Morning Helpers and Bug Hunters

In the early hours of one frosty morning, I set to work at chasing away the chill. In our home the only heat is our wood burning stove. After I carried in an armful of wood, I split a piece with a hatchet. Somewhere in the process the two older boys woke up. Either the chopping sound or the squeaking door of the stove drew them in like moths to a flame.

#5 and #6 watched with their usual interest. Hovering behind in their pajamas, they offered sticks, paper, and cardboard to help excite the tender flames into a blaze that would send Jack Frost running for the hills. The outcome was that I seemed to bump into the two whenever I moved. Then without warning, they were unredeemabley distracted.

A bug had wriggled out of a log and scurried across the carpet away from the fireplace. #5 jumped to his feet and squealed, “AHHHH, A BUG!” as if he had just witnessed a long dead enemy crawl zombie-like out of a grave.

#6 was safely right behind his big brother also pointing and hopping from one foot to another. They were making enough noise to wake their mother, a truly dangerous idea, and I was compelled to save them from themselves. “I see it! Now shooosh.”

“But the bug, you have to kill the bug,” #5 exclaimed, still hot on the insect’s trail.

I had just gotten a face full of smoke and coughed out, “I’m busy. You deal with it.”

#5 spun around to his brother and ordered, “Watch da bug!” and he ran off down the hallway and into his room.

#6 faithfully dropped onto his belly as to keep a close eye on the retreating pest. He followed it crawling army-style until #5 returned waving above his head a tennis shoe. The hunt was on. They crawled after the insect with the hunting spirit of a tiger, though without any of its agility. The bug almost got away twice.

Finally the death blow fell, and the room lit up with green and yellow lights flashing from the shoe in the little boy’s hand. I think the flashing lights were as much a surprise to the boys as it was to me, for the boys froze when the lights made themselves obvious; and then #5 smashed it down twice more. With each blow the insect became flatter and flatter and the room was bathed in a festive light show.

In the end, while I was attempting to keep my fire alight, the bug when out under a light.a cornered bug

 

 

Top Three

Here are the top three reasons why I want a large family.

#3: My retirement strategy. I have not yet written a bestseller. Nor have I won the Lottery (Note to self, try to buy a ticket next time.) And let’s face it, by the time I get to retirement age, Social Security will be bankrupt.  But with a large number of children, my future is set. I have eight chances to have one child strike it rich and set us up in our old age. If that plan does not pull through, I am sure to have at least one out of the eight children like us enough to take us in if need be. And even in the case where they can’t stand me for long, I can move from child to child without fear of being turned out, after all I’m only there for a short visit.

#2: The children learn good social skills. With all these little ones, it is impossible to give them everything they want, and inevitably what they want a sibling has. Very quickly they learn to share, if only to keep the peace. They also understand the division of labor. Because the older ones can do more, they are expected to do more; while the littlest are expected not to make a mess. They also learn charity the same way. The older ones look after the babies, and they all take care of each other. Sometimes I have seen the same comfort come out of a hug given by one of the littler ones to an older as when an older gave up her cookie to a younger.

#1: I am greedy. I understand that “greed” does not usually belong in a line such as “eight children,” but I know from experience that children are the greatest gift God ever gave Wife and I. I’m like a child standing before a Santa Clause who just kept giving me gifts; I would have no intension of turning any of them down. In the same way, God has smiled upon me and sent enough blessings that I look to be drowning in them. Yet, what good thing on this green Earth is not worth struggling for? I also have the mind that does not wonder what I am missing out on if we have another child; rather, I wonder who am I missing out on if we don’t.

And so you find me happily content in my worldly poverty, and rolling in riches from the blessing of my family.Seven in a Row

 

NOT IT!

The little blonde head of #3 bounced up and down with the chestnut of her sister, #4. Their combined flighty hair gave the impression of a miniature sandstorm. Squealing with the glee known only to the very young, they flopped onto the couch and slid onto the carpet. Suddenly, #3 jumps to her feet with an idea. “Let’s pway a game,” she declared.bouncing around

#4 jumped up with her sister and agreed, “Yes, let’s play a game. But what game?”

#3 scrunched up her face with thought. With hands on her hips, her mind visibly worked behind her eyes which gave the illusion of stuck gears. Without warning the gears broke free and spun rapidly. “Hide N Seek!” she announced.

“Yeah!” squealed #4.

“OK, now see who’s it. Weady? One… two… phree…” then she screamed as loud as she could, “NOT IT!”

A split second behind her sister #4 shouted, “NOT IT!”

#3 pointed at her sister. “AHHH! You said it last. You it.”

#4 protested that it was not fair. So the “One… two… phree… NOT IT!” followed by “NOT IT!” was again played out with the same results.

The next time #4 counted off. “One… two… tree…” and she then shouted, “NOT IT!” and #3 followed that time, “NOT IT!”

#3 looked questioningly at #4. The process was again repeated… again with the same results. The two stared at one another both sure that the other was cheating.

At that point their older sister walked by. #1 wanted to join the game too. This time she would count off. “One… two… three” and oddly she was the first to shout out, “NOT IT!” Maybe the countdown was rigged.

#2 popped her head in and wanted to play with them as well. So she counted down, with the same result that she was the first to declare ‘not it’ and therefore could not be it. Again, they would do it again. Now, #5 and #6 were shouting “Not It!” just because everyone else was.

At last, in the midst of children screaming at the top of their lungs “NOT IT!”, #1 shouted above the din, “OK! OK! I’ll be it.” They all quieted down. “What am I it for?”

The girls looked from one to another with blank expressions and shrugged their shoulders.

The Rapture?

Not long ago, Wife and I took the family over to her parents for a visit. We were having such a good time that the sun set without our permission. The nerve of it. On account of the late hour, it was decided to invade the grandparents’ home through the night. Beds were rearranged and sleeping bags carpeted the living room. A regular grade school style sleepover.

Wife, #7, #8, and I promptly displaced Wife’s youngest brother from his room. He was happy enough to “campout” in the front room with his nieces and nephews. Once the house had been turned upside-down, they all stayed awake until sleep became so overpowering that they could not resist it anymore. As it was my in-law’s house, and their bedtime rules, I strolled to bed and left the children to them.

In the morning, I woke up about six o’clock to the sound of chaos down the hall in the living room. The children were up. I rolled over and went back to sleep. About an hour later I woke up again, this time to silence. I figured that their grandparents had told them to quiet down or sent them outside. However the silence also woke up Wife. To prove that she was the better parent, she got up to investigate.

From the front room she called, “John, where are the kids?”

O.K., that got me up.

I walked into a room of empty sleeping bags. Our six children and two of their uncles were nowhere to be seen. I poked my head out the front door only to find the yard equally empty. Wife and I exchanged puzzled looks. “Did we miss the Rapture?” Wife asked.

It turns out we had not missed the Rapture. Wife’s parents had taken six of our children and two of their uncles out to get donuts. When we saw the grandparents were also missing, Wife called her mother and got the story. I was able to go back to sleep, that is until they all came back.

 The donut feast À la Grandma. It was eight hours before they came off their sugar-high.


The donut feast À la Grandma. It was eight hours before they came off their sugar-high.

Taking It to Heart

I know other parents go through the same thing. I tell a child what to do, and she does it; but the next time, she forgets. She is instructed to help her younger siblings first, and she forgets. We tell her to flush the toilet, yet she forgets. I was growing weary, and worried that none of the life lessons we wanted to instill upon the children would actually stick. Then, I found I was wrong.

Some time ago I got home late and found Wife was just as tired as I. Somehow the children were fed, followed by a quick cleaning of their faces. Don’t think to put too much credit on me; Wife did all the heavy lifting so to speak. And once she was finished we sent them all off to bed.

#1 asked me on her way, “What about bedtime prayers?”

Our custom is to say several prayers with the children when they are put to bed. However that night I felt just like any old heathen. I looked at my daughter and inquired, “Can you pray with your siblings?”

She nodded joyfully and bounded away. I drug my heels into the bathtub and attempted to soak away a small portion of my fatigue. It didn’t work very well. When I got out, Wife was putting the baby to sleep in our bed. I asked if all the children were in their beds, and she confirmed they were. She then said that she was feeling guilty that she could not get up and pray with them, as she was exhausted as well as tied down by the new baby. I, in a true stock of laziness, assured her that they would be fine.

I walked to the kitchen to get a cup of water, but instead of the nightly silence I expected, I heard a soft rhythm. Coming from the children’s bedrooms, which are down the hall and next to ours, I heard #1 praying from her bed. To my joyful amazement, she was leading a Rosary and her sister in her room and the two in the next followed with the responses. They were praying a full Rosary, meditating on the Mysteries of Jesus and all. A twenty minute prayer.

I quietly entered my room and told Wife about it. We were both overcome with pride. We were blessed with children that knew their prayers by heart; and took them to heart as well. We fell asleep to the melodious hum of the children’s soft voices just on the other side of the wall.Faith

The End of the Line

At some point every young child has to learn that their parents are the absolute authority. A contest of wills, so to speak. I believe that it sets the tone for the majority of their relationship. In my household, that contest usually happens when the child is between one and three years. With some children it seems to last an entire year. When the child grows to that point (known to some as the terrible twos) Wife and I must be firm, but even I was unaware of just how firm we could be.Leashed

#6 is just conceding to our authority, while #7 has just started to resist. And so, he foundEnd of the line himself in the middle of a forest tied to a tree. Now it sounds worse that it was. If you have read my last post, then you know we had just been camping. It just so happens that was the time #7 chose to be… uppity.

I have heard someone say that a one year old shouldn’t be expected to respect boundaries. Well, I say that if there is a newborn in the picture and a slue of siblings that

To

To

need tending, then he’s going to respect boundaries real quick. And those boundaries include, keeping within sight of his parents (meaning keeping out of the road or out of the forest), and keeping out of the fire (meaning keeping all limbs out of the campfire no matter what.) And that combination led to the leashing of #7 to a tree.

He screamed at his mother. He screamed at me. He screamed at

And Fro

And Fro

the leash and the tree. He stretched the tether as far as it went and screamed. He swung to and fro like a pendulum and screamed. He wrapped the leash around the tree and attempted to pull it over, and when that did not work he screamed. When the other children came over to play around the tree with him, he

ran to the end of his line and

And the tree did not move.

And the tree did not move.

screamed.

No matter how hard anyone tried to distract or comfort the little boy, he would not be soothed. “Liberty before security” apparently is his motto. While I might encourage that attitude later in his life, right now father and mother know best. He’ll see it my way eventually.End of the line

 

*No children were harmed in the writing of this post. #7 was released upon the return to his natural habitat.*

A Camping We Will Go

Ten sleeping bags, two tents, and one state park add up to camping (or more precisely the poor man’s vacation.) And that was where you could find me and mine, out in the cold of early October.

Out in the woods.

Out in the woods.

The children set to camping with a will. The older ones filled canteens and ran them back and forth from the camp site to the water spout. The younger ones followed and somehow got more wet. When their grandfather started the fire, they encircled him. The older ones offered advice and trash to start it. The younger ones took the trash as well as the firewood and attempted to run with both into the redwoods. #7 was so persistent in his endeavors to join the local wildlife that he found his liberties tethered.

At the end of your rope?

At the end of your rope?

The campfire meals were great entertainment for the little ones. They made it a contest between each other to see who could help the most. You might have heard #3 say to her sister, “I held a potato for Gwampa.” And #4 would reply, “Ya well, ya well, I hold the spoon.” And it would go on.

With that spirit, as I was cracking eggs for breakfast, I found eight little hands all offering an egg from the flat that was sitting in front of me. Considering that their hands were covered with dirt and ash, we had stunted their helpful efforts. But, as that would only dirty up the egg shell, I allowed the help. But after they dropped two eggs, I sent the whole bunch away and finished myself.

When two hands just aren't enough.

When two hands just aren’t enough.

While the nights were cold, it was comfortable within a sleeping bag. However, I was denied the privilege of waiting out the night within mine. As we had outgrown a single tent, Wife, the youngest three, and I were in one tent, while the rest were in the other. The first couple of nights I went between the two tents tucking children back into sleeping bags that they had squirmed out of into the cold. Once they were all settled in and asleep again, we were then raided by raccoons.

And that was the end of our hotdogs.

And that was the end of our hotdogs.

The boys’ hair cut

The boys needed hair cuts, and so the struggling began. Before I begin, you might want to know how Wife started the proceedings.

Corralled!!!

Corralled!!!

First on her mind was containment. Little boy hair is flighty and sticks to every thing. To avoid clumps of blonde hair gathering in corners, Wife piled the boys into the tub. That way the hair can be captured like a herd of dust bunnies.

And the buzzers come out.

And the buzzers come out.

Second, Wife strips them down to the bare minimum that God blessed them with. Two items are accomplished by that. If the clothes are clean they can be redressed; and if they are dirty (which is more than likely) we avoid artificial hair balls in the dryer.

Now, let the struggling begin. Out came the “buzzers.” I wish I could state that one or more of the boys stood still, like soldiers at attention. Alas, that was not the case. They writhed and wriggled like worms on a hook. When the buzzers ran this way, they would twist that. As their hair was trimmed up, they would squirm down. Back and forth, up and down, hold and resist was the battle between Wife and the boys.

Struggling this way and that.

Struggling this way and that.

I admit, to say that it was a battle would be an exaggeration. She corralled and handled them as well as a rancher shaving his sheep. While there may have been discomfort, it was all on one side and for their own good. While it was all for their own good, like the sheep they just don’t seem to understand.

Smoke and Mirrors

With a large family, we never truly leave any of the growing stages behind us. We have always had one to three children in diapers. As soon as one is potty trained, the next is ready to start. We are yet to be without the terrible-twos. And we just can’t wait for high school.Brother Teaching Brother

So, as soon as #6 learned to stop emptying the cupboards, #7 was hot on his heels with a vengeance. This toddler would empty out the plastic cups in the time it would take a normal person to turn around. Wait, it gets better. #7 in a misguided attempt to help or with malicious intent, takes the clean cups and plates and throws them away, yes into the trashcan.

Wife and I now have the household searching the trash before we throw anything away. And when I approach #7 about the matter, he only laughs. He just won’t talk reasonably. When Wife lifted him out of his mess making operation, his eyes rose to upper cupboards with a grin as if to say, “So that’s where you hide the good things.”

His little grin just about touched either ear as he set his charms to work. When I pointed at the mess, he giggled and pointed at the stove. When I scolded him for his inattention, he buried his face into Wife’s shoulder with a loving hug.

I am more than a little concerned that the boy is perfecting planned distractions. Out of a blue sky he started a gut wrenching belly laugh that soon had the rest of the children laughing along with him. Wife and I were at a loss as to what the cause could be, and as we search the room for what could be so funny, the incident was forgotten. In other words, “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you #7 with his smoke and mirrors.”Mess Maker

It Never Gets Old

It never gets oldThe world is once again a better place. #8 has made his way into it with chubby cheeks, long fingers, and an extra helping of hair. Arriving overdue, he was a great relief to Wife as well as the event of the year, to anyone who is important that is. The entire household is just as happy about the new baby as ever.

I can see how a person might think that after seven children, the eighth would be old news. But, what I can tell them is that each birth is just as exciting and tremendous as the first. Granted, I enjoy a better understanding of what is happening and how best to lend a hand, but that doesn’t take anything away from experience.

Wife and the baby are sleeping, and in the silence I have a small moment to recollect. No matter which child I pick out of the group, I remember their birth; what was precious, what was scary, what happened in general. With each little one something more is added to me. I am a little richer. I am a little poorer. I am a little more understanding. I am a little more just. I am a little more blessed. I am more greatly loved.

Looking over my little toe heads I believe I have an understanding, however minor, as to why God puts up with us. From Adam and Eve on, mankind has mostly been filled with shortcomings. But we have within all of us the redeeming quality of love.

And now I look onto the fresh little face, nearly hidden by wrapped blankets, with that flat nose that all babies have. He will learn from his parents as well as his siblings. He will learn from his brother how to empty the pots and pans out of the cupboards. He’ll pick up how to wrestle in the front room and get in everyone’s way. He’s sure to learn from his sisters how to loath cleaning the kitchen. He’s likely become a master at evading his mother when she wants help with the laundry.  And he will learn from us all how to love.

The world is certainly a better place.The world is a better place