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Feb 6 2014

Having Seven Kids in the Orthodox World

By at 9:44 am

costco exterior

Yesterday Kveller contributing editor Jordana Horn wrote about the challenges of  raising five children in a two-child world. Jordana’s friend Ruchi, an Orthodox mother of seven, wrote this follow-up piece about raising her own brood in a seven-kid world.

I feel Jordana’s pain. My freakishness, when I venture beyond my little Orthodox Jewish community, or others like it, feels a lot like yours! But it is infinitely easier to have seven kids in a seven-to-ten-kid world than five kids in a two-kid world. See, my whole seven-kid world works perfectly around my seven-kid family. Two or three kids is considered a “small family,” while twelve is considered large. Fortunately for me, expectations in my world fit right in with my family’s lifestyle.

1. Grocery shopping.

In bigger kosher communities (i.e. Israel, New York, Lakewood, NJ) you can call or fax your local kosher store or produce market and have them deliver everything to your door. Here in cute little Cleveland the best option for large-scale shopping is still Costco. True story: I can’t understand why anyone with two kids belongs to Costco. How’s that for reverse-freakishness?

But let’s talk about a related issue: taking your kids grocery shopping. In my community, it’s perfectly normal to shop with all the kids. What else should you do? When a fellow “big family mom” sees me, we exchange that momentary, understanding glance that telegraphs instant solidarity. However, that doesn’t mean I personally like to do it. I will contort my schedule into a pretzel (easier now with older kids) to shop alone. Yes, I know all the supermarkets that are open 24/7. Yes, my husband and I have spent date night at Target.

2. Sports.

In my community, few kids play competitive sports. They play pickup basketball games in the driveway, join a low-key local league, or hang out at the local JCC. Note that in Orthodox Jewish communities where people do not drive on Shabbat, they generally live within a one-mile radius of the Orthodox synagogue, and thus of each other. This means playing outside on the block with friends is very commonplace, which I understand is sort of a disappearing trend in other communities due to urban sprawl. The kids do have leagues in overnight camp, so that’s always fun.

3. Extra-curricular stuff.

No one expects parents to be at play rehearsals. NO ONE. We drive our kids to practice, we rehearse their lines with them at home, and we cheerfully show up to the event with balloons and our phones charged to video. That is all, because everyone realizes that there are other kids. My daughter’s in a dance class, but it’s very low key and tailored to the expectation that parents are busy and can’t possibly spend hours watching.

4. Birthdays and play dates.

Birthday parties are similarly different in my world. While we acknowledge each of our kids’ birthdays with love and family, I do not make parties for each of my kids each year by inviting all of their and my friends. That would be absurd, laughable, in a seven-kid world! Even when I do make a birthday party involving a place of entertainment, or my kids are invited to one, it almost always involves three to five friends and no parents. No pressure. Playdates are drop-off affairs. There are other kids to care for, remember?

5. Weddings and b’nei mitzvah.

In the Orthodox community there are a lot of kids and thus a lot of simchas. We get invited to a lot of stuff (yay!) for a lot of people, some of whom we only know casually. There is absolutely a free pass about saying we can’t make it. If you’re not all that close, people usually understand. You can’t leave your little ones all the time. Or your big ones, for that matter.

6. The Schools.

At my kids’ day school, parents are encouraged, but not expected, to volunteer. When there is a “siddur party,” a Hanukkah play, or the like, teachers usually coordinate with parents to set a date that works for all parents. If you can’t volunteer in person, maybe you can make phone calls. Or maybe you can do something else. It’s understood. Not all parents can swing it. Aside from having other kids, many are working. The expectations are fluid and reflect our reality.

7. The parking lot.

My lifelong car-envy is the Smart Car. Oh, how cute it is. I keep thinking “one day,” but really?? Who am I kidding? Grandkids, right?? Seriously, in my world it’s perfectly normal to have a seven or eight seat minivan. (Now a 12-seater–that’s for the really big families). When it comes to carpooling everyone is expected to have a baby or two in tow, and we all know to adjust for this. That means only two or three families can carpool together. The upside is that moms in my community never feel penalized by the carpool “powers that be” for having too many kids to tow around. It’s reassuring to know that we have ample carpool options for the next 20 years, because that is approximately how much longer we will be doing carpool. You’re welcome to do the math.

Currently, we actually have two minivans. When my husband’s little Camry went, we kept my minivan and got another one. Now we can both do carpool without switching cars! The small joys in life! And our family of nine doesn’t even fit into our eight-seater minivan. Which means when we drive to New Jersey or New York to visit family and everyone is in tow (a rare occurrence) we “find a ride” for one of the kids. This a convenient service unique to the Orthodox community, as far as I know. There’s even a Facebook group aptly titled, “Rides from New York to Cleveland.”

Finally, we don’t fly anywhere as a family. Take out another mortgage much? Other large families understand that it’s expensive to fly and offer each other rides if they are heading to the east coast, where many of us have relatives and send our kids to summer camps.

8. The people.

No one in my community asks or assumes I’m done having children. Each child is viewed as a gift, a blessing. It’s so normal to “keep going”–no need to explain, apologize, or stammer. I choose my OBGYN based on his or her comfort level with the Orthodox community so that they don’t ask me about my reproductive choices. Yes, I’m a grand multipara of advanced maternal age. This is what I was calmly told by my OBGYN when bearing child #7 at the advanced senior age of 36. She didn’t even blink.

Having seven kids in seven-kid world is simply living within my ethnic or religious comfort zone: people understand me. But it’s more than that. Everywhere I look, the world is designed for and marketed to families of four. “Eat-in-kitchen!” Right, with four seats. “Vacation for family of four.” Mm-hm.

In short, I feel fortunate to live in a place where expectations and norms are aligned with mine and where many aspects of society are structured to accommodate my large family. I have the luxury of not being a seen as freak, but rather the matriarch of a blessed, normal, perfectly-sized, whatever-works kind of family.

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