I have a socially unacceptable number of children – and I love it
My eternal broodiness was triggered by a car packing in and my youngest starting school
Jen Hogan with her daughter Chloe and sons (L-R) Adam, Noah, Zach, Tobey, Luke and Jamie at home in 2018. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
“You’d miss having a baby in the house, all the same,” I said to my husband as we sat enjoying our second meal out in a restaurant in as many weeks. I’m not quite sure what his exact reply was as it was hard to hear his words over the sound of him spluttering and choking on his roast beef.
Thank goodness he had a beer close by to wash it down and help him get over the unexpected shock.
“Never say never” has always been the reply I give whenever I’m asked if I’ll have any more children. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m mentally keeping my options open, or if actually I’m just in denial that the days of having a baby in the house are over. Either way, the reply is generally greeted with horror or amusement by the question poser, who typically can’t believe that I would consider adding to the chaos.
I was promised and assured by those in the know, that I would know when I was ‘done’; that I’d have the feeling of being done and that it would be a relief. I pictured in my head a lightbulb moment that would occur after the birth of one of my children, when I would finally say “that’s it, I can retire my uterus, my family is complete”.
It never happened.
Plenty thought I should have that feeling of being done, and were even quick to inform me of it, after my second child was born and he was a boy, giving me the irritatingly termed “gentleman’s family”. Now I have anything but a gentleman’s family. Instead I have a socially unacceptable number of children – and I love it!
But it’s chaotically busy, in a way few people can imagine. The constant juggling can be a real struggle, but it’s a privilege beyond belief. These days I’ve come out of the shadow of being held single-handedly responsible for climate change and instead moved towards feeling that I’ve done my bit to help ease the impending pension crisis.
It’s not a sense of civic duty that has triggered my eternal broodiness again. More a combination of two factors – my husband’s car packed in, and my youngest child is due to start school in September.
After more than 19 years in the waiting, all of my children will finally be in the education system. A degree of freedom, some might say if they were not cursed with over-sentimentality. An over-sentimentality that extends to cars too.
It was the car that brought my fourth child home from hospital. He’s 11 now, and it wasn’t new when we bought it, so it owed us nothing, but that still didn’t stop me welling up a little on the garage forecourt as we said our goodbyes.
I shed different tears the next day when my cooker stopped working. There was no lamenting for the many meals cooked for my children on the wretched appliance, just tears of frustration that two big and unanticipated expenses were incurred within a day of each other.
“These things happen in threes” my mother said by way of consolation. Just to prove her wrong the microwave gave up the ghost, the radiator was “helped” to fall off the wall in the playroom and the toilet broke that same week.
A meal out was the least we deserved.
Like many parents who find themselves with just a little bit of time away from the kids, we discussed the kids. We chatted about the different delights and different worries we had, linked not only to the individual child, but to the stage of life they’re at. The ever evolving role of the parent is hard to adjust to. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, the goalposts move and the demands change.
And as you do it repeatedly, the fear of the known is almost as unsettling as the fear of the unknown.
“I wish I could freeze time”, himself said as we considered two of our smallies and the fun they’d had out playing on their bikes that day. There’s great comfort in being the centre of a small child’s universe and knowing that they’re safely tucked up in bed each night.
It’s a different prospect when you’re the parent of a young adult and teens. Preparing them to manage independently in the world without you is part of the job description. That doesn’t make it any easier, particularly when you know the challenges and dangers that lurk. It’s enough to make you lament the sleepless nights of the baby years.
The new car probably won’t bring any new babies home from hospital.
Although, never say never.