The Vacation Chronicles: Discipline and Death

We are on vacation in Michigan, visiting my brother. If you’ve read any of my posts the last few days, you’ve learned my three kids are having a blast playing with their six cousins. Yes, that means nine kids are under one roof. Along with four adults. Good thing it’s a big house!

With so many kids around, things like discipline, order and feeding all take on a new form. It can be maddening telling a child to do something and then realizing you have to say it again and then again. And when you do finally snap because some child is doing what you told them not  to do (and you will eventually snap) you get a sudden pang of guilt when it occurs to you that you’ve snapped at the wrong kid. Heck, I have trouble keeping my own three kids straight, let alone six more!

Keeping order in a house with so many kids requires order. Lots of order. We’re not at Super Nanny status yet, but there are some strict rules:  No playing in the bedrooms, no shoes in the house, no drinks outside of the kitchen. The no playing in the bedrooms rule didn’t make any sense to me, at first. Now, I get it. Nine kids. Nine tons of toys. Think about the Army: the base keeps its munitions in set areas. So does my brother and his wife. Keep the toys and the playing in the designated toy area. This simple rule keeps their bedrooms looking like the ones you see in magazines and angrily shake your head thinking “No way that’s real.”

Feeding time is somewhat chaotic. It’s the same in my house. Something about the physical act of preparing food sets my youngest into a Spawn of Satan spiral. We’re talking just short of head spinning, pea soup spitting. I tend to throw snacks his way, bits of fruits, vegetables, bread, meat, candy, human sacrifices, whatever it takes so I can actually finish cooking. Here, with nine kids, we have to deal with logistics. We have more mouths to feed, more demands and more picky preferences. In my house, I’m able to remember that my daughter hates peanut butter and my five-year old son won’t eat fish. Here, my oldest niece doesn’t eat meat. Another niece won’t eat noodles if sauce is anywhere in the vicinity and one kid always wants milk, not juice. The list goes on and on. And the demands?! The demand to be fed is bad in my house. With nine kids, you can have a mutiny on your hands in a matter of seconds. While at the pool yesterday, a friend of the family showed up with a pizza. It was like a slab of meat being tossed into the water with a frenzy of piranhas. You could see the fear in his eyes as we attempted to pull the children off of him. Remember “Children of the Corn?” Yeah. Like that. Another logistical issue is where to put all these people at meal time. There are a total of ten seats in the kitchen and dining area. There are nine kids and four adults. We have to eat in shifts. We feed the violent little beasts first. Then, it’s our turn. Last night, we went with the pizza theme. They gorged on slice after slice. When they were done, we ate steak and vegetables. And wine. Oh yes, there was wine. Delicious. And, we only had to send the kids away from the table about seven times.

Having this many kids in the house can be crazy. It can be loud. But, it can also be very sweet. Yesterday, the father of a friend of the family died suddenly. My sister-in-law rushed to her friend’s house to be with her. The kids, of course, wanted to know all the details. How did he die? Where is his body now? What happened? Can we go over to their house too? Kids are so matter of fact about things like death. They don’t know how to hold their punches. It’s like when they see someone in a wheelchair and they go right up to the person and say “What’s wrong with you?!” They have no filter. After church today, on the way home, the kids started talking about death. That blunt honesty came out again. “I think he died because God wanted him to be up in Heaven,” one of the kids said. We talked about why God takes some people sooner than others. They were so loving in the way they described loss. It was heartening and endearing and uplifting.

Kids learn a lot from every vacation you take them on. Often, it’s not what you expect. You think they’ll walk away remembering the beach and the sand, instead they tell stories of finding half a turtle in the backyard. I’m hoping this vacation they won’t remember the many times they were put in time out, but the treasured time they spent with their cousins. And, I know for sure my daughter will have one memory that sticks with her. Unfortunately, it’s from the category of “Please, please forget about it already!” You may have read my post about the restaurant, the high chair full of poop and the untimely visit by Aunt Flo.  Well, Aunt Flo just doesn’t get the hint that it’s time to leave.  After our day on the boat, my daughter walked into the laundry room where I was washing out my bikini bottoms and shorts in the utility sink. She looked in horror at what appeared to be a scene from Shark Week in the sink. She gasps: “Mommy! Are you bleeding?!” And then we got to have the talk. The abbreviated version. Ugh. Memories…

We have one week left here in Michigan. So far, sanity is intact. Well, okay. Kind of.

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