(*Watch me perform this piece in the 2014 Listen To Your Mother show)
We didn’t set out to have five kids. We had a girl, we had a boy, we had a vasectomy. Then we had a foster baby boy and adopted him. Then his birth mother had another boy that we fostered and adopted and then a girl that we also fostered and adopted.
“You know you can say no,” my friend said when she found out about the baby girl. “I know. But I can’t,” I replied. “Yeah, I knew you’d say that.”
But does that automatically make us really good people? Or does that just make us . . . suckers? Aren’t we actually just baby whores or, maybe more accurately, gluttons for punishment?
Because here’s something I realized after I had a four-year break between infants: there’s a lot about babies that really sucks. And the novelty of being woken up multiple times per night wears off just a little bit quicker with each kid.
When I was home with my first baby I remember putting some laundry away while she napped nearby in her cradle. I remember thinking to myself, “Isn’t it so silly how some new parents will check to see that their infant is still breathing? Ha ha. Ha. Well. I mean. She is right there, it couldn’t hurt to just check…”
When the fifth infant came along, it was more, “Where’s the baby? Oh the two year old is watching her? Cool.”
When we’re out in public, we get a lot of looks. We get a lot of questions (like, “are you a school group?” No, but if you want to give me a group discount I’ll take it.) We get a lot of “you sure have your hands full!” from well-meaning passersby, which I alternately interpret as either “better you than me, sister” or “get this pack of wild animals out of my establishment pronto.”
I know that one family with five kids is excessive by today’s standards and I’ve learned that racially mixed families like ours are referred to in the adoption community as “conspicuous families.” (Though I initially kept messing up and referring to us as an “IN-conspicuous family” and would then picture us out in public with those ridiculous black plastic glasses with the fake noses and mustaches attached. I still think it’d be a good look for us.) So I expected the stares, the questions and comments. I didn’t expect the accolades. Things people have actually said to us:
“Oh you are so, so good.”
“THE ADOPTED ONES ARE BIOLOGICAL SIBLINGS? I love you.”
“You’re a saint.”
“Your family doesn’t need to pay the yearly fee. You’re God’s angels on earth.” (Fine, I don’t mind the no fee thing.)
“You guys are such amazing parents.”
I just can’t understand why people think we’re so good all the time? Seriously, they seem to think we have more patience because we have more kids. Ha! It actually goes the other way around, people. When your fifth toddler is applying nail polish to her eyelashes when she’s supposed to be going to sleep (true story), it doesn’t have an iota of the charm it had when your first toddler did it. (Of course my first toddler never dreamed of doing anything so naughty. I think it’s safe to say that therefore it’s partially her fault I said yes to four more.)
Being calm in public doesn’t mean we don’t lose our shit at home. Of course we do. We’re human. Kids push buttons. I’m sure you’ve seen all the self-deprecating parenting rants online that I have, confessing the mistakes made by parents on a daily basis. I read one recently in which a mother insisted she is a worse parent than you, dear reader, because she…has…eaten…a Cheerio…off of the floor.
Fucking amateurs. I ate cereal off the ground before I had kids.
But none of these kinds of transgressions add up to being a bad parent, they add up to being a real parent. Real parents sometimes curse when they shouldn’t or punish before getting the facts straight. Real parents might, for example, tell their 3 and 4 year olds, “What green stuff under the cheese?? Oh that? That’s just pizza sugar.”
And me, I’m a real parent. That’s what I’m here to tell you. Just because they didn’t all spring out of my loin doesn’t mean I don’t fuck up. Just because three of my kids started out in the foster care system doesn’t mean I’m some kind of holy person. If you stop by one day and see me baking or reading or sewing with my kids, go ahead and tell me I’m a good mom. If you notice me at the park actually running and playing with my crew, go ahead and pay me a compliment.
But if you just notice in passing how many of us there are and how many shades we come in, don’t glorify me just for that. I promise you: adoptive parents are assholes, too. Just like the rest of you.