My wife and I have four kids. An 8-year-old girl, a 6-year-old boy, a 3-year-old girl, and an 8-month-old-girl. Four kids makes us freaks. Almost all our friends have only two kids, which seems to be the norm here in DC. When we are out with all the kids, people always ask us if we planned on having a large family, as though we just can’t figure out how this keeps happening. When we say that we pretty much planned each of them (though #4 was a little questionable), most people look at us like we are overpopulating the world faster than India and China combined.
But I came from a family of five children, so my own family isn’t that big; hell, we have 20% fewer kids than my parents. Though we might have lots of kids, like my parents, but unlike them, we tried to avoid a big gap between siblings, or, in my parents’ case, sets of children: there is a ten year gap between my older sister and brother and me and my sisters (we’re also “oops!” triplets, which is another story), which I never liked.
For the most part, though, I loved being part of a big family. My father is an only child, so Grandma and Grandpa came over for all holidays, making for a Full House-like full house for holidays. These large Italian-American family get togethers were wonderful – a constant source of pleasure in my childhood, fueled by salami and bourbon and sevens (for the adults more than the kids. Mostly.). And while those family dinners eventually grew smaller due to my family’s inability to be immortal, they were still large enough that they appealed to my wife when we started dating.
But in everyday life, I always had someone to play with if I wanted, because I was constantly surrounded by my two womb buddies. And there were other little perks to it, like often being in the same classroom meant that we could share books, meaning we never had to carry a ton of stuff home for homework. More importantly, if we fought, chances were that I had at least one of the others as an ally. Rare were the times that two of us would gang up on the other. Mostly we got along.
My wife, however, only had one sibling – a sister three years younger. That was a dynamic that she did not like because it was always all or nothing: she and her sister either got along great or hated each other. She wanted something more like the dynamic I had with my sisters.
That is why my wife and I wanted a larger family when we started having future franchisees of the Delfino name. We always knew that we wanted at least three, though that was hard for us to admit to ourselves after we had #2. See the transition from one child to two is the worst, no matter how sweet the child is (farts smell like fresh Krispy Kremes!) or how well he or she sleeps (“12 hours through the night. Non-stop!”). The first transition to having a baby is rough, because you don’t know how to care for a little human that, unfortunately, doesn’t come with an owner’s manual. The transition to 2 kids is worse, though, because you know a little more about caring for a baby, but you don’t yet know how to balance the baby’s needs (pretty much constant) with the older child’s needs (a half tick under constant).
Thankfully this all changes for the better when you have a third. Now you know what you are doing with the baby now, AND you know how to balance the needs of another little person who still looks to you for survival. After that, the transition doesn’t change much – in fact, it gets easier, because the older kids can help. And I don’t mean the “let the toddler throw away the dirty diaper” type help either: my 8-year-old is close to being a great father’s little helper, though her bourbon-and-sevens are a little weak and she can’t light the stove without my help. I totally understand the Duggars’ family planning because it’s all the fun parts (sex) without any of the not so fun parts (raising a human for 18 years).
So, from growing up in a large family and now having a large family, I learned that if you want a large family, you should have a large family. Don’t worry too much about feeding them because beans and rice or oatmeal are nutritious and filling in the worst case. And as for that old chestnut about “how do I pay for college?”, don’t worry: you don’t need to. Let the kids get scholarships. Or go to Slovenia where college is free and they take Americans.
The one thing that did worry me, however, about having so many kids was the gap. Even though my parents have 5 children, I essentially grew up as one of three. My brother and sister are ten and twelve years older respectively than my two sisters and me, so essentially we were two sets of kids.
Soon after having my brother, my parents moved to Switzerland, while my dad got his Ph.D. at the University of Geneva. Of course, while living there for three years, they traveled extensively around Europe. I’d seen the photos enough that I can still picture the images that have become engrained in family folklore. My older sister covered in a mass of black and grey flying vermin while feeding pigeons in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Here’s Great-uncle Nick visiting from California, eating three gelatos each afternoon in Rome. Switchbacks in the Italian Alps where the car ran out of gas.
Throughout my childhood, my mom would start telling a story to either my sisters or me, only to remember that we weren’t there. “Remember that time in Zurich when you were acting like a brat and thought the hot sauce was ketchup and threatened to drink the whole bottle, so I let you?”
My sister or I would stare at her blankly.
“Oh! That was the other kids! My mistake!”
That explains why I was adamant that we could not have a large gap. I did not want to start telling my children a story only to stop and say, “Oh remember that really cool thing that we did that we totally did NOT do with your boring younger siblings? That thing immortalized in family folklore we did together but NOT with your stupid brother and sister? Wait, that was in fact with the other kids! Forget I said anything, while I pleasantly space out to the wonderful memories you are NOT part of.”
Another benefit to not having a large gap is that the kids get to spend time together and know each other. With the gap my sisters and I have with our older brother and sister, we really didn’t get to know them well growing up. Consider that when my sister was in high school, we weren’t even potty trained , and by the time my brother was in high school we weren’t even in kindergarten. So while they were out and about with their friends doing teenager shenanigans, my sisters and I were just becoming conscious beings. And those memories usually do not include my older brother and sister. I really have few memories of my brother until he was home for the summer in college; only when I was in high school and he had moved back to our home town to start a family did I really get to know him as a person.
Also, kids close in age means that you have a steady stream of children going through stages the others recently went through. For the last eight years, we’ve had chunks of roughly the same stages for long stretches. Right around the time we were expecting The Boy (#2), a colleague asked me if we were working hard to potty train #1 so that we only had one baby in diapers. I had no idea why it mattered: we were going to be covered in sh-t for the next few years at least, so what difference does the amount make? This same guy and his wife just had their third child, eight years after their last. To me, that return to the land of diapers, wipes, and yellow poop that smells like vinegary bread after six years away sounded horrible. I had an almost PTSD reaction putting myself in his shoes.
So while having a lot of kids close together is challenging, and we don’t have the ability to raise our kids while jet-setting around Europe like my parents did, there are two major positives for our kids: a large loving family, and soon the useful ability of being fluent in Slovenian.