At one time, I might have been there dressed in black and happily sipping wine from the open bar, but on this night, my oldest stepdaughter was a featured artist and so my family was on hand for the occasion—my entire family. My husband pushed a stroller holding our 8-month-old son, my two teenage stepdaughters huddled along together as one wild-haired, whispering unit, and I brought up the rear, wearing a coat buttoned to the chin to hide a T-shirt stained with baby food and grasping the hand of my 3-year-old daughter. As we bumbled our way through the crowd of Sperry’s regulars, we drew everything from smirks to stares of irritation.
“We’ve become the Ferrier Family Circus,” my husband murmured once we’d found a stopping point.
“We are total losers,” I replied. The string quartet in the corner finished playing and my preschooler began clapping enthusiastically. “Brah-blow!” she shouted. “Brah-blow!” No one laughed.
I had thought that going from three kids to four wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I thought wrong. With just three children, we could still fit comfortably in a restaurant booth. We could pile inside just about any car on the market. We could go nearly anywhere we wanted without drawing undue attention to ourselves. With four kids, though, we’ve become something of an oddity, fair game for questions such as, “Do all of your babies have the same daddy?” and “I guess you all just kept trying ’til you got that boy?” and, most often, “You’re not having any more, are you?” And it’s not just me; ask any mother of four or more, and she’ll give you a long list of rude questions and clueless assumptions that strangers and acquaintances have made about her personal life.
“I’ve had people come up to me and ask if I’m Mormon (which I’m not, and have nothing against Mormons either),” laments Traci, a Suburban Turmoil reader and mother of six. “They tell me I should ‘figure out what keeps making that happen.’ Other questions: ‘Don’t you have cable?’ ‘How old are you?’ ”
“Please don’t ask me personal questions about my fertility,” begs another reader with two sets of twins. “I am thinking of making a pamphlet.”
Author and mom-to-four Meagan Francis (www.meaganfrancis.com) has written an entire book about the phenomenon, called Table for Eight: Raising a Large Family in a Small-Family World. I asked her why so many people seem to view large families as oddities.
“The birth rate has dropped dramatically since the 1970s, and the trend has been to have fewer children and then to invest far more money, material goods, time and energy into each child. We’ve really raised the bar for what counts as ‘good’ parenting, and with that bar in mind a lot of parents are exhausted raising one or two kids. They simply can’t imagine how being a ‘good’ parent to three or four or five is even possible.”
It’s true that my husband worries from time to time that our older girls will feel like they missed out on the expensive vacations and nicer cars that inevitably would have come their way if we hadn’t chosen to add two more children to the family. Yet none of us can imagine life now without our youngest two. Besides, the Ferrier babies could have a huge impact on the older girls’ futures by making a more compelling argument for abstinence than I ever could.
“All our friends say they can’t wait to have babies,” our 17-year-old said at the dinner table not long ago. “But I’m not sure I want children. I mean, I love my brother and sister, but if I have kids, I’ll never go out anymore or have any fun.”
“Yeah,” our 14-year-old agreed. “I feel the same way.”
I smiled ruefully, pleased that my example had taught my stepdaughters at least one thing: have children and you’ll turn into a social zero, just like me.
I guess I can while away all my boring nights at home coming up with snappy responses to the stupid questions I field all damn day. My readers have some ideas.
“My mom’s favorite [comment] was ‘How do you do it?’ ” recalls Sarah, one of five siblings, “to which she always responded: ‘In the dark, like everyone else.’ People used to give her looks to kill at that statement.”
And Meagan Francis has a great answer for the old, ‘Don’t you know what causes that?’
“Yes,” she likes to respond, “and it appears I’m getting more of it than you are.”
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