I pulled into the parking lot of the elementary school and reluctantly rolled down my window. I smiled and hollered four spots over to the other caregivers waiting to pick up their younglings, “Hi! I’m new here and not really sure how pickup works, am I in the right place?”
The mom in the further car replied, “This should be, what grade are you picking up?”
Me, with a smile, and in a joyful and enthusiastic voice: “first, third and fifth!”
I had no idea that the words I uttered so casually could produce such a drastic shift in the demeanor of this poor peer of mine. The woman’s eyes practically popped out of her head and her jaw dropped. I sensed she was feeling both overwhelmed and shocked, and maybe a little like she wanted to go have a glass of wine. I felt a sudden need to go give her a hug a piece of chocolate to help console her. Her verbal reply was simple, like maybe she was trying to play it cool, and said something like, “Oh, wow, yes this is the right place,” but her face gave away what her words didn’t.
I didn’t bother to mention my fourth kid in the back seat of my minivan, and the fifth kid in-utero. I didn’t think her heart could take it.
I have had my fair share of encounters of a similar nature throughout the years. There is something about “large families” that drops strangers’ defenses. Suddenly they can’t hide their shock, and sometimes can’t stop their obtuse statements. Those of us with the handful of kids tend to find ourselves finding charitable ways to guide the conversation away from “you know what causes that, right?” (I can only assume our self-control in conversation comes from years of practice with periodic abstinence. #thanksNFP)
What this encounter gave me, though, was a prophetic glimpse into the experience some strangers feel when faced with a family with more than two kids. I think possibly, they see the number of kids, and internalize the encounter to think how they would feel if suddenly their simple lives were swirled into an upheaval of chaos by adding a few more minions to the mix. Their schedules are full with one or two kids, and just the sheer idea that their work could be tripled is too much. They see the work, effort, and sacrifice of carting around three kids, and I wonder if they are able to look past the apparent pandemonium to catch some of the joy we are really living.
I now feel a certain sense of challenge. How can we share the joy and love of our families with others when they can barely get past the “sticker shock” of the cost of sacrificial love? Yes, it is difficult to manage the homework and extracurriculars of three school-aged kids, but all of that seems so trivial to me when compared with the joy of hearing three out of four kids singing at church. We definitely aren’t planning any trips to Disney any time soon, but I’d much rather spend an afternoon hiking through a free State park, making up stories about mythical monsters and soaking up the beauty of creation with my favorite creatures.
We truly are living a joyful life as a family of seven in very simple ways (besides, I can’t pick which of my precious ducklings I would trade for any material thing). I know the best response is to love, and invite others to join us in our home: to encourage others to experience the simple activities of daily life with a bit of a nutty family. I couldn’t possibly hide my kids when I meet new people to spare them the anxiety, but I hope that others will stick around long enough to see the type of life we are actually experiencing: a life of peace, joy, kindness, love, and yes, sometimes wine and chocolate.