My dad was born in June of 1951. Grandpa was a builder, and that was a good profession to be in when the war had ended and the country was in the mood to grow. Everyone was having babies and building houses, including Grandma and Grandpa, who married while their high school diplomas were waiting to dry.
My dad was born before anyone had time to ask what was taking so long. Grandpa marked the event by naming a street after his first born baby boy. He was going to sell houses all up and down Gary Drive, and things were going to be better.
The babies came as the houses went up, and in just a blink, it seemed, there were eight mouths to feed. No, ten, because Grandma and Grandpa had to eat too, although it was a wonder anything was left after the kids were through. The milk never spoiled and the leftovers never went to waste because someone was always hungry enough to eat yesterday’s meatloaf.
Even for all the promises of prosperity, things didn’t get much better. Hope hung in the air, like a cloud, but it refused to rain down. The big family of little children struggled. Grandpa thought it shouldn’t be so hard for an honest person to earn a living. But it was.
Grandma thought the same thing. She had to find a way to make ends meet so she filled a van full of wallpaper books and spent her days climbing ladders and smearing paste and talking to customers about matching borders. She wallpapered the local McDonald’s and a house or two on Gary Drive. It put food on the table and new shoes on growing feet. But it didn’t pay for braces or piano lessons or sweet sixteen dresses.
On Sundays, the family scrubbed up, lined up and went to church. They took up the whole pew. As they grew, they took up a few more. All the kids had at least one decent shirt or dress to wear to church, even if it wasn’t new and the shoes pinched funny because they had been bought for someone else.
And the kids grew up and out of their clothes and the milk cartons were put back in the fridge empty and no one knew who ate the last piece of bread. Grandma canned everything that grew and tried to keep her oldest from eating a whole jar of peaches by himself because there was always someone else to think about.
But having someone else to think about was not such a bad thing. Having someone else to think about is what turns men into husbands and women into mothers. It’s what makes children into well-rounded adults even when the childhood is harder than the parents wish it was. It’s what makes people know they have enough when they hardly have anything at all.
Sometimes, I wish I could give my children more than I can. I wish I could offer them the newest shoes and the pretty Easter dresses, the soccer camps and the horseback riding lessons. If we had fewer children, some of those things might be possible.
But we have a large family (in an age when five children is considered a large family), and while we certainly have more than enough, much more than my grandparents had for their children, we live simply. It is both a choice and a necessity.
Sometimes, I wonder if it is the right choice. Most of the time, I know it is. It is hard to mourn the fact that my kids don’t have the latest gadgets when I hear them laughing over a game they’ve invented themselves. They are grateful for what they have, eager to spend time with one another, and willing to work to earn the extras.
It is not perfect. Nothing is. But on this beautiful day of motherhood, I am thankful that my children can’t have all they want. I’m thankful that in our house, there’s always someone else to think about. I am thankful that they have the chance to wait, to share, to give, to adapt, and to consider others better than themselves. I’m thankful that when it’s their turn, they know that the gifts and opportunities they have came about because the whole family worked to give something to them, and they, in turn, are learning that it’s good to work for the good of someone else.
Prosperity may be as elusive for us as it was for my grandpa. It may not. It really doesn’t matter at all. We know we have more than we deserve and more than enough.