The Perfect Number

The number of children I parent has been changing a lot lately.

Normally, I have two – a ten year old and a twelve year old.

For a few days recently I had five – my two, a six year old, an eleven year old, and a thirteen year old – all cousins.

Then, I had my two and a friend each for a weekend trip, so that’s two ten year olds and two twelve year olds.

Then I had a different combination of the cousins, my two plus the six year old and his sixteen year old sister.

Then, everyone left and my daughter went to camp and I just had one child, my ten year old son.

It’s not that it’s easier or harder to parent five kids or one kid, it’s just different. With five kids I felt the need to be super-organized and efficient. I planned a week’s worth of meals that all used some of the same ingredients. I even made some meals before we went out. But that efficiency was relaxing in a way. I didn’t have to worry or argue about what was for dinner, dinner was dinner, it was planned and ready. I was so proud of my meal plan, I put it on the refrigerator next to my ten year old’s 100% quizzes.

With five or four kids there was a constant scanning, do I have everyone? Where is the six year old? But also, with that many kids everyone was always occupied. No one was bored, no one was lonely. Plus, the scanning was sort of unnecessary since they were all looking for each other anyway.

With four or five kids it was easier to set rules, to say “no,” to deny whims. Obviously, if you are trying to get five kids through downtown Chicago you can not stop to look at everything that everyone wants to see. With one kid it’s hard to rationalize saying “no,” to restaurant or activity choices, but also, there’s less reason to do so.  It’s wonderful to have a child say, “I’d kind of like to do that” and to say “Well, it’s just the two of us, let’s try it.” With one kid it’s easier to convince him to try something, because you only have to convince one child, not two.

During one of his days as an only child I picked my son up from camp and he said, “I’m really craving a cheeseburger, can we go to Culver’s?” So, we did, and on the way he started asking me a question that led to a conversation about sex, including consent and condoms. It’s hard to imagine that conversation happening with four other kids in the car. It’s hard to imagine me agreeing to buying a 3:00 meal for four or five kids.

I love having two children. I don’t have the necessary attention span to only have one child and I am not young enough or rich enough to have more than two. Having two kids gives me the space and time to invite more kids in to my life from time to time. But it’s nice sometimes to try out the other alternatives.

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