Friday, November 20, 2009

"You Don't Look Like You've Had Ten Children."

"Um, thank-you.  I think."

I don't look like I have ten children.

I get that all the time -- and I know it's meant to be a compliment, though I expect, more often than not, it's actually an involuntary reaction of astonishment at the double digit number.  Regardless, I don't feel offended.  It's better than someone saying, "Gosh, you look like you've had ten children!"  And, all things being relative, there's no reason to bristle -- but, it does make me wonder...  What am I supposed to look like after I've had ten children?

Here's what I imagine the critics think:

1. First of all, we mothers of many children are expected to be fat. 

Now, granted (like my daugher-in-law and I were just saying yesterday, which is one of the reasons I'm thinking about this at all), women who've had a few children have every right to put on a few pounds, and nobody -- most especially our husbands -- had better say a word about it.  But, in my circle of large-family Moms, I have to tell you, very few have a real weight problem at all. In fact, I'm pretty chunky compared to the multi-mom average in my world. 


This should not surprise anyone who's hung around with the likes of us.  For one thing, there's the exercise; boy, do we get exercise.  Mothers of many children rarely get the chance to sit down -- ever.  Which leads directly to the real weight control secret of large family moms: Because we never sit down, we never get a chance to eat. Our calories are burnt up almost as soon as we consume them.  As soon as I lift the fork to my mouth, someone needs something, spills something, or chokes on something.  Remember the dinner scene from A Christmas Story, when Ralphie's Mom never gets to eat because she's always dishing out more red cabbage and meatloaf-beatloaf?  Multiply that by five.  And, then add eight or ten nursing babies, one after the other, into the mix, and the fact that (unless we hide) we never get a bite of anything sweet without sharing it with a toddler.  Any of us with a few extra pounds should be congratulated for our stealth and/or determination.

2.  Mothers with big families should be bald.

Many would think our hair should all be torn out by the time we get past about the four children mark, and I understand this misconception. There have been days when I've wanted to tear my hair out...  (Haven't we all had those days, regardless of our family size? ) But, the fact is  -- and I believe most super-family-moms would concur --  my life was harder when I was a fledgling mother with three small children than it is now with my ten children between the ages of three and twenty-two.

It's true.

Honest-to-goodness, the first three or four children are the practice pancakes.  By the time I got to five kids, I had matured as a mother: I knew what battles to pick and which to leave alone, I knew not to jump at every whimper,  and I had learned to relax enough to start enjoying  my amazing little troupe of  mini Davises. 

But, most of all, by the time I had four or five kids, my oldest had started to become workers instead of work.  With each new baby added to the family, another worker bee was usually joining the chore-crew.  I now have a carefully groomed work force at my beck and call.  (Well, I beck and call, anyways, and sometimes they actually do come and do what I tell them....)   It's understandable, though, why many women wouldn't expect this happy result of our numbers; most mothers of smaller families remember the early, difficult days and believe that scenario will be multiplied exponentially if other children are added.  But, compared to the old days when I had less than a handfull of children, my life is easy now.  See me sitting here with my coffee and bonbons?  Ecce quam bonum!  Life is good!  My hair may be going grey, but it's all there.

3.  Our arms should be dragging the ground.

First of all, our posture might be supposed to suffer due to mere exhaustion.  But, as explained in #2, "many hands make light work."  I expend most of my energy trying to out-think my kids and  make them work without realizing that's what they're doing...  I have plenty of work to do, but we've trained the children to share the load.

Secondly, one would think that our arms would be stretched to the ground due to the fact that: Boy-oh-boy, we "have our hands full!"  I can't tell you how many times I've heard this.  It's right up there with: "You don't look like you've had ten children."  Actually, I've probably heard it even more.  And, I don't know exactly whether the "hands full" comment is meant to be derisive or not.  Perhaps it's meant as just a statement of fact.  I take it that way, anyway,and don't mind the observation.  When I feel the need to respond, I just say: Yessiree!  Better than empty! 

And, I mean it.

 How could I ever complain that my hands are full when I know that they're full of blessings?  It's all in the perspective.  People who don't "get it" look at all my children and in their mind's eye see a big basket full of writhing snakes and snapping wolves.  [[Shudder]] But, when I look at all my children, I see a basket full of marbles and jumpropes and little army guys and three-ring binders and sheet music and homemade chocolate chip cookies and mismatched socks -- and feathers, lots of them -- from their Guardian Angels' wings.  It's a full basket.  Maybe a little awkward to carry at times, but one I wouldn't put down for anything.  Thank-you, God.

How Moms of large families really look:

Generally speaking, we look no different than anyone else.   Except that we're always spying around to make sure we haven't left anything (or anyone) behind in stores, parks, and restaurants. Our purses may be bigger and more completely packed than most women, and we drive big vans -- but on the outside we usually pass for normal human beings.

I've got to be honest, though.

In my middle age -- I'm forty-five now -- I surely do show some of the signs of a busy life.  I'm only marginally overweight, I have all my hair, and my arms don't hang down to the floor, but I'm not untouched by the journey I've taken so far.  For one thing, there's no denying that bearing ten children has taken a toll on my health.  At one time, I would have resented the implications of that statement, but it's true that every pregnancy takes a bit of the life of the mother.  That is not to say it shortens our lives if we know to take care of ourselves, but facts are facts: growing babies in the womb is hard work.   It's tough on the old body.  And raising toddlers and teenagers is mentally and emotionally taxing.  Hard work, and no accident.  True love involves sacrifice.  God knows that no more complete bond can be formed than when a woman literally gives her lifes' blood to the infant growing within her; and the path to independence of our teenagers lies directly over their mothers' hearts.  It's all hard.  It leaves scars that most people can't see, but they're beautiful scars and blessed stretch marks.

 In all size families, our sacrifices should try to imitate Our Lord's sacrifice in our love for our children. We give a lot of things up to be good parents, and we put up with a lot.   And that leaves marks -- if not externally, then certainly interiorally.  The more people we love in our lives, the more vulnerable we are to the whiplash and wounds left by worry and hurt.  But it also leaves our arms open to hugs and kisses and family baseball teams and siblings' four-part harmonies and crowds around the dinner table -- and the consolation of knowing we've taken the hard path out of love for God.

If our children are not around us, you would never guess which mothers have born baseball-team-sized families, but I think we stand out in the crowd through the looking glass of heaven for the strength we've built in our commitment muscles and the marks that criss-cross our hearts. 

And in the eyes of God, the scars of our sacrifices don't distort us, they transform us.


abroadermark said...

Oh, don't congratulate me - my stealthiness and determination are God's doin', not mine. ;)

Excellent post, Lisa. Thanks.

Now I've gotta go find someplace where the kids can't find me to eat this chocolate ice cream. I'm thinkin' about trying the shower today. If I can keep the spoon from clinking against the bowl, I think it just might work. Teehee...

Linda Higgins said...

Wow Lisa, beautifully written. 10 children or 1 child. A mother is a mother and her sacrifice and worry isn't any different. I loved your post today. I think saying you don't look like you have had 10 children is indeed a compliment!

Linda Higgins said...

I absolutely LOVE it when someone tells me "You have a daughter how old?" (she will be 39 in January)yes I was married very young and wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.!

Aubrey said...

Great post! Even at only four (almost five) children, I've received the comment, "you don't LOOK like you have four kids!" My mother, the mother of nine, hears this often as well.

You're so right about older children joining the work force. Now I often hear, "what will you do with FIVE?" I think probably the same thing I did with four ... and three ... and two. I'll have only two at home--a 3 year old and a baby. The hard work starts when my big helpers leave for school!

Hooray for big families and the mothers who rear them! :)

MightyMom said...

them: how many children do you have?

me: 3

them: how old are they?

me: 6, 4 1/2 and 2 1/2

them: wow, you're busy

me: nope. I work, DaD's the busy one!

them: you certainly have your hands full!

me: some days....other days I'm lonely.

them: and they're ALL special needs?? are they all yours?

me: uh, yeah...that's why they call me "ma".

them: wow, how do you DO IT??

me: by DOING it.

most days I don't mind the curiosity...

but I do think that I might have to steal me a teenager here soon....

suzy said...

This made me laugh... and cry and sympathize,allatthesametime (though I'm not even halfway there with only four littleones myself lol!
Thank you Lisa, for this wonderful post :)

Kaila said...

I LOVE this post! I'm going to share it with my mom. I hope you and your family are well, Mrs. Lisa!

Michelle said...

Excellent post! Great insight and humor. Thank you. :)

Melina Nobert said...

I have 11 kids, and love to tell people that I just don't have TIME to grow old!