Friday, June 1, 2012
Quantity versus Quality
No question about it. We have a butt load of kids. Sorry. We use the word butt a lot in our house. And a few other words that aren’t polite or allowed in public school. Like SHUT UP. And sometimes SHUT THE *%$#)# UP NOW! But that is reserved for special occasions. I’m not proud of this. Just honest.
Anyway, when I went to bed last night, we not only had the usual 16, but we still had company. At least 4 extras were still hanging around. Mostly unannounced. At 10:30 p.m., my husband asks when everyone should leave. I tell him that no one is here that should prevent us from going to sleep. Sometimes, that isn’t the case. We turn out the lights with the sound of people awake all around us. Most are over the age of 13.
When I awake. I sleepily turn on Jake and the Never land Pirates for a few minutes while we are trying to get everything ready. Change or help change 4 diapers/pull-ups. Check. Remind each preschooler to throw dirty bottom wear in the back porch trash – not on the porch itself. Check. 5 sippy cups of milk. Check. 2 bottles of formula. Check. Bacon, Eggs and Pancakes for my husband and whoever shows up to eat. Check. Star Bucks Bold coffee for my husband. Check. Diet Dr. Pepper for me. Check.
Everywhere I turn, there are people. My husband gets up earlier than me to clean out the sink and sweep and mop the floor so I can make breakfast. He knows I can’t cook a new meal when the old one is still around and he wants me to cook. Food is critical to his manhood.
Our newborn is in a bouncy seat with a zipper cover to prevent the little ones from touching him. My 4-month old grandson, who was prematurely booted from the bouncy seat because the newborn arrived, has moved up to the swirly seat with toys all around it. His legs are too short and don’t touch the ground. The one, three and four-year olds are all hovering - waiting for my lap. One per leg and one tucked in the middle against my chest. When they were smaller I could fit four. Our 6-year-old is lying across the couch. The other 4-year-old is playing something on the computer. And the 2-year-old is wandering from place to place silently creating havoc.
The 8-year-old is on the other computer trying to create new recipes for a smoothie and taco dip. The 12 and 13- year-olds are still in bed. Three of the semi-adult kids have already left for work. The last one is packing her lunch, eating and talking to me while I cook and she prepares to leave for work. The teen mamma and daddy of the newborn baby are sleeping (separately for those of you who are wondering). The baby schedule is still upside down. They have been staying up all night with the newborn because they are afraid to sleep when he is awake. They sleep in when one of the big kids or me takes over for a few hours in the morning. So far, they have been doing a good job with their son.
My married daughter texts me about choosing paint colors for her new house.
And it is only 8 something a.m.
Within a few minutes, one of the semi-adult kids comes back home with the two she is babysitting. They planned to go to the pool but it was too cold so they came over. There are still a few places on the main level not fully saturated with people so they stay to hang with the crowd. Figures.
There are two 3-foot-tall piles of laundry to be put away on the coffee table. There is no dirty laundry, but I HATE putting the clean stuff away. Since last night, I’ve sorted through buckets of newborn clothes and washed them for the newbie. The kitchen is now a mess again from breakfast.
A friend calls to ask for advice about a psychiatrist. The 1-½ year-old starts crying while I’m on the phone. He has dumped all the syrup onto the counter and himself and is crying because he is literally stuck to his seat and he has diaper rash from his antibiotic! I have had to resort to one of the babies holding his own bottle in the bouncy seat at my feet. Not ideal. I know. But it’s either that or he must wait even longer!
So, in the middle of all of this I keep thinking. By our definition this is not chaos. Just very busy and full. Sometimes, all hell breaks loose and it takes me shouting at the top of my lungs – louder than all the rest – to break the cycle and get their attention. I find that acting like a crazed lunatic is an effective tool for getting them to listen.
I’m wondering if the quantity of kids affects my performance. Wait. That is a ridiculous question. Of course it affects my performance. Often, I don’t have the time or energy to meet every individual need. Someone usually fills the gap, but not always. We can’t afford to allow each child to pursue every activity he can dream up. We have limited funds for college tuition and depend on scholarships, grants and work. All of our children can’t be enrolled in private school at the same time. We don’t buy new clothes or the latest fashions unless it positively affects the emotional or mental health of a particular child or they purchase it with their own money. Allowance is a thing of the past.
We used to have individual dates with each child each week. We are far too outnumbered for that now and dates tend to be with whoever is most in need of attention. Again, the older kids step up for some quality time with the little ones and they support each other quite well. Up to about 10 children, we took the family out to dinner on each birthday. With 21 birthdays between Mother’s Day and August 9, we would now have to spend our annual salary to accomplish that.
My semi-adult and adult children still need my time and attention, but I’m often so busy with a young child that I can’t give them my undivided self. Often, I’m having a serious conversation with an adult child about their marriage or some serious major life issue. Or one of my college students needs mommy during final exam stress. Or a teenager runs away and I’m on the phone with the sheriff. Again. And while we are talking, I interrupt the conversation with shouts, “Jennifer, you can’t ride the bike down the steps.”
“Shawn, stop screaming. It doesn’t hurt that bad.”
When I'm on the phone I close my eyes so I can concentrate. It's a dangerous habit. A little boy places his cupped hands directly in front of my face. My eyes fly open. “Sam! UGGGHHH. What is that?" I jump out of my seat. "Sweetie. I told you no more frogs in the house. Take him outside. Now go! ... I said go! ... NOW! Are you deaf? ... Catch the dang frog and get it outside. Then wash your hands. We don't need salmonella in the house!”
The older child must pause in mid-sentence or mid-cry and wait for me to finish. They have learned a great deal of patience - though I doubt they like it.
I could go on with illustrations, but I think I’ve made my point. Perhaps I could have avoided all this discussion because the answer seems obvious. But I can’t stop there. It occurs to me that the real question is not whether the quantity of kids affects my performance. Rather, I must question whether we are a better option than the alternative. Or like the standard in the physician’s Hippocratic oath, I ask if we are “doing no harm.”
Ultimately, all we really have to offer is a commitment to endure through thick and thin. A willingness to allow other seriously imperfect people to join the multitude of imperfect people who are already members of our family – including my husband, our birth kids, and myself. That’s it. We offer a permanent place to call home. And a large group of people who will call you a family member – even when you aren’t very likable.
It’s not the best. Best would be for each family unit to stay together as God intended.
It’s not ideal. Ideal would be for another biological family member to be able and willing to take the responsibility so the children can still be part of the extended family.
But it is good. It does offer hope and a future. And by definition, we are only an option when we are the best choice among the possibilities. Of course I wish I could be more to more people. I wish I could meet every need. But ultimately, that isn’t my responsibility. Or my husband’s. It is for God. And I trust he will make it all good.