The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together. ~Erma Bombeck
I'm an only child. There were times when I did relish this fact. I had my mom and dad all to myself. I didn't have to share them with anybody else. We were the three Musketeers. Life was our adventure. We were a merry little troop of three. And yet, there were a lot of times when three felt too small to me. I was the only Only that I knew. All of my friends had siblings.What began by feeling cozy ended up feeling short changed. As I got older, I began to notice that no one else's mothers drove snazzy little coupes. They all drove station wagons. I saw that other fathers had their hands full with lots of kids. I became obsessed with big families...not just ones with another sibling or two. The families I came to envy were the truly large ones; the ones that other people stopped and stared at. I read, and reread, the "All of a Kind" family books dozens of times. My two favorite old movies were "Yours, Mine and Ours" and "Cheaper by the Dozen". I daydreamed of having scads of brothers and sisters I could share secrets with, argue with, play with and go to bed talking with. My imagination ran overtime as I invented these sibling characters in my head, praying every day that I would wake up as one of six children. Although, this never happened, I did come to have a barn full of horses, enough dogs to pull a dog sled and one exceptionally intelligent Maine Coon cat to round out our family. But, overall, we were a content triangle.
As a new bride, I was excited to begin our family. I looked forward to being a Mommy. I wanted to snuggle babies close and rock them to sleep. I couldn't wait to read books to my little ones. I was overjoyed to think of making Christmas magical for my 'as yet to be' children. I was ecstatic to become cookie baking, carpool driving, Little League cheering on, messy art projects mother. Still, the grass really does look greener on the other side of the fence. My husband and I were not the first in our group of friends to have children, nor were we the last. I saw the long hours of sleepless nights and understood the expenses that amounted with each baby. I also saw mothers "of many" struggling to meet the needs of each child. I knew it could be done, and done well. But, I also knew that we weren't cut out for that type of demand. Jeff and I made the decision to have two children, three at the most. We were absolutely delighted with our son and daughter, and while we were grief stricken over the loss of our third baby, we came to see this as something that was not meant to be. We understood that, for the two of us, pouring our love, attention, affection, effort and resources to the two terrific babies we had made the most sense. Our family was complete. It was the four of us. A square. Symmetrical. My military husband liked to say that we had 'man to man' coverage. We were thankful and content...and we still are.
Yet, the larger family trend has been in the news a great deal lately. The success of shows like "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" (despite the unfortunately public dissolution of marriage), "The Duggar Family", "Table for Twelve" and "Kids by the Dozen" opened up the eyes of a great number of smaller families to the larger families in their midst. News programs, and parenting magazine articles, with titles such as "Is 4 the new 2?","Megafamilies" and "Are Large Families Back?" created buzz
around this trend. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have made newsworthy the thought of expanding large families through adoption. My friends of many children get tired of answering the obvious question "Yes, they're all mine". I have to say that, had I not known women personally who have mothered many, I would have thought it was all a little crazy, despite my childhood fascination. As I struggled to get lunches made for school, make sure the laundry was done, cleaned the house, helped with homework, driven to hockey, soccer, ballet, baseball and sailing, volunteered at book sales, bake sales and raffles, met with teachers for both children and still tried to work on my own projects, the task was daunting. What I've learned from my Megafamily 'sisters' is that they still need to do all of those things....it just requires further planning, a sense of teamwork, and help where they can get it. The television shows, the movies, the pop phenomenon aspect of large families, in some ways, diminishes the magic of it. The women I know who live this life every day do find themselves exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated. But, they also find immense joy in seeing the specialness of each child's singular uniqueness. These 'not for television' families are the ones who make the loving alchemy happen. These are the moms who are Goddesses. They take the family shape of triangle and square, with which I am familiar, and create hexagons and decagons.
In my yoga classes, I try to balance the male and female elements in our practice. Just as there are male and female nouns in French and Spanish, and one must make the appropriate pronoun use, there are male and female based Asanas, or poses. I try to balance the number of these to create a flowing class that will leave my students feeling both energized and empowered. The Asana that is especially popular for this goal is Goddess. It's a powerful squat with arms raised shoulder height and hands up. I've seen ancient art in the tribal sections of both the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris that show figures in this same pose. Initially, it makes the yogini feel strong, robust, courageous and mighty. After a few moments, it starts to feel heavy, fatiguing, sapped and burdensome. These are adjectives I've been told by my students, and have felt myself, while practicing Goddess. What fascinates me is that these same adjectives could be applied to motherhood itself, regardless of family size; we begin feeling on top of the world, yet after a while, we find ourselves weary. This helps me to understand that Ancient cultures felt just the same way we do...without the carpooling.
Am I sorry that I'm the mother of 'just two'? Not at all. I cherish my children, and I feel that the family I have is the family I was meant to have. I find myself both ecstatic and worn out with my small tribe. Do I judge people with large families? I don't judge, but I do find them curious and fascinating. I wonder how they manage it all. I respect their efforts and love to see them at work. As I find 'the road less traveled' to be gaining in popularity, I remain confident in my life but passionately curious about their other path.
And, I wish all families, large, small and somewhere in the middle, a very happy holiday season.