As soon as there is more than one child in a family, it becomes a stretch for a mother to reach around to all the needs. Every new baby increases the mother/child ratio, obviously. You can take a row of perfectly well-behaved children on an outing and just bet on getting chuckles and outright stares.
Recently we took the entire family along shopping (for men’s clothes… the purse gawking happened on this trip) for the first time ever since Addy was born. Since Gabe was busy looking at menswear, I sort of herded the children around, trying to keep them together and not too bored. There was one point where two big ones were tussling over who gets to sit in the funny little department store stroller, while the baby trotted laps around us all and the rest were digging for mints in my bag. Gabe and I were discussing the merits and demerits of a particular pair of pants, when we got that, “You really have your hands full,” from a wrinkly, little, curious lady. At least I thought she must have been curious, the way she just stood there and watched the circus. I still haven’t come up with a really good reply to this statement. Sometimes I would like to respond with a sarcastic, “Obviously.” I decided to try out a recommended answer, “That’s how we like it.”
“What?” she asked.
“That’s how we like it!” I again informed the entire menswear department. By that time she had forgotten her original question and meandered on with a confused look. I thought to myself that I was not entirely honest. I love having lots of little children around, but I don’t always like the sensation of full-handedness. What I mean is, it is a little uncomfortable to the flesh. Just fifty years ago it was entirely normal to have at least five children. Now it gets you stares and comments like: How do you ever do it? It starts making you feel like maybe this really is pretty hard.
Sometimes you even wonder what in the world made you ever think you could swing this mother stuff. I wrote the following bit about a year ago. It makes me laugh now, which is the difference that a year can make. I thought I would post it as an encouragement for anybody out there who feels like she may not have enough arms for the job.
I spent the bedtime-settling-down hour in a ridiculous round of settling down one child after another. Later as I was sitting in the tub, feeling my woeful inadequacy to reach around, I started worrying about missing some vital nurturing element. I was thinking about books and movies where the parents sit on the child’s bed in a calm pool of light from the lamp, reading story after story, snuggling, tickling, kissing, tucking in, singing their child to sleep. Then I thought about me, (man at work), reading one all-purpose story while feeding the baby, taking breaks to call a child gone AWOL, bedtime prayers interrupted by a boy doing tricks with a hanky and a penny. I recalled the admonishments to brush teeth without fuss, the dispensing of chewable vitamins and drinks and blankets, the arbitrating a quarrel over a Popular Mechanics that they couldn’t read anyway after lights-out. There was the medicine loving child with a “belly-ache”, the one with a sore bottom that needed powder, the one who was still hungry and the one who heard strange noises. Of course, I couldn’t forget the one who needed to go potty again. I am not kidding: it was not a warm and fuzzy bedtime.
I was discouraged. Then I had a sudden enlightening thought.
Since we are all born thinking it’s all about ME, and since that attitude is the single most difficult thing to lay down at the cross… Since this ME-ness is at the root of ugly selfishness and relationship disasters, maybe having a largish (Five is not very many. Gabe’s dad was one of 14 boys and 2 girls) family is a really good way for our children to learn about deferring to others.
Maybe letting someone else have a drink first and sleep with the purple teddy bear tonight is life training. Maybe not having a whole hour alone with Mama at bedtime won’t scar them for life. Suppose it actually helps my child to be more thoughtful of others’ needs if they are not the only one who needs to use the bathroom? Maybe they won’t be damaged by listening to another little kid story for the sake of their siblings. Maybe when they share a laugh with me about the three year old who has so little regard for money as to shred her dollar bill, they are connecting just as much as they would if I had all the time in the world to run investigate that noise.
Lord, please let it be that having my hands full will ultimately help my children to learn that important life lesson of laying down their life for their brother.