A Pinecone Parable

Nobody said parenting eight children was going to be easy. On the contrary, everybody seems to know that it is as difficult as uprooting a century old pine tree with a silver spoon. OK, it’s not that hard, however we do have to watch out for falling pinecones. Those cause a distraction every time.

Look ma!

Look ma!

One night, while I was bathing off the days grime from work, I heard an uproar start up with some of the children. I shook my head. There’s always a ruckus of some kind or another with so many, but I could hear Wife arriving on the scene and knew full well that she would take care of it.

I could hear something about #2 abusing #5. Likely he deserved whatever he got, however hitting is not tolerated; so Wife began to lay into #2 like a new ax into a sapling. But then a pinecone fell.

I hear #2 shout out, “Mom! Ah! There’s a…”

Wife screamed and I heard slapping at clothes followed by enthusiastic stomping.

“Wow mom, I saw…” #2 started.

I heard Wife cut her off with a sharp tone. “Next time you see a spider on my sweater, get it off! Don’t just stand there and point at it!”

“OK mom,” I heard #2 respond.

At that point the spider had effectively let the steam out of Wife. She scowled at the two children before her and dismissed them with a, “Now you two behave and play nice.”

This photo is a reenactment, minus the spider, as I was unable to convince Wife to hold still with it.

This photo is a reenactment, minus the spider, as I was unable to convince Wife to hold still with it.

When Wife walked into our bedroom she immediately took off her sweatshirt and shook it out hard enough to shake loose even the strongest of spiders. Then she hung it up, still wary about the ninja spiders that must have sewn themselves into the seams and were carefully waiting to surprise her. Well Wife could out last them.

Then I did a very foolish thing. I saw humor in her tragedy, and laughed.

Let’s just say that I was glad that there were no pinecones lying around.

The Importance of Priority

#3 rushed into the house, out of breath, and demanded my attention with the announcement that #7 was, “BLEEDING!” She had me. I was standing up as she continued, “Oh yeah, and there is a dog here, and I don’t know who it is… but it’s not our dog, and…”

“Wait!” I interrupted, “which one is more important?”

“Oh yeah,” she said, and to her credit, she didn’t have to think about it twice. “I’ll get my brother.” And she darted out.

Whose dog was that anyway?

Whose dog was that anyway?

Lesson learned, I thought, pleased at the success. Now #3 knows that a bleeding #7 is more important than a stray dog. Next, enlighten her with the knowledge that all her siblings are more important than all the dogs, stray or otherwise. You see, the children, my children, no all children have the fatal inability to prioritize. Like everything else with them, it must be taught… multiple times.

Wife has done an excellent job with the little ones in that respect, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Yes, these children place vegetables in a higher priority than gummy-bears. I know, I didn’t believe it either, until my sisters told me so. They took the older ones to an amusement park and to their shock, and mine too, the bag of carrots vanished well before the gummy-bears were even thinking about leaving. Prioritization at its finest.

If only the children were that good with all aspects of their little lives, however when it comes to cleaning up their rooms… they take after me. Only a few days seem to pass at a time before Wife looses it and sends the whole bunch running into their rooms to clean it up before Wife does it for them. Don’t be fooled that she is doing them a favor. Her idea of cleaning their rooms is throwing most of it away. So they do clean. However when #4 realized what a mess they made, she let out a very loud curse, “Oh, MUFFINS!”

The children are learning, slowly, but they are picking it up. And in case you were wondering about my priorities, be at ease, #7 only suffered a scraped knee. He’s just fine. As a father, prioritizing is a necessity. A father without the ability to prioritize is a bachelor.

A scraped knee won't stop him.

A scraped knee won’t stop him.

How Do They Do It?

The whole groupCountless times over the years a person, once a person realized that all the children were in fact ours, responded with a, “I don’t know how you do it,” as if our parental duties were more difficult than others. Now I’ve thought about that. Is the chore of raising soon to be nine children that difficult? Have Wife and I taken on more than we could handle? No I say; but rather, how do they do it?

If we had stopped at the “normal” two or three children; firstly we would have never had any boys, and secondly we would have stalled at the hardest number of children. As close as ours were, we would get no assistance from the older children with the younger. Babies just don’t help babies very well. It’s one of those unbreakable laws of nature. So as the children would be unable to help when they were younger, there would have also been no need when they were older.

Hit the breaks and stop short!

Hit the breaks and stop short!

I guess we could have spaced a couple of children way apart; that seems popular. So let me figure this out. Say we waited a few years to start, that means cross out #1 and #2. In that case #3 would have been first. Just for argument, let’s give Wife a space between births of five or six years. That bumps #7 up to second place and drops out #4, #5, #6, #8, and #9. Oh my, that gives the terrible-two-year-old the run of the house; not good.

To space or not to space?

To space or not to space?

Well, there’s always the “late in life” strategy we could have used. You know, travel the world, see lots of places, and then at the close of Wife’s fertility, hope desperately that she gets pregnant. That sounds too much like a failed retirement strategy. I think at that point I would have to look myself in the mirror and tell myself that it’s too late, and probably go on public welfare. But here’s the real secret, if Wife had me all to herself for twenty-five years, without anyone else to share her love with; then she’d smother me to death with love… or a pillow.

Now that you know all the possible scenarios, Wife and I have planned to craftily evade all the above problems, by giving the children a whole bunch of siblings that they would have to help with. Pretty smart, right?

A Tale of Two Bedrooms

We never had a nursery. Wife wouldn’t have been able to stomach putting the baby in another room anyway. The night #1 was born; she cradled her baby throughout the night, never letting her so much as brush the bed. I don’t think the baby learned what bed sheets were for about a week. As #2 and #3 came into the bed, they stayed in the bed; and I found myself creeping ever closer to the edge. I might have begun to wonder if Wife was pushing me out, but I was sure that “nurseries” were fables out of England and Disney films. So I happily hugged the edge of the bed while #2 kicked me in the back.

When #4 arrived our housing had changed and the two eldest moved into their own room, where #3 would visit on occasion. Suddenly I had all kinds of room on my side of the bed. I was able to stretch out; then #4 turned sideways.

We slowly converted rooms into bedrooms. We thought that that the best rooming arrangement was to bed them in pairs. The older girls were in one room with their younger sisters next door. Then we tried a trial with one older and a younger per room, but they all seemed to end up in one room. I take that back, they almost always seem to leave one behind, often soaking her pillow with tears. For our children, who are practically one right on top of another, solitude is frightening.

By the time Wife had #7 we had added another bedroom. That was unfortunately my office; the sacrifices of a growing family. #5 and #6 were set together in the new room. It was an unmitigated disaster. They were too young to put alone together. Either they slept with #1, or wandered into our bed, or split forces, or simply cried until a parent slept with them. All the while the girls kept up their game of “guess who’s sleeping where.”Bunk beds

It took awhile, but we finally figured it out, or to be more precise, Wife had had enough! The bed-swapping and children left behind had to stop. When #8 was about six months old, I came home and was surprised to see that Wife had followed through with her threats. She had moved them all into one bedroom. The smaller dresser was in the hall, and the boys’ bedroom was carpeted with a pair of double mattresses beside the boys’ bed. Problem fixed! All I had to do was set up the bunk beds; no small task, but hey, if she can birth them then the least I can do is give them proper beds.

Asleep? Anyone?

Asleep? Anyone?

We’ve discovered an unintended consequence though. When mixing children together, be careful of the ratios, and more importantly the quantity… there will be a reaction. Unfortunately not the reaction I wanted. I hoped for fumes that would render the children sleepy for twelve hours. Instead they were stimulated. Feeding energy directly into one another, I now have a room full of active children captured under blankets. As a side effect, I have less energy than ever.

And as the saying goes, “When the cat’s away, the mice will…” oh never mind. I’m going to bed.



A Sunday Treat

In celebration of nothing in particular, just because the day was before us, and to make Wife smile and the children grin, I took the family out to breakfast after Sunday Mass; an event that only happens but once a year. Almost everyone was excited, but not #6. He fell to pieces when we turned away from donuts at the back of the church; and he continued to be upset until the gentle sway of the van rocked away his self imposed sorrows.

When we arrived at the restaurant, #6 very nearly had another I-want-a-donut-melt-down. However with the promise of chocolate-chip pancakes, he at last relented and soberly joined his siblings as we trooped in. After only a short wait we were led to our seats, and found ourselves two seats short. Not to worry, no one was left to eat on their feet. Two chairs were quickly robbed from some unsuspecting party who thought they had extra seats; no longer.sisters

Comfortably seated, Wife and I set to work to ordering for the children. Then we set to work assuring the children that their food was indeed on the way. Then I realized that we always seem to be seated in the exact middle of the dining room. More than a few fellow diners seemed to watching our table as if we were the morning’s entertainment. I wanted to stand up and begin shouting, “Yes folks! Step right up! See with your very own eyes, eight children that can not only sit in their chairs until the meal is through, but also use a fork! Step right up!” However, Wife would have seen it as bad form. I remained seated.Yum-Yum

At the end of the meal, when Wife was gathering up the leftovers, I looked over at #7, who was my charge this time. There he was, happily scraping gum from under the table. There must be a special place in hell for people who stick chewing-gum under tables; leaving a revolting treat for two year-olds, and a horrible surprise for their parents. It really doesn’t matter how hungry I was; after that, I was finished.

A great big thanks to the anonymous gum-chewer. Over the years, you’ve saved me thousands of dollars. If it wasn’t for you and your booby traps, we might eat out more often.

Complements and Waiting

It seems to me that a more adequate metaphor for children is not cute little naked cherubim, nor wide eyed bundles of innocence; but rather an empty bowl. Yes, a child is a large empty bowl. An empty bowl placed down stream, filling up with whatever refuse might be floating by. While a parent’s appointment, is to forcibly stuff those bowls with good things. Fill them to over flowing at a breakneck speed in order to fill them first, and push out the garbage that always seems to settle at the bottom.

And at times, Wife and I find ourselves able to stop our mad rush for just a moment to listen to a total stranger complement their good behavior. We were at a restaurant, when a lady commented, “You wouldn’t even know that there were eight children in here.”

At this point, if you do not wish to read of my children’s good behavior, I urge you to calmly, but sincerely, turn off you internet now.

To start, we had suffered a long drive to the graveyard. Be assured, everyone is alive and kicking; and kick they do. The burial was for an old family friend. Wife, I, and the children piled out of the van into the heat of an early summer. Our girls were in their Sunday’s best, complete with hair done up and little sweaters, which as it turned out were too hot to wear. The boys’ attire was topped off with vests and ties, and they could have fit in at a mafia reunion.

The service was delayed by an inept funeral home. The children had a slight panic when they thought we had run out of bottles of water. #7 and #8 had just gotten over the flu, and were getting fussier and fussier as the day got hotter and hotter. We had to wait for the gravedigger to widen the hole so the ashes could be buried. And finally, I got lost on the drive to the wake.

And the day got hotter and hotter.

And the day got hotter and hotter.

A lunch that should have started at about two-o-clock was instead started at a little after four-o-clock. And the savages were hungry. When the spaghetti hit the table, the children set to it with a passion.  The complement stated above was given some time after that.

What’s our secret for well behaved children? I could give a litany of how to raise, discipline, and nurture children. However in this case, I assert that they were just starved down.Food at Last

Weapons of Mass Distraction

The art of paying attention in Mass with all the children is like balancing a bolder on a toothpick. It’s not impossible, however it does seem to take a minor miracle.

I sat in the pew with one or two children to my right, while Wife sat with the same on her left, and the rest were firmly placed between us. All in arms reach of either Wife or myself. So we went through Mass as child-bookends, and a nearly constant string of correcting and scolding fills our Sunday celebration. I believe it has been about five years since Wife and I have sat next to each other, with the children for an entire service.

Don't they look sweet?

Don’t they look sweet?

#8 has gotten to the age when he gets passed from Wife, to myself, to #1, and back again with #2 pitch hitting, all in an attempt to quiet him down. While at the same time as the baby is passed over, #7 is sent in the opposite direction to which ever parent does not have the baby. #7 is still a handful, and needs mom or dad’s direction during the entire Mass, he just won’t let up.

The rest of the crew should be old enough to stand still… they should be. #5 and #6 were starting to grapple with each other again and had to be stopped. Snap my fingers at #3 to stop daydreaming and pay attention. There was Wife shooshing #4 who was making squeaking noises at #8, and then gesturing for #2 to keep her eye forward. Then I had to separate the boys because their wrestling match started up again. And there were #1 and #2 holding quiet negotiations over who would be able to take the fussy baby outside.

I really wish I could say that sort of thing only happened in one Sunday out of ten… I really do. The fact is, as much as I wish my children were perfect little angels at church, they seem more to be weapons of Mass distraction.

So, for our anniversary, Wife and I went to daily Mass all by ourselves. I was going to able to listen to the Gospel Readings and pay perfect attention to Father’s homily. But as Mass progressed, I instead found myself looking at the stained glass windows and glancing around to see who might be in church on a Friday night.

Well, maybe the children aren’t why I’m distracted in Mass, they’re just my excuse.

Blunt Observations

I’ve had quiet children; however they have yet to remain quiet. The girls virtually came out talking, and they have not neglected their sibling duties of instructing their younger brothers in the finer points of eliminating silence. Believe me, there is no such thing as an “awkward silence” in my house.

Wife’s grandmother from out of state had come into town for a visit; and my boys set to work at entertaining her. She was accosted with drawing after drawing, all the while #5 kept up a running commentary with #6 parroting him. #5 drew her attention to either his paper or that of his brother’s, illuminating the hidden figures that seemed to be somewhere behind the dark storm cloud of scribbles.

At one point they where waiting for #6 to finish his drawing and there was nearly an awkward silence, but then #5 piped in an observation to his great grandmother, “Yo’r arms are squooshy.”

He could have stopped there. I would have been happy if he had. My pride would have been happy. But it was like the start of a flashflood, there was no stopping him at that point.

He continued, “Yah, and yo’r skin is soft too. And yo’r skinny. But you don’t have any money ‘causes yo’r weel old.” And he nodded his head at her with all the authority of a knowledgeable four year old. He was quite undisputable.

Further observation was halted by the arrival of #6 and his latest thunderhead.

I actually had to admire the little boy. If I had said anything like that, Wife’s grandmother would have been offended, and I would have received and ear full from Wife well into the next week. #5 insults her age and financial security, and he gets chuckles and a kiss.

While the children can’t get away with all the noises they make, grandmothers certainly have a weakness for their blunt observations.Little boys on grandmother's lap

“There’s a Snake in My Boot”

There are two phrases I hope to never again hear. The first is, “The dog pooped on the carpet.” The second is, “There is a snake in the house!”

In the early hours of the morning, about two thirty, I was wakened out of a dead sleep by the shrill cry of #1 proclaiming the second phrase. I don’t remember sitting up. I think rather that I jumped from a laying position straight up in the air, landed on my feet, and made it all the way to the door before my eyes caught up with me and opened. Once the bedroom door was open, I could see down the hall to where a scared little girl’s eyes were fixed.

I quickly scanned the hall for the rattler in the dim light, but instead of the familiar dark diamond pattern, I saw white stripes? At first my mind was unwilling to believe it, so I just stood there, drowsy in the hallway. Wife shouted from behind me, inquiring where the snake was, and all I thought to answer was, “Let my eyes adjust!”

After another minute, I was able to declare, to everyone’s relief, that it was not a rattlesnake. To which Wife quickly demanded, “Then what is it?”

“I think it’s a Kingsnake.” After turning on the lights I could properly see the black and white ringed reptile hugging the wall. Sure enough, it was a Kingsnake. Now what?

A rattlesnake I would have killed, no matter what, no matter the mess. But a Kingsnake, well that’s just a horse of a different color. A person just doesn’t kill a Kingsnake. Kingsnakes are nice snakes. They’re good luck to have around your house. And on top of everything, they eat rattlesnakes! That meant I had only one choice, I needed to catch it. And like any man with only half a nights sleep under his belt, I just dove right in.

Be aware, at that point Wife shut the bedroom door, just in case it got away from me and continued to slither in the direction it was pointed in. It was kinda giving her the evil eye.

Kingsnake caught!Looking back, I think I did pretty good. I only got bit once, and the snake was safely let loose in the trees outside. Good luck for my house.

So now I have one problem, how did it get into the house? Wife wore boots indoors for the next day, certain the Kingsnake was just the forerunner of a snake invasion. While I reject that assertion; I am never the less baffled as to how it made its entry.

One thing is for sure; when visiting the bathroom in our house at night, step lightly and carry a big stick.Snake in a Bucket



Little Fears

The fears of little children can be quite comical from where we stand with our many years. But to the small child, they are as real and terrifying as falling out of bed. In the little one’s eye, the prospect of travel down a dark hallway is alike to following a rattlesnake down a gopher hole. So to add to the many hats of parenthood, add Trauma Counselor.

In the early hours of the night, two pair of feet padded down to the bathroom. My younger children seem to visit the bathroom in pairs as the dark in our house is just as dangerous as everywhere else. But what woke me out of the peace of dreamless sleep was #5 screaming, “Mom!” or “Dad!” alternating until one of his parents arrived.

Toilet FearsI stumbled in to find the little boy trapped on the toilet while #4 was supposed to be keeping guard. With the out burst of #5 I immediately learned what she had been doing. “She says the Toilet Monster comes up the toilet and it will… it licks my butt!” At that point he was so worked up, he was almost in tears.

#4 was not slow to spin around and defend herself. “Well Uncle ah… Uncle… he said…”

I cut her off. “The Toilet Monster is not real. Your uncles were just telling stories. Nothing is going to lick your bottom. They’re not real. Now finish up and go back to bed.” That bit of disappointingly brief comfort was about all I was capable of at that hour.

As I turn to take my own advice I heard #5, “See, I told you they’re not weal! You were juss trying to scare me.”

#4’s retort was lost to me by my bedroom door.

As I crawled back under my blankets I knew exactly where the Toilet Monster had come from, my younger brothers. In order to have a little fun, they introduce that imaginary fiend to my little ones, with the desired result. I know it happed exactly that way, because I did the same to them when they were about my children’s age, so many years ago, when I made up the Toilet Monster.

Never thought that one would come around to bite me in the butt.