Budge and I undertook one of the longest and wildest trips ever outside our comfort zones this past weekend. Some friends of ours wished to attend a retreat for our church leaders in Asheville, NC. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have any extended family living nearby to take care of babysitting duties. I was feeling particularly magnanimous so I offered our services to watch their children at their home while they attended the two day retreat. Although stunned and somewhat skeptical at first, they eventually realized we were sincere and we made final plans to look after the children from Thursday afternoon until Saturday afternoon.
All FIVE of them, ages 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2. Three older girls followed by two boys.
As I’ve mentioned before, Budge and I have no children. It’s not that we never wanted any because we discussed having children before we married and as several of the new couples in our circle of friends at the time began having families, we waited for the little dot to turn into a plus sign for us as well, but it never did. We agreed once it looked like we wouldn’t be having children naturally that we didn’t want to pursue fertility routes and we had a couple of reasons.
First of all, fertility treatment is ungodly expensive in both money and effort. At the time, Budge was in college and I was teaching high school so we had neither the money nor the time to put in and as we grew older and both were teaching, it was apparent that even with a double teacher salary, we’d still be strapped to afford the cost of anything other than just the most basic treatments and we both knew given our medical history of weirdness, the likelihood of a simple fix was on par with the likelihood of Switzerland starting the next world war.
Our second reason was based on observation. We’d seen other infertile couples go the route of medical intervention and not only end up nearly bankrupt, but also at one another’s throats. We saw infertility split up two couples, but what happened to a third couple was even worse. They finally got the natural child of their dreams and promptly made her the center of their universe. No child deserves that level of pressure. The girl is a tween today and she is, predictably, a holy terror — spoiled, arrogant, selfish, and able to wring whatever she wants from doting parents who remember how hard it was to get her.
We decided neither one of us wanted that.
We thought about adoption, but at first it was a serious money issue as well. Then, by the time we got the money part sorted, we realized through some preliminary research it would be a waste of time to apply with my load of mental health issues and Budge’s physical health troubles. So, we have happily resigned ourselves to being fuzzy baby parents and one of us dying alone in a nursing home forgotten and unloved.
But, I digress.
We got to our duty station around five on Thursday and left around five on Saturday afternoon. In the interim, we learned a tremendous amount about just exactly we’d missed out on for years. The first thing I noticed is five children consume more food in a shorter time than a plague of locusts. Mom left a roasted pork loin which seemed to have belonged to some prehistoric piggus giganticus extremlius for the main course and a small produce department’s worth of roasted veggies for sides. One look at the spread and I thought we would eat off such a massive amount of food for our entire time sitting.
It lasted one meal and everyone would gladly have eaten more. You can’t fill these kids up! Every day at ten and two they had a snack scheduled. Among the five of them, they ate more for a snack than some small countries produce in all agricultural endeavors and NONE of them is the tiniest bit obese. I nearly hit the floor when Mom and Dad told us an average food bill for a month once they got back on Saturday. Their FOOD BILL is more than our MORTGAGE and Mom is an amazingly frugal shopper!
Budge learned, to her dismay, children do not understand the concept of “sleeping in.” I had to go home each night because Keaudee has to go out at midnight and again at six in the morning so Budge caught the first light duty alone.
My wife is a wonderful human being, but saying she is not a morning person is a bit like saying a hurricane is not a normal wind. It doesn’t do the reality justice. She has to EASE into the day. I call her five times at seven minute intervals to gently get her up and ready for school. She was not prepared for mornings at this home.
The children are trained that they may not leave their rooms until seven AM regardless of what time they wake up. An alarm actually sounds when they can leave their beds. If you have ever been to a greyhound track you have a good general idea of the first fifteen minutes of morning at this home. The seven o’clock alarm bell sounds and five doors swing open in unison as ten pattering feet scramble down two flights of steps to the kitchen where everyone starts putting in breakfast orders all at once. Only after a forty acre field of cereal grains and a tanker truckload of milk disappears down five precious gullets does anything start to move in order.
Budge was standing stunned in the kitchen by the time I got there at eight both mornings.
I could go on about the amazing amount of energy in a house with five children and how routines and lists and chores were all that saved us from curling up in the fetal position and sucking our thumbs in gibbering madness, but you get the general idea. I have to say it was an amazing time though.
Through our babysitting challenge I learned somethings about myself. I learned I take silence for granted. I spend most of my day most of my days alone and unless I talk to myself, it is silent. Budge and I sit in silence each evening reading or watching DVRed television. In a home with five children, silence is non-existent even during mandatory “quiet time!” Someone is always talking or singing or snoring, but it’s never quiet.
I also learned I’m more selfish than I thought I was. I love these five kids. They really are GREAT kids who have been raised with a great amount of intentionality by two very dedicated parents, but they ALWAYS need SOMETHING. One needs homework help, another needs help finding a shoe, and yet another needs a diaper changed. I was in constant “helping mode” and I have a new respect for parents because when you become a parent, your idea of “me time” changes drastically. Budge and I just caught up with everything we wanted to tell each other YESTERDAY afternoon because when you are acting as ringmaster for a five child circus, you barely have time for a quick, “Hi, sweetie!” Much less any real communication.
Still, in the end I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything. We managed to successfully keep all the house walls standing and no one lost any blood, so we were hailed as a rousingly successful pair by the Mom and Dad. Now part of me can’t wait to do it again, but another part of me is chasing that first part down with a hatchet and I think violence may occur . . . not unlike being in a house with five children!
Love y’all and keep those feet clean.