windows. Trust yourself, I said.

It's lucky that I've never met my cousin's daughter, the one who now has three babies. My advice would be difficult, if not impossible, to follow. For instance, how could I tell her to breastfeed? Even in that department, she's outnumbered.

I guess I'll let her and her husband figure it out. Then maybe they'll write a book.

Margo Bartlett can be reached at mbartlett@thisweeknews.com.