Maybe it’s because Emmeline’s still so little. Maybe it’s because we homeschool, so I have Katie and Abby with me when many of their peers are at school. Maybe it’s the spacing of our kids, or maybe there’s some magic tipping point between three and four that pushes us into the “large family” category.
Whatever the reason, whenever I’m out and about with the kids, I get comments. Lots of comments. Far more comments than I ever did before Emmeline was born.
They’re usually delivered with a smile. They might be accompanied by an offer to hold a door or to scooch aside in the grocery aisle. More often than not, they’re of the “You have your hands full!” variety.
They aren’t wrong.
My hands, my plate, my days, my heart, my life–all my metaphors are full.
A dear friend gave birth to her sixth child in January. When I asked what I could do to help in those early weeks of transition, she suggested we come to her house for a playdate.
As the big boys cooked lunch for everyone and the girls made elaborate preparations for a tea party and the little boys played with trains on the floor, she and I sat in the living room and nursed our babies (and, when necessary, negotiated truces between the toddlers and gave instructions to their older siblings). The kids swirled around us, busy and happy.
It was helpful for us to be there, she said, even if we brought more noise and confusion with us. We broke up the routine. They were all having fun playing together.
“It’s happy chaos,” I said.
She grinned. “That’s exactly it.”
Our homes are full of happy chaos.
I get it; families with multiple children are increasingly rare these days. There’s no denying that the care of small children (and even bigger ones, I suspect) requires a lot of work.
When I’m being honest, I’ll admit to a certain self-consciousness at the amount of noise and, at the risk of overusing the word, chaos, that attends my family wherever we go.
Still, I haven’t quite settled on my response to those friendly strangers.
“So is my heart” feels cheesy. “Isn’t it great?” could easily be taken as sarcasm.
I tend to go with a simple acknowledgement–a smile and a nod, or a “Yep, they keep me busy,” with a quick rub of my big girls’ shoulders–though that doesn’t feel quite right, either.
I should say, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Because while it’s good for my kids to have an idea of how much work I do, it’s also important for them to hear that they are not a burden, that hard doesn’t mean bad, that large families are a blessing, that I am grateful I get to be their mom.
In Siblings Without Rivalry (which I of course read for someone else because I would never need such a book in my own life and why would you even think I would, I mean, isn’t it clear that I have this parenting thing nailed down tight and, therefore, have taught my kids to always get along?), the authors argue that the response to a child who asks, “Which kid do you love the most?” shouldn’t be “I love you all equally,” but rather “I love you because you are you. Nobody else is just like you, and I would be so sad if there was no you in my life.”
It’s solid advice. Because it’s true, of course, but also because, at the end of the day, kids need what we all need: to be seen, to be valued, to be loved for who we are.
In some circles, conversation about family size sparks concern about the burgeoning population and its effect on the environment. It’s irresponsible, so the argument goes, to continue adding humans to a planet already straining under the weight of so many people.
There’s certainly a time and a place for discussion surrounding creation care. We have a responsibility to steward and shepherd this world we’ve been given.
Family size can be a sensitive issue. Not everyone wants to have a lot of (or any) kids. Not everyone can. Not everyone should.
Sometimes, babies are born into difficult and heartbreaking situations. Sometimes, they’re born to parents who don’t have the margin, the resources, the skill set, or the desire to care for them. Sometimes, the news of a pregnancy brings fear and sorrow instead of rejoicing.
Even still, I will state this without hesitation.
Babies are good. Children are a blessing.
A few weeks ago, because of a quirk of schedules, the kids and I made a grocery run during what would normally have been nap time for Miles and quiet time for Katie and Abby.
Emmeline, happy but on the edge of being not-so-happy, was strapped to my chest, facing out. Miles was buckled in the shopping cart, pointing to and reaching for all the things. Katie wandered, sometimes in front and sometimes behind, asking the occasional question but mostly in a world of her own, while Abby kept up a constant monologue, asking about this and that and the other and saying hi to everyone we passed without a pause for breath. And I marched through the aisles, intent on getting what we needed and getting out as quickly as possible.
Happy chaos, indeed.
We were booking it down the canned goods aisle when a woman who, I suspect, might have grandkids close to the age of my crew, reached out and stopped us with a smile.
“I just wanted to let you know,” she said to me, “that I saw this guy interacting with his baby sister earlier, and he was just so kind and gentle with her. It made me happy.” She paused, then grinned at Katie and Abby. “You’re a busy mama, but I know you have such good helpers. You have a beautiful family.”
My kids beamed. (And, I’ll admit, I did too.)
It’s a wonderful thing, being seen.
When conversations surrounding population growth and family size come up, there’s a tendency for the pro-natal crowd to fall back on rational arguments. We discuss economic factors, or environmental ones. We point to the benefits of large families, for both the individuals in question and also for society. We talk about the potential inherent in more human beings, about the opportunities for innovation, for collaboration.
I’m an engineer by training. I have nothing against rational arguments. These are all good and valid conversations to be had.
And yet, it all strikes me as rather utilitarian.
Because the happy chaos that is life with small children, the full hands and full plates and full hearts that describe my days–these are good and beautiful in and of themselves.
Children are a blessing. Not because of the hope they provide for the future, but because of the value of their lives today.
Babies are good. Not because of who they might become, but because of who they are right now.
Yes. My hands are full. My home is best described as happy chaos.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.