The other day, I ran across a reality television show that I had actually never seen before.
Very quickly, I realized it was a show about a very large family in what I think is Tennessee.
Yes, “Bringing Up Bates” is about the saga of being in a family of 19 kids. Yes, I said 19.
No multiple births or fertility treatments gone wild.
Just a couple who had 19 kids and now those kids are starting to have a lot of kids.
Now when I was growing up, people would walk up to my family and ask, "How many of you are there?"
That always surprised me because while our family could have been considered large with seven kids, I didn't see it that way. I was accustomed to the fact that my mother seemed to be endlessly pregnant, there was always someone in diapers, someone was always being potty-trained, someone was always growing out of their shoes, and there was always someone sitting in the high chair.
That’s just the way life was. Sure, we were crammed into bunk beds in small rooms -- but we didn't know anything different.
When we were kids, our family really should have been considered small compared to some of the very large clans that sprung up in our neighborhood. I remember families with eight, nine, 10 and even 15 kids. But back then, it was almost beneficial to have large families . . . more hands on the farm, more cooks in the kitchen, more babysitters. At that time, the farm could sustain a large family, our small towns and agricultural communities could sustain incomes for couples who wanted a large brood.
Today, however, is a different story. It’s tough to raise one, two, three, four kids. I cannot even fathom what it would take to raise 19 kids -- financially, spiritually, physically.
But through my journey as the oldest of seven, I learned a few things along the way. So, if you are being brought up in a big brood:
• Always make sure you take plenty of food when the platters pass by you at the supper table; because when that thing comes back around, it's sure to be empty.
• If you want to stop the child production, simply create scenarios that will never allow your parents to be alone again. That's the only way to stop it.
• Know that you will be blamed, every day, for something that you didn't do. The tip here is to not only accept it, but expect it. If you are ready to be blamed for things you didn't do, you can have a plan of attack ready and waiting. And always plan to push the blame on the kid that's next in age to you - younger, of course.
• If you are the oldest, the expectations are the greatest for you. You are supposed to be super human, talented at sports, music, school, everything. You are supposed to be the smartest and sharpest. You are supposed to be able to do everything adults do. And you are not supposed to be bitter when you realize the younger ones get to do whatever they want and get away with much more, because the folks are just too tired to keep up the pace or hold the same expectations.
• Plan to see a chiropractor when you are older. You'll need it, because your back will be curved and your legs will be uneven after years of always carrying a sibling around on your hip.
• Remember that you'll eventually be able to take baths by yourself . . . look forward to the day. Sooner or later, there won't be two littler ones in the tub with you.
• When you get old enough to bring a date home for a family gathering, be sure to pack ear plugs. Normal people can't take the volume you've grown accustomed to over the years.
• Always know where the socks are -- someone will always be missing one and it will be your job to find a replacement.
• Build up a resistance to vomit. Period. You must be able to accept the fact that as long as there's a bunch of kids around, someone will always have to suddenly vomit, whether it's in bed, in the car, or watching television. It's a fact of life. Get to the point where you have no reaction whatsoever - and your life will be more pleasant.
While there were times, back then, I wished my parents would have gotten off the baby train while I was growing up -- I'd never trade any of my siblings for anything in the world. Or the colorful, exciting, unusual, messy, methodical, comforting, loud experience of being brought up in a big brood.