Usually if I happen to be talking to another woman – an ordinary woman who has a nice, neat family of precisely two children – the subject of family size comes up. It’s natural: the train of three kids running pell-mell in front of me with a baby gurgling in the stroller is an unusual sight. Are they all mine? Yes. She has only two, but that’s enough. With two, she never has time for herself, never gets the gardening done, is constantly in her car driving them from here to there. She can’t imagine how I manage with four. I say, “Oh, four is nothing. My Mom has eight.”
If I know the woman a little better, the conversation deepens. Underneath the worries and anxieties, the feelings of parental inadequacies, the frustrations of the life that one has put aside, there is a longing. “The baby is so cute. It makes me want another one. . . . I don’t know. Sometimes I think maybe I’ll adopt one. But then – ” the money, the time, the energy, the work. The vast gray specter of eighteen more years of the dullness and drudgery. “Maybe it’s better just to look. Eventually, I’ll have grandkids. Can I hold him for a minute?”
Melinda Selmys, Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism, 130.
This probably wouldn’t have made me all misty if the exact thing hadn’t happened to me last Sunday afternoon. I had taken my three children out for a walk for the first time – Daisy is brand new – and met a family of precisely two. Their youngest was a little younger than my second. A lovely family, they just couldn’t imagine how we did it. A family of five in a little two-bedroom apartment downtown. Even in their big house in the burbs they couldn’t imagine where they’d put another baby. And the lack of sleep! No, they couldn’t have another one, even if it would be nice.
Is she hungry?
No, she just ate. It’s probably digestion.
Maybe I could get her to stop?
Be my guest.
Mom held Daisy for a long time. Then, Dad. He’s the expert at this, after all. Maybe he can get her to stop. Then Mom again. They could not put her down. It’s really too bad we can’t have another. Really too bad.
Here’s the thing. We can’t imagine how we’re doing it either. Our heads are barely above water. Sometimes we order pizza to avoid dishes and sometimes we put on the cartoons and have a nap. But we’ll get there. People have been having more than two kids for a long time.
In other news, a family in the neighbourhood recently told us they’re expecting number 2. Number 1 is still home in China with relatives and they miss him terribly, and this pregnancy wasn’t planned. They had scheduled the abortion, in fact (“We’re not religious, you understand.”), but cancelled at the last second. They’re scared, but excited.
We see you out with your kids all the time. They look like so much fun. How do you do it?
I have no idea. But you’re right, it is fun. You’ll never regret having your baby.
Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of three (so far) and husband of one. He is the co-author of How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating.