In last week’s column, I touched on the ballooning world population and how those numbers affect the number of people clogging the grocery store aisles during busy season in the mountains. That got me thinking about another population number: the size of the families we create.
It’s a big question, contemplating how many children we wish to have. Agreement is not always a given, and I think it’s fair to say that a woman who wants two married to a man who wants five is going to ultimately be part of a four-person household. (There’s just a certain amount of leverage when you’re packing womb.) For many families, though, the number is a moving target. There could be a monkey wrench somewhere that prohibits conception, or a wildly successful pairing of parts that defies all known forms of contraception. Oftentimes, babies seem to come more if and when they feel like it than due to any supremely well-thought-out strategies devised by those wielding the twin wild cards of egg and sperm.
I don’t recall where this quote came from, but it was from a mother with a dozen or so kids who said “I wouldn’t trade any of my kids for a million bucks – but I wouldn’t give a nickel for another one.”
And so some potential people never make it. The metaphor I like to think of is some sort of ether in the Earth’s vicinity, where the souls of would-be children are floating around, waiting to be plucked for terrestrial duty. One of them is the little girl my wife and I talk about now and again. We wonder what she would be like, how she’d fit in with the rest of the family, how tightly she’d have me wrapped around her little finger. Since there’s little and ever-dwindling chance of us summoning her here, we’ll never know. We can only imagine.
Again, though, what is the right number of kids? We have five, with one out of the house and one part-timer, who splits his time between our house and that of his mother in Littleton. Jen says five is perfect, but also allows that four is an excellent number if you’re at a theme park (this is also true on the ski hill, for the most part). If I were planning a family from scratch, I’d have lobbied for three as just the right number. Two can get on each others’ nerves and play off one another, and an only child is necessarily robbed of the benefit of having siblings.
And what about zero? I have a number of friends who’ve chosen this route (or who, possibly, were fated not to have kids). I may envy their freedom: They can sit down on the couch and read a book without being climbed upon, and they can plan trips without having to multiply all expenses by six or seven. I don’t envy the quiet that pervades their homes, however. The bustle of family life is what keeps me happy, and when, on the rare occasion, I’m home alone for more than a couple of hours, I start making calls to find out when everyone’s going to be back.
I think a family is like a lake full of water: it seeks its own level and somehow gets comfortable there. If that level is just two people happy at that level, so be it. Ten years ago, I had no intention of being in such a full lake myself. But then there was a flood, I guess, and here I am floating happily in our little crowded, slightly battered and patched-up boat.
It may look crazy to some people, but for us it’s just about perfect.
Alex Miller can be reached at email@example.com.