Archive for August 15th, 2011

Low Energy and Large Family Logistics

admin August 15th, 2011

As some of you may have heard, we got a call last week about (possibly) taking a group of five siblings – or possibly three or four of them.  It is not entirely clear that they will all come into care, or that we would be asked to take all or any of them.  It is also possible we would decline – five is more than we bargained for, the group is very, very young (ages 5 to newborn) and we don’t have enough information about them yet to make a decision. We probably won’t get that information until the county makes its decisions about what they will do, so we wait.

Still, the thought of going from four children to seven, eight or even nine has me curious about the logistics – how will all of this work for us?  Technically, I have a large family – in the US large families start at 3 or 4 kids.  I still remember, shortly after Isaiah (third child) was born, I went to a tea party held by a good friend for a group of women who had all had babies recently.  All of us had our second or third, and one woman, on her second, said to me “Well, you have all those children!”  I blinked, because it had never occurred to me that a family of three constituted “all those” but in fact it does.

Indeed, when I recently attended an event to receive an award in New York City, I was as much a curiosity as a three-headed bear because I was a professional writer of some minor note *with four children.*  In New York, where outside some ethnic and religious populations, one or two children is an absolute maximum, I found myself surrounded by women stunned that anyone could have multiple children and write books as well.  Everyone asked “how does she do it” as though accomplishment plus children were impossible – and perhaps it is if women have to do all the domestic work alone. I’m fortunate in that it is a shared project in our household.

But if mine is a technically large family (four kids, two adults, sometimes additional adults, as when Eric’s grandparents lived with us or our housemate Phil did), the shift from four to seven, eight or nine (probably in a matter of days)  is a pretty big one in this culture.  Ok, not just the culture – in our lives as well, and yes, I’m freaking out a little ;-) .   Besides that, however, there’s public perception too, however.  Despite the tv-show prominence of a few large families, most households in the US are 2.7 people – ours would be 11 if we took all five kids.

If four children is already a big family, what the heck is eight or nine kids?  As Melissa Fay Greene writes (she’s the bio and adoptive Mom of 9) in _No Biking in the House Without a Helmet_, that many kids marks you as weird and makes people put you in “…among the greats:  the Kennedys, the McCaughey septuplets, the von Trapp family singers and perhaps even Mrs. Vassilyev, who, according to the Guiness Book of World Records, gave birth to sixty-nine children in eighteenth century Russia.”  Now there’s a company I never thought to join.

Besides the fascination with sheer numbers,  everyone who writes and reads about large families is fascinated by the logistics – how many gallons of milk a week, how do they do the shopping, how much laundry and how many dishes?  I admit, I’m no different – I want to be able to envision how this all works, to try and have a set of strategies in my head that might make the transition doable if this – or some other – group of siblings joins my extant herd of boys.

So I googled – a bunch – about larger family logistics, and how do people do it.  Unfortunately, a lot of what I found didn’t really apply to us, in the same sense that a lot of standard american cultural assumptions don’t apply to us.  The advice offered to large families is centered on families that don’t seem terribly worried about their ecological impact.  Maybe they can’t worry about it, or maybe it isn’t part of their consciousness.

Whatever the reason, advice for parents of large families (ok, let’s actually admit it is almost always mothers of large families!) tends to emphasize big appliances at lots of them.  Get three fridges one family suggests – one just for the milk!  Two industrial washers and two matching industrial dryers as well – that’ll keep the laundry under control!  Use paper and plastic at every meal to minimize dishes!  Color code everything  - every kid gets a color, and everything they own – socks, underpants, towels, backpacks…it all comes in purple or green or puce (for the truly mega-families, what happens if you are the last kid and your color choices are puce and ashes-of-roses ;-) ).

I’m not sitting in judgement here – many of these families, particularly the large adoptive families with many kids with special needs, may simply not be able to add on energy reduction.  Indeed, for the families that keep large sibling groups from separation, or take in hard-to-place older and disabled kids, just giving the kids a family will probably reduce their energy and resource consumption considerably by reducing visitations, consolidating kids into one home instead of four, etc…, not to mention the other deep goods – the fact that kids get families.  My point isn’t that other families should do differently, but that it was hard to find role models, except by digging into the past.

I don’t have a working refrigerator – we use a small fridge as an icebox.  It is a side-by-side (inherited from Eric’s grandmother), so I might open up the other side, but I won’t be buying a plug-in model.  I will be buying milk when the kids come, because I’m not legally permitted to feed foster children our goat’s milk, but I don’t see myself with an infinite number of gallons of industrial milk in a fridge, as so many blog pictures show.

While when our present front loader washer meets its inevitable end, I do anticipate replacing it with a commercial model, that probably won’t be for quite a while –  who knows about things that far away?  My mother asked me recently if I would need to get a dryer to keep up with the laundry – my assumption is no, since generations of women raised large families without them, but I haven’t done the laundry for more than 7 people yet (although at one point I was doing laundry for a baby, a toddler and an autistic, non-toilet trained five years old, as we as an incontinent elder, plus others so I’ve got a faint sense of this).  The plastic and paper are not part of my plan, and where would I find that much color-matching stuff in my usual shopping haunts, Goodwill. Savers and various yard sales?  Besides, who wants to wear purple every day?

Some of the advice for large families is good – make lists, get organized, get rid of stuff you don’t need.  Organize the kids into buddies, with a bigger kid keeping an eye on a younger one.  Cook double and freeze.  Chore charts, calendars – all good advice.  Most of it is good advice for those of us with small-big families too, which is why a lot of it is already in place, and I have some doubts about my ability to do some of the other stuff.

Some things we are already doing – bulk purchasing, a large pantry, buying clothes for larger sizes in advance – I’ve just added girl things into the mix and am starting to accumulate a stash of clothing for potential daughters, if any. The kids already have chores.  I already have multiple calendars.  I’m just now sure how much new will be required of me as I scale up.

Then there’s the old-fashioned advice – wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, etc…  But I don’t iron, and I have to do laundry just about every day as it is – much of the year the limiting factor is drying space, so a “day” to wash is out.  I can imagine modifying it – preserve on Monday, bake on Tuesday, weed on Wednesday, mend on Thursday – but I haven’t quite pulled it together yet in my head, and I’m not clear that baking on Tuesday, rather than when we’re low on bread, will actually have me any time.

So those of you with large households, particularly trying to Riot or keep your energy use down in other ways, what do you do?  What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you for managing a large household?   How do you organize yourself? Keep up with the clothing and the washing, the cooking and shopping?  Do you use a full range of appliances?  Do without?  What’s worth having and what isn’t?  I want your advice!