Even before I dealt with the infertility that stunted my family-growing plans, I’ve been enthralled by families with many kids. Especially around the holidays, when everything is so focused on families and children, I get to thinking about what it would be like to be a part of such a large brood. I used to imagine myself as one of the children – now, I think of myself as the matriarch.
I have one sister, and although a two-kid household seems to be the norm when we think of the typical nuclear family, I feel like I’m increasingly surrounded by families with three, four or even five kids. And as LM gets a little older and my mind starts to wander to the possibility of trying to have another, the ease with which these big families grow makes me, well, a bit jealous. I have no idea if and how we will be able to have any more children – that’s a topic for another post. But needless to say it will not be easy. I am forever grateful for the one child I do have – after all, for a long time I thought I would never be able to have any at all. But unlike the desperation I felt before I had LM, which was a deep, all-encompassing, soul-crushing agony, what I feel now is more of a dull ache, ever-present in the background.
What would it be like, I wonder, to be able to get pregnant whenever I wanted – even when I didn’t exactly want it, which is the case in some of the large families I know. What would it be like to have to actually work hard to prevent it from happening, instead of working hard to make it happen? What would it be like not to have to say to myself at every turn, “This might be my one and only time I get to experience this”? To be pregnant not once but three, four or five times? To have the experience of another life inside you, and then to have the beautiful experience of breastfeeding, over and over again? That would be amazing. Maybe by the fourth or fifth child you are over it. But for me, I just wish I could do it again.
At Christmastime is when I think about this the most. Many of my favorite Christmas movies feature big families: Little Women, Home Alone (although there it was used more as a plot device to explain how parents could possibly not notice that one of their kids is missing). But my all-time favorite is Meet Me in St. Louis. I first saw this 1944 classic when I was in middle school. I was always kind of an old soul, and became obsessed with the nostalgia of this movie. Taking place around the turn of the century (the 20th century, that is), the film follows the Smith family, who lives in a large Victorian house in the title city, and consists of four daughters and a son. Star Judy Garland sings the classic holiday song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a melancholic tune that was always one of my favorites, to her youngest sister in the movie. I’m not sure what it is about the Smith family that I love so much, but something about the relationship between the five siblings always fascinated me.
Another Christmas movie I’ve discovered recently that also explores the family dynamics of a brood with five children is The Family Stone, which first caught my attention because it was filmed in my hometown of Madison, NJ. In this case, the kids are all grown and are returning home with their significant others for the holiday. It’s funny and eventually kind of bittersweet, and actually pays homage to Meet Me in St. Louis by featuring a scene from it, which then leads to a montage set to Judy’s classic song. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out – lots of stars are in it too: Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes and others. Like Meet Me in St. Louis, it’s a study of the relationships between the siblings and their parents.
I just love idea of the jumble of grownups and kids and the loud atmosphere of a house brimming over. It brings me back a bit to my own childhood when I would visit my extended family – my mom is one of four – and there would just be people and laugher and chaos everywhere. It makes me long for a family of my own like that. Would I really want to have five kids? No, probably not. Even if I had not dealt with infertility I don’t know if I would have had more than two. Maybe three. (Although I would have liked to have been able to make that decision.)
I guess the question comes down to, why, in this day and age when we don’t need a lot of kids to help out on the farm or because many of them won’t make it to adulthood, do people still continue to have large families? Kids are expensive, messy, noisy. But yet we continue to have them. A house of many children may be chaotic, but I bet it’s a happy place to grow up. As a parent it might drive you crazy sometimes. But I bet the love that you get in return, and that you see your kids show to each other, is reward enough.
Do you have a big family? Have you always wanted one?