Yesterday we had seven children at our home. Five boys and two girls. Ages 1, almost 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was so busy trying to keep order, cook, and retain a semblance of internal calm that it never entered my mind that the experience might make a good blog post and I would need pictures. The almost-2-year-old, 4-year-old, 6-year-old, and 7-year-old belonged to another family, and their parents were out of town for the day, so my husband and I got to practice large-family parenting skills for twelve hours. I'm so grateful that my husband was around to help out, because I'm not really good with kids.
Some people absolutely adore children. I don't. I think my own children are adorable, but I often feel awkward and intimidated around other people's kids. Of course, having three children of my own has taught me a few things about how to handle children, so I'm not as intimidated by kids as I used to be. However, I've noticed that I'm rarely the first choice when my friends are looking for a sitter, and I have to wonder if it isn't because my awkwardness shows through.
I won't deny that yesterday was a bit of a stretch, but it was exhilarating too. I'm always up for a good challenge, and it definitely fit the bill. Considering our lack of experience caring for so many children at once, I think we did okay. Everyone liked breakfast, enjoyed building tent fortresses in the parlor, had fun watching the movie I showed mid-morning, and loved lunch, and I was elated by the fact that I was able to get the three youngest children to nap at the same time. When I came back downstairs after putting the little ones down for their naps, I explained to the older ones (only one of whom was my own) that at our house during nap time, everyone who wasn't napping had quiet time, which meant they could choose a calm activity to do quietly for about an hour. The oldest one told me matter-of-factly that he didn't do that at home, so he wasn't going to do it here either. I felt myself deflating as my visions of sitting down for thirty minutes to sip a cup of tea and chat with my husband began to fade, but I quickly rallied my I'm-The-One-In-Charge-Here facade, looked him squarely in the eye, and said simply, "You WILL." I must have seemed pretty sure of myself, because he didn't challenge me again.
After nap time we all went outside, where all but the youngest child had a glorious time playing in the mud. We weren't sure it was the best idea, but we were all a bit stir-crazy by then, and that's what washing machines are for, right? Eventually we all made it back up the stairs to our 5th-floor apartment, washed up, and had dinner, which everyone liked. Then the older kids helped us put away the toys, blankets, pillows, and puzzle pieces that had managed to spread themselves all over the apartment over the course of the day.
For me the highlight of the day was interacting with the two girls. The almost-2-year-old is objectively one of the cutest little girls I have ever seen, and she was more than happy to snuggle in my lap anytime I was able to sit down and hold her. Spending time with her made me rethink my assumption that I'd like for our hypothetical baby #4 for be another boy. Now I'm sure that I'd be thrilled either way.
The other girl was the 6-year-old, and she gave me a valuable parenting lesson, one that I've been starting to learn with my 5-year-old. She was perhaps my greatest challenge during the day, because she whined and complained more than all the other kids combined, and I really dislike whining. I was tempted just to ignore her, especially as the day wore on into the evening, when her biggest crisis occurred. She came screeching and crying to me, and I inwardly rolled my eyes. How many times can one kid cry wolf in a single day? But whether it was because she was so upset that it stirred up some compassion in me or because God gave me an extra measure of grace for the moment, I found myself sitting down with her and really talking with her, person to person, not guardian to child. It helped both of us. She calmed down and realized that she had been at least partially at fault in the situation, and I was able to see beyond her whiny exterior to the heart of a little girl who can be really sweet when you take the time to get to know her.
I suppose it may sound laughably obvious, but kids are people too. I'm realizing more and more how much they just want to be known and understood, and when you take the time to do that, they are so much happier and much more willing to cooperate.
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