I had to write in support of Heather, author of my favorite blog, dooce.com. In her latest entry, she notes that she's usually stressed but more or less OK until she sees a TV show about people who are cheerfully and serenely raising sextuplets, which makes her feel totally inadequate that she can barely deal with her one toddler. Well... you go, girl. I think all of us parents feel like we're falling pretty far short of the mark in most ways. For myself, it's little things like working full-time, seeing them for a few semi-meaningful minutes each weekday in rushed mornings and cranky evenings (minus the time I tell them to go play so I can get reacquainted with Ben for a moment or two). It's the knowledge that I'm ruining their psyches by incessantly screaming at them, even though I know at some level that other parents probably just might raise their voices at their kids in the privacy of their own homes, as opposed to when I'm around, when the kids are models of self-control and politesse and no yelling would ever seem to be necessary.
Lets' face it: it's WICKED HAHD being a parent, no matter how many kids there are. When they're babies, it's all about sleep deprivation and getting used to the novel sound of infant screaming about 18 hours a day. With toddlers, you're watching them every second because they're apt to eat or otherwise destroy the household effects, the pet or themselves with no warning. With preschoolers, the diapers are mostly gone but now there are endless high-pitched battles between the siblings over their respective belongings, and between them and you over what to wear in the morning, what they don't like to eat, where they want and don't want to go, their insanely detailed and capricious bedtimes... I can't wait to see what exciting new anxieties and stresses that middle school and beyond will bring. As Dorothy Parker says, "What fresh hell is this?"
In the meantime, I try to feel a tiny bit good about each shopping list compiled and filled, each improvised meal, each reasonable conversation with a child in a normal tone of voice, each object thrown out with a frisson of triumph over the temporary reduction of clutter by .001 percent. That and 40 mg a day of Prozac keep me on an even keel.
I used to feel a lot more inadequate until I saw an hourlong show about the family with 15 kids. They too are all well-dressed, well-behaved, clean, apparently happy and concerned for one other's welfare. This was truly amazing to behold; the mother married at 17 but held off reproduction until she was 21, then has had one or more children every year (there are just two sets of twins in the lot) and had just given birth to #15 at age 37. What a trouper! They were in the process of finally moving to a bigger house they built themselves; they heretofore lived in a 2,400-square-foot, two-bathroom house with no dressers anywhere and just one closet for the family. The bedrooms are filled floor to ceiling with bunks, of course. The dad says with a grin, "I let her make the decisions about whether to have more kids." Yes, his name really is Jim-Bob. They buy in bulk and pay cash, though their grocery bill is $1,500 a month. Mom says the biggest thing you need is patience. (NO -- really? Even with so much love around you?) We're seriously beginning to wonder about how mom pulls this off and whether she's really, you know, OKAY. But she has help; it seems that each child had a "buddy" -- an older sibling responsible for the youngster's care. Whatever baby is currently using the maternal dairy is Mom's "buddy" until weaned, then off it goes into the crowd. See you at graduation! Then more horror is revealed. Mom makes all the clothes for the girls and herself from scratch so they will be sufficiently modest. (Yes, they are devout Southern Baptists.) And... she HOME SCHOOLS ALL OF THEM, including violin lessons. Now the truth is revealed. Mom is COMPLETELY INSANE. I don't know what form it takes, but I do know as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow that there are incidents and accidents we're not seeing on camera, and things inside her head that no one sees, frightening ideas having to do with religion and children and martyrdom and duty and self-control and God knows what else. I mean, how close is this happy family to winding up like the Andrea Yates, who drowned her five kids and is in prison for life? Yes, Andrea had a history of demonstrated severe mental illness and an evil husband who forced the family to live in a converted bus and insisted she get off Haldol and have a fifth child. But I still say there have got to be similarities among fundamentalists who have tons of kids and home-school them. Question #1: Is this in any way fair to the kids? Contraception is a wonderful thing, but you have to be sensible enough to WANT to use it.