Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Other Side of the Story

Adolescence isn't easy, especially when you are trying to carve out your own identity and feel so utterly stamped by your family.  I know the instant we show up somewhere, with the big van and the sheer numbers, (not to mention the loudness of some of our children who have not learned to curb their natural enthusiasm in order to draw less attention to our grand exiting of said vehicle), we've already driven our teens crazy. 
The older ones cope by appearing to be "responsible adults," grabbing the nearest cutest toddler and becoming their sole custodians for any outing we might take.   It's the middle ones who struggle.  They do not want the task of caring for a younger sibling, or the association with all the other younger siblings.  Being part of a mob of children and unable to escape, my teens struggle to maintain their cool, and to look cool. 
The other day, I read Matt's piece "I'd Kill Myself if I Had That Many Kids."  It bothered me because while I've been on the receiving end of this sort of thinking many a time, I also know some of my own children have leveled a parallel charge at me when they feel underserved. "There's too many!" they shout.  "I don't want to be in such a big family. It's too big!"  It is a weapon in the teen arsenal, sometimes effective, sometimes not, but indicative of the corrosive thinking that permeates our secular culture.  
Yesterday, I heard the canard one too many times.  So I called the two leveling such charges to come outside and told them to knock it off.  Lectures as a rule, don't work, which is a shame because I'm good at it.  So I did the next best thing.  I told them a story.  
Before I had my own children, I worked as a special needs teacher and took my students to a McDonald's.  The manager and I had become friends over the year, with her coming to sit down and visit with me and the students each time we came for lunch.   She let on that she was one of ten children. 
I started to wax poetical about how much I loved my Dad's extended family and having tons of Aunts and Uncles and cousins but she shook her head.  "I had too many siblings." 
I asked without thinking, "How many of your brothers and sisters do you think should never have been born?"  It floored her and silenced the up until then easy flow of conversation.  "What do you mean?" she said, her hand over her heart, as if I'd stabbed it.  I was 26 at the time, so I can't blame youth, but tact has never been my strong suit.
I explained, "You said there were too many, so which ones do you think shouldn't have been there?"  And she walked back from it, "Well, it was hard."  I agreed, it probably was.  We stayed friends. 
I told my children, taking care of, raising, feeding, clothing, managing all ten of you, no question, it is hard.  There are days, minutes, moments, nights, weeks when it feels mind blowingly hard.  But I'd never stop.  I'd never quit.  They are the only reason I do this, but because they are, I could never not do this.  
So the answer to the woman who thought she'd prefer death to more people to love, is the same as the answer to my manager friend, is the same as the one to my teens.  I can't imagine living any other way, and that the absence of any of them, is a body blow to the heart.  And my teens, like my manager friend, and (one day, I hope the woman in that conversation understands), knew or rediscovered, all these noisy silly bouncing off the wall can we go to the pool when do we eat next people, all of them, were and are infinite parts of all of our hearts.  

The answer is, we cannot live without any of them, for each of them, make us more alive. 


Kristin said...

"Where should we have stopped?" is a question I pose my eye-rollers when they start complaining about how many of us there are (#9 due in October). That usually shuts them up for a while. None of them can imagine life without one or two of the littles. But, of course, at one time or another, they would each say, "After me!"

a good mother would said...

I always told my children that the younger ones deserved to be here just as much as the older ones. Be thankful you were number 1,2,(pick a number!)...and that we didn't stop at just 1. "If you don't like it, take up with God when you get to heaven. He chose to send all of you to us". I haven't had to have to many of those conversations!

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