I am a freak.
Arguably, this was true anyway. But by having a fifth kid (on purpose!) I have pushed myself into the realm of the unfathomable…at least, in the environment where I live.
I live in an area of suburban New Jersey primarily known to most for its mall. It is a bedroom community of Manhattan. It’s where I grew up, and arguably continue to grow up. It’s a well-to-do place where people–to generalize–tend to focus on status symbols like fancy cars and fancy college stickers for said cars. It’s a secular place where, with the exception of attending a friend’s bar or bat mitzvah, people are more likely to be at spin class Saturday morning than Shabbat services.
Having five kids around here is not normal.
I’m not sure what it is about the number five that makes it so different from four. I can name a handful of local peers who have four kids–hey, I was one of them until not so long ago. But for some reason, “five” tips the scales. When people ask you how many kids you have and you say “five,” it’s prone to produce wide eyes and a “Wow!” or “Yikes!” That never happened when I answered “four.”
The fact of the matter is, if you’re not in a religious community in America, more often than not, you live in a one, two, or three kid world. I’m fine with being different, but my experience thus far has made me start to see the ways in which the secular world is not hospitable to families like mine.
1. Look At The Shopping Carts.
We all have to shop for food, right? But if you go to the local supermarkets around me, the shopping carts have room for one child to sit in them. One. That’s it. This implicitly conveys the message that you are only expected to have one shopping-cart-sitting child with you at a time.
As someone with two potential shopping cart sitters, and one 3-month-old aspirant to that lofty position, I can tell you that the only place I can take my family when I go shopping is Costco. In a family with five kids, we have two refrigerators and regularly use two carts at Costco. It’s no joke.
2. Look at the Local Expectations.
Let’s not even get into the material expectations of where I live. Even though I grew up in this place, I was summarily told by my mom that the Benetton rugby shirt was a no-go. My values, and those I try to impart to my kids, are very much at odds with those of many around me. With this many kids, even if I wanted to give them the lives of Kardashians, it just wouldn’t be possible. It’s expensive enough to have five kids; spoiling them is really not an option.
Let’s just focus on the more pragmatic, physical parenting expectations. In my town, people expect you to attend every one of your child’s games if they are involved in a sport, whether you are at home or you work. But when you have five kids, it’s simply not possible to go to every kid’s game. I can see that now, even with only two kids playing organized sports. Even getting the kid to the game is challenging, let alone spending the hour attending. I can’t help but feel that in neighborhoods where more people had more children, this truancy would be seen as more palatable, or even expected.
3. Check out the parking lot.
You know what car I love? The Mini Cooper. OK, now that we’ve had a laugh about that, let’s move on.
I am driving a minivan in a concession to my life’s realities, but the fact of the matter is that even the minivan is–dare I say it–small for us. There is just enough room for all seven of us when all three car seats are in. I repeat: JUST ENOUGH ROOM. No room for friends or extra family members. I suspect that in places where people regularly have families of seven and up, there is more understanding of the transportation needs of a big family. People have suggested a Suburban or its analogue, but that doesn’t really work so well with three-plus car seats and a very short mom.
4. People Don’t Understand.
“Why in the WORLD would you have five kids?” people often ask, whether using these words or others. They certainly don’t get it when I say that I’m open, at least conceptually, to the prospect of having another.
I grew up as one of four children and can say that the experience of growing up in a big family was absolutely wonderful for me, and I want to give that to my kids. I also feel strongly as a Jew that we need to make more Jewish kids who understand and love what it is to be Jewish. If I were in a religious community, I think people would understand where I’m coming from. Here, if I attempt to explain that, I often get blank stares in response.
I find myself wanting to go to an Orthodox neighborhood to talk to people there–how are things different in your community than they are in mine? What’s it like being in a place where five and more kids is the norm, not the deviation?