I remember the first time I discovered that my paternal grandparents brought thirteen children into the world (eleven of whom survived past infancy). I had begun what has now become a lifelong fascination with genealogy when I was about twelve years old, and I was visiting with my grandmother about her children. I guess I always knew that side of the family was large, because at Christmas Eve gatherings at my grandmother's home there were many, many adults and hordes of children my age (and older). But it was not until I began to carefully record their names, birth dates and places, and spouse's names that I realized the breadth of the family.
I was blessed with two very wonderful grandmothers, both of whom I knew very well, because they were both within ten miles of the home in which I grew up. As I reflect upon those days, I recognize now, too late to do anything about it, that I should have spent more time with them while I had the chance. It wasn't as if I hadn't been urged in that direction. My mother frequently reminded me that they wouldn't be alive forever, and that I needed to visit them more often than I did. Even in the midst of my own youthful selfishness, I am glad to have known both of them as well as I did.
My father's mother was a patient, kind, soft-spoken woman who would say nothing to impugn another, especially not her children. And based upon my knowledge of her children, it wasn't as if she couldn't have said a lot, because she had more than enough data to work with. I will always remember her response to my mother's inquiries. My mother spent a good portion of time with her mother-in-law (although she was never referred to in that way) and wasn't afraid to address issues that grandma probably thought about but didn't say. My grandmother's response was always, "Oh, Mary," with a twinkling in her blue eyes and a smile that betrayed her hidden feelings.
My dear grandmother was giving birth to children from the years 1922 through 1948. One of the family pictures is a World War II era family photo in which the oldest son is in his navy uniform, home on leave, with my father, the youngest child at the time in my grandmother's lap.
Growing up with only a sister seven years younger than I, my experiences of a large family were limited to Christmas Eve or mid-summer gatherings. I could never have imagined what it would be like to live in one house with that many other people. But now I do. Since Mike has resurfaced in our lives, we have nine children home with us on a regular basis. Soon, when Salinda returns home it will be ten. And when John and Kyle are with us for Thanksgiving, it will be fourteen of us all together.
And you know what? I absolutely love it. I would never have thought this even five years ago, but I am so happy to be the parent of twelve children, especially when everyone is relatively stable at the moment. Even when they are not all so stable, however, there is real joy in knowing that I don't have to reach far to find a child who is, in fact, doing very well. It helps to balance the stress to have some other "kid options" when one or more are really being whacked out.
I know that large families are not for everyone, and I understand the bias that exists in society against large families, but I also understand from firsthand experience the deep joy that comes from creating community within family. Most of our kids are not independent or old enough to recognize it yet, but we are creating a community, a diverse one at that, through the gift of adoption. And for the critics out there, you might be amazed at how much affirmation and love a family community of our size creates and maintains amongst ourselves. There are opportunities for emotional protection (if one child is being a real jerk to his or her mom or dad, they can escape without the scrutiny that might ensue in a smaller family unit). Love is not segmented or limited or divided in a family like ours. It is continually being reformed and reborn in ways that are often beyond the control of any one of us (and isn't that part of the dynamic of any happy, healthy, functioning family?) Nor, I should point, is love squandered. I hope our children grow up to understand more about their world, its diversity and the need to interact diplomatically with others as a result of having numerous siblings, many of whom have not originated from the same genetic cells.
I may one day have to change my opinions when our children marry and bring their own children to our home. Or, I may simply have to remember in those moments that I am reliving the legacy my own grandmother began eighty-five years ago. I only hope I can do it with the grace, equity and strength I experienced in her life.