Years ago I was sitting in the doctor’s office reading a magazine, when I came across THIS article. And although I don’t consider myself an overly sentimental person, I had tears in my eyes by the time I finished it and I immediately “saved” it for future use by spiriting the page away in my purse. It’s such a lovely essay on the joys of having any number of children that I wanted to share it with all my mommy (and daddy) friends. I’ve tried, but I can’t find a way to contact the author for permission to reprint the text of the article, so until I find a way or someone reports me or otherwise gets me in trouble (hey, I’ve already stolen a magazine page from a doctor’s office, so what do I have to lose?), I’ll settle for giving Marc Parent and Family Circle Magazine full credit. For a PDF scan of the article, click the above link.
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“Love by the Numbers”
I’m driving over rolling country roads on a last-minute trip to an all-night gas station and deli. I don’t want gas. It’s milk I’m after. Inside, I pass magazine and snack food racks on my way to the cooler in the back, swing the door wide, hook my fists around four gallon-size jugs and walk back up the aisle. Men loitering around the checkout counter step back as I hoist the milk above my waist and drop it like a barbell on the glass top, shaking lottery tickets in their holders and nearly toppling a neat stack of chewing tobacco tins. Under the oil-stained brim of his ball cap, the man behind the register cuts his eyes at mine. “What are you gonna do with this stuff?” he says.
“The milk?” I ask him. He nods. “For my kids,” I say. The guys by the cigar rack look at me with their mouths open. The picture I have put into their minds frightens them. The man behind the register stares at the milk.
“How many kids you got?” he says. It’s not a question so much as a statement along the lines of, Whatever the number, buddy, it’s way too many. I don’t need to ask how many kids he has; I already know. The look on his face is that of a one-child perspective, a familiar look because I wore it myself a few years back. Unless he’s had triplets, every parent of three rollicking children began, quietly, reasonably, peacefully, with one.
According to the latest census figures, nearly half of all American households have between one and three children. The idea of my three milk-crazy kids should be startling to no one. But the fact that my family falls within the norm in this regard doesn’t change the secret bias held by men at all-night gas stops as well as nearly every other parent: Whatever the number of children they have, no matter how that number was settled on – by fate, planning, luck, or accident – all parents secretly believe that the size of their family is best.
Back in my half-gallon days, when my wife and I had one child, everyone with more than that was simply out of his mind. We would sit on park benches surrounding the local playground with other one-child couples, taking turns between reading The New York Times and watching our toddlers navigate the latest climbing apparatus. We all spoke to each other in full sentences. We drank coffee. The “kid thing,” “mommy-daddy thing,” as we nonchalantly called it, was no sweat. One child is a delight. One child doesn’t eat you out of house and home. Raised around adults, single children are little conversationalists with keen imaginations, having had the quiet alone time to let it develop. You never have to divide your time with one child. You never have to worry you will be accused of playing favorites. You can keep the sports car with the tiny backseat when you have one child. One child sleeps like royalty on a queen-size bed in his own room. One child is better.
That is, until you have two.
Two children keep each other company. They teach each other how to share, how to fight fair, and how to forgive when the day is done. Two children sleep in bunk beds, talking long into the night, hooting and laughing until driving each other halfway to crazy. Two children safely cross the street, holding each of their mother’s hands. They ride on the hip of each parent running late to catch a plane. They split the double Popsicle and the two peanut butter cups. Two children ride seesaw and play tennis and shoot pool. Two children are better.
Our third child was planned, and three children are best, you know. Ask anyone with three children and they’ll tell you. Three children make the best composition for a group picture – two on the sides with the little one in the middle. The third child teaches the first two all there is to know about love. The first two teach the third all there is to know about everything else. Three children are three-part harmony, a trifecta, a triangle of strength, the sun and the moon and the stars. Three children go ring-around-the-rosie and make a more interesting game of tag and drain you dry and fill you back up to the brim. Three are best. Unless, of course, you happen to have four. Or five. Or six. Or I’m sure that if by some catastrophic miracle my wife became pregnant with quadruplets, after picking myself off the floor, I would promptly find a reason to believe that seven is the golden number.
My father-in-law believed 10 children were best. He told me he liked the way they took up a whole row in church. Ten children. Can you imagine the milk? But I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the pews in that church weren’t shorter. My wife was number nine. — Marc Parent
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Happy Parenting, everyone, whatever number of children you have.