I have five children. When I tell people this they often don't believe me. There is clearly a stereotype of what women look and act like who have five children and I don't meet the description. I have often been described as enigmatic. I see it. I suppose it is not typical to drive past the preschool in a Honda Odyssey blaring Eminem with four children ages six and under securely strapped into top notch regulated and approved for extreme safety car seats singing right along.
"When you get to the 'F' word it's 'flip' or 'fudge' NEVER the 'F word'. Music is art, it's cultural, festive, to be revered. Do not say the 'F' word EVER, especially not at school or in the world because people don't like it and Mommy can't help you."
I understand that it is not often people encounter a middle aged woman in an Ed Hardy t-shirt feauturing rhinestone encrusted skulls and cross-bones while parading five children to school explaining, " You can't do that, we are peaceful people, use gentle touching. Treat other people the way that you want to be treated," in response to one child shoving another.
The bottom line is I'm comfortable with myself. I'm a good person, neighbor, community member and mother. I like to be silly and I love to laugh but not only my heart but my behavior, my actions, are in the right place. Being the mother of five children enables me to see the world through their lens, to lead and guide five people to be global citizens, to bask in their glorious laughter to be surprised by each day's discoveries and to swim deep in, to tackle head on, to march stoicly beside and most importantly to know love. Being the mother of five is an exhilarating journey.
When I tell men that I am the mother of five, depending on the situation in which we met, they generally make a face. If we meet in a social setting and I am by myself they chuckle and assume that I'm trying to make them go away, I'm being creative and humorous and rude. The ones who do believe me often make the expression that tells me they are wondering, "Are they all from the same father?" There are the ones who have children themselves, often one or two, who react to this statement with self imposed financial distress, making a scornful face as though adding up the International School Fees, college, grocery bills, rent in Singapore and air travel and experiencing the shockingly high total as if they were just handed the bill themselves.
Last night at a masquerading as "casual", yet infested with women clad in black cocktail dresses, pearls and excessive and time consuming primping get together, I met Stuart Schmidt. While my children in an unusual stream of peaceful and jet-lagged behavior (we flew from New York to Singapore two days ago) sat together reading nearby, Stuart guffawed and pointed to them when I explained that all five were mine.
Stuart wore funky glasses that were so contrived that they were nearly shouting, "I am hip!" In contrast to his nerdy Wall Street, high-rolling, Math wizard pre-requisite style job, his appearance was enigmatic, interesting and upbeat though not hip. His nose looked as though it had been broken a few times perhaps in earlier sports days. He looked to be about fifty.
I took a sip of my white wine and glanced at my still quiet, jetlagged and beautiful sleepy tribe of children.
"My children are right there. They are ages; 11, 8, 7, 5 and 2.5." Stuart paused as though to say something then gulped his wine before laughing in a deep rich style from his belly.
"Is that funny?" I felt confused.
Stuart gestured toward the children. "So you're telling me that those five children over there all came out of your body."
This is weird. "Ummm, I wasn't really getting into those types of details with you but yes, that is one way of looking at it. I birthed each of those five children."
With the confidence, speed and accuracy of a target master, he shot straight out of his mouth and into the party. "With the same father?" He then withdrew and fell silent inspecting me promisingly as if I were about to win a prize on a game show for speaking the correct answer.
"Yes with the same father. Their father is right there." As if on cue my youngest daughter commanded, "Da Da carry me!" and toddled closer to her him.
And that's when he said what people apparently think but don't say.
"So, do you go at it like rabbits or what?"
I don't turn red but if I were predisposed to this would have been a precipitating remark inducing the bouyant, shieking rosiness of a firetruck.
I twisted my wine glass so I could have a place to put my eyes. Noticing it was empty I thought to walk off and get more ending the conversation and this awkward question and gettng a refill at the same time. Kill two birds with one stone. ...A bird in the hand is better then two in the bush. How did this get to be about sex? I stood squarely urging myself not to lower my eyes.
"I'm not really sure how to answer that question."
He smiled and said, "You don't have to answer the question, it's obvious that you do."
I think, but don't tell Stuart, that he's an idiot because he's not factoring in the fact that infants with their propensity to wake up each hour and scream for feedings, need to be held and carried and spit up in long hair does not make for a romantic evening. I do have friends who have proudly confided that they were able to be intimate in the bathroom in record time before their children even noticed they were no longer on the sofa watching Barney. The thought of doing anything intimate with Barney sounding off in the background is enough to put me off of sex for ages.
Maybe it's because I'm old and well past my prime fertilty-wise and am a fertility freak of nature of sorts or at least the combination of my husband and I are. Are people imagining us using charts and thermometers and persistently and commmittedly "trying?"
When I think about my family I feel blessed. Each child is unique and cherished and I could not imagine life without him or her and I can't imagine their personal experiences without the gift of one another. I don't think about how they got here or the odds that I beat or what people think or how and when they were conceived. Each child 's pregnancy and birth was unique and provided a getting to know you introduction to who they were and who they would become. While I love the idea that we were "going at it like bunnies" that's not how happened.
It would be nice to remember the time in my life with young children and young children plus an infant add a pregnancy on top of that as romantic. In truth five c-sections, particularly when some were emergency and one was high risk and entailed a three night stay in the ICU directly before delivering a healthy baby, was anything but romantic. Most nights and days were blurred into one and I was so exhuasted I was bumping into glass doors. Pajamas doubled as daily apparel and vice versa. There were the days in which I sat in the nursing chair for nine hours getting up only to make dinner, do homework and bathe the other kids, ther rightfully jealous kids who screamed and cried at my feet or on my lap begging me to put down the baby brother or sister and play lego.
Sometimes I was pregnant and nursing a baby simultaneously and had the energy of a slug. Those were the times in which I was lucky to shower and knew that and savored every second of the water hitting my skin and loving that alone time and having my whole body to myself. Those were the years in which I went to bed at 8pm generally while reading to one or more children and often in one of their beds. At these times I barely saw my husband and when I did we were most often focused on family admin or a child or a plan. The idea of going at anything not involving the unearthly noises of plastic toys that well intended people give you by the box load is funny. I can safely say there is nothing less romantic then a xylophone that shreiks off key when pulled and plastic ducks that chirp oddly in a mechanical way. There is nothing sexxy about a five year old that isn't doing her homework fighting with her three-year-old brother as they each grab one arm of their infant sister in a dispute over who gets to hold her.
It wasn't glamorous and we weren't going at much of anything except falling asleep at times that were inappropriate (work, the train, the school holiday show, while on the phone) but it was lovely and amazing and special and magical. Maybe in the next decade as they turn into teenagers we'll get another chance to go at it like bunnies but if we don't, that's fine too.