Wednesday, April 24, 2013

So Young

We were on a rare family outing to Costco the other day when I was reminded of just how different the world is when we're outside of our church bubble. 

Normally the only place we take all 4 kids is Mass, where we're greeted with a chorus of "You have your hands full!"  or "You're so blessed!" or "You have a beautiful family!" or (my favorite) "Aw, it gets easier!" with a knowing smile.

John Paul and Cecilia were both sitting in the cart, happily munching away on cupcake liners full of hemp seed (worst. sample. ever) when we spotted another sample cart!  Andrew, wearing Mary Claire on his back in the Ergo, was in another aisle.  I had Elizabeth in a wrap on my chest and was pushing the (very full) cart with John Paul and Cecilia when I heard it:

"Are they ALL yours? You look so YOUNG!"  In that incredulous and slightly disapproving tone.
"Yup. And my husband's in the next aisle with the other baby!"  We grabbed our sample and kept moving, not needing to start that conversation.

I get that I look 17 (or maybe older by now???  One can only hope!).  And John Paul looks older than 3.5, so maybe it does look like I started having children when I was 12 and am shamelessly flaunting them around the prepared foods aisle at Costco.  But really, is it any of her business, this lady serving carnitas in paper cups, how old I am or whether ALL those children are actually mine? 

I was so tempted to answer, "No, we borrowed a couple of babies just to look impressive!"

But is this really the mentality of the outside world?  The strangers who don't already KNOW that I'm Catholic, 26 years old, with 4 children under the age of 4 and no end in sight - am I going to keep getting this judgment from them for the rest of my life?

I had another conversation with an older man, a father of adult twins with another high-school-aged child.  He found out I had twins, as well as a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old and of course, I got the inevitable question:

"So, are you done now?"

Done?  Um...  No.  I explained to him that our family still didn't really feel complete, that I was only 26 and couldn't see stopping already, and then I pulled the Catholic card. 

That usually helps people understand - all I have to say is, "Well, we're Catholic."  And I get the knowing head nod, the inevitable reference to the Duggars (yes, I'm on pace to have 20 children by the time I'm 42.  I have a feeling we will have slowed down a little by then...), and the conversation moves on:

"So what does your husband do?"

Because I'm a part-time public school teacher.  I'm not raking in the dough, but I love what I do and, right now, it's the perfect work/home balance for me.  So now they're thinking, "Well let's hope her husband makes a lot of money so at least they can AFFORD all these kids, right?"

"He's a lawyer."
"Ohhhh, okay!"

In that knowing tone of voice, as though "lawyer" is the magic word, the fantastical solution to raising all these children.  It's okay for me to have more than 2.5 children as long as my husband makes a good living, right?  I don't tell them he doesn't make the "typical" lawyer salary they probably envision, that right now I have to work or we wouldn't be able to pay off student loans and still have health insurance, and that our children are the least of our expenses!

But still, why does the perception that we're "well off" give us permission to have a large family?  What about those families with 3 or more children where the dad is in graduate school, or he's a teacher, or (heaven forbid!) BOTH parents work?  Is it unacceptable, irresponsible even, for those families to have more children than society arbitrarily deems as acceptable?

This is where I think secular society fails to understand the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception, on sexuality, on the value of family.  We're not all out here trying to repopulate the planet.  Yes, some of us may be well on our way...  But it's not like I'm trying desperately to procreate because I think that's what God wants!  And my financial status, or anyone else's, should not give you license to judge whether or not I can have another child (or several more). 

I should not have to justify my choice to have more children.  Just as I don't look at your perfect 2.5 children and ask you WHY you're not having any more (it's absolutely none of my business - how am I to know whether you're infertile, or suffered from several miscarriages, or simply do not have the mental stability to raise more children than you have).

We, Catholic couples who follow church teaching, are simply allowing God to do His thing.  If He sees fit to bless us with children, we accept them lovingly and with complete trust.  We're not out to put barriers between our love life and our fertility.  I had a pro-life Christian friend in college who was about to get married but wasn't ready to have children, so she was going on the mini-pill because, she told me, "That way if God REALLY wants us to have children, the hormones aren't so plentiful so we could still get pregnant anyway, right?"  I wish I had had my wits about me and could have explained to her that yes, breakthrough ovulation is more likely on the mini-pill, as is fertilization, but the pill won't let implantation occur in most cases, effectively aborting her baby (because the MOMENT that egg and sperm meet, that's when you became YOU). 

We don't put up as many barriers as possible and tell ourselves that, "Hey, God is all-powerful, so if He REALLY wants me to get pregnant, I'll get pregnant!"  No, we allow our natural love lives to occur, abstaining when not trying to conceive, allowing the ultimate decision to be God's. 

So yes, I may be 26 years old with 4 children already.  And yes, I very likely will have more children.  And yes, my next car will be a cargo van.  But please, trust that God has given us these children knowing full well that we can handle them.  Some couples may have one, or ten, or none at all.  But we're all ready to accept the next gift of life that God gives us.  And the answer to your question, for at least the next 20-some years, is going to be:

"We're probably not done yet.  We're Catholic."

29 comments :

  1. LOVE IT! And I get the "look" all the time too, even though it's just J so far. I don't have enough fingers and toes anymore to count the number of times people have asked me if J was mine "because you look so young..." and then I just casually flash my rings haha yes I'm married people. People are rude either way. I also have been getting a lot of "when are you having the next one since J is almost a year already!!! Blah blah you need siblings to be close! Better get working!" Anyway-end rant. Either way people are rude and we apparently rock at being counter-cultural ;)

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  2. I love this!

    We're only on #3 and we get these types of comments too. We get a lot of, "Oh a boy! Now you can be done!" Since we already have two girls. Seriously? I don't know what God has in our future, but as far as we feel right now, we would love to have more than 3 kids! There was a time before we became pregnant with #3 that I thought it wouldn't happen. I thought that for a lot of reasons, but one was that it took a while for it to happen even though we weren't saying "no". And I had to envision what life would be like with just our girls. And honestly I grieved about it! I wanted more babies. So many of my non-Catholic Christian friends have stopped after two and I just do NOT get it. My sponsor, and the most joyful person I've ever met, has 8 children and while they are spaced (her oldest was I think 20 when he youngest was born), I can tell she has so much joy because of her vocation as a mother. And she still had room for me in her heart! That's so cool. Anyways, I'll stop now. Thanks for writing this!!!

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  3. I HATE it when people ask me if we are going to have any more. HATE it. I got it a lot after my 3rd, because we had 2 girls and then a boy, and people were all "now, you have your boy, you can stop."

    Also..to Emily..our children are a bit further apart and I've definitely dealt with the fear of "what if we can't have any more" and being worried about fertility because we went long spaces of time (up to a year) without getting pregnant, even though we weren't trying to avoid. No, I"m 35, and I can see the end of my fertile years in sight, and frankly it scares me to think of being "done." even though by most standards, our family is "large". (4 children), we long for more.

    -Amelia

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    1. Now that we have 3 girls, people seem to be understanding when I tell them that we have to have more children because we need brothers for John Paul :P

      I was talking to a woman at church (who's pregnant with her 8th) about how my husband said maybe we could stop having kids once I was 35 or so - she laughed and told me that 4 of her 8 were conceived after she turned 35!!!

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  4. So good, Rosie! I come from a family of 10, and love having so many siblings. My dad would always say, "I'm the richest man in the world".
    And I don't think I will ever, ever, ever understand why so many people have absolutely no tact when it comes to matters of kids/pregnancy/fertility. Why, people?

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  5. All we had was four, and many people thought we had a big family, which I never understood.

    I've told you this, Rosie, but others might be interested that I defended them in this story, too. When my (non-Catholic) allergist heard that you had two babies pretty soon after getting married, he said something about how you should slow down or stop having babies or something. I managed to keep my head together and told him that we would never suggest that to you, because we feel that your babies are enormous blessings. My facial expression told him that he'd better not say anything untoward about my daughter and my grandchildren. He got it. :-)

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  6. I think there's something about Costco and people needing to make nosy comments about family size and makeup. If we didn't have SO MANY kids, we could probably just avoid going there altogether. Seriously, though, who needs extra-large boxes of laundry detergent, multiple gallons of organic apple juice and lots and lots of toilet paper? We do. Big families. (And really, you and I are only on our way to truly Big Families, right?) besides, those enormous double seat carts were obviously created for us and all our children.

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    1. When I see twins at Costco, I think that the parents must have gotten the twins there. :-)

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    2. Seriously, they might consider coaching their employees on tact, since they're likely going large (or at least medium-sized) families there plenty!

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    3. Melissa, I once told a lady at Costco that I had found one of them in the parking lot. Snarky, I know...I was at the point of having had enough. Next time I'll use your line instead.

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    4. Yes!!! Just tell them you can only buy them in two-packs at Costco :P

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  7. heehee
    "We're probably not done yet. We're Catholic."
    I sooo want to use this line next time someone asks me that question. Although people assume it is completely natural for us to want 1 more because in their minds we want a boy!

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  8. I have SOOOO many lines now that I should just carry around a notecard and flash the appropriate one. (oh Hi, btw, I can't remember how I happened here but love your little space and THIS timely post).

    So we just announced we're having #6 (which still shocks the socks off of me to say even though I knew it was going to happen LOL) and we're surprised at how well the "public" and our family has taken it. I guess they just expect it from us now!

    Maybe it's because after our daughter was born last February and I got the "So are you done yet?" questions I always answered, "I don't know! I'm just going to roll with it and enjoy THIS one right now" and we'll see what God has in store for us!

    My favorite explanation at the moment is this: God gives some families one kid, some 3 and for us, so far, it's 6. He knows what my husband and I need to get to Heaven and we're just going to trust Him on this one." Thankfully, he knows how much sanctification I really do need.

    take that! disapprovingly public!

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  9. I usually respond with a question, "No. Do you think we should be?" I hope that it gets them thinking about the fact that they don't know me, and while there may be good reasons not to have a baby, it's a little off-putting for people to simply assume that I have one ("Are you calling me ugly? Am I acting crazy? Or are you saying you don't like my kids?"). :)

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    1. Oh man I would love to see the responses! You're so much better at "stern" than I am!

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    2. I would much rather hear the parent of a large family say, "Oh, no, we aren't finished! My husband and I have superior genetic material, and we feel that we should have as many children as possible. So . . . [looking at questioner's small family] . . . you have two children? Oh, yes. I see."

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  10. This is so good, Rosie! I love it, and I love how open you are to God's plan. Simply beautiful!

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  11. We're not at all what the world considers "the perfect family," three children and one soon to be born. My husband is going to school, we don't have a lot of money, and we're really just trying to make it the best we can. We are blessed and happy with the beautiful children God has given us and we pray God will continue to bless our family, because we know we can trust in His plan for us.

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    1. And your family is perfect (for now) in God's eyes!

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  12. It's always so nice to hear about other people in the world that are welcoming little children into their homes and following God's plan! I am actually LDS (mormon) and we also believe in the importance of families and letting the children come. I am on #7, and have no idea if this is the last baby that we will receive into our home. I get weary of the comments, too!! I think that somehow the world we live in has bought into a crazy notion that having children is an unambitious, unfulfilling thing to do, and even that we're irresponsible for doing it. I feel sorry for them. Yes, it is HARD and sometimes frustrating work!! But I get more fulfillment and satisfaction from being a mother than I think I could get from anything else! It's nice to feel like I can take care of these children's physical, emotional and spiritual needs, teach them important values, love them and eventually send them off into the world better contributors of society - which is what our world REALLY needs right now! And you are so right - God is in control; he is guiding our lives. Keep it up, you are doing great things!!

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    1. I get a lot of "Catholic or Mormon?" when people see that we aren't stopping anytime soon!

      And the world absolutely needs children who are being raised by loving parents and getting the attention they need - shouldn't we be *encouraged* to have children, since we're raising productive members of society?

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  13. Thanks for sharing! We should all try not to judge the choices of others. Everyone has different beliefs, backgrounds, experiences, etc that get them to where they are.

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  14. I just had to comment from a different perspective, that of a childless Catholic woman. These words you wrote: "We, Catholic couples who follow church teaching, are simply allowing God to do His thing. If He sees fit to bless us with children, we accept them lovingly and with complete trust" so perfectly apply to those of us struggling with infertility! We've been married almost two years now, and no baby in sight yet. I can't tell you how much I want to get the Costco "are they all yours" comments!!! Infertility is the toughest thing I've gone through, hands down. And yet we are open to life, and we know that we are accepting God's will for our life (as you and all the faithful mamas here are too), even though we hope that will involves a baby or two...or ten...down the road. Only God knows! In our vows, we didn't say "we promise to have children" (since that's out of our control, ultimately) but "we will accept children lovingly from the Lord" if and when He sends them...

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    1. Thansk for commenting! Such a good observation on the vows we take - these days it seems as though so many people feel "entitled" to children, but only at the exact right time, and on their terms. I wonder what the world would be like if we were all willing to "accept children lovingly from the Lord" at any time, rather than just when it's convenient...

      Praying for you!

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    2. My husband and I waited 4 years for Christ to bless us with our first child. 15 years later and 5 children later we are so truley blessed! I feel so free to have God in control my life in all aspects not just were I feel I want him to be. When I was pregnant with my fourth child I was taking the little ones into Burger King play area and a man said to me very sturn you would think you would know by now how that happens! I just looked at my precious little one face and smiled back yes I do and laughed. I have a wonderful husband and he is a great father. Serve Him joyfully! Tarah

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    3. It is absolutely so freeing! I don't know what I would do without my faith - I think life would be a lot more stressful if I felt compelled to "manage" my family size rather than accept whatever children God blesses us with :)

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  15. "No, we borrowed a couple of babies just to look impressive!" That made me laugh out loud!!! I love to see families with babies, and lots of them. God only gave me one, naturally, and that was all I could have. I am on the opposite end of intrusive reactions: At Mass families with many children look at me suspiciously, like I had IVF or something, while in public, people are completely okay with seeing me with one son, until they hear that I home school. AAAAARGH! Ecce Fiat, I feel your pain. You are in my prayers.

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