Life with 8 kids
A few weeks ago, one of my sons invited a friend over to play who had never been to our house. This friend comes from a family of two children. I suppose it’s a brave thing to come play at a house like mine, with 8 kids running around, especially on a day when several of them have friends over and the number is somewhere around 13 bodies running all over the place.
So, this boy’s Mom came to pick him up, and as luck would have it, 5 minutes before she arrived I heard an explosion coming from the direction of my infant’s diaper. I picked her up immediately, and I am not exaggerating when I say that from her armpits down, she was literally swimming in what her diaper was supposed to catch. It was soaking through her clothes at an alarming rate and I had to take care of it immediately. I said a silent prayer that Sue would be late, but of course she wasn’t.
She knocked on my door, and of course the only person who heard it was her son, who answered my door, and me, who was in my bathroom cleaning poo off a baby while a large amount of it ended up on me (picture a crying baby waving her arms and legs around while you try to clean her off). I scrambled, got her changed and a new diaper on, then quickly changed into the first clean shirt I saw in my closet, washed my arms and hands and ran down the stairs to catch them before they left. I was thinking, now isn’t this a great impression to make? She can’t even find an adult to talk to when she comes to pick up her son!
I explained what had just happened and she seemed to forgive me. At least, she stayed to chat in my entry for a few more minutes, and as we talked, my door opened and closed at least a dozen times, and probably no less than 3 bodies went in or out every time. Suddenly I looked at her and it dawned on me that she might be experiencing some serious sensory overload. She was starting to look a little overwhelmed by the activity that was buzzing around us. At length she asked me, “Do you think that he’s still in your house, or did he go outside?” and I had to confess that with all the ins and outs I hadn’t even tried to keep track of which group he was in.
Finally, she turned to me and asked all the questions she’d quietly wondered as she contemplated her life with two children and my life with eight:
What do you feed them all?
Where do you shop?
How do you afford it?
Is it ever quiet?
and other questions like that. I wished I’d had some great answers, but all I could think to say was that I think my life is a lot like everybody else’s, just, well, MORE.
So in the back of my mind I’ve been reviewing her questions lately, and I’ve come up with a few thoughts.
BEDTIME. Occasionally it goes really smoothly. We have family prayer and then my husband and I divide up the bedrooms. We pray with each child, express our love and tuck them in, etc. I have to say that my husband is WAY better than I am about spending a few extra minutes to make them each feel special. I’m usually so tired that all I really want to do is see them close their eyes, not give them a reason to stay awake. Sometimes they stay in bed.
But sometimes it’s more like playing that arcade game, Whack-a-Mole. (Except that we’re not really whacking anybody, just carrying or chasing them back to their beds.) As soon as you get one down and think you might have them all taken care of, somebody else pops up and you’re at it again. At length they all go to bed, either because they’re finally tired or they’ve heard enough threats that they know they’d better not show their faces again. 🙂
FOOD. I’m convinced that I could cook 8 full meals a day and then they MIGHT stop telling me they’re hungry. The funny thing is, I’ve got a couple kids who are somehow allergic to meals. They come tell me they’re hungry and I say something like, “I’m so glad you’re hungry because I just cooked dinner and we’ll be eating in about 5 minutes. Do you want to help call your brothers and sisters so we can get started?” and somehow, without my knowing, that was an invitation for them to lie down on the floor and begin screaming that they don’t want to eat dinner! Translation: they wanted me to give them something sweet or crunchy or generally not good for them. I have a three year old who has hardly eaten in the past month because all he wants to eat is “something.” He says, “Mom, I want something.” I say, “I’ll make lunch.” Then he starts screaming about how awful lunch is. I really don’t want to give in and start feeding him junk, so I usually press forward with the meal I’d planned and he usually boycotts my meal because it doesn’t fall into his undefined category called, “something.” And so we continue like this, day after day. What a nut!
Occasionally I wonder if I should just bring an air mattress into the kitchen and sleep there, since they’re hungry all day long. My oldest son has a friend who thinks that I literally don’t do anything but cook because he’s never seen me doing anything else. Once he’d been here and seen me in the kitchen for 5 consecutive days, he started stopping by every day to see what I might have to eat. Last Saturday night I picked him up and when he got in my car he said, “So, have you been cooking up anything good this afternoon?” My reply: “NOPE! But we’ll let Nate pop some popcorn or something as an appetizer while I figure something out.” (I hadn’t planned on feeding 3 teenage boys that night, so I needed a few minutes to brainstorm and pull it together.)
The funny thing is, sometimes they like it and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they inhale a huge meal in 5 minutes and sometimes they hardly eat. I can make a favorite recipe and have them all declare it’s gross. I figure as long as there’s food to eat, they’ll turn out ok. I do my best. The other day one of my boys asked me where the chips were kept. “On the floor,” I replied. “That’s where you all put them.” (Actually, it was mostly the work of #7, but it sure felt good to say it.)
HUMILITY. We have a lot of bikes at our house. My husband has one, and the kids all have them. I don’t have one. Since our marriage 13 years ago, I’ve had only 6 weeks total when I wasn’t pregnant, nursing, or both. Doesn’t make for lots of bike riding. Either I’m pregnant and don’t really want to, or I’m not in the mood to go spend all that money on a bike and a little kid trailer to hook onto it. A few years ago we got a little motorcycle and my husband invited me to take a spin on it. My oldest child guffawed and exclaimed, “You can’t even ride a BIKE!” I got on the motorcycle and took a spin. You have to quiet them somehow.
A few weeks ago one of my children was in a potentially dangerous situation. I set the baby down and ran to help my toddler. I heard my almost 9 year old son exclaim, “Did you see Mom just now? I didn’t know she could RUN!” And I think, oh wow, what has become of me?!
Earlier this year my father’s stepmother died. Her funeral was wonderful and I learned a lot of things about her that I hadn’t known. She was the type who would call the teenagers and invite them to go toilet paper houses. When her house was getting it, she would hide in the laundry room, open the window, and through the screen she would use her squirt gun to get the invaders wet, laughing the whole time. In her 89th year, she spent several days dipping cotton balls in chocolate for her April Fools day party. She was famous for her chocolates, so she just sat nearby and chuckled as she watched people pop one of her “chocolates” in their mouths and then choke on the cotton. The night of the funeral I asked my kids what they had learned or liked about the funeral. This same son said, “I learned that I would like you to be more like her.” “In what way?” I asked. “Oh, I just think I would like it if you were fun,” he replied.
What could I say? I mean, I was the one who asked! So you just nod and thank your son for sharing his feelings and say to yourself, “Well, if I cry, I’ll make sure you don’t see it.” and then you go on with life and try to be more fun.
HOUSEWORK. I’ve learned that children love to play in clean rooms, so this is how it goes: I clean a room. I go to the next room to clean. While I clean the second room, they play in the first room and mess it back up. They just follow me from room to room until we’re back where we started. My husband comes home from work and I say, “I promise that I cleaned all these rooms today, even if they look the same as when you left!” Sometimes our house looks great, and a lot of the time it doesn’t. I figure I just need to do my best to keep up with things and it will work out somehow. After all, I do have 100 fingers touching things, 20 feet leaving shoes and dirty socks all over the place, and 3 little ones filling diapers at various intervals. I try to remind myself that everybody says that you end up missing it, so I tell myself that while I clean up after them. I’m witness to the evidence of healthy, happy children. What a blessing!
Two days ago my almost 2 year old paid me a visit while I was in the shower. She came to say hi and then decided to bring me the clean laundry that I’d just removed from the dryer. She just started throwing it into the shower with me. I groaned and tossed it back out. Of course she returned to put it back in. I surrendered. It already had to be re-washed, so why fight her? Why not just enjoy the end of my shower? I left it there. A few minutes later she came back, pushed open the shower door and began to retrieve the wet clothes. “Rorry Mom” she said as she toddled away. I stood there and thought, “Wait a minute! I don’t think that’s a toddler trick I’ve ever heard of before! I’d better write that one down!”
Last month I had some friends knock on the door at the last minute and ask if they could move a meeting from another location and hold it in my living room instead, in 5 minutes. Once again, I was holding an infant with a blowout. “Sure” I said as I looked around at the day’s clutter and went upstairs to bathe the baby. Ten minutes later I came back down to find my 3 year old son standing in the family room throwing ping pong balls into the living room, where the meeting was happening. “Don’t throw balls at them!” I exclaimed. “I’m not, ” he calmly said as he threw another one.
Recently I commented to my husband that most of what we’re experiencing in this parenting adventure is just plain real life. It’s just that we’ve got a LOT of living going on inside these walls. I’m learning to laugh at the moments that make me feel/look like one of THOSE moms (the ones who everybody uses as an excuse not to have children). I call myself a Mom in the Middle. My children are old enough, and there are enough of them, that I’m well past the stage when you think you know it all and you think you know how your children will always look and act (which is usually much better than everybody else’s children look and act). I’ve been doing this long enough to know that my kids will embarrass me, and that I’ll probably have a few opportunities to embarrass them back. I also realize that I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m just at the beginning of the teenage experience. My children haven’t yet made any of the big decisions that can alter the course of their lives. I don’t know how they’ll turn out. I don’t know if I’ll end up feeling like a failure or a success. But I do know this. I love them. I love them so much it hurts. I pray for them. I know that they are God’s children and that I am merely a custodian. I know that He knows how to take care of them and I just need to learn to listen better to what he’s trying to teach me. And I also know that he knows how to take care of me while I learn it. And I know that I couldn’t do this alone. How grateful I am for our three-way partnership: me, my husband, and God.
What more can I ask for?
Sleep, I guess. Cause that’s when they’re all quiet.