The Magic of Large Families
The dream was sparked in childhood, seated at the knee of my grandmother, the lastborn of 14 children. Certainly, life was hard. Their mother died young, leaving the younger ones to be raised by the older ones as the Great Depression blanketed America like a heavy black cloud.
But still. Nine older sisters to dote on her. Four older brothers to look out for her. Never lonely, although certainly never alone, either.
The years passed by and the children grew, married and had families. Adulthood turned to middle age. Sunday gatherings varied in location, but always included loud, raucous laughter, card games, joke-telling, arguing. Little ones, including my brothers and me, kept busy doing what children do. We played. We watched the grownups .
I marveled at their togetherness, at how much they looked and talked alike. I noticed how they aged alike, tight grey perms on the older ladies, polyester pants, and “card-playing glasses.” I saw the affectionate teasing, the comments that secretly screamed the unspoken. Most of all, I heard the stories: of childhood adventures, of family tragedies shared and survived, of accomplishments and triumphs and endless hard work. Hushed stories, whispers of long ago feuds.
Attics, spare rooms, and basements held treasure troves of shared history. Group pictures, the siblings dressed in their finest and standing stiffly and formally behind their father’s casket. Other pictures, lighter times; laughing and horsing around in the lake, wearing vintage swimming suits and carefree smiles. Fascinating, yellowed letters from war-torn Europe, sent by great uncle Ernie to his baby sister, letting her know he was OK and would be back.
Slowly, my dream took root: a large family.
Well before I reached adulthood and childbearing years, large families were a thing of the past. But still—I believed. I believed that children growing up in large families were given a priceless gift. I believed that they would learn to share, to communicate, to teach and care for others. I believed they grow into special individuals with integrity and confidence. I believed that rather than resenting having to share their parents with many others, children could instead revel in having so many more people to know them inside and out and love them fiercely anyway. I believed that sharing their lives with so many built-in playmates would encourage creativity and teamwork. I believed that large families did not have to be expensive, that children from large families could wear nice and stylish clothes and have good toys and plenty of fun.
And so I married a man who shared that dream. Today, I am a proud mom of five kids, with a span of seven years from the oldest to the youngest.
Our children thrive.
A hard drive full of pictures attests to all this. A five-gallon pail on the floor in front of a sick-looking boy on the couch has “barf bucket, do not touch” scrawled on the side – made by a big sister doting on her baby brother. A triumphant four-year-old arriving home after a preschool open house to announce “Guys, I’m back!” and being greeted by a stampede of feet and flurry of questions. A sweet newborn baby turning his head when he first hears the voices of his siblings, voices he remembers from in-utero. A fiercely protective older brother, all of six years old, demanding that visitors wash their hands before they touch “his” baby. That same big brother, two years later, sneaking a peek into another little brother’s classroom “to be sure he’s not in trouble.” That other little brother, now six years old himself, a grade ahead and excelling at academics, skipping to the front of a crowded auditorium to receive an award, basking in the proud cheers of his older brother and sister. That newborn baby now nearing two years old and more adored and spoiled than any only child could be.
Gramma is gone now, as are 12 of her siblings. One hardy soul lives on, 93 years old, stoically going about her life that is now so different from years ago. She misses her siblings. Good and bad, they filled her life from start to finish.
And I most definitely still believe.