Gabrielle thinks she wants candy, but what she really needs is a nap.
I am late getting lunch and, as I try in vain to make a row of peanut butter-and-jellies, my precious 2-year-old is clinging to my legs and whining for a lollipop she can't have before lunch.
Meanwhile the electronic buzz of the clothes dryer summons me from the next room. Wearing a red cape and brandishing a wooden sword, 4-year-old Stephen chases the dog through the living room. The older children, freshly arrived from a morning of swimming lessons at the lake, drape the furniture with wet bathing suits and sandy towels. Just as Baby Raphael grows weary of his infant swing and commences an enthusiastic fuss, I realize that we are out of peanut butter. And jelly.
With Gabrielle secured to one leg, I limp to the sink and begin to fill a pot with water for macaroni and cheese. When I kneel down to explain to my daughter that she may have a lollipop after lunch, she screams, throws herself to the kitchen floor and pounds her tiny fists against the tiles.
At that moment, I recall an article I wrote once where I waxed poetic about the joys of raising a large family. Silently I rebuke myself for putting such hogwash to paper. Standing there in my sweltering kitchen, caught in a whirlwind of confusion and commotion, I feel anything but poetic. I feel rather like that old nursery-rhyme woman who lived in a shoe.
Though feelings like these are real, it is a fortunate thing that my husband and I do not make decisions about the size of our family in the morass of such moments.
John Paul II once pointed out that “Americans are known for generosity to your children. And what is the best gift you can give your children? I say to you: Give them brothers and sisters.”
Children are a gift to one another? These too are poetic words, but they also acknowledge the trials involved in answering the call to raise a family. Like any gift we offer, like anything we do out of love for our children, raising a large family requires personal sacrifice.
John Paul was right to call brothers and sisters a gift to one another. When we give them siblings, we give our children the gift of learning early on that they are not the center of the universe. More important still, we give them the gift of learning early on that they are loved much — and by many.
This truth is never more evident to me than when my son Stephen sings to his baby brother. He leans over Raphael where he lies playing on the floor and sings to him softly: “Hush little baby, don't make a peep. Papa's gonna buy you a Hummer and Jeep.”
I gave up trying to correct the words weeks ago. Raphael doesn't care about the words anyway. When Stephen sings, he gazes up at his big brother and his entire body beams and wriggles with admiration and delight.
Today Stephen sings softly and then brings his face down close to Raphael's. He presses his cheek against the baby's and then the two are motionless for a moment while each inhales his brother's breath. What a gift these boys are to one another: Stephen, my husky, gravel-voiced little man and Raphael, my drooly, milky-white baby.
Not all of family life is poetry, but some of it surely is. And that is God's gift to me.
Danielle Bean writes from Belknap, New Hampshire.
- September 18-24, 2005