Wednesday, June 13, 2007

my heroes

My mom and Jim are flying in to town this weekend and will be here for the next six weeks. The primary purpose for their trip is to watch the children during the time I’ll be delivering our fourth child and to help with the adjustment of having a newborn at home.

I am really looking forward to their arrival because it’s been seven months since they’ve seen the kids and so much has changed.

Yesterday, I was reflecting on whether or not my mother would be alright handling our three 2-year olds for the few days that I’ll be in the hospital or if I need to arrange for a fleet of people to come in and help. Then, I started thinking a little about my mother’s experience with children...

My mother’s first child was born 9 months and 3 days after she was married. She then went on to have five more children in the next six years. I came along 5 years after my brother. Somewhere between my brother and me, mom jokes that she finally figured out what was causing her to constantly get pregnant.

While my mother was home raising seven children, my father was working seven days a week as a pharmacist, trying to establish his own pharmacy. In later years, my parents were financially secure. But as is usually the case, it didn’t start out that way. During the time we were all young; mom was taking care of the house and the children … and … helping to get my father’s business off the ground.

Unless I’m forgetting something, we never ate out.

Nor do I remember that my mother had any outside assistance, with the exception of Kathryn, a 70’ish year old neighbor from Sweden, who helped with laundry and light house keeping. Kathryn didn’t even come along until my sister Janet was old enough to walk up to her door and say “Hi, my name is Janet. I live in the big white house down the street. My mother has children running everywhere. Can you please help us?”

The image of my sister knocking on some stranger’s door and pleading for help sends me in to a fit of laughter every time I think of it. I imagine my mother was so busy she didn’t even realize what was happening until an elderly woman, with broken English, showed up on our doorstep with a mop in one hand. But Janet did well. We absolutely loved Kathryn because every time she came to our house, she brought us a box of chocolate covered donuts.

Today over lunch, Charlie asked me how it was that my mother didn’t completely lose her mind raising all seven of us, by herself. This remains one of those great mysteries that eludes me.

Think of it…

My mother was at home, by herself, with a load of children – no help – and almost continuously pregnant for seven years, straight. She didn’t have a dishwasher, disposable diapers, dryer, nor a blog outlet. In contrast, Charlie and I have each other. These days, we’re within 100 feet of each other at all times. And when I’m not pregnant, we drink large quantities of wine … something my mother definitely didn’t do.

My mother once went away on “vacation” with the seven kids and our family German Shepard, on my dad’s new boat. My brother, at the ripe age of 12, was responsible for throwing the anchor. But, because my father forgot to check that there was sufficient line - when the tide came in – the boat rose up by several feet and floated away. When my mother woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that all the lights that had been on the horizon had vanished, she was the one that figured out that the boat had drifted out to sea. The only reason my father survived the experience is because my mother has the patience of a saint. In contrast, Charlie and I went to the beach a few weeks ago and he forgot to pack the sunscreen.

He’s still complaining about hearing loss in his right ear.

My mother lived in Massachusetts, where opening the back door and shooing your children out in their diapers, every day of the year, was not an option. In contrast, Charlie and I live in San Diego where we do open the back door and shoo our children out.


Sometimes they’re wearing a diaper.

Sometimes not.

My mother’s mother had nine children that she raised in a 3-bedroom apartment, above a store, in Boston, during the height of the Depression. My mother slept in a crib until she was seven years old – because beds were scarce – and my Irish grandfather had to search very hard for work as a plumber. In contrast, Charlie and I work from our house part-time, frequently turn down jobs … and complain that our 3-bedroom house isn’t big enough.

My mother’s brothers and sisters had just as many children as she did … if not more. Everyone was in the same boat being tossed about in a crazy ocean of young children, cloth diapers and archaic appliances. In contrast, I am plucking poops out of disposable diapers and when our dishwasher goes out for 18 days, I threaten lawsuits, dress in black and burn candles.

While the challenges that my mother faced boggle my mind … I’m always in awe whenever I hear her say that she had it so much “easier” than her mother. At least she didn’t have to make soap from lye or buy ice in blocks for the ice box.

And my great-grandmother?? I shudder to think what she had to do to survive.

I suppose that now, like then - you do what you have to do to get by. But just how these women got by, makes me bow down in admiration. It also makes me feel like the world's greatest whiner.

"Wank, we only have one toilet!!"

Well, at least we have a toilet and aren't pooing in a pot that is kept under the bed ... or in a shed in the backyard.

Whenever mom comes to town, it always takes me a few days to remember that she knows what she’s doing. It seems that I forget the vast experience that she is drawing upon whenever she does something that is slightly different than how we might do it. It’s not that we don’t trust her judgment … it’s just that Charlie and I are set in our ways and tend to be a bit anal retentive when it comes to our babies.

But we’re learning to relax and take mom’s advice.

Administer poly-vi-sol directly to our babies? They could die!!
Fact: Why we ever mixed their vitamins with milk is beyond me.

Feed our toddlers raw corn on the cob? Dear God, they could choke!!
Fact: This has become a staple in our home.

Let our babies run around in nothing but a diaper … what’s next, our refrigerator on the front lawn?!
Fact: Little kids are a lot happier with less clothing.

With the exception of mom’s advice to stick all three of the kids in the backyard and close the door when they are having a temper tantrum (which resulted in a phone call from our concerned neighbor), my mother’s advice is spot-on. It just takes us a few days … or sometimes months … to realize it.

The other day, while I was talking with mom, she mentioned that I have her beat. What she meant is that she had six children in seven years and the fact that I’ll have four children in two and half is ahead of hers and my grandmother’s record.

But make no mistake … I don’t have either one of them beat.

Not by a long shot.


  1. I know what you mean, I too forget sometimes and am quickly reminded how much my mom has been through & yet she never hesitates to do anything she can for Kyle! How blessed we truly are!

  2. A wonderful tribute to your Mom and Grandmother! Amazing, isn't it?
    And YOU are amazing, too.
    So glad you'll have help for the next 6 weeks!

  3. Hi Jen-
    Great post!
    My parents had 4 kids in 5 years and my house was always chaos. I remember all of us kids in the station wagon (yikes) and no car seats. We would jump from back seat to front seat like wild monkeys while my dad was driving.
    Our parents had patience, thats for sure.
    Loving your blog, as usual.
    Linda (Chicago)

  4. Jenna, your post makes me think of my mom too!! She had 7 kids in 10 years and my dad was a traveling salesman - never around (well, he was around at least 7 times :) ). I am 38, and by the time my mom was my age, she had 7 kids ranging in age from 15 down to 5 (that was me - the baby). I have a hard time handling 1 (thats one) 22 month old!!!!
    A wonderful tribute to a wonderful mom - best of luck, and have faith that the kids will be in very, very good hands.....
    (p.s. I lurk often, but don't post much)
    Maureen (from work, in NJ)

  5. Jen - What a wonderful tribute to your mom! I think as we all get older and have children we come to respect our parents more and not take for granted what they did for us. My mom had 13 kids in 20 years and we only had 1 washer and dryer unlike most large family's these days. By the time my mom was my age I am now (34), she had 8 children she was taking care of. My dad worked full time and he was also an alcoholic at the time so my mom had little help. He still tells her now he doesn't know how she put up with him all those years and they'll be married 44 years this winter. I hope you're able to enjoy your time with you mom while she's here.
    Nancy in IA

  6. Thanks for reminding me that I am such a wuss! Haha!

  7. Tough women, they are indeed! But you are pretty tough too; don't sell yourself short.

  8. Wow! What a wonderful tribute. It brought tears to my eyes to think that anyone noticed. It certainly was not in vain. You kids certainly made it look easy. Remember you all helped and I am so happy that you had good memories. You all had jobs and helped me a great deal and were always very respectful. Can't wait to see Y'all. Thanks, I needed that today.

  9. What a great post! It is wonderful that you have an understanding and supportive family. Big families are such a blessing too!

  10. Are we related? My mom is from New Hampshire...had her first kid 9 months and 7 days after she got married, and then had 4 kids in 4 1/2 years...and me 6 years later.

    i do agree with you...the worst thing that we are dealing with these days is too many expectations and "mommy drive-byes"...I think our moms worried less about doing everything right.

  11. Thanks! I needed life to be put into perspective today. Glad to hear your dad is a pharmacist - me too! Have a great visit and enjoy the help.


  12. I love this post, Jen. We do have it easy! My great, great grandmother had 11 children, and I was lucky enough to have my great grandmother watch me every day and I grew up hearing all the stories. I have NO IDEA how they did it! Like we have it SOOO HARD, HA!

    So glad you are having help the next six weeks and I actually do the "throw them outside and lock the door trick". We live on a 1/2 acre so we don't have to worry about the neighbors! LOL! Listen to you mom, she's a smart cookie!