Once — just once — I'd like to be able to pick up the mail and a gallon of milk without feeling like a public spectacle. Yet I must confess: Making my way through this secularized world with six kids in tow isn't all bad.
Consider, for example, my visit to a local pharmacy in January to pick up a prescription for my infant daughter's ear infection. As I approached the pharmacist's counter with all of my children, I was dismayed to find a long line of weary customers waiting for their orders. Dispirited, I gathered my troops and we made our way to the back of the line.
An older woman ahead of us offered little hope. “I've been here for 20 minutes,” she said.
Then I noticed a young man behind the counter who was watching my sons wrestle in the cough syrup aisle. Just as the baby awoke in her car seat and commenced a feverish fuss, he caught my eye and asked, “What's the name, please, ma'am?”
“Bean,” I answered. He nodded at me and turned to his co-workers. “Let's get moving on the Bean order!” Within minutes, he called my name. Somewhat sheepishly, I made my way past a pack of disgruntled customers, paid for the medication and headed for home.
I have further found that there is a distinct advantage in bringing along a horde of children when I visit the library. I should note here that I am notorious for abusing my library borrowing privileges. In fact, I think I still owe my former hometown library $2,000 plus interest for a book I never returned in high school.
When I misuse my local library these days, however, the lenient librarians there practically reward me for it. They coo over my children and gush that they don't know how I do it. When Baby Gabrielle inches her way across the children's room floor and pulls every single book out from the lower shelves, they stop me from picking her up. “Oh, let her!” they say with a laugh. “We needed to dust those shelves anyway.”
When I try to check out a stack of books and the computer flags my account, they investigate the problem. When they discover that I still have books out from last November, they smile indulgently.
“Just try to remember those Thanksgiving craft books the next time you come,” they say as they override the computer's veto and hand me my books. With a few more oohs and ahhs and one more “Isn't she amazing?” I gather my kids and my stack of ill-gotten goods and we head out the door.
In addition to eliciting public compassion and understanding, having many children procures our family material rewards as well. Of course there's the ever-popular child tax credit, which adds up to a hefty sum for our household each tax season. Also, guess which family in our parish always gets to bring home the leftover doughnuts on “Coffee and Doughnut” Sundays?
Even better, our pastor caught up with us after Mass one Palm Sunday. With a twinkle in his eye, he handed us an envelope and explained that an anonymous parishioner had asked him to give it to us. Scrawled on the outside was this message: “Buy something special for the children this Easter.” Inside was a $100 bill.
While I might still occasionally indulge in a bit of bellyaching about being a family “circus” every time we enter the public view, my grumbling is now tempered by the fact that, besides the typical gawking, our “difference” earns us fringe benefits as well.
In truth, what makes us different is God's abundant blessing and, when I consider things from that perspective, I have no complaints at all.
Danielle Bean writes from Center Harbor, New Hampshire.
- June 27-July 3, 2004