I finished the peaches last night (at 11 pm). (The tally? Twenty-one quarts of canned sliced peaches, 11 pints of jam... or peach syrup if you insist that jam must actually be jelled, and 7 pie's worth of frozen peaches in the freezer. Plus we still have a fruit drawer full of fruit to eat.) I can now move on to other things.
And those other things? Pondering why this past weekend's article in the paper about large families annoyed me so much. It wasn't necessarily a bad article. The mothers of the families interviewed (one of them Mary, from Owlhaven, a blog I regularly read) were articulate and normal sounding. There wasn't even the requisite interview in the these types of articles from the 'opposition'. (In homeschooling articles this view is routinely represented by either an upper level school superintendent type or teacher's union rep and in a large family article it would be either some child psychologist about the dangers of being one of a herd or a more normal (in the eyes of the writer) person with a regular number of children saying something along the lines of, "I just don't know how they can do it.") Really, the article was fine, and while I've been slicing and slicing and slicing peaches, I've been trying to think through my incredibly negative reaction.
And I've come to two conclusions. The first is that it seems that large families (and by large, the article was definitely including families with four or more children) have moved into the status of circus side show performer. The side show was a sad commentary on how society treated people who were outside the mainstream, often through no choice of their own, but because of a physical deformity or genetic disease. Instead of treating them as just as human as the rest of society, they were relegated to entertainment status; something to stare at and then turn away and go back to 'normal' life without having to seriously consider the moral implications involved.
It's no secret that large families have moved into a form of entertainment. Television networks have made buckets of money showing the population the lives of many large families. And judging from the various comments I've heard about them, many people watch because they are waiting to see a train wreck. Either the train wreck happens onscreen or they believe that the train wreck must be coming at any moment because there is no way that a family with 19 children can be normal and raise functioning adults... something must give at some point. The reasoning behind this is: "If I, who have only 1 or 2 children can barely cope with the one or two that I have, there is no way a woman can possibly manage more. Something has to give and surely the children are living a deprived and emotionally arid life."
The other reason that I think explains my negative reaction is the sidebar article that accompanied the main one. The sidebar which began something along the lines of, "Yes they are expensive." And here is the real crux of my annoyance. More and more, children are not viewed as human beings who are valuable because they are created in the image of a mighty and loving God, but on economic terms. How much are they going to cost us? What losses will we have because we chose to have children? What will I miss out on buying or what trips will I have to fore go because I have to feed these extra mouths? And if you are an adoptive parent, I'm sure you know full well the question, "How much did you pay for him?" (Which, by the way, is probably one of the single most insulting things you can say to an adoptive parent. Just don't do it!) But it does highlight how society has come to equate children with cost. Once again we treat children in a way that adults would find highly insulting. No one wants their value as a person to be calculated with a cost-benefit analysis.
And all of this is based on a false view of economics. We as believers follow a God who has a very different economy; one that doesn't make sense to our rational human side all the time. He only gives us what we need when we need it, and often that doesn't come until we have said yes to what He has asked and started to move in the right direction. God is never late, but He is not early, either.
I'm sure if you were to ask any mother of a large family if she felt capable of parenting many children at the point in time when she just had two, she would laugh and say, "No!" But at the point we had two children, we didn't have 7 or 8 or 9, so we didn't need that capability. As we added to our family, our ability to parent grew as well. Parenting children is a learned skill; one that has to be practiced. Most large families were not instantaneously made. Children were added one or two at a time, and as the children were added the competency built.
The amount of work 9 children require as opposed to, say, three is misunderstood as well. There is this impression that each time you add a child, the work doubles or trebles or quadruples, etc. This may be true going from one to two, but it doesn't continue this way. Many things, such as fixing dinner or cleaning the house, have to happen regardless of how many children I have. Doubling a recipe and cooking it is really no more work than preparing a single recipe. I use bigger pans, but I don't double my time. The house is the same no matter who is living in it. I probably do less cleaning than a mother of two because I have so many more people to divide the work between. Many hands make light work and all.
The same is true on the money side of things as well. There was that figure mentioned in the newspaper article about it costing upwards of $260,000 to raise a child. It has always baffled me because it can't possibly be accurate... at least not in my universe. So many things can be reused. You don't have to buy your children the latest toy or gadget (and probably shouldn't). Some bills are the same whether it's three people in the house or 12. Much of it all comes down to how you use your resources and that huge figure must assume that the person spending the money has not been careful at all.
And really, even if it did cost that much, what does it really matter? These are human beings we are talking about. Children who will add to our lives in ways that are beyond solely dollar signs. It's why the visa commercial works so well. There truly are things in this world that are priceless and children are one of them. Talk to older people. Those who raised large families see mine and tell me proudly how many children they had and that they would do it again in a heartbeat... even though sometimes it was hard. I have also heard from other people, who sadly comment that they always thought about having more and now they wished they had. (Grocery stores are interesting places aren't they? It's as if there is some truth filter people go through when they enter and find themselves saying things they never would in the real world.)
So, laundry? Yes, daily.
Fancy trips? No, not so much.
Many hands to hold around the dinner table? Priceless.