The idea for this post came from a similar list that my oldest son Matthew sent me, written by Mark Oppenheimer, which you can read here. It’s better, likely, than anything I can write, and is definitely worth a read, especially if you come from a large family or aspire to having one. Or, if you are amused/dumbfounded/confused/ by large families in general.
In any case, that funny and insightful list–as funny and insightful lists will–made me want to write my own. So, with apologies to Mr. Oppenheimer for blatantly borrowing his idea, I proceed, on to:
39 Thoughts on Having Six Children
1. Our first son, Matthew, was born when I was 25 years old. I was born when my own mother was 25 years old. Matthew became a papa himself when he was . . . 26.
2. I am my parents’ second child, and I gave them their first grandchild. My second child, Andrew, gave me my first grandchild.
3. In 2010, only 2.7 percent of women in America had had five or six children. I belong to a very elite and little-understood group.
4. Bryan and I both come from families with 5 children.
5. We are not famous people, but there are some famous people who have had six children, or more: Robert de Niro, for one. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have six children. The actor Kirk Cameron and his wife also have six children.
6. When I was expecting our youngest, little Mack, a relative sat across from the table from me and told me soberly that I was the oldest pregnant person he had ever know. I was 45.
7. When our first son, Matthew, was born, we were living in Memphis, Tennessee. People were constantly coming up to me and giving me advice: Cover his head. Let him cry a bit, it’s good for his lungs. Give him a bottle now and then, it won’t hurt him. It irritated me that people didn’t think I knew what I was doing, (I probably looked like I was about 14 years old) although I didn’t know what I was doing. By the time I had little Mack, our sixth child, nobody ever gave me advice ever again. They figured I probably knew more than they did, I suppose, about babies, and they were probably right. I was in the 2.7% of women who had had six babies, so that works out to having more babies than nearly 98% of the general population, right?
8. When our youngest Malachi was born, Matthew was on summer break from his first year at college, home for the summer. He had decided not to go on a mission trip to Japan with a girl that he adored, because he wanted to be home for the summer, with the new baby in the family and all. As sweet as it was to have him home, it was a miserable summer. We still refer to it as “The Summer of Pain.” If post-partum blues and a college kid longing for his girl who was in Japan and a new baby weren’t enough, we decided to pull out all the wall-to-wall carpeting in our house and refinish the wood floors.
9. The summer of pain was the only time we had all six kids living under our roof at the same time, because Matthew married that darling girl in question a year later, despite the fact that the letter that he had sent her in Japan had gotten lost (much of the reason for “the pain”) and she had assumed that he had lost interest in her. The letter boomeranged in the fall, back to our house. The younger kids sprayed it with perfume, kissed it with lipsticked lips, and forwarded it to her. The kids still take credit for saving that relationship.
10. We took on many tasks on our place that we never would have attempted, had we not had six children. We planted hundreds of trees–a windbreak and a woodlot and an orchard–and kept them all mowed and watered for several years, with the kids’ help. We set out very large gardens, flower beds, and berry patches, too. We put in two wood stoves. The kids were (and are) our partners in keeping our place up, in keeping the gardens up, in cutting and splitting and hauling wood, in canning vegetables for the winter. They’ve all learned how to work hard and the older ones have never had trouble finding jobs. Word gets around when a kid knows how to work.
11. Today, when I go out to work in the garden or the orchard or on my flower beds, I still feel a bit bewildered and even surprised that I only have two children to call to help me, to chatter cheerfully and to enjoy each others’ company.
12. These are our children: Matthew is 27 and a grad student working on his PhD in Medieval Literature. Andrew is nearly 25 and is a graphic designer. Bethany is 22, a dancer and a theatre student at college; Timothy is 19 and a self-taught web designer. Amalia is 14, my right hand girl, already a writer working on her first book, and little Mack? Anybody’s guess there, but he sure does like to cut up dead things to find out what’s inside, and he fancies himself quite an artist, too, because he is. Perhaps he’ll go into the sciences and provide a bit of balance. Or maybe not.
13. My dad, the father of five, says this: “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for any of my children, and I wouldn’t give a penny for another one.”
14. Matthew, our oldest, used to follow me around the house, telling me stories, talking about books he had read, making his big plans in life. Malachi, our youngest, now does exactly the same thing. I’m happy that these two, the two that I will end up spending the most one-on-one time with, are such thinkers, and like to tell me what they’re thinking about.
15. When all the kids were home, I always knew how many would be here for supper. We always set the table for 8. But then the kids started leaving, one by one, and now I never know how many will be here for supper. If it’s “just us” it’ll be 5, but many evenings Timothy is working late and it’s 4. If Bryan is working late, it’s 3, and 3 seems a very small number around our large table. I always feel like calling friends to eat with us, to fill up the table again.
16. I tend to feel sorry for people who only have one or two children (which is, most everybody), even though in many cases, they only wish to have one or two children. Which is fine. I tend to feel that they don’t know what they are missing, but they actually probably have a pretty good idea. They possibly feel sorry for me.
17. We don’t very often have all the kids home at one time any more. Usually just during the holidays, and then the house is full, with two grandbabies and two spouses and oftentimes a boyfriend or a girlfriend thrown in. It’s noisy and chaotic and exhausting, and I long for it.
18. I’ve spent countless hours praying over my children. I pray for them in the mornings; I pray for them during the day; if I wake up during the night and can’t sleep, I pray for my children.
19. My parents had two boys and three girls. But their grandkids are decidedly boy-heavy. They have fifteen grandchildren, and out of those fifteen, only four are girls. Eleven boys! Of those fifteen, six of them are mine, and four of my six are boys.
20. When all the kids were small, and we’d all go out in public, the comments that people made were usually critical, though I don’t think the criticism was intentional: “I’m glad it’s you and not me,” was a favorite. “Haven’t you figured out what causes that?” was a real knee-slapper. “SIX? Are you raising your own baseball team?” (Hoho!) “You’ve got your hands full!” (Hello. Duh.) When I received the rare positive comment “What a blessing, you have your house full!” I felt like crying.
21. It’s tricky for a mother of six to keep all the clothing organized, with every child growing at different rates. Overnight, it seemed, Timothy would suddenly sprout 3″ of ankle between his shoes and the bottom of his jeans. Or it would be time to get ready for church, and Andrew would realize that he had left his good shoes in somebody else’s car, and he’d have to wear a pair of flip-flops with his dress pants. I’d just have to shake my head and laugh, though I really wanted to cry. Like any mother, I always wanted my children to look presentable in public, but that is hard to accomplish in a large family.
22. One Sunday, as we rushed out for church, Andrew–who was forever misplacing his shoes, and would then just grab a pair of Bryan’s or Matthew’s to make do (they all wore, roughly, the same size: Big) grabbed two shoes from the shoe rack on the back porch. When we got to church, he discovered that the two that he had grabbed not only did not match, but they were two left shoes. I still laugh when I remember following him into church, as he struggled to walk in those two left shoes. I have a feeling that people with only one or two children would never experience this type of thing.
22. My dad repeatedly has encouraged my kids over the years with this bit of advice: “If you put your shoes in the very same spot every day when you take them off, they will always be in that very same spot when you go to put them on again.” My children love their grandpa, but they’ve never paid attention to this bit of lore.
23. For years, I’ve wanted to be able to get up early and write. I’m not a night person, and neither, I thought, was I a morning person. And I wasn’t actually, until our youngest, little Mack, was old enough to not wake me up during the night. Having babies and/or toddlers for so many years, meant countless nighttime wakings for nursing and/or comforting and/or other urgent matters. I never try to encourage a mother with small children to get up early. It never worked for me. I think mamas with small children need as much sleep as they can get.
24. Bryan and I had our first baby when we were 25. Little Mack won’t graduate from high school until we are 63. That means that when and if he tools down the long driveway toward college or whatever he does when he’s 18, we will have had children under our roof for nearly forty years.
25. I feel, suddenly, very tired.
26. One nice thing about having children is finding out that I married somebody who is a great Dad. Bryan followed my lead in the family department, and I think he would have been just as happy with two or three children, rather than six. But he graciously supported my desire to have more, and has been graciously supporting us all in every way possible, ever since.
27. Pity my husband. These things were my idea: living on a small farm; raising large amounts of food; homeschooling our children; having a big family; producing a melodrama every spring. He has gone along with all these ideas of mine, though he drew the line at my obtaining a milk cow. But it could still happen. And little Mack really, really wants a goat or two. If Mack ever remembers that Bethie had three horses for years, the jig is up and Bryan will likely have to re-think his feelings goats.
28. We’ve heard before that you can’t survive on only one income, if you want to have several children. Bryan has worked more than one job since we started having children, and I’ve done many freelance and part-time jobs over the years to help make ends meet. Also I’ve taught myself how to grow much of our own food, and we are very frugal in most areas. So it can be done. We don’t eat out at fancy restaurants or go on expensive vacations, but we don’t regret this.
29. There are times where I feel the need to have a break from my children (who doesn’t?) but for the most part I am happy and comfortable in their company. I’ve never felt a desire to get away from my progeny for extended periods of time, and I think actually I’d be happiest if we just built on sections of our house, Amish-like, so they all could live as close together as possible, when they are grown-up. I have a feeling I know what the kids would say about this, however.
30. Our two grown-up married sons are smart and wildly creative and respectful and talented and hard-working. They are gardeners and coffee-bean-roasters and enthusiastic readers and are deeply devoted to their wives and babies. I couldn’t be prouder of them. I do feel that I’ve used my time wisely in investing so much of it in raising my children. The world is a better place because I’ve raised them. I don’t agree with the presumption that having several children is a burden to our planet. If a parent raises several conscientious, good, kind children, what a blessing to the world they will be. And perhaps one of them will come up with a cure for cancer. You never know.
31. When I went in to see our family doctor for a routine blood test, when I was several months pregnant with our youngest, though he is a poised and gentle man, he lost his cool briefly when he looked at the chart and saw my age. “Do you know how statistically impossible this is?” he sputtered “I mean, the likelihood that you’d be pregnant at your age . . .” At this point in his flustered monologue, my pregnant emotions kicked in, and my eyes filled with tears. He is not an unfeeling man, and he recovered nicely. “This baby is a real miracle, don’t you worry, and a gift from God,” he assured me. “Who knows? Maybe he’ll come up with a cure for cancer, or something really amazing!”
32. There’s a “Cost of Raising a Child Calculator” that tells me that little Mack will cost us nearly $200,000 to raise, and that’s if we don’t pay for his college. I would quibble with this figure, but my quibbles would be so vehement that I’d need to write another post about them, and probably have to take a break now and then to save my blood pressure. Suffice it to say that that cost, generally, goes down with each child. You don’t have to buy all new nursery furniture, etc., and there are plenty of hand-me-downs to . . . hand down. Also, one child will want to take ballet lessons (which are expensive) but not all will. One child will be happy with books (which are cheap) and the books are handed down, too. So don’t believe that figure. It’s just not accurate, in my opinion. So there.
33. I feel a bit sorry for people who decide not to have children. My greatest joys in life have been due to these children that God has given me, there’s no question. My biggest struggles in life have been due to these children that God has given me, also. But the joys far outweigh the struggles. Far, far, far. And I’m just beginning to reap the rewards of having grandchildren, and of course everybody knows how much fun they are. Grandchildren are the stuff of ancient legends, they are so grand, but that’s another post for another day.
34. Having so many children has broadened our interests. Our children had theatrical desires from a young age, so we started a drama group for them and other homeschooled students in our area. Our oldest daughter had a flaming desire to have her own horse, so for a time we learned everything we could about horses, and actually had three for years. We all learned to ride. We’ve been willing participants in learning about: boffering, cello-playing, J.R.R. Tolkien, all kinds of games, cross-pollinating lilies, baseball, soccer, tap-dancing, coffee-bean-roasting, just to name a few . . .
35. When I went to the midwife to see if I was really pregnant with our youngest and not just (as I believed) going through menopause, I was in total shock. Though I was nauseated and incredibly exhausted (which should have been ample clues) I just knew that I couldn’t be pregnant. But I was. The first thing the midwife did was to open a reference book and show me how the stats for “chromosomal abnormalities” go up sharply for moms 40 and above. Then she assured me that if she could have, she would have had a baby in her forties, regardless of the statistics, because in her experience those moms stayed younger much longer. I drove home in a state of shocked fear. I stopped in the graveyard close to our home and sat in the car and cried. And then I prayed. I was scared about being so old and pregnant, too.
36. Perhaps God answered my prayers, and also perhaps I took better care of myself during that last pregnancy, because our little Mack was born perfect and beautiful. He has been a blessed addition to our family, though with his cheekiness and his stubborn will and his quick mind, I wonder why God chose such a challenging one for us to raise in our dotage.
37. “Henry James once said that the James family was his native country and he knew no other.” Such begins a very fine essay by the psychologist Alison Gopnik, written about her brilliant parents and the six children that they raised.
38. My parents, though they created a very wonderful life for us growing up in a little town in Nebraska, must have felt out of place at times. My dad was a pharmacist and very talented with his hands. He could make or fix anything, including violins, and he made several instruments. My mom was an ardent stay-at-home mom who raised a large garden to help feed her family, quite often adopted runt animals (we had a pig in one of our flowerbeds for a time, and we always had a few chickens, though we lived in town) from local farmers and was a violinist. The prevailing culture in Nelson was sports, not to mention celebrating at the local bar after every game, as the town followed the high school sports teams with a passion. Mom and Dad had none of that, and we spent our evenings instead pickling beets and pressing apple cider and making clay pots on a potter’s wheel that Dad had made for us. I was the only kid I knew who had my own darkroom at home, and I learned how to develop photos. All this when Dad was working 6 long days a week, as the town’s pharmacist. This was all before the internet.
39. I’ve given up few things to have such a large family–in the areas of fame and fortune, primarily, and hours of sleep–but I’ve gained far, far more. And with any luck, with so many children, at least one of them will take care of me when I’m old and feeble, and that accounts for something, too.
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