Last week, our youngest two kiddos bounced away to Boy Scout camp in Park Rapids, Minn., for a week.
While happy for them, I was left with a knot in my stomach. Suddenly, everything was so quiet, and I recognized my stomachache as a gnawing feeling of loneliness — something that, as a mother of five, I don’t feel very often.
Throughout the boys’ absence, there were times all our children were gone. While we’ve had a full house lately with even our older three hanging out here, they were off working, chasing the sun with friends, or doing whatever older children do in the summertime.
So it stayed quiet throughout much of the week. Very quiet.
Don’t get me wrong. The peace was welcomed. It gave me time to work on a presentation that demanded focus. I don’t often get a chance to fall into the writer’s hole so crucial for big projects; not while in my own home anyway.
I also noticed my nerves seemed a little more settled without the bickering between the boys, constant clamoring for food, and less often feeling like I had to constantly be suspending my own needs for others.
But when they returned six days later, the world seemed right again. After listening to camp tales — stories of daring adventure and the arduousness of tent-living with bugs and beasts — we celebrated their survival with pizza and a Netflix movie.
All this got me thinking how grateful I am to have a larger family, and how much I don’t understand those who scoff at this kind of abundance.
On Facebook the other day, a mother of six who is pregnant with her seventh lamented about going in for her routine pedicure, “only because I’m very pregnant and can’t reach my toes.”
When the nail tech asked if it was her first, she said no. Second? No. Finally, it came out that she was pregnant with No. 7. Which was met with a gasp from the gal in the next chair over, who remarked, “Good for you, but I could only handle three.”
She then probed further, asking what her husband does for work, finally learning that the pregnant woman homeschools their children. Another gasp followed, along with, “Now see, that I don’t agree with.”
On the Facebook thread, another friend commiserated, sharing that recently she was at a restaurant with her husband and five children, and a man commented, “Are these all yours?” When she said yes, he patted her husband on the shoulder and remarked, “Wow, man! You need another wife!” Um, what?
Thankfully, I don’t get these kinds of comments so much now that our kids are older and hardly ever seen tagging behind me like ducklings, but I remember this frustration of being judged, often publicly by strangers, just for having a larger family.
It’s a sacrifice to welcome one child, not to mention many, but children are our greatest treasure. My faith in God and his life-giving love helped bring me to this realization. But it seems much of society has grown cold, limiting and dangerously scrutinizing over life and its sanctity.
I loved the comment of my Facebook friend’s friend, who thought she should have responded to the nail tech’s first question with, “My first pedicure? Heavens no!”
A mother of a large crew has to be quick on her feet, because often the questions can be shocking, at the least, and “cut to the heart” offensive at best.
Back when I was being questioned frequently regarding our flourishing family, I often thought of saying, “Which one should I return?”
Our 13-year-old chose “The Giver” as the post-camp family movie. I’d read the book, written by award-winning children’s author Lois Lowry, years ago but didn’t remember all the details.
The story depicts a futuristic world in which every human — there are no animals — takes an injection each morning to block the range of emotions and feelings humans normally possess.
It is an ordered world in which children are assigned their “life duty” at a ceremony similar to graduation, and each day is lived out on the surface, without love.
Babies who don’t make the grade are injected, too, and sent to the netherworld. There is no emotion over this deliberate ending of life because emotion doesn’t exist.
The movie seemed to point to the blessing of life, especially when we have full access to all our emotions, along with the colors and sounds within reach. Yes, even the pain, because it is in feeling that that we can also feel love.
Sitting on the couch with my family and bowl of popcorn, I felt a warm feeling of thankfulness for this life. It’s not often easy, but I’d never second-guess having this big, bounteous, boisterous crew. The run has been wild but wonderful.
My husband’s father used to drive around an old plumbing van, which bore the “punny” motto, “A good flush beats a full house.” I’ve since reordered that, applying it to our life here: “A full house beats a good flush.”
I’d take my crazy, full house over a perfectly running, but eerily quiet, one any day.
Now if I could have both the full house and the good flush, even better.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on July 2, 2016.]