I went to a gathering of former co-workers last night, and one of them freaked me the hell out. He and his wife have six children, ranging in age from 8 to 22, and he was saying, "Five children, huh? Let me give you some advice: don't have a sixth." He was telling me stories of how difficult it is to have so many children, so many issues, so many expenses. They lock the pantry because otherwise the boys eat a week's worth of groceries in an afternoon. Someone always needs something expensive: braces, new glasses, lessons. There is nothing worse than a 13-year-old girl.
This conversation caused it to occur to me that perhaps having lots of children is easier when it's lots of babies than when it's lots of teenagers. I've been humming along thinking, "What's the difference, really, between three children and four, or five, or even six? It's just more of the same thing." I've even pushed this philosophy with Paul, who, if you remember, had a crisis over the discovery of this most recent pregnancy and had to be talked down. I wasn't just saying I thought five would be fine and not much different than four, I really did think so.
Now it seems as if our family of four children, with its convenient twins at the end to prevent one youngest child being left alone with the parents at the end, was the ideal family, and that we've screwed it up. In fact, it seems like we should have stopped at two like most people. Two children would have been a happier life. We'll never be able to afford the expenses of five. We'll never be able to rear them right, because we'll never have enough time and energy to teach everybody everything they need to know. We'll be one of those families social services keeps an eye on because we're so disheveled and disorganized and our kids don't even know simple things like not to drip pee all over the toilet seat.
Time to talk myself down. The first thing that comes to mind is that it's common for parents to be the doom police to other parents. I remember when I was pregnant for the first time and very excited about it, there were a lot of people who said things to me such as, "Yeah, it's really exciting when you're pregnant," and "Just wait until he's born: you'll never sleep again, you'll never go out again." Then he was born, and it was okay. There were some difficulties and adjustments and midnight crises and so forth, but nothing as bad as I'd been led to believe. When I said so, those parents changed track: "Sure, it's easy now, wait until he's a toddler." He became a toddler, and it still wasn't as bad as predicted. So the other parents changed again: "Sure, one is easy; wait until you have two." I had a second, and it wasn't as bad. And so on, and so on, and so on: every time I say something's not as bad as I'd feared, there's someone to tell me that that's because I'm a naive fool who hasn't yet experienced real parenthood. So my first possibly reassuring thought is that it could be the same in this situation: older children do come with their own set of difficult parenting situations, but it won't be as bad as the other parents are making it sound.
I'm remembering, too, that when Rob was a baby, Paul and I would freak ourselves out by wondering what it would be like when he was five years old. We would get upset about the whole idea to have children, because what were we going to do with a five-year-old? We didn't like five-year-olds. We liked newborns. Now we were totally screwed, because he wasn't going to stay a newborn and then we'd be stuck with a five-year-old. But by the time Rob was five, of course, it was fine: he'd gotten there one hour at a time, and we liked him just as much as when he'd been a newborn--more, in fact. My guess is that freaking myself out about the kids being teenagers is just as silly.
My last thought, and the most important one to me, is that it's not as if there's anything to be done about it now. Short of selling some of the children on the black market, I'm stuck with them. I'm a mother of five, and it's not as if I can go back in time and try it again with two. So there is no sense getting all upset about making bad decisions, especially since I don't even know if they were in fact bad. Maybe I will always be glad I had lots of children; maybe it's what I want, even though it isn't what someone else wanted.
Gift ideas for an 8-year-old, part 2 of 2 - Last week I talked about the gifts we were getting/considering for Edward, who is turning 8 next month. This week it’s Elizabeth’s turn: not “girl gifts,” ...