Welcome, welcome, welcome!! This is our third official Four Moms and 35 Kids Thursday! Today we are talking about shopping and outings when we all had only Littles. Kim, Connie, Kimberly are valiant troopers and they still have a passel of Littles, so they actually left their Bigs behind and took the Littles on a trial run to remind themselves what it’s like.
Me, I sat down and wrote a long post explaining how I got to have five children between the ages of 2 and 9 without ever having shopped with two or more toddlers while also pregnant.
Basically, what you need to do is figure out what it is you want and need from your children, for your family, and for you on various outings, and then how realistic that it is, and from there work backward to ways and means.
Other people with five children between the ages of 2 and 9, three in diapers, are sane and stay home or leave the children at home with Dad while they go grocery shopping. This was not really an option for me most of the time because my husband was in the military. He didn’t travel that much, as military lifestyles go, but at this time he was always gone for two months in the fall, and usually had a handful of other much shorter trips- two weeks, three days here, two days there. We could not manage to go without groceries for two months, so I had to be able to take my brood of five to the store by myself. I had to go to church by myself (he worked nights and many weekends, and we have midweek Bible study), by which I mean without my husband, because, of course, I had the five little beauties with me. I went to the library with them, to doctor appointments with all five of them (our sixth child would come along three years later, and everybody went to the midwife with me, too), to the grocery store, to the bank, the post office- in short, there is no where I could go without the children in tow. I’ve mentioned we were a military family? This also means we had no relatives in the area, and I did not know anybody I felt comfortable leaving my little ducklings with, so we all went everywhere together or we all stayed home together.
I also used to think this was really, really fun. I loved the comments we got, the stares, the people slowly counting off on their fingers while mouthing ‘one, two, three…’ and I really, really enjoyed it the time a cashier said, yet again, “Better you than me, honey, my two are all I can handle, and the daughter who had only been my daughter for one of her four years of life piped up, “Well, MY mommy loves her children, dontcha, Mommy?” I was really crushed several years later when my oldest girls, then in their mid teens, said they did not want to come shopping with us anymore but would rather stay home and babysit all the younger ones.
I was also much younger then and had more energy.
Because of The Cherub, we did have a handicapped tag on our van, although it was a few months after we got her before we figured that out. It made my life immensely easier, except when people were jerks and took that space without needing it. And yes, I have stood hands on my hips like a fishwife, my embarrassed Progeny around me pretending to be deaf while their mother was haranguing an able bodied 20 something military kid for parking in the only handicapped spot available on a cold winter’s day, because my Cherub slipped on the ice between where we had to park thanks to him, and where we should have parked, but couldn’t, thanks to him. I am not proud of it, but I bet he was more ashamed and for longer.
But back to what I did when they were all younger and they all had to come with me because there was no other option, and therefore, it had to work or we were all going to end up on the front page of the newspaper in a sad, tragic story about a mother climbing into the gorilla cage at the zoo and swinging from the trees. So… here are some of the things I remember doing.
Because we moved out to the country about three months after the adoptions, we lived 45 minutes from anywhere. I did once a month cooking so that I only had to do major grocery shopping once a month, and then, if my husband was home, he could pick up milk, cheese, or fruit on his way home from work. If he wasn’t home, we combined library (and other) trips with short grocery runs.
I shopped with two carts for years. The 9 year old pushed one cart, usually into my ankles. The 8 year old walked beside or behind me, picking up the groceries I pointed at. She also wanted to push the cart, too, and being much sorter and unable to see over the cart, she pushed it into my ankles even harder than her older sister did. What would happen is she would ask to just please let her push the cart, please, and I would foolishly give in, and then within five minutes find myself limping through the rest of the shopping trip, grumbling about it and she would sulk because I took the cart away and gave it back to her big sister.
The children could not just scamper about as they liked, willy nilly. Going to the grocery store required a serious battle plan and logistical order worthy of Hannibal crossing the alps, or better. The 3rd child (the one with disabilities), stood on the cart in front of me while I pushed. I needed her between me and the cart to help her balance and to keep her from grabbing things off the shelves or being knocked over and tripping while clutching a towering stack of cans, as she also has mild cerebral palsy in addition to the retardation. Our fourth child, three years old when we got her, stood on the back of my cart, holding on to the edges, and the 2 year old sat inside the cart. I didn’t have babies after her for about five years, so eventually we graduated to walking like ducks in a row, as I stressed to them the importance of not blocking the aisles for other people. Having been raised by Granny Tea, who channeled Miss Manners before Miss Manners made it into print, being a bother to others is a huge no-no in my book, and it’s ingrained in me that we cannot and must not be a nuisance. Note, gentle readers, that we did not have those shopping carts with extra seats- the only shopping carts anybody had were the ordinary kind with only one seat- no carts with attached infant seats, no extra seats, no fancy truck shaped shopping carts… in fact, the shopping carts didn’t even have safety straps when I was taking my Littles out and about. I have looked at those carts with two or three seats and had to repent of the sin of envy on the spot.
This careful attention to logistics was one important key to making things work. I could not just let matters take care of themselves and expect to have a pleasant trip. We did the same thing at church- whereas before, it didn’t much matter who sat or stood where, now it was so important it was the key to a successful shopping trip or church experience. You notice with my shopping cart plan the youngest two of those five children were not next to each other, and the child with disabilities was immediately beneath my watchful eye and shielded by my body. In church we alternated the littles- a big girl sat on the outside, then a little girl, then a parent, then a little girl, then the other parent, then a little girl, then a big girl. We assigned seats and walking everywhere we went. When only one parent was there, I held a little in my lap with one on either side of me and the big girls on the outside preventing escapes (eventually the big girls could hold one of the littles, too, but this required not only maturity on their part, but cooperation on the part of the ‘least’uns.’)
Speaking of that cooperation issue.… I believe children are a blessing. I love my big family. I love my children. I think they are wonderful, wonderful people. I am besotted by them. In fact, with my first I felt sorry for other mothers who had to see my incredibly perfect baby and then look at their own, so much less than perfect children and I worried they might feel discontented. My mother listened to me say this once, and carefully (and with a straight face) explained that God designed it so that all mothers feel like this about their children. I was so relieved and grateful that God deceived all the other mothers that way.=)
As my baby grew and we added to our family, I did come to understand that I was predisposed to adore my children and think they were wonderful, but that other people were not predisposed to think my little darlings were wonderful just because they existed. Because I loved my children so much, I wanted other people to like them, too. Because I believed my children were a blessing, I wanted to make sure they could behave in such a way that others would see them that way, too, and not have their own shopping/library/church/museum experiences utterly ruined by unruly, unpleasant, noxious behavior. So mannerly behavior was very important to us. It may well be ‘typical’ childish behavior to scream in the supermarket and demand toys, candy and cookies, but that doesn’t mean it cannot or should not be addressed. Parenting is about teaching, training, nurturing, disciplining, and disciplining children to grow beyond some of their natural savage inclinations. They have good inclinations, too, btw. One of the most important verses I had for those years is Galatians 6:9:
Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.
We worked hard on instilling good behavior in our children. I am not going to go into details on that (No, we did not read the Pearl’s books, they weren’t even in print yet so far as I know, nor did we do the Ezzo method. I am not remotely adverse to dusting off the britches of a deliberately naughty child, but be assured no children were harmed in the process of learning how to behave in public and in private). The thing is that for discipline issues, you really need counsel from somebody you trust, admire, respect, and know personally who also knows you personally. Just know that in order to make your littles a blessing and not a curse to others, you need to have a lot of things going for you, and one of the most important is consistent standards and consequences. Somebody you trust who knows you in person, who has children whose behavior you admire is the right person to talk to about this.
Here were some of our rules- one that may seem harsh is that nobody could ask for treats. I had five children on one enlisted man’s salary, three of the girls in diapers, and one who would eventually have a special diet (no wheat, corn, or eggs). I could not endure or afford a constant begging for treats in the store. It was a burden to my soul to have children pleading for candy, cookies, toys, cokes, and other things I really did not want them to have and could not really afford, especially not for five separate sets of preferences. This was, however, a mutual bargain. I usually chose a treat we could all share, but it was based on what was available in the store on sale (hence the rule about asking and pleading- I couldn’t predict what would be on sale). Sometimes it was an exotic piece of fruit we would take home, slice up and share together- starfruit, once, a box of berries in season another time, a package of boxed snack pack juices marked way down because one had been crushed another time… If I could not afford anything extra, we tried to stop at a park, or a creek, or a fish pond on the way home. I taught them not to beg for treats by frequent reminders that they weren’t to do so, explanations why, and on a couple very frustrating occasions, putting the treat I’d already picked out back on the shelf.
Stay with Mama, no running off, no hanging back.
No fighting, no biting, no screaming, no loud unpleasantness.
Smile and be nice.
Help mom unload the shopping cart. Help mom put the groceries in the van. Help unload when we get home.
Hold onto the shopping cart or Mom when in the parking lot.
Review your expectations often, and especially just before going into the store. We went over these rules before we left the house. Then, because we had a 45 minute drive to the nearest store, we went over them again before we left the van to go into the store (or library).
I had high expectations for the Progeny, and they mostly lived up to them. Children are capable of far more than we expect. I also tried to play fair– no shopping trips on empty stomachs, in the middle of nap time, when coming down with a cold (this was not always possible- there was a time or two we had to go shopping on empty stomachs because I woke up and realized there was nothing for breakfast). Don’t make good behavior harder than it has to be if you can help it. I don’t like shopping with a head-ache or when I am exhausted, either. I also did not expect my three year old to behave bettert han my two year old, because my two year old had grown up with me, and the three year old had not. She was still learning the rules, so I tried to cut her more slack and not put in her no win situations (not always successfully). If you can’t help it, just make it as short an sweet as possible.
Going-to-town-clothes: Because we lived so far from town, and in the country (we had chickens, goats, dogs, and cats then), I kept a going to town outfit for each child. They were not allowed to play in those clothes. They were only for outings. This made finding clothes for everybody much, much easier. There was no arguing about it because they knew this was their going to town uniform (there was arguing when I tried to make the outfits all matching outfits. Yellow ones. There was rank rebellion, in fact, and I think they wore the yellow clothes one time and never, ever again).
Their going to town clothes were not fancy, but were clean, neat, tidy, and they matched (I do not mean they matched each other so we looked like a girls’ school, but that their shirts were not polka-dots and their skirts were not striped- although I think that would be fine today). When you take a large brood of kids out in public, people are kind of put off if they have dirty faces, holes and stains in their clothes, and mussed up hair. The chilluns also seem to behave better when neat and tidy, too. So before we left, I braided everybody’s hair (braids don’t get so scraggly). They remember this, and not with fondness. They insist that the reason they all look so much younger than they are (Equuschick is usually presumed to be her baby’s big sister rather than his mother and she is 25) is because I gave them a permanent face lift with those tight braids. I tell them they should be thanking their mother and not sassing her.
I kept homemade wipes in the car to wash their faces. My house might have looked like a junk shop had vomited inside it, and I hadn’t had time to shave my legs since six weeks earlier when my husband left for Saudi Arabia or his other frequent hardship destination, Las Vegas (seriously), but my children looked tidy. At least when we started.=)
I kept water bottles and cups in the van so we could quench our thirst without resorting to sugary junk beverages.
I made everybody go to the bathroom before we left the house and again when we got to the store. On longer outings we also had enforced potty stops- everybody had to go potty at designated stops. Eventually, the oldest girls insisted they ought to know their own bladders, and we made a pact that we would not make them go to the bathroom on our schedule if they would not try and make us stop on theirs- in other words, “Y’all had better be right about not needing to go, because this is the last stop for hours.” They were right, and we all were happy.=)
For library trips we did not then have the luxury of reserving books at the library from home. We all went to the library, and we all hunted up our books. I would spend time looking for books for the Progeny, helping them find what they wanted, sitting them down with their books, instruct them not to get up without permission, and then I would take The Cherub, and sometimes the two year old, with me to the card catalog (yes! Card catalog!) to look up what *I* wanted. By the time the FYB came along, we had internet access and so did our library so I could put books on hold from home and this was so much easier. On the other hand, this means that Blynken, Nod, the FYG and the FYB spend much less time hanging out in the library, because I put the books on hold from home, and since Pip now works there, she brings them home for me. This is easier for me, but I suspect not necessarily best for them.
At the zoo, we made them hold hands in pairs, and dress in something that stood out as belonging to us (the doomed yellow shirts, for instance). A stroller ride was simply not optional if I needed somebody in the stroller.
As the children grew a bit older, I assigned each one a buddy to help- so I was no longer getting three littles dressed by myself. I would examine everybody before we walked out the door, though. Usually.
I think it helps that I am a firm person, quite comfortable with being the grown up, and I am not conflicted about my ‘right’ to direct my young children in the way I think is best for our family. It probably comes of being the Big Sister. As a younger mom I noticed that those of my peers who struggled more with the concept of being an authority, the authority, in their children’s lives, did not really grasp that you cannot have responsibility without authority, were nervous about telling their kids what to do and showed it, and usually were not the firstborn child in their family of origin. Being the Big Sister is both a gift and a curse.
So, we had rules, we had special clothes, we had high expectations, we tried to combine trips so I didn’t have to do this more than twice a month (except church), we had special outfits just for outings so we weren’t hunting up clothes for everybody, we had an order for our little procession, and we also had fun- at least, I thought it was fun.=) I asked the girls, and they remember some of the fun things, but it’s interesting, what they remember is largely similar to their personalities. Jenny remembers long days and talk radio (that’s when the radio was on, mostly), and Equuschick remembers too long days and feeling crabby and out of sorts. Pip remembers that I always took her to go look at the lobsters in the lobster tank, which reminds me that I also sometimes took them to the fish counter, if we were at a store which had one, to look at things like octopuses and whole fish. The HG remembers that the days were long, but that I always planned something fun and easy for dinner- fozen chimichangas or popcorn, fruit and cheese, and those rare treats like a single starfruit, a coconut, a pomegranate, or a new kind of candy bar- this would be a single treat that would be divided up between the six of us- it helped them all, I think, learn to appreciate such things even more.
I took my brood to the grocery store, the library, church, the zoo, the park, museums, banks, the dentist, the eye doctor, the post office, thrift shops, and more. We did not send them to Children’s Church, either. One place I never really took them was the mall. I am not a shopper. I hate malls. Once about every five to seven years I would take the children to the mall for a field trip, just so they had a frame of reference when they heard other people talking about the mall.
My youngest two children did not go shopping with me very often because their big sisters kept them and I went shopping by myself. I do not now believe this was best for them. They did not learn certain habits and the customary courtesies the descendants of Granny Tea are expected to exhibit in the same way their older siblings did as young as the other five did- I know this is so because the four of the older children who can talk make it a point to tell me so. It was fun to take my oldest five to the store. Until they grew much bigger, it was not fun to take my youngest two along, however, eventually the good example of the older children trickled down to their youngest siblings as well.
Our oldest children were very well behaved, so well behaved that we were often thanked by store managers, waitresses, librarians, and others while out. I always made sure to pass on those compliments to the children if they had not heard them. On the other side, society has shockingly low standards. There were a few occasions where my children were misbehaving badly and they still were complimented by shop managers. In one case, they were feeling giddy (we were visiting friends) at a children’s consignment store, and all of them disappeared into the clothing racks, hiding within the clothes. My friend and I were mortified because our children were not allowed to hide in the clothing racks, but the shop manager was thrilled with them because they were not screaming, knocking clothes off the racks on purpose, and if something fell they picked it up.
As you see, even with all these rules, guidelines, standards, and such general good results, we did not always have perfections. Sometimes we even had days like this one, experiences in church like this, this incredibly memorable field trip, or llittle ‘incidents’ like when my husband was teaching a parenting class and the toddler escaped me and raced up to his daddy (these things keep us humble). We also had the time one of the children did, indeed, knock over an entire display in the middle of a grocery store, and there was the unforgettable case of bookstore manager who was going to call the police because she thought the Cherub was being murdered in the bathroom (no punishment was involved).
We have also had more than our fair share of temper tantrums and fractious behavior (even the children did this sometimes).
But we muddled through it, pressing on, trying our best to be consistent, and then we reaped a harvest- bigger children who help with little children, who are pleasant companions, who are my friends, who are a joy and a blessing to others, who are happy and self-confident. We had little children who look up to, admire, and imitate their well behaved older siblings- and your day will come, too, young mother. There may be hard days in between, but be comforted- you probably won’t remember them all that well later.=)
On one of those very, very hard days linked above, I had a dark, dark moment where I thought of The Cherub opening car doors in moving vehicles when I’m 60, and even more despairingly I suddenly thought,
“I don’t think I can do this for the rest of my life.”
Immediately after that thought, we saw Orion’s belt glowing in the sky, and I thought again, “God doesn’t ask me to do this the rest of my life. He just asks me to do it right now.”
And then, if the Lord tarries, a little bit more after that.
It really is just one day at a time, one foot after another, here a little, there a little, slowly and steady pressing on. In due time, we shall reap what we sow. Let’s just try not to sow any whirlwinds.
I also blogged about helping children learn to be quiet in church here.
You may also benefit from reading Cindy’s post on her 30 years of experience mothering. She’s quite right.
Thank-you to Melissa at All Are Gifts from God for the link up!
Thanks, also to Mama J!
As long you’re here: Though Friday the 26th was the last day to vote for 10 favorite poems at Semicolon http://bit.ly/9HaiJN She will take votes thru the weekend. She’s not gotten that many entries, so send her your favorite ten poems published before around 1924 NOW!
Hope you’ll look around, see who we are, and come back Thursday!