Not that we have that many children, we only have five but everytime I tell people this, I get this funny look or expression of surprise. Our eldest is sixteen and our youngest is seven and while their interaction (more like protracted warfare) is less than optimal, when the going gets tough, these kids deliver.
In 2010, we decided to take everyone on a trip to the U.S. and finally meet Mickey and Donald before they really didn’t care to. Since my wife and I both work, we decided that in order to make this trip worthwhile for them, she would go a week earlier with them and I would take them home a week later. This way, we end up with less downtime at work while the monsters have an entire month to enjoy their sortie. Given the horrible, yet necessary, post 9/11 security measures at the airports, I anticipated that I would actually need a vacation after this vacation because it seemed that the constant pounding our children get from us on the the virtues of respect, patience, sharing and frugality didn’t seem to have any impact. Day in and day out we are faced with the challenges of spending time with them, arbitrating disputes, making sure that homeworks are done, bedtime is followed and so forth. The daily disputes during the months of planning was making me anxious as to whether we really would survive this trip unscathed. We would even get so far as to threaten that those who did not put their best behavior before the trip would be left behind. A threat we certainly could not carry out given that we had already purchased the tickets and aside from the fact that this was contrary to all the parenting talks we had attended.
Since there were seven of us, we planned this trip a whole ten months in advance to get the best deals on hotels and airlines and to make sure that we had tickets to sites that were popular, knowing that we would be there during the U.S. spring break. A friend-couple who joined us in some of our legs (and who only has one child) planned their trip just a whole three weeks before, darn!
The entire trip was a series of adventures with some misadventures. The worst was when our two youngest boys got lost at the Museum of Natural History in D.C. This incident occurred the first day after they arrived and I wasn’t even with them (remember my wife went ahead with them). Here is where the kids delivered. As soon as my wife noticed that the two boys were nowhere to be found, the older girls immediately and systematically went for the exits while my wife went to find a security officer. Here is where it gets funny: The officer says to my wife that they did find a child and brought him down to the office and my wife happily followed him there. My lost son was calm (he had gone to an officer in the museum and said that he was lost) and my wife was certainly elated to see him. With a sympathetic smile, the officer says to my wife “happy now?” and my wife embarrassingly sobs and says, “Noooo, there is one more missing …sob sob sob”, and just in the nick of time, another officer is walking down the hall with our second child in tow. My wife could not contain herself and hugged the officer. Meanwhile, the older girls stuck together and stayed where they agreed to meet and as soon as they saw my wife with the two boys, it was back to business as usual.
The second incident made me proud as a parent. One particular leg had us at the airport at four-thirty in the morning for a six o’clock flight. Towing five, half-awake kids through airport security is no easy feat but as soon as they saw the scanners, bags were on the rollers and off went the jackets, belts, shoes, with the older ones assisting the little ones. Since the TSA prioritize traveling families with young kids, I could see the faces of business commuters when we were made to jump ahead of them in line, seven of us with carry-ons, they looked like they were living a nightmare. What made me especially proud was when, on top of all the rush and ruckus of gathering our belongings and trying to outfit the young kids, a TSA officer went up to me to say, “sir, you have one of the most well-behaved and respectful children I have ever seen” and all that at four-thirty in the morning! That made my day and I was gleaming. It made me realize that it was not just our constant reminders, certainly that was recorded in their minds, but what I think really happens is that kids who grow up in big families learn not to be self-centered almost by instinct for things that really count. I say this because as soon as the rough part of getting through security was done, they were back to bickering again about what to have for breakfast. I didn’t care and just told them they could have whatever they wanted to eat and I assigned the older ones to buy the little ones what they wanted.