Essays

The Neighbors’ Children

by Suzannah Gilman

When we moved into our house two years ago, the large white Dutch Colonial Revival on the lot catty-corner from us had four children under the age of 6 living under its roof and a huge, grassy back yard.  We met the parents at a welcome party that other neighbors were good enough to host for us.  The imageswife was pregnant with their fifth child.  Smiling, she gamely said to my fiancé, “We know about your Marco Polo poem; we’ll make sure the kids aren’t too loud in the pool we’re putting in.”  His poem is about having a hangover and gathering all the children in the motel swimming pool who are playing “Marco Polo” to quiz them about the explorer before executing them all by drowning even if they passed the quiz.  At least these parents shared his sense of humor.  And they really were putting in a pool.

My fiancé and I remarked to one another later that they must be quite fond of children, especially the husband, who is a pediatrician.  Imagine being around children all day long and then coming home to five more!  Their oldest was a son, Liam, and he had three little sisters, one of them a screamer, which really irked Liam—the screaming more than the three sisters in general.  We found out that the mother had had her tubes tied and the father had had a vasectomy and she still got pregnant.  Unbelievable!  But true.

One night a few months after baby number five was born—a boy! they have bookend sons—the couple had us over for drinks after the kids were in bed.  Because she knew I raised four kids, the mother mentioned to me how rude strangers can be when they remark on how many children she has.  That struck a chord in me: I’d gotten the same treatment.  I shared with her a few of the retorts I’d thought up over the years, but she said, graceful person that she is, that she wasn’t really bothered by the comments, only that people made them in front of her children.

“Oh, you have five children?  How can you stand it?  I barely get by with my two.”  Comments like that from a stranger are asking for a zinger like, “Well, your children must not be as wonderful as mine, because my children make me very happy.  I couldn’t do without a single one.”  Now, that’s the kind of thing little ones need to hear.

Once, when the subject of the children was raised between other adults and the parents, something was said to the effect that the last child hadn’t been planned.  It could have been that the other adult said “accident;” my memory is a little fuzzy on that part of the story.

But what I will remember for the rest of my life is this.

Liam needed an explanation.  His mother said, “We only mean that we didn’t pray to have this baby.”

“Well,” Liam said with as much gravity as a 7 year-old can muster, “I prayed every night for a little brother.”

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Now we all have an answer as to how a pregnancy could happen under the circumstances of both parents taking permanent measures, thanks to Liam, who is a loving, protective big brother, as you can imagine.  He is looking forward to the day when the baby will be old enough to join the siblings in playing “Marco Polo.”  (Actually, he’s just waiting for the baby to get big enough to learn to swim, but I like to think of one more voice joining the back yard chorus.)

Liam’s prayers came true.  And his mother got a hysterectomy, just to be safe.   prather family

 The end.  

(For real this time.) 

5 replies »

  1. Thanks Suzannah, I really enjoyed this story, and as the father of five children, I can relate to it as well. Ours were all born in a different era, the 1960’s, when people didn’t glare at you for having such a large family. I was working full time, going to evening college two or three nights per week, and Mary Ann was a full time stay-at-home mom. The comments we used to get most often were from parents of one or two small ones, who’d ask how did we do it, and then express frustration or being frazzled at the task of parenting their one or two. We didn’t have a secret formula or process that we followed, so Mary Ann and I would usually just look at each other, then one of us would say, “We just do it!” We’ve had our share of ups and downs, but not once have we ever even come close to regretting having all five. They are lifetime blessings. Lots of work when they were small? Of course. Rewards? Infinite.

  2. Thanks so much, Ned, first for reading and then for commenting and telling your beautiful story. When people used to say “God bless you” to me (which they did a lot), I’d say, “He already has.” You and I are on the same page, friend.

  3. Thanks, Suzannah. I forgot to mention the fruits of our children; they’re called grandchildren, and they have brightened our lives many times over so far. For some crazy reason, they think we are some kind of special. They remind us how to love, too.

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