When I write about stuff like going camping, I always make some crack about how crazy we are to be doing this with nine kids, aged fifteen and under. Nine kids, wacka wacka!
The truth is, I'm making these jokes out of habit. On our way home, husband and I actually marveled at how much crazier it would have been to try to go camping with, say, three or four kids.
Yes, lots of things are harder when you have lots of kids. But lots of things really are easier. Part of that is because of who we've become through having nine kids, and part is just because of the actual kids themselves. Here are a few big family perks that revealed themselves on our recent trip:
It's easier to shrug and let them be.
We went to a glorious spot, full of moss-covered rocks to clamber over, cool streams to wade in, little caves and waterfalls to explore, sparkling rocks to gather. It was magical. And three of the kids hated it. Why? Who the heck knows? One was overtired, one was still feeling slighted over some incident at breakfast, and the other one just likes to keep us on our toes.
The same thing happened back at the camp site: I had glorious fantasies of family togetherness around the campfire, 24/7. Turns out some of the kid were into that, some of them weren't. Rather than forcing the sulkers to join in the fun and possibly bring us all down, or trying to cater to everyone's whims, I let them go read in their bunks or whatever, while the rest of us had a nice time -- no hard feelings.
We didn't waste any energy feeling irritated or defeated, or fruitlessly insisting that the deadbeats start having fun. We just congratulated each other over giving such a large percentage of the kids a good time. Six out of nine ain't bad!
It's hard to resist sibling peer pressure.
After we got back to the campsite, there was much marveling and reminiscing about how awesome it had been to feel the waterfall smacking on the back of your neck, or how some of them had discovered a bird's nest underneath the footbridge, or a special spot downstream where thewater was calm and perfect for a "tea party" with the baby. Lo and behold, when we suggested going back to that spot the next day, everyone was looking forward to it -- and this time, everyone had a wonderful time!
A lecture on missed opportunities could never have achieved that, but no kid can resist that much positive sibling peer pressure.
We feel responsible for each other, which is good for everyone.
I got almost no sleep, and waking up at sunrise to instant coffee with ashes in it did not instantly restore me to perkiness. So when the four-year-old chose that moment to have a meltdown because I had packed the purple shorts she didn't like instead of the purple shorts she did like, I just plain did not care. But her big sisters did, and talked her down from her emotional ledge, saving the morning.
In the vigor of their youth, they often have reserves of patience and tenderness that put me to shame, and I find myself trying to imitate them. (And I give myself some credit: I must have modeled patience and tenderness at some point, or where would they have learned it? Or maybe it was Care Bears, who knows.)
This kind of thing alternates, of course, with having to remind them that they are not one and half years old, and so must not sink to the level of the person who is one and half years old. Just let. The baby. Have. The cookie. But the point is, when someone in a big family is having a bad time, there is usually at least one person who is willing to make it better. We feel responsible for each other, because with this many moving parts, we simply can't function if we behave like sovereign individuals.
There's always a running joke.
Our first look at the swimming hole was kind of scary: the water was brown and full of vegetation, and the beach had a desolate look. One of the kids said, "Ooh, that looks like a scary lake!" and then one of the other kids said, "Scary Lake, ooooOOOOOooooo!" Then all the kids said, "OoooooOOOOOOooooo!" And they kept doing that for three days, no matter where we went -- the louder, the better. Turns out there were elevated bacteria levels, which made them even more motivated to find an excuse to mention Scary Lake, so they could all go "OoooooOOOOOOooooo." And they laughed their fool heads off every time -- all of them, from the super cool teens to the bobblehead baby.
It's not the quality of the joke that makes it great, of course; it's the company. Families of all sizes have private, running jokes, but there is nothing like being part of the In Crowd of your own micronation.
So, that's why we're going camping again next year. Nine kids, wacka wacka -- we can do anything! But we're bringing a coffee maker, even if we have to buy a generator to run it.