When I’m at work I spend a good amount of time networking. Meaning that I am constantly trying to meet new people, even if it is only over lunch or chatting a few minutes at a social gathering. And inevitably, the subject of family will come up.
“So, do you have any kids, Ken?” some unsuspecting soul will ask.
“Oh, how many?”
“FIVE?!” they say incredulously, choking on their hot toddy, balsamic bruschetta, or whatever else they might have just popped in their mouth. (What, don’t they serve hot toddy at your networking functions?)
“HOW OLD ARE YOU?” they ask in loud, bold lettering.
(And I believe this is the precise moment when they poop their pants.) “THIRTY-SIX?! How old are your kids?”
“10, 8, 6, 4 and 2.”
(And then they say the line that my wife hears every time she sets foot in a grocery store) “Wow, you must have your hands full.”
Indubitably. But while hearing about five children may raise eyebrows, you should see us in action. The visual is quite powerful. I’ve become somewhat adept at recognizing that “Oh, crap” look on the faces of waitresses, library workers, and people sitting behind us at the movies. But honestly, my kids are fairly serene, if not adorable, and we are even occasionally graced by an elderly woman or couple at Costco who’ll stop to tell us how well behaved our children are. And I always tell them, “Those aren’t my kids you’re talking to, that’s a cart of frozen chickens my wife’s pushing. Our children are here, in this cart that I’m pushing, and they are much noisier than those chickens, if we’re being honest.”
When Katie and I got married three years ago (wait, let me do that math again…2+4 mmhmhm 6, mhmhh plus 4 mhmhmmh carry the 2…) Sorry, when we got married over 12 years ago, we never had a discussion about how many children we would have, and where the cutoff would be. We both knew we wanted children, and most likely many. And now, what feels like only months later, we have a basketball team. For which I am grateful everyday.
A good portion of the public gives me incredulous looks when I pronounce that I love having a big family. And I can see why. After all, I have consciously selected a lifestyle where nothing I own looks nice for very long. Not the couches, not the carpet, not my dress shirts, not the CD sleeves, not our books, not the yard, not the computer keyboard, not the stair railing, and certainly not the car. My gosh, the car.
I suppose there is also a heightened level of inconvenience and hassle associated with having numerous children. I’ve had to, for the most part, surrender to any form of timing or rhythm in scheduling life. Bedtime is sometime after 8p.m. and before 10 p.m. Baseball games, church activities, piano lessons, Cub Scouts, and dinner are all strategically scheduled (by outside forces) to occur at the same time. And if you are supposed to be somewhere at 10:00 a.m., it doesn’t matter if you start getting ready to leave the Tuesday before, you will not make it before 10:12 a.m., as you will get halfway there before you have to turn around and go back because somebody is not wearing shoes, or socks, or pants. And you just pray it is one of the children and not you.
But the frenzied mayhem and borderline lawlessness of the wild frontier known as Parents of a Large Brood is truly inspiring to me. I remember sitting at a football game some years back, and there was a well-populated family sitting directly in front of me. The parents must have been in their early 50s, and they had somewhere in the neighborhood of seven kids. At this point, their youngest was probably just starting high school, and their older children married with young children of their own. And they were all sitting together at this football game. And I was completely enthralled, feeling like I was getting a glimpse of my life in 15 years, watching older siblings chatting with younger siblings, parents playing with grandchildren, nieces laughing with uncles, young cousins eating nachos together, brothers-in-laws teasing sisters-in-laws. I was mostly fixed on the parents, and thought about how wonderful it must have felt to be surrounded by some of your most favorite people in this lifetime, and to have them be your family.
I had about three children at that time, and I already knew I would have more. But it was a warm reminder of how great it would be. Nothing makes me as happy as my family. Nobody makes me laugh more. Nobody makes me feel more loved. I never feel more centered or inspired than when I am doing something for the emotional, spiritual, mental, or physical well-being of my family. And that’s why I’m excited for June, when we’ll be adding another one.