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 wife 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.”
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.)
(For real this time.)