“The truth is maybe we are just average. But the way I see it — families where parents get up every morning and go to jobs that are hard so they can get their kids through school and through life, and struggle to make it all work and manage to do it with dignity and a little humor — well, that’s not average. That’s extraordinary.”
Frankie Heck, The Middle
There she stood, her jet black hair in a perfect Laura Petrie flip. Unlike Rob’s wife in the 60’s sitcom, her features were harsh. She had a nasally voice and when she saw me she smirked and demanded an explanation. After all, students weren’t permitted in the cafeteria before school unless they had business there.
I had strict orders from my mother that I was to hand the sealed envelope to anyone but her. I must have been all of ten years old, and a most compliant child. I was torn between obeying my mother and respecting the Tasmanian she-devil adult in front of me. I have no idea what happened next.
Honest. It’s blocked from my memory and while I’m sure that spending precious time and money with a counselor might help me remember and sort it out, I’m not sure I that I want to go there. It was mean-spirited but I did learn at a tender age that I never wanted to make another person feel like that.
She was the mother of my friend, our neighbor across the street. And she thought our family had too many kids. Even I realized that. And I knew that the envelope contained an application for free lunches. Handing it to anyone else was safe, but handing it to her just confirmed her opinion.
Strangely, I admired the perfect little playhouse that was situated in the perfectly manicured back yard. Her children, one boy and one girl, completed a perfect family. They were even born in the correct order, boy first. Her home was so clean it shined.
I never, not even once, felt welcome or wanted there. I did feel shame and judgment, not able in my immaturity to fully comprehend the strong opinions behind them.
Hubby and I married young. It was our choice. I was ready for my own home and family. The reality of the cost of providing for a family and the social norm of the 70’s to have 2.5 children were a big part of our choice to limit our offspring to two. In fact, I was so naïve about the heart’s capacity to love that during my second pregnancy I worried that I could never love another child like I did my first.
I am incredibly grateful for my two daughters. The real joy in having lots of children is giving them siblings. The truth is, our brothers and sisters know us as we always were. They share family secrets, feuds and jokes. And they show up. Good times, bad times, hard times. Two daughters, born six years apart, with four hundred miles separating their homes. And yet, their hearts are in tune. And while I wish I had given them a larger family, peace floods my soul when I realize they have each other; that they will drop everything and run from everything else to each other.
Sometimes life comes full circle. As of this moment, I have eight grandchildren; my mom would be so proud of her granddaughter’s house full of babies and children. Yesterday, the youngest turned a year old. He’s a foster but he just might stick and that would oh so wonderful, because you see, I love him like crazy.
When the whole crew arrives for a visit our normally tidy home is cluttered and loud within minutes. Babies cry and toddlers act like, well, toddlers. The kitchen stays busy and the door to outside slams loud when the windows are open and the weather is perfect for outdoor play. There are disagreements over sharing toys and someone skins a knee and because we have a five year old girl in this mix, there is drama. Lots of drama. And poop – with three in diapers, someone always has poop. We deal.
But that’s not all. There are moments of baby snuggles and reading to toddlers. There are five year old secrets to share and hair to braid. Big boys build Lego models and share their favorite things about the new Star Wars movie. There are showers and tubbies every evening and lots of stern warnings about staying in bed, even at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I sneak in and warn them about nice Mommy being done for the day before she confirms that she’s not kidding.
The truth is, it’s a lot of work to manage a large family. Things that some families take for granted are not possible. The budget may allow for a meal out, but seriously, why wrangle so many littles to a restaurant when it’s so much easier to feed them at home? I marvel at the way that the older boys take responsibility, whether making sure all of the diaper bags get to the van or buckling and verifying everyone is safely seated.
I’m mostly a spectator in the life of this big family. I can’t speak on their behalf and I have no experience parenting so many. I freely acknowledge all of that. But I am so thankful for a second chance at a big family.
When I think about them in twenty years, I can only imagine how great Thanksgiving will be at their house. I sure hope I live long enough to see it.
As it turns out, this heart of mine does have the capacity to love more than one child.
Please visit and “like” the Grace and Graffiti Facebook page here. Thanks!