When we bought our first house, the owners were a nice young family with four children. The father was an engineer, and the mother stayed home and homeschooled the kids. The interior walls were covered with fingerprints and crayon scribbles. There were plenty of dents and dings and holes in the walls. When we finally got the keys to the house, we were appalled at how dirty they had left the house.
As soon as we moved in, the neighbors started stopping by with tales about the family (who, by the way, were moving to Mongolia to be missionaries, and are still there). There were tales of the children crawling out the front windows and running down the street. There were stories about how the kids would regularly climb onto the top of the van. “They just let those kids do whatever they wanted, you know…”
That will never be us, I thought. That’s just lazy parenting, a lack of order. We’ll be different, if we ever have that many kids.
I was still a very young wife and mother. I only had one child: a blue-eyed, chubby, smiley six-month-old. I dreamed of making him peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwiches in our new house’s light-filled, cheery kitchen.
A few months ago (and many, many PBJs later), my parents were over for dinner on a crisp fall evening. My three big kids were wrestling in the front room and were being too loud. “Climb out the window and play in the front yard, please!” I yelled.
Because there was no screen on that front window by the kitchen table.
Because I had slipped into the habit of letting my kids climb in and out of it sometimes because they thought it was super cool and fun and I didn’t care alllll that much, honestly.
And because NOW I HAVE FIVE KIDS AND HOMESCHOOL AND MY HOUSE LOOKS LIKE MY FIRST HOUSE DID THE DAY WE BOUGHT IT.
(Insert the laughing-crying emoji…)
We’re THAT family now.
I stopped counting how many times our neighbors have banged on the front door out of concern for the screaming they heard in the backyard. Or because my four-year-old was seen riding her bike in the street by herself. Or because my eight-year-old climbed up our big crape myrtle to the height of our roof.
Despite the fresh coat of paint we gave everything when we moved into our second home three years ago, most of the walls, cabinets and doors are scratched and/or dented and/or have paint chipped away. Somebody started coloring in the grout near our kitchen table with a Sharpie, and I can’t get it out. The slats in the hallway door are bent at the height where a certain child pries them apart to spy on us in the living room when she sneaks out of bed. There’s still a not-so-faint puke smell to a particular spot on our big sectional where somebody puked during the Horrific Stomach Bug of Easter Day 2017 (Mike and I always sprint to take that spot ourselves when we have company over). The once-glossy stained concrete floors are chipped and scratched to the point of no return.
I now know exactly why that poor couple didn’t get a chance to have the house spotless for us before they left. They did leave us a very nice card. Which is what I would do.
But it is well with my soul. I wouldn’t trade one of my kids for unscathed floors and walls and grout. Or neighbors who thought I was the best mother in the world.
Having a lot of kids is a wild ride. It’s a full, busy, often-chaotic life. It’s everything that people are so scared of when they think of having a large family. But it’s also not…it is so much more. But in that complicated way that characterizes all marriage and family life.
Partly because even in the middle of the crazy, there’s that fabled peace that surpasses all understanding, deep down.
There are tough moments when I quite honestly think to myself, “THIS MOMENT RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW IS WHAT PEOPLE ARE SO AFRAID OF WHEN THEY THINK OF HAVING MORE KIDS.”
Since I’m being honest. 🙂
But going back to the peace. It’s there. Because Michael and I are trying to bring God as much into our marriage and family as we can. We are open and fully and consistently asking God to guide us in every area of our life. We’re not holding anything back, at least anything more serious than me having a lingering attachment issue to the coffeehouse drive-thru on really bad days. Our weaknesses and sins complicate things–sure they do. But the faithfulness in the big stuff is there for us. And God affirms me in that with a sense of peace that we’re where He wants us to be, even if most of the time it feels like we rule a kingdom of irrationality. (Please go read this article about St. John Paul II’s letter to a tired young mother, by the way. You won’t be sorry you did, promise!)
I happened to read Psalm 16:4 recently on a particularly rough day:
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
We are all going to suffer in life, but there’s a deep-down peace that comes with knowing you’re suffering what God created you to suffer: suffering with purpose.
I’m not at the point where I can be joyful in the midst of suffering. The “joyful suffering” of so many saints and also real people I’ve known in my life still mystifies me. But I am able recognize the deep-down peace that comes with knowing what I’m going through is the right kind of suffering–not the kind that I went off and made for myself by shutting God out somehow.
So, yes, we are THAT family. The one whose messes and escapades and laughter and screaming are a joyful noise to the Lord.
One of my children in particular regularly climbs on top of the vehicles. There are currently cardboard boxes and recyclables strewn all over the backyard where my son made “targets” for his homemade bow and arrow, then abandoned the project so that it just looks like an animal got into the recycling bin and ran around the backyard afterwards (kind of the truth?). My house isn’t pristine, but it tidies up well when we need it to (don’t ask about when I last dusted). We put a screen on that front room window pretty soon after Michael and my parents and I all had a good laugh at me yelling at my kids to crawl out the window. My kids are happy, without a doubt, despite the lazy parenting and lack of order the window screen story implies.
But my neighbors haven’t called CPS yet.
Don’t they say that it takes a village to raise a family anyway? God knows I can’t do all of this on my own, you know. That’s close to the standard expression of gratitude I give to the one sweet neighbor who is usually the one knocking at the front door.;)
All in all, when my blood stops boiling over spilled milk, and the huge pile of laundry always on the couch gets folded, and the kids are in bed, and Michael and I get back on the same page again, and the big kids (dressed like superheroes) are reading books to their baby brothers at 10:30am on a Wednesday morning, I wonder what I am so afraid of.
Being THAT family isn’t so terrible.
And this I check emails on my phone for a few minutes while the kids play quietly around me…and this happens.
Why yes, my 20-month-old did empty the aluminum foil box and dump a Sam’s box of Cheerios on the floor while I played on my phone.
But then the two children in the picture automatically came over to help me clean it all up.
It’s kind of like this old piece I wrote about vacationing with kids: You can’t expect to relax and enjoy yourself the entire time; you have to be content with enjoying vacation moments.
Family life is like that–it will never be Happily Ever After–but you can learn to find contentment in those little grace-filled Happily-Ever-After moments.
What a beautiful post! I only have two kids; I’d wanted more but life and my health and God had other plans. I sometimes feel like I really missed out. I love seeing big families and all their chaos.
Erin Franco says
I can definitely see where that’s a temptation! But sometimes I think it can be the work of a lifetime to be content with what we have right in front of us, you know? Over and over again we have to speak truth to those same old thoughts that are particular to us. There are ways God means for you to bloom where you’re planted which more children or different circumstances would have made impossible. I try to think like that for myself. A few of my friends have children around the same ages as a baby I lost to miscarriage a few years ago, and sometimes I think “what if…?”. Looking back, I have a lot of consolation in seeing how God gave me an entire year and a half after that loss (before I got pregnant and ill again) during which I did a lot of writing and radio/podcasting projects that filled me up and blessed a lot of others, I think. I had some space to “breathe” between babies that was also wonderful for my marriage in certain ways.
God bless you and your loved ones! Thanks for leaving a comment. Your encouragement really means a lot 🙂
Jime Leonard says
You’re just my favorite. I need you in my life. This is honest, raw, deep and funny. I always look forward to your posts. But you already know this.
Thanks for your honesty, and for your witness.
I LOVE this article. So beautifully put. I had the same notion that we’d never be the family with plastic kid paraphernalia strewn across the yard. Oops. We are that family now. We’d never be the ones whose kids are screaming during Mass. Oops. That family too. But the thing is, it’s all WORTH IT. It’s hard, but so worth it. Thanks for this beautiful perspective. I always love what you write — it’s a more poetic version of what I often think! And I often share with my mom friends for encouragement. So please keep it up! You’re doing a great job, mama!