When we started out, just the two of us, my husband and I were clueless. He is an only child and my siblings didn’t show up until I was 10 years old. We both were accustomed to the limelight, tranquility and praise, but we’d always longed for the joys of sibling companionship. My husband says he actually referred to himself as a lonely only when he was little.
Our heads in the clouds, we envisioned our own family would be a cross between the Von Trapps and the Bradys. Add twenty-two years and eight kids and our eyes have been opened. Oh, we wouldn’t trade one of our lovelies for the world (most days), but we concede that our initial plans were unrealistic.
In an attempt to set the record straight for starry-eyed newlyweds and lonely-only parents, I compiled a list of 10 big family problems.
“Wake up, time to wake up,” I bellow up our two sets of stairs every morning. Yes, my kids own alarm clocks, but apparently my voice is the only sound capable of breaking the sleep barrier. The first countdown (of the day) commences approximately fifteen minutes prior to all planned endeavors. And this (my squawking) repeats in five minute intervals until about five minutes beyond the target time. It goes like this: while brushing my hair, I warn, “fifteen minutes to school.” With toothpaste dripping down my chin, I crow, “ten minutes.” After admonishing a still pajama-ed, bed-headed, stinky breathed child who’s reading a book, I shout, “FIVE MINUTES.” Ah yes, and the post countdown (“we’re LATE”) gears up exactly five minutes after we’ve failed to launch (which in a household of ten occurs more often than not). Because although I’ve educated my bright pupils myself, not one of them can tell time (unless the time involves a party, play date, or a guest’s anticipated arrival).
I remember eyeing all those bare breasted women and half-naked children on the cover of Time Magazine when I was a kid and wondering why. Why didn’t their culture adopt some semblance of modesty and fashion. Didn’t they see the value in covering up their sensitive parts or donning some designer label jeans with a cute matching top? Now folding mountains of clothes I fantasize about a life without laundry (albeit after nursing eight babies I kinda like camouflaging my drooping bits). As if ten pairs of socks, shorts, t-shirts, underwear, and pj’s weren’t enough to handle daily, there’s also that one sweater that keeps turning up in the middle of the mound (you know, the one that still has the creases in it from the last time you washed and folded it which was yesterday).
With my first precious babies, I carefully documented their little lives in picture albums. From the scrunchy, red-faced newborn photo to the soccer team snapshots, every important moment was captured and neatly organized. With the invention of the cell phone and instagram, in addition to half a dozen more sweeties vying for my attention, I fell behind in my scrapbook endeavors. But in a big family that’s really not a problem (per say) because there’s always someone who will remember your history and exuberantly retell it for you (usually while in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner or when you bring your first real love home to meet your family). The real problem arises when your version of the facts (you know the honest-to-goodness facts that you remember because you always remember correctly) get twisted in a knot by everyone else who shares your surname.
4. Feast or Famine
We keep a small arsenal of snacks and non-perishables in our basement. Not because we are hardcore doomsdayers preparing for the end times, but because we have to keep some back stock to protect against the end-of month famine. Here’s how it goes down in the big family: the children cry out weakly, “Please, Sir, our porridge pot is empty and we’re starving (to death), can’t you please go fetch us some gruel?” At which time we head over to the local discount grocery and proceed to cram two carts filled to overflowing with cans, boxes, slabs and bunches of every kind of nutritious (cookies and marshmallows count, right?) ingredient. The feast begins on the drive home when those malnourished children tear into the first box of cheese crackers and eat all but the crumbs stuck on the inside bottom of the packaging before the van rolls into the driveway twenty minutes later. This jolly feasting continues for the next week until they’ve finished off the other two packages of cheese crackers, a dozen apples, a pound of salami, four sleeves of cookies, two loaves of bread, three varieties of cereal… Hence, how we end up back in a scene from Oliver Twist.
Back in the day (BC- before children), my husband and I laughed when we visited some relatives with kids because they had the TV cranked up to 55 in a 9X9 foot room. It didn’t take long for karma to swing back. We have no clue how anyone ever enjoyed a family movie before the advent of the rewind button. My husband makes feeble attempts to threaten the kids into silence when a race or ball game is on, but they can’t hear him over the barrage of “Who’s winning? Who’s that? What’d he just say?” Years ago we suspected our children must be deaf (especially our second daughter), so we had their hearing tested in the hopes of remedying their busted volume controls. Unfortunately, the doctor told us they all hear just fine.
Perhaps, their volume control problems are to blame, but most of the time my brood are unable to hear my commands when spoken in a range below screaming. However, when the hubby and I are discussing vacation plans (while hiding in a closet on the opposite side of the house) you can be assured that some little busy-body will overhear us and chime in. Then there’s the bathroom. Precisely eight minutes into my morning shower every.single.day. my six year old must retrieve the only pair of pants he seems to own which (of course) are located in the laundry room that can only be reached through the bathroom. Most of the time, I’ve already got toddler company in there anyway, so what’s another family member, right? My husband freely empties his bowels without any pomp and circumstance, but as for me it is no wonder why all those commercials for fiber aid feature women. If I need to excuse myself, it is a game of distraction wherein I try to slink off unnoticed (tiptoeing down the hall and holding my breath while pulling the door shut in the hopes of masking any squeaks). 10% of the time I succeed in peeing in peace and solitude, 90% of the time someone decides it is of the utmost importance that I be located immediately to answer some burning question like “Can I have a puppy for Christmas?”
Summer sandals and sneakers, church shoes and winter boots, shoes that used to fit and the hand-me-downs that are still a size too big for anybody, shoes, shoes and more shoes. The shoe problem is less about the number of shoes around here and more about the fact that they rarely all make it onto the shoe rack (kinda like dirty clothes and the laundry baskets). They make it beside the rack, under it and next to it. We also find lone shoes under the table, behind the couch and strewn about the yard.
Seating in the big family is assigned. Be it in our big, white van or circled around our permanently extended dining room table, every body has his/her respective spot. Hours of discernment and mediation went into mapping the plan-o-grams so as to reduce the chance of conflict between adjoining parties. The schematics work (mostly), until a new person gets added, then it’s back to the drawing board.
9. Somebody to blame
“Somebody” is ALWAYS to blame. Of course, “Somebody” is the invisible child who perpetrates every crime that can’t be directly attributed to a known offender. Rest assured, children are quite helpful when it comes to solving crimes (like who wrote on the wall or broke mom’s favorite coffee mug). Their detective work rivals that of Sherlock Holmes when asked, “Who did …?” But if it’s not sister or brother, it typically falls to that annoying Somebody kid (who to date has consistently avoided my capture).
And then there’s BEDTIME. We hear that is the time of day when people lay their heads down, close their eyes and drift off to peaceful slumber. We wouldn’t know because (did I mention?) we have eight children. I have vague memories of a time BC when I may have slept through the night without waking to nurse, comfort, redirect, reposition or talk with some family member. Truth be told, I’m so well trained now that even if no one disturbs my rest (which happens close to never) I still arouse long enough to pee (probably because it is the rare time I can be alone) and to double-check that everyone is still breathing. I’ve yet to actually laugh in the face of inquisitors who’ve dared ask, throughout the years, if our newborns are sleeping through the night, but I’d like to. Bedtime would be more aptly named Second-Wind-time since it seems as though our kiddos (who were drifting off to sleep during dinner) suddenly muster enough spare energy to run cackling through the house at warp speed.
Perhaps, if we enlisted a whistle like Captain Von Trapp, our children would report on time and line up in a tidy row. Maybe, I just need an Alice like the Bradys had to contend with Laundry Hill and the case of the missing left shoes. Yes, big families are rife with problems. But if I had it all to do over again, I (honestly) wouldn’t change a thing because along with the challenges come even more blessings. When I’m sitting elbow to elbow at our noisy dinner table, my cheeks aching from laughing too hard at the family story that’s being told for the umpteenth time, all the hard stuff counts for nothing.