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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ballast and the Balloon

Having eight children wasn't a well-thought-out plan that my wife and I devised. On the other hand, before we met each other, we had both been charmed by the book Cheaper by the Dozen. Neither one of us had to talk the other into the idea of having more than two children. Just about two years after we were married we had our first child—a boy we named after me, Tory. Two years later we had our second child—another boy. We named him Cory. Just like clockwork we had our third boy, Rory, two years after that. Having three, healthy boys in six years was a wondrous thing to me. Life became fuller and richer with each child. Having them spaced two years apart gave Barb and I time to adjust to each child and yet kept them close enough in age to each other that they could entertain each other naturally.

We stopped having babies after our third son. There was no plan involved. We didn't take measures to ensure we would have no more children. It is just that Barbara no longer got pregnant. Although we both had notions about having lots of children Barb and I shrugged it off and found a lot of joy and happiness in raising Tory, Cory and Rory. Imagine my surprise when, six years later, Barbara floored me with the words, “Tory, we are going to have another baby.” I was stunned, not because having another baby overwhelmed me, but because after six years my life was in a nice little routine that I was comfortable with. It had been three years since Barb and I had changed our last diaper and we found a diaperless world a very fine world indeed. With my youngest boy now six-years-old we definitely had a “team” thing going on. What would we do with a “baby” coming onto the scene? We didn't know then how bad it would be. This new baby wouldn't be just any baby; this new baby would be a girl baby.

Clorinda, code named Clory, changed our world. Suddenly there was femininity on the team. Yes, my wife is very feminine, but she is “Mom,” and one of the managers and that makes it different. With Clory came pretty little dresses, ribbons and hair pretties, and a sense of delicacy. Had we known what else would come with Clory we would have grounded her for life the day she was born—four more children followed her. At least they came nice and orderly again with two years between each. The final count was five boys and three girls.

It would take years before I would understand what I had on my hands. I don't have just one family of eight children. I have two families—my older family of three and my younger family of five. My “three” boys are all grown and out of the home now. When they come home we have adult discussions on language, world philosophy, and music. What makes these “intelligent, adult” conversations more complex is the four-year-old grabbing my thumbs and walking up me until he can flip over backwards, or the six-year-old crawling into my lap and wiggling in her non-stop way. My oldest sons will say goodnight and go back to their now independent worlds while I shut the door and give attention to my nine-year-old who is just beginning a night of vomiting and tears.

It has occurred to me that Barb and I would be “free” now had we not allowed our second family to join us. We could be enjoying only the adult relationships we are developing with our older sons instead of everything from four-year-old tantrums to thirteen-year-old, teenage angst—again. But when I imagine the house as it would be without my younger family—the colorlessness, the listlessness, the silence—it makes me shiver. I know that the day will come when the silence will be more welcome; when Barbara and I can sit together in peaceable silence while anticipating the visit of grandchildren. But I am just too young for that yet. I still need a child to hold my hand, to crawl up on my lap, to call my name when I come in the door at night. I still need the thrill of a thoughtful thirteen-year-old giving me a kiss on the cheek or the excitement of an eleven-year-old telling me about her upcoming sleepover. Oh, I feel a little tired sometimes and the weight of responsibility for a young family can weigh heavy, but these things are only the ballast while my second family is still the hot air in my life's balloon. I'm not ready to land yet.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Worlds of Honesty

As a father of eight I have to constantly watch and listen to try to gather insights into the worlds that each of my children live in. There are a couple of reasons why I want to do this. First is that exploring their worlds is like exploring a magnificent cave with tunnels and grand chambers and stalactites and crystals and deep pools and . . . well it goes on and on. The treasures and secrets I might find are infinite. The other reason goes along with the responsibility part of being “Dad.” I need to keep an eye out for any trouble signs in their world where I might be needed to step in and help. With eight kids this watching and listening is constant, and still I know I miss much.

The other day I picked up on something with my eight-year-old son. Jory is imaginative, carefree, and playful. Although he can be the greatest helpmate and persist until the job is done he also sometimes plays a game to see what he can get away with. When his mother catches him leaving an unfinished job he will grin, groan, and say, “How do you always catch me.” One day his mother reported that he had told her that he had done a particular job when he hadn't done it. She told me this soon after I had arrived home from work and there were many other things calling my attention so I just filed it. A couple of weeks later some of my kids were with me at their grandparent's house. Grandpa came in and asked Jory what he had done with the cardboard from a game they had opened outside.

“Oh,” he said, “I threw it away.”

“You did not,” Grandpa said. “It's still on the lawn.”

“Oh, yeah.” Jory said, with a “you got me” grin.

This incident, combined with the previous one his mother had told me about got my attention. Was Jory becoming a liar? Jory is a good kid with a good heart. But I personally know other kids who have spent time in jail who were the best kids when they were young. I wanted to nip this in the bud. What I didn't want to do was embarrass Jory in front of his family and put the first brick in a wall between us so I decided to wait for a better time to talk with him.

It was several days later, when Jory had come to the computer shop with me, that I had an opportunity to approach the subject. We were the only ones in the shop. He had just finished his school where I had been helping him and was sitting near me.

“Jory,” I said. “Have you been lying lately?” I said this calmly, but surprised myself with my directness. I was even more surprised by his response. His whole demeanor dropped which told me he took my question very seriously. Then he slowly nodded his head. If my son was becoming a liar he was being honest about it.

I brought up the instances of dishonesty I knew about and then started talking to him about honesty in terms I thought he could understand. As I talked big tears pooled in his eyes. Eventually they spilled over his eyelashes and dropped onto his red sweatshirt where they soaked in forming dark wet spots. My voice wavered for a moment as I witnessed his remorse and shame. I felt bad but I wasn't speaking to him harshly or chiding him. His reaction was purely his own sense of right and wrong working on him now that it had been called out. At the end of our talk Jory, who had been sitting with his knees up to his chest under his sweatshirt, had almost pulled his entire face into his sweatshirt. I reached over and pulled him to me in a hug. He didn't hug me back, That may have been because his arms were inside his sweatshirt too, but he laid his head against my chest as he cried quietly.

I have had moments like this with each of my eight children—each one under the differing skies of each of their worlds. It takes a lot of watching and listening to keep up with eight children, but the riches I discover in each of their worlds makes it all worthwhile. Has Jory learned his lesson? I can only hope so. In the meantime I will continue to watch and listen.