I have a smart mouth. My brain, not so much. But I know I’ve done enough damage to people with my words that I’ve learned over the years to hold my tongue. So I tend to… ruminate, as my wife calls it. (She thinks that’s better than calling me dumb.)

But when confronted by a smart aleck comment, my mouth wants to attack. Maybe it’s growing up with five smart aleck brothers and one smart aleck sister but I learned to aleck. I may not be smart but oh boy do I aleck. I aleck lots.

I’m telling you this because a friend of mine had a barbecue this past weekend. As my kids and I got out of our car and walked up the driveway, I spotted a man getting out of a huge black SUV. As God as my witness he had his collar up. I mean, who does that, anyway? I’d never met him before but he and his little boy were clearly going into the same barbecue so we kinda’ walked up the driveway together. And the first thing out of his mouth was “Are they all yours…hee hee?”

Before the words are out of the guy’s mouth I had six nasty comments to whip back at him on the tip of my tongue. Oh, I was all ready to aleck. But I held my tongue. And I was proud of myself. I get proud of myself real easy.

“You know what causes that, right?” he persisted.

Oh boy. My aleck was set on stun. (Yeah, and I’m really good at it!) But again, I held my tongue.

“How many more you gonna’ have?” he asked loud enough for the people in the backyard to hear.

“God only knows,” I said softly and I meant it. And I was proud of myself for saying nothing. I told you how I am. I get proud easy.

We all walked into the house and into the backyard. I waited to see which way he went and then I went the opposite way.

So the barbecue rolls along and my children are pretty well behaved as opposed to some other children including…ahem…Mr. Collar’s one kid who knocked over the potato salad. And I love potato salad (I’m not holding a grudge. I’m just mentioning it.) Anyway, Mr. Collar-up sidles up to me in the backyard and he tells me that he wishes his one kid was as well behaved as my five.

I say thanks. He’s lost his “can you hear me in the back row” baritone and he’s speaking in what I gather is his inside voice.

He asked me what it’s like having five. I’m thinking there’s gotta’ be a mercy rule here on beating this subject into the ground. I’d like to buy a subject change but I hold my tongue. No, I’m not holding it. I’m reining it in and kicking it in the side. I’m breaking its will. (Try working out that image.)

“It’s good,” I say and secretly wish my kids were less well behaved so I’d have an excuse to excuse myself and run away.

“It’s gotta’ be tough,” he said. “I mean, it’s tough with one.”

And that’s when I realized. Something had changed. He wasn’t asking all smart alecky and sneery. He was asking me. Really asking me. So I turned to him and I told him.

I told him the truth. I told him it was great. Better than I could’ve imagined. I told him that five children was about five more children than I ever thought I’d have. I told him that I’ve learned more about life and love in the past 11 years from the kids than I had in the previous 31. I told him I’m happier and more responsible than I’ve ever been because of them. I told him that every night when I pray I thank God for them.

I told him that in life I maybe have made only two good decisions and one of them was marrying my wife and the other was having children. And it seems to me that if you make those two decisions right, a whole lot of the little decisions just seem to get worked out.

I told him that I never heard of anyone on their death bed thinking that they wished they had fewer people around to love who loved them back.

He kinda’ looked at me for a few moments and then turned back at the party. Then he told me quietly that his wife was “pushing” for another child but he really didn’t think they could afford another.

I told him you can never afford them. But you find a way. I said sometimes you can’t imagine how you can handle another but the moment they come, you can’t imagine the world without them. And you wouldn’t even want to.

Shortly after, one of mine fell on her knee and I had to go check on her. Minor scrape milked for extra ice cream. (Well played, little girl. Well played.) Mr. Collar-up left shortly after and I did too. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. I honestly don’t even know his name. But he taught me that I should try really hard to hold my tongue because you have no idea where people are in their lives or what they’re going through. And there are times you should hold your tongue. And times when you shouldn’t.

So I learned something and you know what…as I left the barbecue I was kinda’ proud of myself.