Yes it’s chaotic, but the craziness is worthwhile.
It was at a high school reunion that the circumspect way some people greet news that I am the mother of four really hit home.
‘Four?’, the woman with the unfashionably retro jacket exclaimed in an excited voice, leaning across the table. ‘Of all the people at school I never imagined you would have so many children,’ she said, disapproval settling itself around her face like strokes of face powder.
Even though, at that moment, I almost wished I’d upped my actual brood to six just to see how even more shocking she’d find that, I couldn’t help but agree that I was an unlikely candidate for doubling the average number of kids most people I know have.
When I was at my Durban North high school I always punted forward a picture of my future that involved a passionate devotion to writing; a career pursuit that consumed every bit of me as I sunk myself deep into finding ‘the truth’ as a journalist whilst simultaneously whipping out book after book after book.
That idea got its first dent when I got married and had Jami Ella, now 17. It further slipped from my grasp when I got divorced and began a cohabiting relationship that continues today and has produced Hannah, 10, Zachary, 8 and Emmylou, 4.
I still write. Except now it’s with the kind of fervour that needing to feed, clothe and school 4 children demands. Instead of being the mysterious, sophisticated intellectual of my teen dreams I’m more likely to resemble a crazed woman whose hair (thankfully curly) hasn’t seen a brush in days (make that weeks) and whose default setting is panic as she rushes between deadlines and children at speed.
All of this leaves little room for patience with people who take it upon themselves to comment negatively on raising four children ‘in this day and age’. ‘We could never afford it,’ is one of the standard responses as is ‘don’t you think there are enough people in the world?’ or even ‘how can you bring so many children into this place?’, meaning, of course, Joburg.
It’s hard to fire back without a sliver of rudeness edging in. The fact is my children go to good government schools that don’t make an impossible dent in our budget. No, I think the more happy children who know right from wrong and treat others with respect in the world, the better. While I never hide the challenges of living in Joburg from my four, I believe they’re lucky to grow up in a city that offers them such a dynamic day-to-day engagement in the lives of so many diverse people.
There are some who are wide-eyed in admiration for the juggling that freelancing and raising four children brings with it and when they ask how I do it I say - pretty emphatically – ‘chaotically’.
But my kids don’t have a lesser life just because, instead of letting them learn the lesson of fundraising by doing it themselves, I find myself scribbling in the name of my friends and family on the Swimathon fundraising forms that should have been in yesterday; or I’m always stabbing at my MacBook when Emmylou’s having her swimming lessons or (and yes, this happens) I call them by the wrong name.
Quite the opposite: when I see the devotion and adoration Emmylou, our surprise last child, gets from her three siblings and the joy each takes in her, I’m at my happiest. It’s three times more than she’d get if she was an only child. It’s twice the amount if we’d stuck to convention. And it always – always – makes the craziness worth the while.Do you think it’s okay to have a big family? Or is it irresponsible?