The mathematical equation of quantity and (lack of) space= (The lady that lived in a shoe)(1+1)=11
by Carolyn Wyler
It was on an early August morning in 1991 that I came home from working my night shift and crashed into bed, totally exhausted after a long night of constant “call lights,” medication dispensations, and I.V. starts (or as I like to call it, saving lives). I put in my earplugs, closed the curtains, put on my eye mask and fell immediately into a deep sleep. After what seemed like just a couple hours, I awoke to loud screaming, yelling and laughing.
WTF? I ran out of my bedroom and discovered 9 children (10 if you count my husband) scattered all about. My husband, sitting in his recliner with remote in hand mesmerized by the activity on the TV screen, one child sitting on the computer playing games, another playing her guitar. Yet another was engaged in an argument with his younger brother, and the other five were out in the backyard jumping on the trampoline, just outside my bedroom window, laughing and screaming loudly.
In my dazed and still half-asleep state, I wondered for a second who the hell these kids were and what were they doing in my house. As my eyes began to focus, the picture in front of me became clear. These kids looked vaguely familiar and at least four of them had my eyes. It was the weekend and all nine children were over at our place and probably would be for the next 48 hours. I worked nights and trying to sleep during the daytime was hard enough, but having this many people in the house made it damn near impossible.
I grumbled loudly about how noisy it was and for about 20 minutes it was remarkably quiet, enough time for me to fall back to sleep until the next cacophony of sound. After four to five hours, I gave up trying to sleep and came out to join the rest of the clan.
My husband and I had just merged our families: he with five kids (three girls and two boys) and I with my four boys. We found a 2,400 square foot home in Davis with four bedrooms and a large laundry room, the latter of which we converted into yet another bedroom. When all of us were there though the house shrunk and it felt like trying to squeeze into a size 9 shoe when you really needed an 11. Every crevice in the shoe was occupied and there was no wiggle room.
Our regular schedule consisted of running from work to: school open houses, football practice, piano/guitar lessons, doctors’ appointments, orthodontists, birthday parties, helping with THREE early morning paper routes in the pouring rain, parent teacher conferences, calls from the principals’ offices, homework, science projects, the terror of teaching each kid how to drive, and swimming lessons. And that would just be “Wednesday.”
I had read all the self -help parenting books I could get my hands on. I knew at what age a baby would most likely get their first tooth; I knew when you should wean them off a bottle and when to expect them to be able to walk and talk.
I read many other “experts” who warned me that the teenage years could be a bit of a challenge, as a child begins to assert their independence, making decisions that often conflict with their parents’ wishes. I had all of the textbook answers and knew exactly what to say or do when a child acted up. I was the “perfect” mom, but suddenly I was also Mrs. Florence Henderson-Brady.
I’m sure many times my sanity, or my husband’s could easily have been called into question. What were we thinking? Did we honestly believe we could juggle full time jobs and a family of 11? If we weren’t crazy before, we sure as hell would be by the time all of the kids were out of the house.
“It was the best of times”
From seven kids, laying wall-to-wall in sleeping bags on the floor in one of the bedrooms on Christmas Eve, remaining awake telling ghost stories all night long until they finally fell asleep at 4 a.m., only to awaken to their alarm so they could make a mad dash to open the presents at 6 a.m. sharp in a frenzy akin to something you’d see on “Shark Week”; to filling newspaper bags full of water, tossing them all on the trampoline while three or four kids jumped on them soaking each wildly grinning; to campouts at the ocean, trips to Disneyland, theme parks, two grim reapers, a clown, a genie, a wizard, an injured patient, and a girl in PJs, all out roaming (nearly “looting”) the neighborhood filling pillow cases full of Halloween candy, a Lost Lunatics club, restricted to only the youngest seven kids .
“It was the worst of times”
We struggled to make enough money to feed, clothe, and house such a large group, while still trying to manage the wide range of emotions and conflicts that arose. Just when you had one situation under control, another calamity would erupt on the opposite end of the house. Anxieties, frustration, anger, jealousies, fears/phobias, A.D.D., anorexia, stress eating, difficulties in school, new marriage conflicts, step siblings, conflicts. There was no help guide with enough volumes to solve all of the issues that came up.
Years later, the house is now an empty nest. I come home from work exhausted, fall back on my recliner, listen to the quite drone of the dishwasher and the thought of having to make a run to the grocery store exhausts me. Looking back, I wonder how we all managed and survived without many casualties. I’m not saying everything is perfect now or that there aren’t leftover, unresolved childhood issues or current conflicts. Sometimes I wonder what our lives would have been like if I had gone down a different path. Certainly it might have been easier and less chaotic for everyone involved. But it is the good times that we all cherish. The holidays, barbecues, and family get-togethers when the house is bulging full of nine kids plus in-laws and grandkids, and the chatter and laughter fill in the rest of the spaces and cracks…I’m glad I made the choice that I did.