It’s a comical scene, really. One parent gets the baby on the left side of the minivan, the other grabs the baby on the right. Two of the big kids unbuckle and hop out with strict instructions to stay right by the car door, then one parent steps over stray shoes and whatever else has collected on the floor and reaches in between the two middle seats to unbuckle the three year old in the back. We grab the stroller out of the trunk, get the baby carrier on, then do a quick head count to be sure no one has begun a false start across the parking lot without supervision. One baby goes in the stroller, the other in the Bjorn, everyone grabs a hand and if we are lucky we remember the diaper bag. This is how our crew of seven arrives pretty much everywhere these days, not so unlike the clown cars that keep an impossibly large number of clowns in a space that no one can figure out how they fit in, but they just keep walking out. It’s a fitting comparison, as life with five children six years old and under often feels—and I’m sure to the outside observer it also looks—a bit like a circus.
Our latest group outing was to the local Farmer’s Market, one of our favorite seasonal stops. We live in a not-so-big town, not quite at the everybody knows everybody level but pretty close, so the Farmer’s Market is most certainly a place you’ll run into someone you know. As we walked through the main entrance, we immediately saw friends from church. They had not met our new baby yet and spent a minute telling us congratulations and saying how cute he is, asking how life with five has been and “are mom and dad surviving?” We laugh in response to that question every time, because neither “yes” nor “no” feel accurate.
As we made our way down the vendor line, my eyes on the lookout for who might have the best strawberries, we ran into my husband’s old friend from high school. She introduced herself and her two kids, and then as she took in the small gathering we had traveled in with said, “Oh wow, look at your crew, Alex!”
“I know, our fifth just joined three weeks ago!” he responded enthusiastically.
“Congratulations, they are all beautiful!” The two of them took a minute to catch up a bit more, and then as she was walking away she added, “Before you all leave, you have to go check out the booth around the corner. The woman who is selling the cookies was on the Food Network, and they are amazing, lots of the kids favorite movie characters to choose from. And, she is LDS too!”
Alex looked at me quickly, almost as if to verify that we both heard the same thing, and then opened his mouth to say, “Oh, we are not …” but she was gone, already following her young boys to the next aisle.
“Oh well,” he chuckled. “Should we go check out those cookies, guys?”
We rounded the corner, me with my head on a swivel, still on the lookout for strawberries while making sure our six year old was staying with us, when a vendor I had been paying no attention to at all spotted us.
“Well that’s quite the collection, isn’t it?” he remarked.
Surprised and not sure who or what the comment was intended for, I looked around for anyone making eye contact from the direction it came. And there he was, smiling right at me and taking full ownership of his out loud observation.
“Oh, us?” I said with a smile, even though I knew at that point he was absolutely talking about us.
And in an equally cordial manner he confirmed, “Yes, you guys have quite the collection there!”
“We sure do!” I responded and kept moving down the aisle, then whispered to my husband, “I think we just got two of my favorite comments ever in the last three minutes.”
He smiled back at me. “Same.”
As a family of seven, we do seem to draw the looks (and silent head counts) of onlookers quite a lot. Daily we hear thoughts from strangers like “Wow, your hands are full!”, “You are a busy lady!”, “Going to have quite the grocery bill today, huh?”, or “Can you fit them all in the minivan?” These are all valid impressions—up until just a few months ago I didn’t think we could fit them all in the minivan either. And it’s true that as our family has grown, we’ve gotten more attention and more comments. If the average family has 1.9 children, five is certainly a noticeable outlier—and notice, people do, with their many questions about how much it’s going to cost and how long it takes to get out of the house and if we’ve thought about paying car insurance premiums for all these children once they start driving.
But here’s the thing I’ve noticed myself: no matter how many children a family has, people will form opinions about it. Only have one child? You’ve probably heard comments about socialization. Have two? You likely field questions about the third all the time. Have all girls? I’m certain people ask you weekly if you’re going to try for a boy. It seems we can be naturally curious about the makeup of another family, maybe for no other reason than the fact that it is easy to compare ours—from numbers to behavior to genders to the relationships a family has with one another. Human beings are exceptionally good at seeing the gifts in their life only against the backdrop of someone else’s.
And just like I have learned to take all the observations of strangers—the vast majority of which have been innocent and even kind—with a grain of salt, I have learned that what others think cannot get a minute of my mental time. I am the one who has to be confident in our family. I am the one who has to behold the gift of the precious little ones in my house and choose gratitude when I could easily choose martyrdom. I am the one who has to—gets to—make the children in my home feel like a blessing and not a cost, inconvenience, or a chore. I had to choose this with one child, and I have to choose it with five—motherhood is a whole lot about determining how we see the work in front of us, and letting how anyone else sees it roll off our backs.
It can be especially tempting these days to parent for an audience, for approval, or to prove something to those who disapprove. But I cannot live there—I have before, and no one flourishes in that space, not me and not my kids. And even if we do seem to attract stares when we are out and about all together, I am not parenting for the onlookers; I am parenting for the hearts of my kids, and to honor the God who gave them to me.
We walked back to the parking lot after our Farmer’s Market stop, completed our long routine of loading and buckling everyone in, and Alex and I high-fived each other for managing to get coffee and Captain America cookies, break up a pretty epic fight over said cookies, nurse a baby, put everyone back in the car safely and still really like each other when we were done. We may always be tempted to compare with other families or to let the many opinions we hear influence us, but as our family has grown, so have we; and ultimately, we know this little crew is our gift to steward, and our work to do. It’s hard work, but it’s good, simply because it is ours.
Words and photo by Katie Blackburn.