I live in a small country town with a school, shop, post office and pub. Most people I meet when I walk down the street I know well enough for a nod and a smile and it is rare that I need to stray too far from this comfortable niche I have made for myself. Most people around here have exhausted their store of silly questions and have come to accept me my family and me as just one of those eccentricities that exist in small towns. Like the Lady With All The Cats and the Man Who Always Wears A Green Hat, we have become the Family With All Those Kids. A strand in the tapestry of our town. As such I can go weeks, even months, without encountering someone who is surprised at our choice to have more than the usual 2.4 children.
But every now and then…..
Oldest Daughter and Oldest Son had been invited to a sixth birthday party. As we arrived they stripped off their coats and dived into the mini-mosh pit of children in the lounge room. I gave the mother of the birthday girl a wave and a smile and retreated to the relative safety of the kitchen area with the rest of the adults. I maneuvered myself into a position to get a glass of fizzy green stuff and found a stool that looked as if it would hold me. An unfamiliar woman dressed in smart-casual slacks and jacket and sporting a stylish, multi-coloured hair cut introduced herself as the birthday girl’s aunt. I smiled and introduced myself back.
“I belong to the one in pink singing off key next to the coffee table and the one in camouflage pants about to stage dive off the couch” I smile catching my son’s eye and explaining in detail exactly what will happen to him if he carries out his plan using only silent eyebrow signals. Thankfully, he gets the message and climbs down.
Aunt Smart-casual’s eyes widen “And you’re about to have another? Gosh you’re brave.”
I laugh “Brave or crazy. I have another two at home too.”
Aunt Smart-Casual’s eyes nearly pop out of her head “FIVE kids? Gosh, I didn’t know people did that still these days. Is it a religious thing to have so many?”
I smile and send up a silent prayer for strength, wisdom and try to remember that even though this is the 150th time I have heard this question, it is probably the first time this woman has asked the question. “Our faith has a definite impact on our choice to have children, but I do not feel forbidden to stop or required to continue to have children just because of my faith. It affects my choice like it affects most of my choices, being such a strong part of who I am.”
Aunt Smart-Casual nods with a blank look on her face “I don’t know how you cope. I have a 9 year old at home and he drives me crazy. He is a full time job. I couldn’t stand having another one, I’d never get any time out. How do you do it?”
Suppressing a sigh and pasting on a smile I nod and try to formulate an answer that doesn’t make me sound like a martyr or superwoman “We have tough days of course, any family with any number of children do, but five children isn’t the same as one child five times over. There is an economy of scale there. Plus I have an awesome husband which helps. Overall, it is a lifestyle choice for us and a lot of the time we have a whole lot of fun together.”
Aunt Smart-Casual thoughtfully tips her head to one side “Don’t you worry that you don’t get enough time for each child? How can they develop as INDIVIDUALS when you are so busy with all of them?”
I fight the urge to smack this woman in the face and remind myself that she doesn’t know my children, she is not judging me, she is simply unpacking a stereotype in her own mind. “I don’t have to make them into who they are, they are who they are, I simply facilitate the process of them discovering who that is and they don’t need me holding their hand every minute of the day to do that. When any of them achieve something they don’t just have me as #1 fan, they have a whole cheer squad. When they are low, they don’t have to fit in with Dad’s work schedule or find a moment when I am unoccupied to get a shoulder to cry on, they have siblings, friends and extended family. A strong support network., of which I am one part, is helping my kids to realize who they are every day.” Oldest Daughter comes and thrusts her pass-the-parcel prize into my hands before re-entering the melee in the lounge room. “When she was little” I continued “I worked full time as a teacher for two months. Between getting her to childcare, picking her up, preparing meals, keeping house, doing prep and marking – it was MUCH harder to find time for her then than it is now.”
Aunt Smart-Casual was still latched on to the topic like a dog with a bone “But what about time for you? Do you work now?.”
I bite back the sarcastic reply on the tip of my tongue and smile again, albeit a little thinly this time. “We chose to become a one-income family when my oldest was little. I enjoy what I do. I have more time for reading, personal projects and other pursuits now than I ever did when I was at Uni full time and working to pay my way. This was my choice and I have no regrets where that is concerned.”
“How on earth do you manage to afford everything? My husband and I work full time and we can barely keep up with the bills.” Aunt Smart-Casual replies in amazement “I suppose tax breaks and baby bonus would help a lot.”
Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I continue “The tax breaks and the baby bonus are a great help and I am not going to turn down free money, but we aren’t dependent on them by any stretch. We choose to live a very simple lifestyle, we have a relatively inexpensive renovator’s delight which keeps the mortgage down and we keep to a budget. We don’t have buckets of money, but neither do we starve. Again, it’s a lifestyle choice.”
Thankfully, we were interrupted by the cake and I manage to be busy with my children and the party until home time. As I walk out the door, Aunt Smart-Casual lays a hand on my arm and says with a genuine smile “Good luck with the baby, I hope all goes well with you and your family.” As I walk out the door I wonder if I can write Diplomat and Ambassador on my resume now.