“The Waltons” was a popular show when I was growing up. It was the story of a extended family with 7 children living together in the SE US during the depression. I admired the mother of the show and how she could be baking bread in the kitchen while having a heart to heart discussion with one of her teenage daughters. I loved watching the chaos, noise,slamming screen door and affection each of the siblings had for each other. Maybe I should blame that tv show for letting me believe that a large family was a possibility.
Our family slowly grew in the first 7 years with the addition of another son every 3 years. We had an opportunity to become accustomed to the changes each new arrival brought before considering where we would go next. The end of our family building was not quite so measured – adding 2 more children in 3 years with the last 3 children spaced 20 months apart. We had barely negotiated what it meant to be a family of 5, when shortly thereafter we were at a total of 7. Transportation issues were the first hurdle – the van was traded for a Suburban, 3 carseats were installed in the middle row. Our table had 6 chairs – each night the boys fought over who had to sit on the extra card table chair. Reading a book to the youngest 3 each night before bed often had them fighting over who could or couldn’t see the pages. Luckily I took many pictures during those first few years after our youngest joined the family, as much of that time is lost to my memory other than those moments captured on film.
The problems at home only seemed to be multiplied when we were out in public. We drew much attention and comments – whether from the size of our family or the 2 Asian children, I am not sure. I have been asked if my husband is Asian, whether I am Catholic or Mormon, and how many of all those children are actually mine! Depending on the day and my level of patience at the time, you could have a more detailed explanation than you wanted or I would ignore you. The kids preferred the ignore and move on mode. Occasionally I would have a niece thrown into the mix, who was the same age as boy #3, which made us appear as a traveling circus.
Invites to friends houses slowly disappeared as our family expanded. Our children could be well behaved, be we were still 7 people that needed to be entertained and fed. We resorted to inviting others to our house and soon became a smaller version of Grand Central Station. Meals were always expandable to feed one more friend or have extra for the next day. This is probably why the idea of an exchange student didn’t seem so different from what we were already experiencing.
We have always enjoyed traveling and getting out of the house and our normal routine became even more important as our family grew. Mode of transportation needed to change due to expense, so instead of air travel for two, the new Suburban became our traveling bus. We have made many road trips over the years and perfected the art of sleeping 5 kids in one hotel room for 6 hours before loading up again for the next long day of travel. While I do not have many fond memories of the car rides, my kids seem to forget the fights between siblings and only remember the movies they watched (lots), books we read (few), and what child got carsick/had to stop and use the roadside for a toilet. A recent road trip to Colorado with only 3 kids left us with extra space, even after all the ski gear was stowed, and seemed hardly worth the effort.
Probably the hardest part of parenting 5 children is realizing that at any given time it is very unlikely that all will be happy and not arguing with either a parent or sibling. I have had to learn that my happiness as a person cannot be dependent on my children’s happiness – a lesson that is easier to say than do. Humor has become a good friend and drama an enemy.
Surprisingly, none of my children have expressed an interest in having fewer siblings. My youngest has a best friend that is an only child, who loves to spend time at our house, but my daughter thinks she would get too much attention if she had fewer siblings. They seem to enjoy the controlled chaos and extra friends that are frequently around.
I think that both my husband and myself would not have said “I Do” if we had an inkling of what life would look like 20 years later. Thankfully, there was not a crystal ball available on our wedding day.