Saturday, March 18, 2017

Living Large (Revise and Repost from 6/22/12)

I've been thinking a lot lately about my family members and the different things going on as we all get older. I wanted to repost an updated version of this just because it was one of my favorite Slices.

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To most people a family gathering might be a weekly or monthly activity, but for me, a family get-together is an Event.

I come from a large family (12 of us kids plus Mom and Dad).  Since there are so many of us, it's hard to get everyone together at the same time. Our last big family Event was for our summer Christmas party.  Years ago, my mom used to host three Christmas dinners so that she had a chance to see everyone. In later years this took a toll on her health, so since then we've taken turns hosting Christmas. It's now been our family tradition for over twenty years. Usually there are 40-50 people which includes my immediate siblings, their spouses, their children, and a growing number of grandchildren.  If you don't have a large enough house, you rent a hall or a church basement for an evening.  The past couple of years we've held summer parties so that more family members can attend without the hassles of winter travel.

Getting together with my family reminds me of the rich support system I have that I often take for granted.  Our get togethers are more like touch-base times.  Everyone brings food, you eat, you talk, you make your rounds to catch up with people you don't see very often yet you're related to all of them.  Over grilled hamburgers, crock pot beans, 7-layer salad, roasted potatoes, and homemade desserts you have short, intense conversations about new babies, career ventures, ongoing struggles, health issues, and humorous anecdotes from day-to-day life.

After an event like this my spouse and I go home and compare notes.  "Did you hear about so-and-so's new job?"  "Did you know that your niece is pregnant?" and "I didn't know so-and-so had surgery a few weeks ago, did you?"  And then if you want to have a deeper conversation with someone, you write an e-mail, pick up the phone, or get together at another time for coffee or dinner.  (Or you go hunting for them on Facebook and make comments on their wall.)

People often ask me what it was like to grow up in a large family.  I guess I never thought much about it because it was just the way we did things. I also imagine my experiences as the youngest child were different from my oldest siblings or the ones in the middle.

So, what was it like?

I remember when I was young, there were always people around.  We had bunk beds and shared bedrooms, dressers and closets.  Privacy became a valued thing.  If you got your own room, it was a very big deal.  (Being the last one to leave home, I had the whole upstairs to myself!)

Being in large family is like a living in a small town.  If you tell something to one person, it usually gets spread through the sibling-vine and everyone ends up knowing about it.  So, be careful what you share!

There were major illnesses like the flu, whooping cough, mumps, measles and chickenpox.  When one person got sick, it became a household epidemic.

I always had lots of hand-me-downs, and once in a while I received hand-me-ups from some of my oldest nieces.

There was always something happening.  I wouldn't exactly call it "drama" but there was usually some major event—a car accident, a difference of opinion, a broken dish washer, or a violated curfew—that took priority over small everyday activities.

Sometimes people ask - were you one big happy family?  No, we were more like about four different families that overlapped.  And yes, we were dysfunctional even before the word became popular.

In a large family you learn how to listen to five conversations at the same time, and there are at least two that you're directly involved with.  I became very much aware of this after I got married.  My spouse comes from a small family, and for holidays we would to go lunch at his parents' house and go to my parents' house later for dinner.  At my spouse's family gathering, only one person talked at a time.  There were very few interruptions, and when you went to the bathroom, everyone knew about it.  At my parents' house everyone talked in pairs or little groups or announced things across the room.  You listened to one person but also kept your ears open to the sound bytes across the table.  People would come and go.  If you disappeared for an hour and came back, you might not be missed.  The speed of talking is fast because time is limited, and there are a lot of people to talk to.

Being in a large family you learned creative survival tactics.  If you skinned your knee, you found your own bandage, or you asked someone bigger than you for help.  You learned, on your own or by observation, how to deal with leaky winter boots, neighborhood bullies, puberty, bad relationships and stray cats.  You learned how to be thrifty, knew where to find the best bargains in town and did much of your shopping at rummage sales, estate sales and consignment shops. Or if you couldn't afford something, you learned to either wait until it went on sale or lived without it.

You learned to think outside the box and to never take things at face value.

You learned that God and Jesus were important, but you didn't find out why until later when no one else was around to listen.

In a large family you're expected to be independent, but you also know that if you need anything, all you have to do is ask.

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