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Super powers of the supersized family

If you have lots of kids, you’re probably used to fielding criticism from perfect strangers: you’re crazy, you’re irresponsible, you’re brainwashed, you’re oppressed, you’re selfish(!), and of course you don’t have a TV.  My standard response to that last one is this: if you think TV is better than sex, you’re doing it wrong.

So yes, lots of people want to tell you how wrong you are to have had so many kids. Oddly, it can be just as unpleasant to hear from people who want to canonize you on the spot, just because you’ve managed to give birth more than they have. “You must be a saint!” they say. “You must be so patient!” “You must be so organized!” “You must be so rich!”

Yeah, no.   Take a look at my house, take a look at the inside of my van, take a listen inside the confessional, and you’ll know that none of those things are true. I am not so anything.  I’m just a regular person who happens to have ten children. Really.

All the same, in the last few decades, I have picked up a few tricks and skills to help navigate the howling wasteland — uh, I mean garden of delights that is large family life. For instance . . .

Selective smell.  Most mortals are slaves to their noses, and must smell what is before them. To the mother of a large family, though, odors are a choice.
Do I have time to realize that someone has been tucking chewed-up salami under their car seat cover for the last six months?

Do I have the mental courage to acknowledge that my toddler, at least olfactorily, resembles a deceased horse?

Will it push me over the edge to admit just how much yogurt has been incorporated in the bed spring over the winter months?  No? Then we smell nothing. Nothing, I tell you. Hey, when’s the last time someone took the dog out to pee?  Really, that long?  Huh.

Space Making. To the untrained eye, a house that has four times as many people as bedrooms is a house that is full. But it’s a different story for someone who is half delighted, half horrified, half just plain baffled (yes, that adds up to one-and-a-half.  If that sounds like a lot, you haven’t seen me when I’m pregnant) to realize that she is giving birth, again, in, like, eleven hours and she still hasn’t figured out where the new baby will go. There are spaces between spaces, if you know where to look.

What was once an ordinary closet suddenly reveals itself as a cozy Hobbit bedroom.  What appears to most folks to be a compact laundry room becomes the perfect spot to build a private little luxury loft — complete with forced air heating and white noise machine (a.k.a. a dryer). And let’s not even talk about the husband who says, “There’s nowhere to park the van.” Scoot over, sonny. Let SPACE FINDER GIRL through.

Mold Breaking  — an uncanny, if unintentional ability to run ahead of the societal curve.

Little boy shows up for his big brother’s wrestling match sporting My Little Pony rain boots? In any other family, that would be a deliberate flouting of heternormative labels society insists on pasting on our still-fluid little ones. But in a big family, it’s called, “High five for matching shoes, mister!”

Little girl says she wants to be an astrophysicist-mechanical engineer-president-oil rigger-linebacker-CEO of Everything when she grows up? Your neighbor’s kid might say that because she’s been encouraged to ignore traditional gender roles. A kid from a big family, though, probably just took a canny look at her mom’s to-do list and is hoping for an easier gig than that.

An Endlessly Elastic Definition of Prudence. Say you have something ridiculous and unreasonable that needs doing — you need someone to adopt a group of five siblings, or take care of a large dog with intestinal uncertainties, or cater a wedding which is, oopsie, tomorrow.  Who do you ask?

I want to kick my own behind for saying it, but ask the mother of a big family. She will take a prudent look at her budget, her schedule, her long-term goals, and her life in general, and will conclude that the demands of daily living have already vaulted so far beyond what is possible, that why the heck not? Tell the stinky dog to bring along that hairless rabbit he is friends with, too — he can help me shell eggs for the wedding. Why. The heck. Not.

The Loaves-and-Fishes Touch. Okay, so it’s less of a miracle and more of an attitude. You know perfectly well what a decent, balanced meal looks like, and yet you have the ability to serve graham crackers, scallions, and can of Cream of Desperation Soup and call it “dinner” with a straight face.

You can take a half pound of chicken thigh meat and make it into a soup or a casserole which — okay, maybe it’s not brimming with chickeny plenitude, but there is a scientifically demonstrable presence of animal fiber in every square inch.

And of course there are the times when you say, “Okay, Lord, you gave me all these kids, now how the hell am I supposed to feed them?” and within minutes, a new neighbor knocks on the door and explains that his bakery and his salmon factory often have surpluses, and do you know anybody who might need . . . ?

Yeah. Superpowers. We got ’em.

***
A version of this essay originally ran in the Soul Gardening Journal in 2014.

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