With Child Number Five, our family became ‘large’

Dean P. Johnson and family
Dean P. Johnson and family

With all the recent discussions in the media that seem to be critical of large families and with an eye toward the World Meeting of Families this coming September, I thought about when my family became “large.”

I remember I sat watching the tiny bubbles fizz to the top of the glass. It’s a simple chemical reaction: solid sodium bicarbonate and citric acid react with the water forming carbon dioxide and sodium citrate that, with a little added aspirin, helped to sooth my condition.

I’m not sure whether it was the thought of having a fifth child, or the volume of the current four incessantly effervescing over the news of a new baby that had led me to my own effervescence.

As the tablets fizzed, I thought about my children’s first reactions to the news, ranging from appalled reproach from the oldest two, then ages 14 and 12: “How could you!” to the scientific inquiry from the youngest two, then 6 and 3: “How did it get in there?” Before too long, though, they were all very excited and wanted to tell the world.

We did the best we could to abate them until my wife and I had a chance to let people know ourselves. We know how the local rumor mill grinds a fine and abundant grain. However, my oldest son took it upon himself to tell our priest without realizing the town’s mayor was in the room. He did ask them not to say anything yet, or so he said.

I remember calling my older brother to tell him the news. We chatted for a while and when our conversation was winding down, right when we were at the point of the phone call when one says “all right then,” I said: “Oh, by the way, Cheri’s pregnant.”

“No she’s not,” my brother said. I stood by my statement. “No she’s not,” he repeated. He shouted to his wife. “No she’s not,” I heard her say in the background.

It seemed that many people’s first reaction was disbelief, which I didn’t quite get. I mean, who jokes about such things? Guess what? We’re going to have a baby. Ha! Gotcha. You should have seen your face.

Others, though, did react as if they had just heard a good joke. When I told my boss he couldn’t stop laughing and, as laughter is contagious, the others in the room started laughing, including me. While I can see the humor in having any number of kids, a part of me thinks they’re not actually laughing with me.

Most people we know seemed genuinely excited for us and generously offered all sorts of advice. Some of that advice was practical — lavender and spearmint scents will help stave off morning sickness. Others, less so — staring at a mouse will make your kid be born with a hairy birthmark. Yes, old wives’ tales are alive and well.

You wouldn’t believe how many people wanted to name our child for us. While we assured everyone of how appreciative we were of their help, we devised a way to make it stop by telling people we had already come up with names: Ignatius Copernicus if it’s a boy and Soylent Green if it’s a girl. It worked.

Some reactions got quite personal. How can you afford all those children? Well, the trick here is not to think about it too much. According to a AAA 2014 study, the cost of maintaining a car is about $9,000 per year. Who says to themselves that they have to put aside nine grand every year just to get to work? It’s best to take it a day at a time and, of course, hope for scholarships.

Then there were those with save-the-world agendas. These attitudes mostly came in large group settings and they were generally from fringe acquaintances. “We would never bring children into such a horrible world,” they said. “We’re only going to have one child and he’ll benefit from all of our resources,” others said. “With the ever growing world population, it’s irresponsible to have large families,” more said. “The more children you have, the larger your carbon footprint is,” still more said.

I sincerely felt sorry for these people. Sadly, many are destined to spend large amounts of time alone. Our house is a constant source of energy, discovery, delight and hopefulness. Hopeful not only for the future of our children, but the future of our world because we know firsthand that there are decent people waiting for their turn. We know this because we are raising them.

Besides, I figured my chances of being cared for by at least one of my kids increases with each child, and with the iffy future of Social Security and pensions, I’m raising my own retirement plan.

As the effervescence of the medicine subsided, I held the fizzy potion up high and, as my kids were romping loudly in the dining room, living room, and kitchen, I toasted to the effervescence of my family, the effervescence of life.

Dean P. Johnson teaches English in Camden and is a member of Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, Glassboro.