"Large Family Brings Challenges, Rewards"
By Elizabeth Foss
As we celebrate Patrick's first birthday, I am reflecting upon what the third baby has meant
to our family, the ways in which our lives have changed since he was born. I am not easily
overwhelmed, but this year has been one big, overwhelming blur. More than any other, this
baby has challenged me to grow. I puzzle over this fact because Patrick is really the easiest
baby of my three. He is pure joy from morning until nighttime and never ceases to delight
and amaze me. Nevertheless, only recently has life begun to come into focus again. I can see
more clearly the lessons learned from the challenges presented. Recently, I met a five-year-
old girl named Emily in the park who refined my vision in a poignant way.
She stooped down to play with Patrick, stroking the fine blond fuzz on his head. She cooed
to him and held up leaves and sticks for him to examine. Christian, my three-year-old,
wandered over to her.
"That's my baby," he said. "His name is Patrick."
"I don't have a baby," Emily replied.
I have a big boy, too," Christian said. "His name is Michael."
"I don't have a big brother either."
"Oh, you just have girls?"
"No. I don't have brothers. I don't have sisters. I just have me. I had some goldfish but they
"Well you can't borrow ours because I would miss my baby. Maybe your daddy could ask
God to give you a baby."
I listened to the exchange and Emily tugged at my heart. Lest I leave you with the wrong
impression, of all of us, Christian has had the most difficult year. He wanted a baby so
much but he hadn't counted on sharing space on mommy's lap or waiting until Patrick had
finished nursing before he got a story. Nevertheless, every night, without fail, he climbs in
bed next to Patrick and says, "I like this baby, mommy. I want five babies."
Patrick is teaching Christian patience. He waits more willingly now and understands the
needs of someone younger. Christian is teaching Michael compassion. He is quick to
evaluate a situation and offer to read to Christian or get him some juice while I care for
Patrick. They fight over who gets to entertain the baby.
The three of them are teaching me things that one or two never could. They are teaching me
that no matter how efficient or organized I am, not everything is within my control. My
husband and I can't be involved in every aspect of their lives. Strangely enough, we are
learning to relax and observe more and to intervene less. We aren't their only teachers; they
are learning daily from each other. It amazes me to hear them teach each other in the same
words and tones that my husband and I use to teach them. As a dear friend told us, we
have moved from a man-to-man defense to a zone. It has taken awhile to learn the new
plays, but now the style suits us fine.
There are days when the tasks before me seem insurmountable, when I feel defeated before
I begin. Those are the days when I need to pray incessantly. Three children have driven me
to my knees, which is where I should have been all along.
In many ways, this baby has been the easiest. We are more experienced, more
knowledgeable, and even a little wiser than we were with the first two. Beyond the
obvious, there is a subtle dynamic working in our lives. It is the sense of family into which
we have grown.
In , by Karol Wojtyla, drawing from his experience as a priest and
bishop before he became John Paul II, writes, "The parents create the family as a
complement to and extension of their love. To create a family means to create a community,
since the family is a social unit or else it is not a family. To be a community it must have a
certain size. This is most obvious in the context of education. For the family is an
educational institution within the framework of which the personality of a new human
being is formed. If it is to be correctly formed, it is very important that this human being
should not be alone, but surrounded by a natural community. We are sometimes told that
it is easier to bring up several children together than an only child, and also that two
children are not a community -- they are only two children. It is the role of the parents to
direct their children's upbringing, but under their direction the children educate
themselves, because they develop within the framework of a community of children, a
collective of siblings."
I don't know Emily's family, perhaps, like so many couples, her parents have suffered the
heartbreak of infertility. I can't imagine a greater pain. Or perhaps theirs is a case where, for
grave and serious reasons, they have discerned that it is best to limit the number of children
they bear to one. Families who are in such situations are to be embraced and consoled
within the greater community, the family of the Church.
I am ever an optimist though and I prefer to believe (and I really hope and pray) that
Emily's earnest wish is her parents' too, and that her daddy will indeed ask God for a baby.
Foss is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Va.
This article appeared in the October 19, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."
Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA)
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