“Sound off!” I’d yell it periodically as we moved through the museum (or the zoo, or headed to the park). And one by one, all five would yell off their numbers — or some version of it. I’d answer for the youngest, who was strapped in a baby carrier or toddling next to me. With five kids, I couldn’t always physically lay eyes on them all at once, but I could hear them.
My husband and I have three kids together, and he’s got two from his first marriage. When our youngest was born, our other kids were 11, 9, 7 and 3. Our oldest three were girls, and they fought over who got to hold the baby. Changing a diaper was an honor. And my 3-year-old? He loved nothing more than being included in their games.
My kids are all older now — my youngest is 7 — so the memories are tinged with nostalgia and wistfulness. I remember long afternoons when they’d set up imaginary schools outside on the porch, or make magic potions of “perfume” (which was really just mud scented with flower petals) that they’d then try to sell it to people walking down the street. They did talk shows and plays that they’d record on the oldest one’s phone.
The reality is that it does get easier when you have more kids. Not in all respects, obviously. It’s financially harder, and it’s tougher to carve out individual time with each kid. Oh, and there’s the laundry. And there were times when it seemed so hard. When Shabbat dinner always had at least one kid sobbing in their bedroom, when their sequential dance classes would eat up an entire day, when the squabbling was overwhelming. There were literally years when my husband and I considered any time we had only one kid in the car as a date.
But looking back now, I miss it. I know it was easier because I had five of them every weekend. Part of it was that I had learned to relax. I had learned enough to know that mostly, it all worked out okay. A temper tantrum would pass, a nap could fix most anything. My standards were lower, I’d let them make an absolute mess if it meant that they were playing together and being creative. The focus on each individual kid is a little bit more spread out, and I relaxed more after each kid. I learned what battles were worth fighting and what I could let go.
A few weeks ago, we went to visit my oldest stepdaughter in college. She’s about an hour away, and we had sent my oldest and our younger stepdaughter in on the train to spend Friday night with her. My husband and I took the younger two on the train the next day, and we all went out to lunch. As we walked though the Boston Common together, I yelled out “Sound off” and they all counted off, laughing a little at me, and at themselves. Because on a core level, they are a unit, together, and they all know that they belong. They operate as a unit. We don’t see the older girls as much now, one is at college and the other is always busy with homework or dance class or other 16-year-old girl things. But when we have all five together, they fall into a rhythm and it’s perfect.