The biggest subject of all for me, and the dearest one, is my children. I was an only child, lived alone with my father from the time I was six, and rarely saw other children, except in school. It was an era when life didn’t center around children, and I had to fit in quietly. I was a serious child, read constantly, was a good student, and was several years ahead in school, and wound up in college at fifteen. (And married two years later). I don’t think I really had a chance to be a child, and I never thought a lot about having children of my own. But my favorite place to hang out as a kid was at my best friend’s house. She was one of eight kids, and I loved the warm friendly chaos of her home. Kids were hanging off the rafters, everyone was welcome, her mother always looked like she had forgotten to comb her hair that week (and I adored her), and the atmosphere was always one of loving disorder. Meals at her house were fascinating. There was a mother and a father and all those kids, eight of them. Wow! I loved it! (And maybe, without even knowing or planning it, I emulated that in later life).
I had my first daughter at nineteen. Later I married a man who had two sons, who over the years have become like my own. I married him when they were eleven and twelve and they instantly took me into their hearts, for which I am forever grateful. And they are part of my heart too. I know them well and they were already friends of my daughter from school when I married their father. And nine months after we married, their father and I started having kids. We had six, and suddenly my life was full of kids. Millions of them. Not only our children, but all their friends too. Within a few years, we had teenagers, babies, kids of all ages all over the place. I loved it and still do. Nothing makes me happier than a house full of kids. I still miss those days when they were all young and still lived at home. My youngest still lives at home and nothing is better than when they all come home and the house is crazy and full again. Nothing in my life has ever been better, nor will it be, than having nine kids. It is the greatest blessing in my life, and they are wonderful people.
There is a saying in the Bible that I have always loved, and has been meaningful to me. “God places the solitary in families,” and He certainly did in my case. From that quiet, solitary, often very lonely childhood, I wound up surrounded by all those children, and the friends they brought with them. And I discovered blessings in a large family that I never imagined in my wildest dreams.
Yes, there are hard moments. Of course there are, times when you are terrified or furious. Crashed cars when they’re teenagers, illnesses you can’t foresee, constant risks, we lost a son which nearly killed us all but brought us even closer to each other. We got divorced which was hard too. I spent years as single mother, and had the whole group on my shoulders, but their father and I stayed extremely close and he was around for every family event, and all holidays until he died two years ago. We all still miss him terribly. My children and I spend a lot of time together. I’m grateful that my children still come home for holidays and that the youngest ones still vacation with me every summer. And best of all is to see the bond they share with each other, as siblings. I never had that, having no siblings of my own. But it is a bond like no other, sometimes even stronger than their bond to me, and I am grateful for that too, since I won’t be around forever. They have each other, and I am so blessed and lucky to have them.
They got along extremely well when they were growing up. I have a theory that in big families, kids don’t fight as much. There are always other options, and the dynamics can be changed easily. With only two kids, they are nose to nose with each other and have no other options if they disagree. All of mine are very, very different from each other. Some introverted, some extroverted, some great students, one was on academic probation for 8 years, which has to be some kind of record. Some couldn’t be stopped from doing homework into the wee hours, others looked at me blankly when I’d inquire, as though the word ‘homework’ was from a foreign language, one they didn’t speak. Sanskrit maybe. Some are athletic, others aren’t. One hates dogs, all the others love them. Some are artistic, only one loved to write (my late son Nick), the others have no interest in it. All of them have other talents and abilities that far exceed mine, in other fields. (Technology, fashion, photography, design, film making, producing, social work, computers, athletics, art). But whatever their taste, or choices, or talents, all I can hope is that they will be happy as their lives unfold, that they will make good choices, be surrounded by good people who love them and treat them well, and that they support each other through the tough times, because we all have those tough times.
They are without a doubt the greatest blessing and joy in my life. I am very, very grateful for my writing career, but hands down what has always meant the most to me in my life are my children, and they are very good to me. They define love and joy for me.
As I said, they are very different distinct people from each other and from me, and I am very proud of all of them. I think one of the greatest challenges as parents is adjusting to who one’s kids are as people, and not expecting them to be just like us, or do what we want them be. Their visions are different, their dreams, their needs. They may never be anything like you, or they may turn out to be more like you one day than you think, or would even believe when they’re young. It is really, really hard to just let them be, and not nag them about what you want. Sometimes you see them heading straight for a wall and want to stop them, but you can’t always. They have to find their own way, and be who they are. One of my biggest lessons has been learning to respect that and trying to back off (and it’s a lesson I’m still learning and working on). But I will be their mother forever, no matter how old they are, committed to helping them, worried for them, and concerned about the dangers, disappointments and risks they may face.
Even when they were little, they had their own personalities, right from the womb. I have always said that they arrive as who they are. Some are bouncy and active and challenge you at every turn (when faced with a little suit with a giraffe on it when he was two, Nick looked at me in horror and said ‘you expect me to wear that?’ yes, I did. By three, he wanted black leather. And at five, he wanted to look like Prince, the singer. Little did I know that he was headed for a music career. If I had known, I might have been mellower about what he wore, or been scared to death. Either way, he was his own person). Others are more compliant. When they were little, I dressed all nine of them in matching outfits. They haven’t forgiven me yet, and probably never will, but they sure looked cute, and very ‘Sound of Music’. (They still complain about it today!)
If I talk about my children a lot, it’s because they are and have always been such a huge part of my life. You don’t have nine kids unless that’s what you want to do with your life, and I did. We treated them all as full siblings with no thought or mention of ‘half’ or ‘step’, and as a result, they consider each other full brothers and sisters.
They have always been my priority, and always will be, even though they are adults now. The three oldest ones have their own children now, new additions to the family in the past few years. I’m more of a mother than a grandmother for now, although I love them. I’m still very involved with my own kids. And I worry about mine constantly. What parent doesn’t? I look forward to getting to know these new additions to the family as they get a little older. And I am proud to see that my children are great parents, dedicated to their kids. And my younger kids are in no hurry to marry and have kids, which seems wise to me. They have made interesting career choices and all work hard.
My children know my weaknesses, my failings, my flaws and quirks, and seem to love me anyway. They put up with me, they support me, they give me love and hope. You can’t beat the relationship between parent and child, even if that relationship can be a bumpy road at times, or seem to be disappointing at times. Bad times with kids are like eclipses, or a cloud passing over the sun. At those times, it’s good to remember that the bumps don’t last forever, and that the child with whom you have the hardest time may be the one you have the most in common with and get along best with in the end. What I love best about having children is that they fill your life with joy, love, and hope. Life as a parent is an ever changing landscape, and even now I learn something new about it, and from them, every day. Having each of them was the best decision I ever made.