A brief account of a conversation with a Lyft passenger, "Irene" last night:
Irene: "Do you have children?"
Me: "Yes, I do as a mater of fact....I have five, What about yourself? Do you have any?"
Irene: "Well Happy Mother's Day! (followed by a moment of silence while the answer soaked in)...."Wait, did you say you had five kids?? (In complete shock and disbelief) "How old are you? You don't look old enough to have five kids....How is that even possible?"
The conversation then continued for awhile after that about our children, working, Mother's Day and such. Irene was very nice and I enjoyed our conversation. What is funny though and she didn't realize, is that this sort of conversation is nothing new for me. I have similar conversations many times throughout the week, and almost always evoking the same reactions. After I share that I have five children, I then hit them with the fact that they are all girls and only 6 1/2 years apart. I must say, it leaves most people stunned and speechless....well, for a few minutes anyway. After that, the deeper questions make their way into conversation. I never really mind the questions, and I always try to respond openly and honestly. I mean, it is a somewhat bizarre scenario for the Bay Area, especially living in the city of San Francisco. I know that many people are still having big families across the US and the rest of the world, but here it is quite scarce or even considered peculiar.
After the cat is let out of the bag, there tends to be an array of questions and/or comments posed. Like I said, I normally don't mind the questions. I have been asked most of the same things before, but every once in awhile people have some very opinionated or rude things to say.
The most common follow-ups are things like:
What are their names?
What are there ages?
Are you having any more kids?
Did you always want a big family?
I guess you were just trying to get a boy, huh?
Don't you know what birth control is?
You know how babies are made, right?
How can you afford that many kids living here?
Do you home school them?
Do they get along?
Do you have a favorite?
How do you fit them all in one car?
Do they all have the same father?
Are they all yours? Like you actually gave birth to all of them?
You must be religious.
You realize that because of families like yours, you are destroying the earth right?
How do you manage? That seems like so much work!
**Some of these sound absurd, but I assure you I have heard all of these questions or comments multiple times. Often, many questions are asked all right in a row, like the game 20 questions.
Mostly, I understand, people are just very curious. I know it is not very common and I can respect that.
Sometimes though, especially when we are out in public together, the different treatment can be a bit much. The long stares when we are in a store, a restaurant, or just out and about can feel a bit uncomfortable sometimes. Many times it feels as if we are in a zoo cage with people pointing, whispering, and gawking as if we don't notice them. I'll never forget during winter, when we went over to Land's End to take some holiday photos of the girls. They were all dressed alike and looked very cute and I had them pose in tourist type places, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. There they were, getting their photos taken by me. Little did we realize that we were drawing all sorts of attention. Before we knew it, there were tourists snapping shots of my girls in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, as if they were a novelty or a sideshow. I felt flattered, don't get me wrong, but at the same time, we're just another family doing normal family things.
Unfortunately, with a big family, it's not just the strangers that treat you differently. Having three children is considered a big family by most in our area. Once you reach and surpass three, that's when things start to change. You start to notice less and less invitations to dinner, you notice less invites to "girls nights out", fewer birthday parties, lack of communication, and just more and more people seem to disappear and slip away from your life. Most people assume that you are too busy with family stuff to get together for nights out or coffee dates. When in fact, it is the complete opposite...inside you're dying to get out just to socialize with other adults and blow off some steam; to decompress. The times when you do chat or hang out, it becomes mostly questions asking your "expert parenting advice".
People do assume that because you have a lot of children, that you are some sort of an expert. I love giving advice and helping people. The problem is though, is that no one person is an expert in parenting. I don't care if you have one kid or ten kids. Each child is different, each scenario is different, and each child is different in each unique situation. You can give examples of how and what worked and didn't work for you or that child, but you can't tell someone what will work for them. This is what I think makes someone a good parent, being able to adapt and improvise with each child and situation. You should be open to learning from each child and experience just as much as you are teaching them simultaneously. Every day and every circumstance is new and you have to be willing to adapt accordingly. Being too conformed or rigid in the course of action is only going to become a problem when an unexpected obstacle arises. That is the best piece of advice I can offer anyone, along with my personal experiences. It's not about how many parenting books, blogs, or magazines you've read. It's about trial and error and learning as you go along based on your own particular child.
I feel so lucky and so fortunate that we were able to give birth to and now raise these five amazing girls. I know we have a special and pretty unique family. Many people don't understand what our crazy day to day looks like and they will probably never comprehend how we function as a family and what works for us, and that's okay. Furthermore, we don't need to justify to people why we have so many kids, or how we can afford to live in San Francisco, or how we limit our carbon footprint. All we need to do is to continue to raise these girls the best that we can and to continue to show them love, kindness, respect, and understanding so that they can turn out to be decent human beings.