It’s like herding cats into the shower, then feeding them caviar from gold-plated bowls monogrammed with diamonds. (Okay, so you probably don’t need me to tell you that it’s sometimes crazy and expensive.) Thankfully, there’s a lot of joy and laughter as well. And most of the time, it’s just plain fun. Way more fun than anything to do with cats, who, let’s face it, are best viewed from a distance.
It’s also an experience that garners a lot of unsolicited comments and questions from strangers, observations like:
Boy, do you have your hands full! I heard this a lot six years ago when I shopped with all five kids–an infant, toddler, and preschooler in the basket, the two eldest trailing behind. As observations go, it’s not brilliant, but it’s accurate. This declaration often contains a hint of incredulity, not unlike:
Are they all yours? This is usually asked with some hesitancy and a bit of awe, as if the speaker can’t quite fathom the idea of one person having so many children. It’s often blurted out, the first thing that comes to mind, apparently, when they see our little circus-in-a-shopping-cart make its way through the aisles of the bargain department store. The best response is a perky smile and an equally perky, “Yes, they are!” before bolting. Because the next question is likely to be:
Have you and your husband figured out what causes this yet? So funny. No, it’s not, actually. It’s staler than the snack-bar popcorn we leave in our wake when we flee in our bright red shopping cart. It’s so bad, it’s not even a contender for Worst Dad Joke of the Year. (Not a real contest; I googled it.)
In my fantasies, I respond with wide eyes, and an eager tone, “No, we haven’t, actually. Would you take this pen and paper and draw some diagrams or something? We’re not real smart people. Pictures help.”
In reality, I grit my teeth behind something resembling a smile and remind myself that we all need a little grace sometimes, bless our hearts. Speaking of grace, here’s another favorite:
I could never do that! This exclamation comes from one of two very different perspectives. The first is typically a fellow mom with one or two young children. One neighbor, the mother of a two year old girl and an infant boy, was nearly speechless when she saw the kids and me leaving for doctor appointments one morning. We were perfectly groomed and appropriately attired, a glowing testimony to calm, competent motherhood.
“How do you do that?” she asked. “I can’t believe how hard it is with two kids. How do you manage five?”
While I longed to modestly accept the implied compliment and pretend for a moment that our outer appearance told the full story, I had to fess up: the hour or two before we made it out the door were not the prettiest moments in our family’s history, and we would return home to rooms in a condition usually seen on The Weather Channel’s post-tornado coverage.
“Besides,” I told her, “I don’t care if you have one child or five, it’s always one more than you had before, and that takes some getting used to. Give yourself a break.”
The second sort of person who says, “I could never do that!” when they see me with my five kids, usually has a tone altogether different from the first. This is the person who sits near us in a restaurant and sees my toddler cover the floor with food, watches me knock a glass of ice water off the table and all over my infant’s carrier seat, and listens to my baby shriek his need for a nap while we wait for our check. The only thing this person doesn’t see is the forty percent tip I scribble onto the receipt before I hustle everyone out of the restaurant.
I’m one of five kids! Strangers don’t typically volunteer information about their family and childhood, but when they’re from a family of seven and see us out in public, they go out of their way to talk to us and even swap a few stories with my kids about growing up in a large family. This remark is related to:
We have five kids! This always comes from empty-nesters, and is always said with joyful nostalgia. We’ve encountered them at a performance of The Pirates of Penzance in Tennessee, in a Manhattan restaurant, and in our Virginia neighborhood. These people are a tonic. In the midst of wrangling five young children, I see on their faces, and hear in their words the sum of their parenting years: challenging, yes; also sweet, and gone in a flash.
Going out in public with five children, especially when they’re young, is challenging. Everything takes three times as long; it’s often exhausting. Strangers are sometimes exasperating, and frequently delightful. Kind of like my herd of five cats.