Recently a friend asked how it was having five children. I paused and thought to myself for a minute. I turned to her, "I really can't say yet. Get back to me in six months."
I don't really feel like I have five children yet. I feel like I have one child who I spent at least seventy-five percent of my waking time soothing to sleep (no joke) and then four other little people that spend their days in my apartment fighting with each other until their father comes home and takes care of their needs. I almost never take all five out in public together and Brandon is around to cook dinner and put the others to bed, so I can't really write a review yet on the reality of having five children.
I have thought a lot, however, about the idea of having five children. The main axis of my thoughts is "Wow, five children really is a lot!" They then branch out into various realizations. "Hey, I've personally filled the child seats of a minivan entirely by myself." Or, "my mother has five children. Why don't I feel responsible like she was?" After all, when my mother was pregnant with her fifth child, my parents had paid off their house and were adding on to the house that they owned. All I can boast is a lot of Ikea furniture and some pretty nice rugs.
Then I go out in public with my five children and realize that most people don't have five children. Which really makes me stick out, especially when I have all of them out in public during school hours. So not only do I have five children, but they're homeschooled. I never have thought too hard about trying to fit in with my culture (after all I am Mormon), but I was used to being reasonably in line with my fellow Americans. And now that I have five children, I have realized that hey, five children is a lot of children! When did that happen? I mean I can remember being pregnant with each one, but how did they add up to five? And last time I checked, I was about twenty-four years old so where did these five children come from?
But the reality has yet to sink in yet, which is probably good. Yes, babies are a lot of work in the beginning, but then there's some time before they start making themselves known in a serious way. We still only have four children competing for our attention at dinner, or needing supervision for bed time, or fighting with each other, or needing their hair brushed or shoes put on before we go outside. Once Eleanor settles down with her sleep patterns (yes, I'm still believing that it will happen), she'll be someone who only needs feeding and changing and rocking back to sleep every two or three hours. And I won't have to count to three to get her to eat.
Brandon and I were talking about children this morning after showering. When younger parents look at us and see five children they often shake their heads in amazement and ask how we handle it and say that one or two are enough for them - too crazy! What I want to say (and don't because occasionally I'm polite) is that children are a long-term investment in happiness, one that doesn't start paying off for at least a decade. But if you wait until the first one starts paying off to get another one started, you'll have lost out. Having children is an act of faith. You know that in the end you'll not regret a single life that joined your family, not regret seeing them grow up into something wonderful (if not to everyone, always to you). You'll always have your life intertwined with theirs even when they have lives physically separate from yours. And when you're eighty-five you'll have people who care that it's your birthday and might even send a card.
But none of that happens now. Of course there are moments even now when your heart melts as your four year-old wraps his arms around you and plants a kiss on your cheek. But more often there is just a lot of work that requires even more patience and selflessness that you never wanted to develop in the first place.
But it's okay because one day you'll realize that after all it was a good idea, those five children. And maybe the years of breaking up fights and feeding babies in the dark and tying shoelaces for the twentieth time and reading the same story for the fortieth weren't actually as long as they felt. Maybe they were even a little too short. But maybe your memory is just going with old age. But no matter what has happened and what will, you'll always have those five children. That will never change, no matter what else does.