Nosy, awkward and outrageous: how I cope with comments about my family’s size


Having a lot of children raises eyebrows. Heck, having children in any circumstances not reflecting a perfect sequence of material acquisition and career advancement raises eyebrows. Having a large family flies in the face of common sense. Thankfully for my children, common sense ain’t that common.

While we know the reasons that reason ignores, and while each child coming after the second adds a new thickness to our hides, comments about family size always hurt. The intensity of the burn ranges from mild annoyance at the grocery store to lasting pain and resentment at the hands of our families. No one likes to feel like an idiot, not even mothers of 4+ children.

We have 9 kids so we’ve been raising eyebrows since 1999. I have almost heard it all. I have heard really awkward. Awkward as your three year-old making a clear-as-springwater observation about someone’s dress or facial hair. I have heard outrageous. Outrageous as only an older person with cognitive issues and no filter could possibly muster. No one has ever called me “selfish” but most moms of many have been called selfish to their face. Come spend a weekend with 5+ kids, it’ll knock the selfish right outta ya. I rent my family by the week — if you can last that long — for self-centered relaxation. Try it if you dare.

I am asked often how I deal with negative comments about my family’s size. I have a supernatural ability to ignore things that bug me, that’s the easy answer. I’m like the Penguins in Madagascar:

smile-and-wave

That said, I had two meaningful interactions with older folks when I was a young mom expecting my third child. One had had one child (whether by choice or circumstances, I don’t know) and that one child had died suddenly in his mid-forties. The second had had 10 children in close range. The one with one child still had regrets at age 80 about not spending more time with his family, about not seeing his son grow-up. The one with 10 children told me of the people in her nursing home: “All these people were sorry for me when I was having my children one after the other. Now they think I’m lucky.”

These two conversations had a profound impact on me. On my perspective on having children and making family-centered decisions. It taught me that (1) none of us gets another kick at the can once our fertile years are behind us and once our kids are grown; and (2) that raising young children is the grunt work of parenting, the tiling of the field from which the harvest will later come forth. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it proposition: we don’t get to pour the time, care and affection we didn’t pour into our children once they are grown and we don’t get to have more children once we are older and lonelier. The blessings of children are not the sleepless nights, the bum-wipings and the ear-piercing shrieks. No. Those are the latrines of parenting. The blessings come later, once the field has been tended and nurtured, early in the morning, late at night, in the cold, in the rain, back-broken and exhausted, when you felt like it and when you did not.

Most people make their family size decisions in the here and now. That’s fine, whatever floats your goat. whatever-floats-your-goatBut we never consider what comes after the crazy years of raising small children. Of course two children under 3 is enough! Children under 6 are crazy animals. Maybe some people have large families because they love being pregnant while chasing a potty-training toddler who still doesn’t sleep through the night but I sure as heck did not. I have more children because I know that however intense these years are, they are but a flash in comparison to the other lifetime I will spend in my older years.

Bear with me for a second. I started my family at 21, now I’m 42. That’s 21 years of having little kids in the house. Assuming my 9th is my last, I have another 5 years of little-kid-madness ahead of me, for a total of 26 years. Insane right? That said, assuming I live as long or longer than my grandparents, who died between the ages of 80 and 100, I have another 42 years — probably more like 50 — of life without small-kid-insanity on the horizon. Fifty year. I haven’t even been alive that long! That’s what I mean by “another lifetime”: 40-50 years of friendship and support and family meals and visits and help and whatever other amazing things will come out of having a large gang of properly attached people around me. And no one will burn-out supporting me because the work will be split 9 ways, times their spouses, times their own kids.

My husband and I were on a dinner date last year and while chatting with the waitress she pointed at a large group seated nearby. She mentioned that it was a group of 14 celebrating their mother and grandmother’s 80th birthday. All her children and grandchildren were present around the table and the matriarch was beaming, seated in the center of the table as I had seen my own grandparents do so many times when their descendants were visiting. I counted 4 grown children and their spouses with 6 grandchildren among them. The small popular restaurant was almost full and renovations were underway to open-up a mezzanine overlooking the main floor. I told my husband: “It just occurred to me that if most of our children get married and have children, and if some of their children have spouses and children, we will need to book the entire restaurant when we turn 80. It will be full to the rafters.”

When I get totally overwhelmed by the present moment, I remember the “after” and the rafters. People who think we are nuts today can’t see what we’re seeing. This is the truth.

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You don’t have to be on all the time


I was listening to the CBC Radio: Spark podcast on the effects of parental use of technology on children. This hit close to home. I use my iPhone for everything — from reading and writing to looking up recipes, words and maps, taking pictures, recording voice memos, shooting and editing my YouTube videos, communicating with my parents, husband and children, checking the weather, traffic, the news, streaming music and podcasts, look-up knitting patterns, get calendar reminders, learning Spanish on Duolingo, Netflix & Chillaxing, I must forgetting some — often fielding accusations from my children of being “always stuck to my phone”. My technology use is mostly family-related, serving their needs more than mine but appearances don’t lie: I use my phone a lot. I also remember how lonely, isolated and depressed I was before being able to connect to friends via social media. The podcast didn’t make any earth-shattering revelations for anyone who is aware that young children need their parents to be emotionally engaged. Whether you are distracted by your work, your book, your latest fling or the money you just don’t have, the question is not whether being tethered to your phone is harmful but whether it is harmful in different or more severe ways than everything else going on in your life. The study discussed in the podcast points to a shrinking attention span for children when their parents’ attention wanders.

Where the podcast rubbed my buttons the wrong way was with this quote:

“I see parents mindlessly pushing their kid on a swing while looking at their phone”

To be fair, the message was not that it is wrong to check your phone at the park but that your device should not prevent you from engaging in the normal activities of parenting such as the park. The image of the parent revelling in every ounce of childhood is one that won’t die. Once you are done cooking, cleaning, shopping, organizing, cuddling, control-towering, time-managing, refereeing and driving, you should also make a public display of gleeful cheer-leading while your children ask you for the 12 millionth time to look at them climb the slide backward for the 20 millionth time. I’m sorry but no. There is a surface covered in expensive, obsessively safe, kinetically-correct, expert-approved, City-stamped, edible, equipment right here. It has been designed to foster cooperative play with other children who are, conveniently, here at the same time you are, doing exactly the same thing you are. I gave you a bunch of siblings and believe me, it’s not because I like hospital food. So don’t mind me while I sit my ass down on this bench right here and check my phone while you have fun.

You don't have to be on all the time

A miscarriage debrief Part II


 

I wrote the first part of this debrief about 6 weeks after my miscarriage last September. Now that my due date has come and gone, I find myself dealing with a new range of emotions as I move past the shock of the miscarriage itself and into the realization of the broader ramifications of recovering from a significant health crisis.

 

I started showing signs of peri-menopause after the twins were born when I was 37. Low progesterone, erratic cycles, just the usual. When my husband and I decided to have another child in 2015, we knew that I was walking into a growing chance of miscarriage. I had never miscarried before but I knew enough women who had been through this ordeal not to expect to be spared forever. Through the years, pregnancy after pregnancy, I had always been acutely aware of my luck and of the increasing likelihood that it would eventually run out.

 

We conceived in May of 2015. I took a pregnancy test as soon as my periods were late and it came back negative. As my periods got later and later and pregnancy tests kept showing a negative result, I knew that this pregnancy was probably precarious. I took a third test, this one positive and my periods started the next day. It was a non-event. We celebrated the tiny flicker of life that had dwelled in me privately, without informing our children or our families. We were thankful that we had “tried” for this one. That we had known from day 1 that it was a possibility. The next cycle, I got pregnant again. This time, a strong positive test informed us of the existence of our baby number 10. We told our families right away and started informing friends and acquaintances as we saw them in person. It was an ideal pregnancy. For once I didn’t have any nausea. I started wearing maternity clothes in August and I met with my new midwife in early September. When I met my midwife, she offered to listen to the baby’s heartbeat adding: “I don’t like searching for a heartbeat at 10 weeks because we often don’t hear it and it really makes parents nervous.” I assured her that I knew what was in the realm of possibilities and we searched, in vain, for a heartbeat. I kept a brave face because I knew that 10 weeks was too early but in previous pregnancies I had always been able to hear a heartbeat at my first appointment. In other words, “normal” wasn’t normal for me.

 

The next day, I started seeing some spotting. “Bleeding is not normal but it’s common” my midwife told me, “you don’t need to do anything unless the bleeding becomes a concern.” And so I waited. I relied on the encouraging words of friends who had gone through episodes of bleeding and visualized myself at an ultrasound being showed a healthy beating heart and a pesky hematoma.

 

Two days shy of completing my 12th week of pregnancy, I was in the basement with my husband sorting through all the newborn clothes when I started bleeding heavily. I was not feeling any cramping or contractions, it was like my body was trying to flush the fetus by opening the faucet. I headed for the hospital wearing three menstrual pads and sitting on a towel.

 

I soaked through everything during the 20-minute drive to the hospital. I immediately went to the bathroom as I felt a giant blood clot coming through. It was so big that it fell in the toilet with a splash and splattered blood all over the walls and the floor. I called the nurse for help and she casually walked-in, flushed the toilet and helped me back to my gurney. Was it my fetus? I will never know. A few hours later when the gynecologist was able to remove the retained tissue causing the hemorrhage there was only parts of a tiny placenta, a tiny cord and a tiny, ripped-up, sac left. I told my husband to take pictures of whatever came out. That’s all I have, along with my unshakable belief in my fetus’ unique, eternal soul.

 

I eventually passed out from the blood loss a few minutes after joking: “I can bleed like this for *days* with no side effect!!” — loosely quoting Meet the Robinsons because what else are you going to do while everyone is watching you miscarry but quote Disney movies? I fought it hard until a nurse told me: “You’re in a hospital, we’re here, you’re lying down, you can go.” Suddenly, there was no more pain and no more worry. I was completely comfortable even as I felt and heard people rushing around me, insert an IV into each of my arm and push a bolus of saltwater into my body. I knew that there was nothing I could do but pray and let people do their work. I remembered a friend who was in labor and thought that I could offer-up my loss for her son’s healthy birth. So I prayed and I floated. There was nothing else I could do but rest in the arms of God and trust. I still remember the supernatural calm and clarity of the time I spent “under” with a smile.

 

I’m telling you all this because before my miscarriage I thought that I would handle miscarriage with sadness but also an understanding that pregnancy loss was an integral part of the experience of motherhood. When I lost the first pregnancy in May, I knew that my low progesterone would make it difficult to carry a pregnancy past the first few weeks and I thought that I would keep trying. Now, I must come to terms with the fact that even trying to conceive in the current circumstances would be unhealthy. Walking into repeated miscarriages is more than an exercise in accepting God’s will, as I have read in some forums, it’s a gamble with your health. A miscarriage can be as straightforward as a heavy period or it may cause a hemorrhage, require surgery, a blood transfusion or even a hysterectomy. We simply don’t know how and when our bodies will pull the plug on a pregnancy and this has been, for me, a very painful realization. Can I sacrifice my health — a health that is not only my own but that of the family who depends on me — to have the child that I so painfully desire?

 

Lately, I have been struggling with the notion of sacrificial love. The Catholic Church — to which I belong — is all about sacrificial love. In the Catholic Church, nothing should be held back from God. Our lives are not our own. We know that Heaven is opened to those who are “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” This self-sacrificing perfection is acquired in this world or in the next through purgatory — but it must be acquired before we can rise to eternal life. Saints’ stories are rife with men and women who have sacrificed their health and even their lives in the pursuit of holiness. But it is equally rife with stories of ordinary people seeking holiness through quiet, ordinary lives, in their work, their families and their communities. Is the desire for another child a sign that I am called to offer-up my health in the pursuit of self-sacrificial love? Or, if we believe as the Evangelist Matthew tells us, that where our treasure is, there our heart is also, is the desire for another child the earthly attachment that needs to be offered-up, sacrificed?

 

This is the discernment that has been gripping my heart and my soul since the due date that wasn’t. While I was still supposed to be pregnant, I was struggling with the loss of what should have been. But when the friends and acquaintances who were due at the same time I was started welcoming their babies earthside, the bellies lost their anonymity and their babies were obviously not mine. I shed the feeling of present loss like a snakeskin and moved into foreboding, a realization that the future would look very different from what I thought it would be. In discerning whether I am called to sacrifice my health or my desire for another child, this fear is telling. Fear is never from God. When I start comparing myself to others and feeling like I “only” have 9 children, when I start feeling inadequate because I didn’t have a certain number of children, when the desire for another child overshadows my gratitude for my existing 9 amazing children, when I start feeling less, when I see a mother of 10, 11, 12 as more worthy than I am, I know that I am idolizing a larger family, that I am beholding a golden calf. Sacrifices should not be easy. When getting pregnant despite the health implications appears easier than accepting the end of my reproductive years as it is, I know where I need to direct my spiritual gaze.

 

And thus I will give until it hurts, a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, as I know that it will be returned to me in eternity where I will finally meet the children I never had.

Canada Parachute edit

Requiem for a blog


I killed my blog. It happened without me noticing, a direct result of being a near computer illiterate. I mentioned in my last blog post that I could no longer upload pictures to WordPress. I had recently reached the storage limit of my media library so I started deleting pictures. The error message changed from “You have reached the limit of your storage capacity” to the cryptic “HTTP Error”. A quick search on support forums revealed that an overgrown media library could bring this message about so I set out to delete even more pictures.

Before I started deleting pictures, I checked to see if deleting pictures from the library would also delete them from the blog itself. That’s where I made a mistake, wasn’t sufficiently thorough, or maybe just didn’t have a clue. When I checked my blog, the deleted pictures still appeared on the page. I went ahead and deleted my entire media library. Today I found out that the pictures I saw on my blog pages were probably a “cached” version, or some mystery to that effect. In reality, the pictures are gone. Gone from the library, gone from the blog, my posts eviscerated, some of them no longer making any sense.

I poured a lot of my blood, sweat and tears on these pages since July 2011. I shared the early months of my twins, the birth of my ninth baby, our moves, homeschooling and my recent miscarriage. Some posts were wildly popular, others just touched a few hearts but touched them deeply, some were like a tree fell in the forest. Some readers shared their stories back with me and as my community of readers grew, I felt less isolated, more connected. This blog, the writing and the friendships that were born from it, has kept me firmly grounded as I sailed through some of the most intense and beautiful moments of my life.

After coming to the realization that my blog was irreversibly damaged, I spent some time exploring my options. I came to the conclusion that Vie de cirque had outgrown the basic WordPress platform I was using and it was time to ditch the training wheels and to move this wonderful community to a platform better suited for its growing potential.

Some things will change along with the hosting service. Most importantly, the name will change to “Fearless Family Life”. I know that many of you like “Vie de cirque” but it doesn’t lend itself well to search engines. I get many hits and messages from people looking for a French language blog on life in a circus. I need a title that is more evocative and easier to communicate.

Our family is at a juncture where it needs to diversify its sources of income: you know what they say about eggs and baskets. My husband, our only support, has a lot of very precious eggs in a basket-line that is expected to take a beating under the new Canadian government. My blogging is the most likely way to juggle my vocation and our need for diversification. As a result, I decided to take my focus off my writing for the next little while as I work on launching Fearless Family. I will find a way to archive my Vie de Cirque posts so that they are still easily accessible, I’m also planning to re-publish the most popular ones. I will still keep in touch via my YouTube Channel, my personal Facebook page and Instagram.

This is not an “Adieu!’ but an “au revoir” until we launch something that has the ability to grow with our family. In the mean time, please indulge me as I share one of my favorite musical pieces of all time, from Mozart’s Requiem. But don’t cry: we’ll be back soon.

 

 

 

Large Family Eating: Without pictures, sadly


* WordPress won’t let me upload pictures anymore (HTTP error). I did look into WordPress support but I can’t even understand the language they speak so we’ll have to do this the old fashioned way and imagine things in our heads. Failing that, you know that I am on Instagram as @happy_chaos_ right? That will work too.

This week I decided that the pain of disorganization wasn’t worth the reward of not having to live by a schedule. You know what I mean if schedules give you hives, as they do to me. Routines and I repulse each other. We’re the opposite of velcro. For a long time, I considered routines limiting. I’m a “target of opportunity” kind of person: strike while the iron is hot, create when the creating vibe hits you, make supper when everyone is about to eat their shoes. Over the years, as children outnumbered me by a factor of 9, I learned that I can accomplish much more by being somewhat organized and this — sadly — involves routines. Nowadays, routines annoy the heck out of me because nothing guarantees more interruptions that trying to get something done. The children have a sixth sense, and infortunately it’s not seeing dead people.

The first thing on my list of Things to Improve is getting supper on the table early. Someone was asking me how I dealt with the witching hour and in theory it’s quite simple: I feed the kids. In practice, I often end-up like most of you, trying to make supper while the children are raiding the pantry, the baby is crying and the teenagers are making grilled-cheese “to wait for supper.” Having supper ready for 5:15 pm is a huge improvement to my quality of life. It means that the children can be fed before they turn into gremlins, we can clean-up the kitchen before starting bedtime routines and once all the littles are asleep, there is time left for writing, reading and trying to launch a new venture (add: reading WordPress Support posts).

How to get supper ready on time? Well, that’s always the challenge isn’t it? The best way I found is to make supper and lunch at the same time. This way, I deconstruct the kitchen once and clean it up once. To make this possible, I have to “reverse-engineer” my day starting with supper, making sure that our homeschooling is done by noon. To add an extra level of motivation, I was alone with the littles 3 evenings last week. So it had to work.

MONDAY

Monday I thawed a whole wad of Costco ground beef and made hamburgers with half of it and meat balls with the other half. Then we learned that red meat is now a class 1 carcinogen, make that 1+ if you BBQ it. Wonderful.

TUESDAY

On Tuesday, we ate some beef (again?) curry from the freezer with white rice and broccoli.

WEDNESDAY

Wednesday we went to Value Village to get some Halloween costumes before music classes. It was a rainy, miserable day to run errands. When we came home, I made chicken fried rice with wild rice, celery, carrots, chicken and ham (cured meat, another class 1 carcinogen). At least it was wild rice, no?

THURSDAY

On Thursday, I made pumpkin black bean soup from Smitten Kitchen. This soup is just delicious. I made enough to share with a friend who is having a tough time health-wise.

FRIDAY

On Friday we had meatballs (from Monday) in tomato sauce with spaghetti and zucchini noodles.

SATURDAY WAS HALLOWEEN!

Saturday was Halloween and I made some soul cakes for the children. I used this recipe from Food.com, which was adequate but next year I’ll try this yeasted version from CatholicCulture.org. We trick-or-treated with friends in the suburbs where the houses are not so few and far between. We had Aero bars and rockets for diner with Coffee Crisps for dessert. The twins barfed it all back between Midnight and 1 am the following night. But it was fine because we gained an hour overnight… **YAWN**

In other news, I am pursuing my clean-eating journey (speaking of rockets…), eliminating gluten, almost all grains, most dairy and a whole lot of sugar . I’m not sure yet if it’s helping anything but Holy Cow, two mini Coffee Crisps and some Skittles are not a nice way to break your clean eating streak: my gut may never forgive me.

Along the way I discovered the gluten-free products by Purest and they are excellent (this is not a sponsored post and no-one is footing my significant grocery budget to say nice things about them). Purest is a local (to me!) company based in Perth (ON). I use their products to make this gluten-free flour mix, with great results (for instance, I made this cranberry orange loaf ). I also use their Artisan Bread mix, which is excellent. The recipe for the bread mix is on the bag and has to be followed scrupulously:use a hand mixer or the paddle attachment to your stand mixer, mix it for at least 3 minutes (more won’t hurt it, less will.) I tried it using butter instead of oil for a more “brioche-ey” version. It worked but didn’t rise as high.

SUNDAY

On Sunday I had my 9 children under my roof for the day and it was a great joy. I made chili from the Whole30 cookbook, gluten-free corn bread and Savoy cabbage slaw.

Have a good week everyone and wish me luck to keep-up my winning early supper streak.