Is Bigger Better? The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Side of Having a Large Family
Having four kids is exhausting and overwhelming at times, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
I dropped my third child off at sleep away camp for two weeks on Sunday and as I drove away, I had an overwhelming urge to weep, and it wasn’t because I was devastated to leave her (although she is my faithful companion).
I wanted to cry because we shared a ride with our neighbors, who were dropping their two kids off for the two weeks and as we pulled away, I don’t know how they managed to refrain from breaking out into a halleluiah chorus or high fives, at the very least. But they are wonderful friends and saved the celebratory gestures until they got home to their very quiet, and very kid-free house.
I left their minivan and walked across the street to find my three kids, one dog and fat cat all looking to be fed. Causing me to wonder, and not for the first time, WHAT WAS I THINKING ABOUT?
How could I have thought that having four kids was a great idea? I mean, I love them and everything, and have grown very fond of most of them, but in terms of practicality, it’s difficult to sustain any semblance of solitude because they are all consuming and ever-present.
Let’s just say this: I didn’t go into parenting with practical intentions. I was more like, “What if they move away? Who will come for Thanksgiving? What if they don’t get along?”
I come from a big family, and as the oldest of eight (what was my mom thinking?), I am used to chaos and a crowd. I like it and felt I could improve on my own experience (as daughters do) with half the number of kids.
But it’s not like when I was growing up in the 70s when families didn’t really go out to dinner or on vacations and certainly, there wasn’t the push to sign up for travel everything and scouts and dance and piano lessons, ad nauseum.
We went out in the backyard and threw rocks at each other or played some sort of Lord of the Flies survival games until it was time for dinner.
My friend Maggie, who is the seventh of nine kids, said as we were running through Hartshorne Woods the other day that she remembers her father taking her somewhere at Christmas time when she was a child and thinking it was “the most beautiful place on earth.”
Years later, she realized it was Red Bank, twinkling in holiday decorations, but at the time, for a kid who never went anywhere because there were just so many siblings, it was pretty magical.
Because it turns out, kids are incredibly expensive. They keep insisting that I feed them and buy them clothes and send them to said sleep away camp. My oldest son leaves for college next month and his sister is one year behind (I think I just threw up a little). I probably should have sold one of my babies on the black market just to afford the other three.
There’s a constant stream of activity at my house. Someone is always tromping up and down the stairs, or there’s an argument on the couch over the remote or a hungry teen is staring at an open refrigerator. Their friends just walk in and stop and say hello and go join the rest of the gang in the basement and the little boys next door always seem to be ringing the doorbell.
And for as much as I’d like to blare Adele and walk around in my underwear, I think I like the commotion. Yes, I’d enjoy a romantic getaway to Maine and not worry about childcare or take two weeks off from making unappreciated dinners, but what are my choices?
If I had had only two children, how could I ever have known how amazing numbers three and four would be? I’m sure that ignorance is bliss and my life would have been just dandy, but I wouldn’t have known how rich it could be, too, with these bonus kids with their big blue eyes and easy laughs.
As we sidestepped over a clump of gnarled tree roots and crested the top of a hill, Maggie assured me that it will be in my later years that I’ll be glad I have this brood.
“You’ll always have someone to take care of you,” she said.
And that may be true (or they might just decide to store me in one of their basements), but I wonder, is that why I had them? Was it for me? Or did a family just mean more people to me than it did for my friends? It certainly wasn’t because I liked changing diapers and quelling temper tantrums.
I’ll call one of my sisters and ask her what she thinks, and if I don’t like what I hear, I’ll call another sibling. That’s the beauty of a big family, there’s always someone else, right around the corner.