The other night my mom stopped by with two of her girlfriends for a quick-ish visit.
Wait. Let me be clearer: These women didn’t simply stop by. No, they had driven an hour and a half for the express purpose of meeting my boys. Mom’s friends were in town from other parts of the country and amazingly, they’d decided that their visit just had to include this brand of mayhem:
I could be wrong, but I think Mom’s (lovely, kind) friends are probably from smaller families, because they seemed equal parts delighted and exhausted by my boys’ lively, LOUD antics.
Either way, their reactions reminded me that most people in our society aren’t actually raising (soon-to-be) four children aged five and under. Huh. Imagine that. I’ve gotten so used to this madness that it’s easy for me to forget that some find it curious. (Also, I’m sufficiently immersed in the Catholic mom blog world that four seems like nothing in comparison to others’ six, eight, or ten.)
Then I go out in public with my three small boys and my not-so-small belly and I’m stared at and I remember: This intense, chaotic, busy, yes-I-have-my-hands-full life that I’m living? Most people are daunted by it, even if they’re kind enough to find it endearing. Most people I encounter have not, and would not choose it.
Sometimes I question whether I should have.
Sometimes I think of how much peace I would have in the middle of the day if I had just two children who were both in school full time. (Note that I said peace, not leisure – I’m well aware that running a household and a family makes for quite enough responsibilities to keep even the parents of smaller families perpetually well-occupied.)
Sometimes I see pictures of friends’ vacations and weekend camping trips and visits to museums and I pine for the freedom that one or two semi-reasonable, potty-trained children would give my family to enjoy the world around us.
Sometimes I hear other moms’ declarations that they couldn’t possibly handle any more than the two or three children they already have and I wonder whether I’m foolish to think that I can.
Sometimes I even post things like this on Facebook:
I’m making a real dinner tonight, which means I’ve had yet another opportunity to reflect on how OH MY GOSH THEY’RE DRIVING ME MAD I’M GOING TO LOSE MY FLIPPING MIND WHY DID GOD GIVE ME ALL BOYS? WHAT WAS I ON TO THINK I COULD HANDLE ALL THESE LITTLE KIDS AT ONCE?
Then I look at my boys’ sweet (or mischievous or even sobbing) faces and I thank God for my foolishness, for my lack of freedom and peace. I wonder how I could have ever lived without these infinitely precious little people in my life.
I thank Him for the experiences that lead me down this path to a larger-than-average family. And I look forward to where the path will take me.
Because as much work as it takes to raise a bunch of little kids, as much sleep and sanity as it costs you, the reward is mind-bogglingly huge.
Today, I get the love and snuggles and hilarious stories and charming questions. I get to witness my boys’ camaraderie. I get to watch my husband struggle to perch all three on his lap at once. I get to feel my boys’ jostling against my belly, vying to feel their baby sister move within it.
Tomorrow – many tomorrows from now, I hope to get so much more.
I hope to experience jolly, chaotic Christmases. I hope to never know which loved one will walk through the door next. I hope to have sons who will step forward to fix something around the house so their dad won’t have to. I hope my daughter and her sisters-in-law will bring each other meals when they have babies. I hope to have enough grandchildren running around this place to make my head spin.
I hope my children and grandchildren enjoy the security that I grew up with – the comfort of knowing that no matter what life brings, they will have plenty of people to love and care for them.
I am blessed to come from a very large, very close family. My mom’s family, in particular, includes her six siblings and their spouses, more than twenty grandchildren and (with only six of us having kids so far) another twenty some great-grandchildren. Plus, my family maintains close connections to many of my grandparents’ siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews (as well as great and great-great ones).
But beyond all the numbers, there is the love. There is the love that is expressed and the love that is shown in helpfulness and kindness and patience and laughter.
There is not perfection, but there is more food on the table than one family could possibly eat. There are jokes over late-night card games and extra hands when a new baby is born. There is medical advice from the nurses, real estate tips from the realtor, construction and renovation and decorating expertise from the family members in those fields.
There is the knowledge that should tragedy strike and someone be left without the one(s) he loves best, there are dozens prepared to stand there beside him.
I know that my extended family’s closeness is unusual in this day and age and I know that my husband and I have no guarantee that our own one-day family will echo it. But I’m hopeful that if we raise our children with as much love as my grandparents and parents did with theirs, then maybe we’ll have a pretty good shot.
So that’s what I look forward to. That’s what I hope to build. That’s what consoles me on the days when they’re pulling at my clothes and I’m pulling out my hair.
And that’s why you won’t hear me declaring that I’m done – that no way, no how could I handle another child.
Because as long as these days may be, these years – these years of exhaustion and NOISE and limitless responsibilities – I know that one day they’ll seem short. And that when they’re through, my husband and I will be left with the fruit of all our work: our people.
No matter how many they number, I know that each and every one will seem infinitely precious to us. I’m sure I’ll wonder how I could have ever lived without them.
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