We are 8 weeks into our new life with 5 kiddos, and that life is interesting to say the least. We get asked all the time exactly how we manage, and I think I’m finally coming out of my “Oh my goodness, I have 5 children” fog enough to start answering them. What is life like with 5 children ages 7 and under? Well, let me just share a few snippets of such a life.
Life with 5 means we have lots of “help.” I mean the kind of help that is often followed by statements like “I appreciate you wanting to make Silas feel better but hitting him on the tummy is not the best way to do that!”, “Wait, Catherine! Don’t lick the knife until you’re finished putting the peanut butter on the sandwiches!”, or “Oh, Abigail, thank you for trying to help but you really need to let Mommy know before you try to change Samuel’s messy diaper all by yourself!” You have to walk a fine line here, because you want to encourage all the helpfulness and independence you can. I mean, it isn’t feasible or practical (or socially acceptable, for that matter) for you to continue brushing 5 sets of teeth, wiping 5 bottoms, putting on 5 pairs of shoes, or hand feeding 5 little mouths yourself indefinitely. Plus, you really don’t want to be the only one cleaning up after those 5 little hurricanes–you want to teach them to do it themselves. Independence is absolutely a wonderful thing. At the same time, they do need to learn how to make their help helpful. So we receive their “help” as teachable moments and just take in stride the moments we hear ourselves saying, “Wait, Elisabeth! Thank you for clearing the table, but you need to let Samuel eat his food before you throw his plate away!” Life with 5 also means learning to discern the times that the not-so-helpful help, or questionable independence, can go unfixed. This means you keep your mouth closed when your fashion-savvy 5 year old comes downstairs dressed in the pink shirt with flowers, the orange striped shorts, and green flip flops while asking you to put the red pony in her hair. You also praise, and leave alone, the efforts of your three year old whose Pledge wipe could only reach half of the piano she was dusting. They tried, and sometimes that’s good enough in this life with 5.
Life with 5 means seeing, hearing, and experiencing–without batting an eyelash–things on a daily (or hourly) basis that normal people would find hilarious, horrifying, or just plain strange. For example, the other evening I walked down the hall and saw Elisabeth standing on her head against the wall. “Hi, Mom,” she said. “Hey, Bess,” I answered without even stopping to register the fact that she was upside down. (It hit me a few moments later.) I then walked into Samuel’s room to find him hopping around with his foot stuck in the bucket for his Toy Story army men. I reached down, popped his foot out, and went on with my errand. I walked into the girls’ room to discover that they had declared it “silly clown” night and each had on pajama shorts on top of pajama pants, a short sleeve shirt over a long sleeve shirt with a night gown on top, and Catherine even had a tutu around her neck as a clown collar, and I simply said, “OK, just get into bed.” Later I realized that those things may have been funny to someone who doesn’t see them everyday, but that’s just our normal around here. Having to duck into the Children’s Place dressing room to change a diaper that requires the entire stash of wipes, Clorox wipes for the carseat as well as the dressing room bench, a new outfit for the baby, lots of hand sanitizer for mom, and a trash bag for the old outfit–then finishing shopping like nothing ever happened–been there, done that. Horrifying to some, normal for us. And as for the strange, let’s just say that it’s nothing for us to have dinner with members of the Brady Bunch, get introduced to our grandchildren, or listen to our oldest child speak in a British accent for three days in a row. All completely normal in a life with 5.
Life with 5 means that everything parents of 2 or 3 experience, we experience to a greater degree. All parents of more than one child know about kids fighting with each other. At our house, they pair up and fight in teams. World War III can erupt over anything from one sister touching another in the van, whose turn it is to hold the flag for the pledge, or one girl choosing to watch the home movie that stars her and only her. At any given moment, best friends can become worst enemies and then go back to friends again as soon as the passion dies down. We have mathematically more combinations for kid-against-kid than smaller families, so we are quite frequently playing the role of the dictator who swoops in to arrange the terms of negotiations. And riding in the van for any distance with kids is always interesting, but it is taken to a whole new level once every seatbelt is filled. The way the carseats fit in ours, it just so happens that the most explosive combination (Abigail and Elisabeth) is right next to each other, and we count it a victory worth celebrating if we make it halfway from point A to point B without stopping for a spanking or two. And every parent knows how irritating it can be when your kid asks the same questions day in and day out, even when the answer never changes. “Can I take my toy to church?” “Can we stay up late?” “Do we have to buckle up just to go to church?” No, no, yes. It is always the same answer. But just as kids think maybe today will be different, my kids think, “Hmm, just because Mom said no to her doesn’t mean she’ll say no to me…” so we hear those same repetitive questions not just every day, but four times every day. And when one kid does or says something that earns a laugh from Mom or Dad, immediately the other children start repeating the same thing hoping to get their own laugh. Sometimes this is tolerable, but when the first laugh was a result of the “Knock, knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock, knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who?” joke that goes on and on and on, then gets repeated four times, the laughing becomes forced really quickly. Life with 5 is similar to life with 2, just more intense and more repetitive.
Life with 5 requires the ability to multi-task well. It’s not uncommon at all to find myself feeding the baby, teaching math to Catherine, keeping an eye on Abigail reading her chapter, and keeping an ear on Elisabeth and Samuel–while the dishwasher, washer, and dryer are all running. I can teach piano while rocking the carseat with my foot. I can resolve the fight between Catherine and Elisabeth in the midst of listening to the story Abigail wrote while rescuing my lotion from Samuel all without letting the noodles boil over. You learn to look several directions at the same time, to always have a sense of what your kiddos are doing even if it looks like you’re not watching. You develop systems for how to get life accomplished: how to get seven people up and ready for church on time every Sunday, how to get all your kids picked up from their classrooms and across the parking lot to the van without anyone getting lost or run over, how to get all of your weekly errands done with all five kids in tow on Paducah day, how to teach 12 subjects in two grades every day with three non-school kids also demanding attention while still keeping up with the laundry and dishes. To be a mom of 5 is to multitask well.
Life with 5 apparently means that you have a sign above your head inviting friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers to ask personal and candid questions. You know the ones. “Are you done?” “How many are you going to have?” “Are they all yours?” “Don’t you know what causes that?” “Are you Mormon or Catholic?” “Do they all have the same daddy?” “Are any of them twins?” “How far apart are they?” “How old are you?” (I personally am baffled by that last one–what exactly would be the acceptable answer to that one?) There are also the comments that I wish came with nickels: “You sure have your hands full!” “Look at them, they’re just like stairsteps!” “Three girls and two boys!” “I bet you stay busy!” “You must have the patience of a saint.” And the newest favorite from the restaurant last weekend: “You know, they don’t come cheaper by the dozen!” Having a large family means opening yourself up to the opinions of everyone who matters as well as those who don’t.
Life with 5 not only means you hear the same things over and over again, but also that you say the same things over and over again. Kids just naturally have some sin “ruts” they get stuck in, just like grown-ups. “Abigail, stop bossing.” “Catherine, stop whining.” “Elisabeth, stop bothering them!” “Samuel, stop getting in the water.” “Did you wipe and did you flush?” “Take a bite.” “Stop talking and eat.” Over and over, day in and day out. Some of my mantras are so automatic that Samuel now says them for me before I get a chance: “No, sisters. Not right now!” Elisabeth is usually the first to say, “You don’t need it, you want it” when the excitement mounts over the toy commercials. Then there are the more specific statements I seem to say over and over again: “Elisabeth, people do not want you to put your feet on their face!” “Girls, Daddy doesn’t want you to put dresses on Samuel.” “Catherine, stop chewing on your shirt.” “Abigail, do not try to read while you’re walking.” “Samuel, don’t pull all the wipes out of the box!” Life with 5 means you repeat yourself, a lot.
Life with 5 means that your house is probably the messiest on the street, but you probably also get more hugs than anyone else on the street. Life with 5 means that you hear arguing A LOT, but you also hear “I love you, Mommy” several times a day. Life with 5 means that there is almost always someone upset or causing mischief, but there is also always someone happy and spreading joy. Life with 5 means that going anywhere is an undertaking not to be taken lightly, but it also means that there will be lots to laugh about while you’re out. Life with 5 means that everything is more expensive and you have to limit fun outings and Christmas presents and treats from the grocery store, but it also means that when you do say yes to those things, they are much more special and meaningful because of the limitations. Life with 5 means lots of chaos, lots of tears, lots and lots and lots of diapers (7 1/2 years and counting, with no end in sight), but it also means a limitless supply of “Mommy, you look like a princess” and “I want to marry Daddy when I grow up.” Life with 5 means lots of annoying questions and comments, but it also means sharing a secret smile with each other because those people have no idea how richly blessed we are. I know life would have been easier, quieter, cleaner, cheaper, smoother if we had stopped after 2 or 3. I wouldn’t be as tired, I would get much more time alone, I wouldn’t count the doctor visit as an exciting morning out by myself, and my clothes would probably be a couple sizes smaller. But you know what? I absolutely love my life with 5. It’s definitely the life for me.