One of the best surprises in the world was last week when my son Michael walked through the door, shocking us all with a 2,500-mile long trip home, just two weeks after major jaw surgery. I saw a guy with a baseball cap and backpack heading toward our back sliding glass door and, since we are having work done in the yard, I thought, “Why does the landscaper have a backpack and why is he just walking in the door without permission?”
Then it hit me — this was no landscaper. This was my son!
As my mind processed what my eyes saw, I exclaimed, “What? What? What! Michael? Michael!”
I jumped up and down and hugged him. The girls upstairs heard my happy screams and came running downstairs to see why the commotion. “Oh my gosh!” each screamed as she saw him and rushed to hug him as well. While he had permission to work from home for three weeks, he said other than his wired shut jaw he felt good and that if he was going to work from home, he might as well work from this home, with us. Hallelujah!
That night, I made him a thick, hearty, cabbage, sweet potato and garlic soup for him to puree for dinner. When his father came home from work, just as unknowing of the surprise as we had been, Michael looked up from the table where he had been sitting, working on his computer, and my husband’s jaw dropped.
“Mike? Michael? Michael!” he rushed to him and squeezed him tight. Happy tears welled up in his eyes. He was squeezing him so tightly I didn’t think he was ever going to let him go. “What are you doing? Oh my gosh, Mike! This made my day!” Happy tears.
A few days later another son (this one expected as he was attending a wedding locally) arrived, and our daughter, learning that two brothers would be home at the same time, decided on a whim to drive up from Indianapolis. We were only missing one son, and yes that left a hole, but we appreciated the rarity of having eight of the nine kids home at the same time. We’d take what we could get.
It’s amazing how the feeling around the house changes when the adult kids come home, how whole we feel again when we are together. The younger ones hang on the older ones literally and figuratively, on their every word. There are walks, talks and sitting on the back patio, and drives to get ice cream. Sometimes there is euchre or a planned event, but mostly there is the rhythm that once used to be when they were littler, familiarly coming back, like an echo.
When people talk about raising large families they talk about expense. It’s true. Big families are incredibly expensive. While the cost of raising five children does not quintuple from raising one — because of hand-me-downs, and certain other facts such as heating a house remains constant whether there are seven people or three sitting in it — you can’t argue that raising a brood of children is cheap. It isn’t.
And yes, there’s not only a money cost to raising a large family but a sleep cost too. And a time cost. And sacrifice. And lots of tears as they move out to carve out their own lives, even while knowing it’s best that they do.
But there are also many benefits — the treasure of having many unique human beings grow up together under one roof is just one. Synergy occurs when a kid talented in art shares her gift with one who can’t draw worth a lick but can play and create music by ear. The gifts of one are shared by another and all are enriched.
The children learn patience and waiting ones turn, different perspectives, which are born from different personalities. They learn to understand an idea they didn’t think of, and consider it. They become protectors and stand up for underdogs, even under their own roof. They fight, yes. But they learn to resolve. They learn the art of compromise. Basically, they learn to love. It is not every family’s call to be great in number, but for those that are, it is a call to be answered, generously, with a big heart, for the rewards are many, even as are the sacrifices.
Last week briefly, the lives of most of my children and their parents once again converged. Bonds were strengthened. Laughter exchanged. Advice given. Encouragement offered. This occurred with more than enough to sustain until next time. We missed the one missing, but he will be back with us soon enough. I always tear up when we separate but only momentarily. For life is a gift. Family is a gift. I will gladly welcome the suffering of when we are apart because of how blessed I am when we are together.