A taste of the chaos and fun of a big family

For The Baltimore Sun

Have you ever watched the reality shows about big families? If you’ve seen any one of them, you’ve pretty much seen them all. There was “Raising Sextuplets,” and “Quints By Surprise,” “Kate Plus 8,” “The Willis Family,” and a relatively new one, “OutDaughtered,” about a Texas family raising the only set of all-girl quintuplets in the U.S., plus another daughter — for a total of six girls under the age of six. (God bless ‘em.)

My favorite for a while was “19 Kids and Counting,” a show about a very religious, ultra-conservative family where the children seemingly multiplied when sprinkled with water. (That’s the only explanation I can fathom for how a couple gets to any number of offspring more than three. Everyone knows parents are too tired to make any more babies after the third child.)

These shows are popular because imagining a household with several children is really hard to do; you have to see it with your own eyes. And watching two adults cope with a gaggle of children is fascinating, visceral, hilarious and cringe-worthy.

I have three children of my own (Quite by accident, I should say. The littlest one willed herself into being while I was exhausted chasing toddler twins and was off my game). So I know a bit about the insanity of playing zone defense in your own home all day, every day. But I got a deeper education this month when my sister and her family came to bunk with us for two weeks.

Her two boys, 9 and 5, enrolled in the same camp as my 7-year-old twin boys and 5-year-old daughter. My sister, a teacher in Anne Arundel County schools, lives nearly an hour away, so instead of schlepping up and back on I-97 every day, she packed up her 14-month-old daughter, her sons and half the contents of her house and came for a two-week sleepover.

The idea sounded like loads of fun — a lighthearted sitcom episode with giggling cousins, flashlights in sleeping bags and an assembly line of lunch bags on the kitchen counter each morning. And if I’m honest, having three extra children in the house has been fun, but in more of the way the opening scenes of “Home Alone” are fun. Think of what happens when Thing 1 and Thing 2 show up in “The Cat in the Hat.”

I can hold up the fish! And a little toy ship! And some milk on a dish! And look! I can hop up and down on the ball!

For two weeks, the rhythm was something like this: In and out of the house, from the front door and the side. Up and down the stairs like startled wildebeest, smudgy hands fondling the walls each way. Snack after snack after snack after snack. He hit me. He took it from me. He won’t give it back. He called me a name. We’re dying of thirst — do we have to drink WATER?! We’re dying of hunger — can we have a snack? Can we come inside? It’s hot! It’s so BORING in here; we’re going outside! We can’t find our shoes. Can we go to the pool? Can we have a snack? What about now? What about now? What about … now?

My mother had five children and never a knickknack out of place, something my sister and I marveled about many times during Kidapalooza 2017. How our mom did it, we’ll never comprehend.

For two weeks, the decibel level in my house never fell below “freight train.” The grocery bill and garbage production rivaled the GDP of a small, developing nation. If the producers of “Hoarders” had seen the clutter these six little people accumulated, I’d be the next star of that reality show.

The truth is, no one would watch a show about multiples with my sister and me as the headliners. Sure there’s a lot of noise, but not nearly enough drama. In fact, now that camp is over and her family has gone, our house is a fraction quieter and a tiny percentage neater — but exponentially sadder.

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