When Jodi and I first got together, she wanted six children, just like the family in which she grew up. I, on the other hand, knew I wanted children, but thought one or two would suffice. I had learned in my anthropology classes that large families were irresponsible — that our planet could not support humanity’s continued exponential growth, and that America’s resource-intensive consumer culture would drain the Earth even more quickly that other, faster-growing nations.
So I told Jodi, “We’ll see.” I knew that, over time, things would change. And they have. Earlier this week my bride and I announced the best thing to happen to our December since Christmas: the anticipated arrival of a fifth Thorplet.
The kids are ecstatic. Trevor longs to be a big brother; Emma has wanted to roll the dice on a little sister for years; Gabe adores all babies (and has verbally agreed with Emma that “we could use another girl around here,” which, given his history of rabid anti-sisterism, demands the question, “Use her for what?”); and Bren – our eldest, who wants his own room and has complained that our house is too small – has been grinning for days now. He knows just enough, I think, that this new addition is equal parts miracle, mystery, and science project to him.
My evolution into a father of five (six, when you count Jude, whom we lost last fall) began early on, with the way in which Jodi’s quiet faith drew me like a magnet. There is a peace about my bride that, I recognize now, is not of this world. Most of the time she is unworried, unflappable, confident that the world is unfolding as it should, despite appearances to the contrary. She led me slowly, steadily, to conversion – first, back to the Catholic Church, then to a previously inconceivable closeness with God, then to the gradual realization that marriage and sexuality are meant to be more than the “sum of our parts.”
On top of this spiritual conversion came four important, practical realizations. First, although we had planned to wait until we were more “financially secure” to start having children, we became pregnant with Brendan only about six months into our marriage – demonstrating that A) there is only one fail-safe way to not get pregnant and B) you’ll never be more or less ready than you are right now. Second, we realized that once you have your first, you might as well have more if you want ’em – you’ve got the baby gear, the mindset, and (when you’re young) the energy, plus the sooner you bring them into the house, the sooner you get them out! (For the past several years I’ve taken great pleasure in reminding my friends who waited to have kids that I’ll have all four of mine graduated before I’m 50. C’est la vie, I guess…) So we forged ahead – and Gabriel was born.
Now, I realized right out the gate that I loved being a dad. So when Gabe was born – at the point at which pre-child/Ivy-grad me would’ve said, “That’s it; no more – it’s the responsible thing to do.” – my heart was whispering girl-baby, girl-baby, girl-baby.
I struggled against this urge for awhile and came to a few other practical conclusions. First, although I have concerns about the wider world, our decision to bring another child into it – a child who would be well loved and well supported – would have little bearing on the allocation of resources in the world, but had the potential to sow peace and charity in a world in sore need of both. (For the record, we discussed adoption, as we have many times since, but felt our own limited resources could do more good raising our own children here in our own community.) Second, the more I thought about the social pressures in this country (and regulations in others) to limit families, the more I saw them as questionable means to a questionable end: a society in which freedoms were relinquished and families were engineered (and parenting outsourced) for the “good of the state.” Finally, I began to notice an inverse relationship between family size and per capita resource consumption in the families around us – put simply, most of the childless and only-child families I knew spent more, used more, wasted more, and still wanted more, than the bigger families I knew. Hand-me-downs, left-overs, gardens, and shared bedrooms conserve resources, too!
As if in affirmation of our choice, we were promptly blessed with Emma Rose. Shortly thereafter, we moved to Minnesota. We talked about a fourth child, but faced two challenges, one financial (the cost of daycare for four kids in or around the Twin Cities) and one psychological (the fact that most of our first friends and colleagues here thought it was ludicrous to have three kids, much less four). Fortunately, we had unwittingly settled in a veritable hotbed of Catholicism and big families—so when we had Trevor, we found that we also had support. Ultimately the families we met through St. Michael Catholic Church – and our tremendous priests brought us to an even greater understanding of what a blessing each and every child is: if you believe in God – if you believe that the world is unfolding as it should, despite appearances to the contrary – a new life here, there, or anywhere, is a gift meant to serve a Greater Good.
I remember once, early in our relationship, using the phrase risk of a baby. I was aghast as soon as I heard my own words…but it’s typical of the world today. In Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful,” but today, that original blessing is often regarded as a burden that we must sterilize in the act, or “fix” permanently. It reminds me of Christ on his way to the cross, speaking to the mourning women:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’” – Luke 23:28
So here we sit, in our Second Third of life, with number five on the way. No more thoughts of “a whole new life together” when we’re 50, but that’s okay – the life we have is pretty spectacular. And the good news is that it gets easier. Think about it: your first child is revolutionary; it completely changes everything you’ve known before. Number two is big – 100% increase over number one; double the trouble, etc. Number three? That’s only a 50% increase over what you have already; the biggest problem (if they’re small) is you only have two hands, so one parent can’t restrain them all at once. After that, number four’s a piece of cake.
And now, with a six-year gap between the baby and our youngest, the first four can raise number five. Y’know, folks in the Twin Cities this might be called ostentatious, unsustainable, even irresponsible – but in St. Michael and Albertville, it’s a comfortable starter family!