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 didnít 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 donít 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 friendís house. She was one of eight kids, and I loved the 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 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. 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. And when theyíre gone now, it is mournful and a terrible void in my life. 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. ďGod places the solitary in families,Ē 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 heartbroken, or really scared, or furious. Crashed cars when theyíre teenagers, illnesses you canít 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 is around for every family event, and all holidays. Better yet, his first wife (the boysí mother) spends holidays with us now too, and her mother, which gives my children a grandmother and aunt they wouldnít have otherwise and we love them. (My own mother is gone, although I have a lovely stepmother whom I love. My father remarried around the same time I got married, so I didnít grow up with her but I love her). We may be unusual, but we are a family, and we have worked things out in ways that work for us. We are crazy about each other, and spend a lot of time together. Iím grateful that my children still come home and spend their vacations with me, even once theyíre working. And best of all is to see the bond they share between 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 wonít be around forever. They have each other, and I am so blessed and lucky to have them.
Do they argue with each other? Of course. Who doesnít? But not often. I have a theory that in big families, kids donít 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 couldnít be stopped from doing homework into the wee hours, others looked at me blankly when Iíd inquire, as though the word Ďhomeworkí was from a foreign language, one they didnít speak. Sanskrit maybe. Some are athletic, others arenít. One hates dogs, 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, photography, design, film making, producing, social work, 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, and support each other through the tough times, because we all have those tough times. Iím religious, they are less so, in part because they were so shaken by their brotherís death, but all of them are spiritual in some form or other, and they have the foundation if they ever need it.
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. (That doesnít mean I donít argue with them sometimes too. Life is never perfect). But I am grateful every minute of the day for having had these children. They define love and joy for me (even when they take your favorite sweater and donít return it, and you find it in a ball under their bed. Sweater? What sweater? Yeah. Whatever.)
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 a parent is adjusting to who they are as people, and not expecting them to be just like you, or do what you want them to. 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 theyíre 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 canít 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 back off (and itís a lesson Iím 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 Ďyou expect me to wear that?í 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 havenít forgiven me yet, and probably never will, but they sure looked cute, and very ĎSound of Musicí.
If I talk about my children a lot, itís because they are and have always been such a huge part of my life. You donít have nine kids unless thatís what you want to do with your life, and I did. We treated them all as full siblings with no thought or mention of Ďhalfí or Ďstepí, 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, a new addition to the family in the past few years. Beatrix the oldest, has a 3 year old and one year old. Trevor has a 15 month old and a new baby, and Todd has a two year old. Iím more of a mother than a grandmother for now, although I love them. Iím still very involved with my own kids. And I worry about mine constantly. What parent doesnít? 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, theyíre still in their early 20ís.
As for who they are and what they do, there is a wide assortment of choices they have made. Beatrix the oldest is a social worker, specialized in pediatric oncology, and works with kids with cancer, and their families. It is a career and a vocation I canít even imagine facing every day, and she has my endless admiration for what she does. She has degrees from 4 important universities.
Trevor has had two Internet businesses, and has a passion for collecting photography (and car races). He has an MBA, and he and Beatie were great students.
Todd has been producing movies in Hollywood since he graduated from college, and works hard at what he does. And heís doing a great job with his films.
Nick was a musician, singer, lyricist, and talented writer. He was the only one in the family with musical talent. My children beg me not to sing.
Samantha is the fashion editor of a magazine, and consults in fashion. Chic, hard working, dedicated, she will drop everything for any member of the family in need. She listens to all our sorrows and does everything she can to help. She is always there for family or friends. Sheís also a talented photographer.
Victoria has extraordinary vision in fashion. She seems to sense a new style, even before it happens, or makes it happen. She has immeasurable talent, and is a gentle person. She is quiet, loving, and chic, and the only female in the family who loves to cook. (None of her four sisters can cook. Beatrix wanted to turn her kitchen into a closet, which seemed like an excellent idea to the rest of us, although her husband objected to the plan, for no reason we could understand).
Vanessa is hard working, works in fashion, and studied history of art. Graduated only months ago, she just started out working in fashion, and is determined to go far, and surely will. At 5í9Ē, she wears platform shoes with towering high heels, which puts her well over six feet, which makes it harder and harder for me to tell her to clean up her room when she visits.
Maxx is still in school and is passionate about sports. He played lacrosse for years, and I wasnít encouraged when he gave me a bumper sticker that said ĎGive blood. Play lacrosseí. He loves baseball, basketball, football, and wants a career as an agent and manager for athletes. Heís a terrific kid. (They all are!)
Zara is still in school too, and wants a job in music production, although she has a real eye for art. She has more perseverance than any other human being I know, and is the hardest worker Iíve ever seen. Whatever she undertakes, I know she will do well at. She has a sneaker collection that would outdo any store, and knows every sneaker ever made. I keep telling her that she should open a sneaker store, and she just laughs at me. They all do.
They 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 canít 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, itís good to remember that the bumps donít 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.