Thursday, September 06, 2007

Life with Ten Kids: Am I Crazy, or What?

Why would anyone have ten kids in today's world? Prices are skyrocketing, cities are crowded and raising kids is fraught with peril. People are astonished when I tell them I have ten kids. I often hear, "You must be crazy," or, "You must be rich," or, "You must be a saint." I thoroughly acknowledge my lack of sanity. I sometimes feel rich, (in love, that is). I rarely, if ever, feel like a saint.

You have to be a bit crazy to have a family numbering in the double digits, requiring a minimum of two hotel rooms when traveling, and always needing additional pages when filling out forms that list household members.

When maneuvering my 15-passenger van through the McDonald's drive-through one day, the woman handing me my happy meals commented, "That's a big van."

I replied, "Mini-vans are for wimps."

I didn't intend to offend. It was supposed to be funny, but she retorted, "I drive a mini-van."


As for feeling rich, every time I pay the mortgage bill, I tell my husband, "We get to live in the house for another month!" He doesn't appreciate hearing that, but I feel a sense of accomplishment each month when I mail the check.

When I was a little girl, I used to love visiting Grandmother in Paducah, Kentucky. She was rich. She had silver candlestick holders. She would laugh at me when I told my friends she was rich. When I grew up and saw with adult eyes the tiny house she and Grandfather lived in their entire married life, I understood why she laughed. But she was still rich in my mind.

Christmas morning at our house means Mass, followed by breakfast and opening presents. The younger kids get tremendous joy from wrapping their old toys and recycling them as gifts to other family members. The older kids get somewhat annoyed at this, ("Hey, I gave you that last year!"), but, they're pretty good sports for the most part.

Birthdays at our house mean twelve voices singing, "Happy Birthday to You," at fever-pitch until the dishes in the china cabinet rattle. If we were smarter, we'd have spread out the birthdays so we had one a month, but our anniversary is in March, and we now have five birthdays in December. December is one big party at our house.

After our eighth child was born, we took a job in England. There is nothing like being an American in another country to make you feel rich. We began to think seriously about adding to our family through adoption. I felt like the richest woman in town when my husband said he was willing to adopt one, then two more children.

When people tell me, "You must be rich," I smile and nod, with a wink at the kids. I feel rich.

As for being a saint-certainly not. I know more than anyone (except, perhaps my kids), how little patience I have, how many mistakes I make, and how often I fail at being a good parent. The great thing about having ten kids is they're teaching me patience and they're teaching me how to be a good parent because they give me so many opportunities to practice.

And one of the best perks of having so many kids is that if one, two, or even three of them are mad at me at any given moment, I still have at least a 70% approval rating. Maybe I am a saint after all.

Twenty-Year Reunion at Annapolis

What do a commanding officer of a guided missile warship, an airline pilot, a medical doctor, an astronaut and a homeschooling mother of ten have in common? We're all in the sixth class of women to graduate from the United States Naval Academy.

We entered the naval service in July, 1981; a typically hot, humid day in Annapolis, Maryland. Most of the 1200 new midshipmen shared traits of idealism, patriotism and a desire to serve. The nearly one hundred women who entered that day shared something else we didn't yet realize. We would have to prove ourselves as deserving a place at the Academy when many, if not most, of our male classmates saw us as parasites, stealing the place of a young man who should have been there.

We weren't the first to face such trials. The first women were appointed to the service academies in 1976 by act of Congress and against the wishes of most senior officers. In these modern times, so the argument went, women could be just as effective technical Cold War warriors as men. The funny thing is, most proponents of feminism who petitioned to open the academies to women weren't the sort who'd actually want their daughters (or sons) to fight for their country in uniform. We few women were in the strange position of being both patriot and pariah.

I was a small-town girl from Colorado. I graduated from Del Norte High School in the San Luis Valley. Life at the Naval Academy was as opposite from my experience as possible. There were times when I wondered if I'd made the right decision to leave Colorado and a four-year Boettcher scholarship for a nine-year commitment to the Navy. But due to stubbornness, pride, or sheer determination, I wasn't about to quit.

Nearly eighty women made it to graduation in 1985. We didn't think we made history, we were just thankful to finally realize the dream of graduation. We went our separate ways. We went to drive ships, lead Marines, fly jets, communicate over satellites and more, all over the globe. Some of us completed our required service and left to pursue civilian careers, or motherhood, or both. Some of us retired after twenty years and command at sea. Some of us still serve, and one flew a mission on the space shuttle. Captain Lisa Nowak (no relation), achieved some amazing things before she became internationally infamous.

I met up with some of these remarkable women at our twentieth reunion a couple of years ago. They're smart, successful, beautiful women and I'm honored to call them classmates. It was wonderful to reconnect after twenty years, to meet husbands and to see pictures of kids. Unfortunately, none of us thought to organize a mini-reunion or even a picture with just the women. We realized we were still trying so hard to be one of the guys and not rock the boat, that it was hard to understand we didn't have to play by those rules anymore.

Only once during our four years at the Academy did we pose for a group picture. The women who cut our hair requested a picture of each class, starting with the first class of women in 1980. We had our picture taken shortly before graduation, and it joined the five earlier photos they had displayed in the women's beauty shop. The picture shows sixty-two of the seventy-six graduates in front of the chapel. The sun is shining brightly on a beautiful spring day and we're young and full of hope for the future. (Lisa Nowak, the astronaut, is fourth from the left in the front row. I feel so terrible for her and what she and her family must be going through. Something in this remarkable woman cracked and there but for the grace of God go you or I. Oh, and I'm the sixth one from the left in the front row.) I would love to have another group photo taken. Maybe we'll do it at our next reunion.

Musings of a Really Lame Blogger

Okay, nearly a year has passed as I've been debating whether or not to continue with this blog.

I kept thinking, "Who would want to read about me and my family and what I have to say?"

The answer, "Probably a few close friends and a couple of relatives."

Encouraged to persevere by a friend recently, I've decided to give this blog thing another try.