At the playground - why would that mom bother bringing her kids to play if she just has to spend the whole time fishing wood chips out of her toddler's mouth while trying to keep the preschooler from bolting down the concrete steps.
At Mass - they have NEVER been able to sit down in their pew without the constant jack-in-the-box motions, taking one child out or another or even two or three at once.
The kids are out of control. The parenting is probably lacking. They all look exhausted.
And I feel like that's our family so much of the time.
I never know if it's going to be the 5-year-old messing with the alarm or AC system that happens to be low enough on the wall wherever we happen to be. Or maybe the 3-year-old will start sobbing when it's time to leave because she wants to stay there forever!!! Or one of the toddlers will throw every book at the bookstore on the floor while the other does her darndest to rip the tags off of all the stuffed animals and tear open every toy box (on a related note, why so many toys at the bookstore these days???).
We go to a party and I can guarantee you that at least one of the children will throw a fit.
Maybe her sister will look at her tortilla chip the wrong way and she'll let out an ear-piercing shriek, flinging herself and her brownie-covered hands all over the host's white couch.
Maybe a stranger will look at her and say hello, and she'll run sobbing to mom, burying her dirty face in whatever clothing she can find.
Maybe he'll find some sort of electronic device along with a screwdriver, and proceed to unscrew everything and attempt to replace the batteries.
Maybe she'll disappear for a few quiet minutes and then emerge from the bathroom with a scented candle and far too much wet toilet paper for anyone's good...
"Well, you certainly have your hands full!"
Yes. Yes, we do. And I know you're probably looking at us as if we're crazy to be having our fifth, when we can't even control the four we have. I get it - I have the same thoughts from time to time. There's a reason we don't leave the house very often.
It's exhausting. It's disheartening. And I can't help but wonder if we're scaring young couples away from having large families, because the chaos is so continuously present, the discipline lacking, the floors covered with toys and crumbs the moment we're through cleaning up.
With that humbling chaos comes such joy that I can't even describe.
The joy that is seeing the toddlers shriek with joy when their older siblings emerge from their room after a full night of sleep.
Or watching the 3-year-old desperately try to snuggle her crying sister when there just isn't enough lap space for Mom to comfort everyone.
The 5-year-old very carefully portioning out snacks to his younger sisters because the clock has struck 10 and Mom is already exhausted on the couch.
The constant need to lift up Mom's shirt to give "Baby Brudder" a kiss and a snuggle.
Even just the simple act of all four of them sitting on the couch together looking at the same book, or setting up pretend sleepovers all over the living room.
This is life. And we are really, really living it. Together. Every day. Amidst the chaos and temper tantrums and spilled cheerios that they lick up off the floor because they're pretending to be giraffes.
This is the chaos that I know empty arms long for, the mess that some mothers wish would fill their tidy houses, the love that knows no bounds.
So if you happen to see us on a rare occasion that we've ventured out in public, and we're not doing our best to exude the calm that we hope we're feeling, please know that the joy is there. That we know how blessed we are to have these many mouths to feed. That life in the trenches can be hard to live, but we'll come through it stronger.
And maybe offer to hold a baby or read to a toddler for a minute or two to give us a break? We'll always say yes, I promise.