Almost 15 years have passed, but I can still call back the moment I held my first niece, all big-eyed and unassuming. It was the first time I felt comfortable holding a baby. Like, my brain and my body just knew she belonged to me in some small but important way. I remember thinking our family would never be the same, which turned out to be true. Our dynamic shifted on that day. My parents became grandparents, I became an aunt, my brother an uncle and so on. But moreso, the light that had, to that point, shined down on me and my siblings dimmed on our faces on that rainy August day and illuminated this fresh little soul, instead. We had a new axis. And I didn’t care one bit, which is rare for a baby-of-the-family type like myself. I was happy to step aside and let this tiny love nugget soak up all the attention that she so deserved and earned by being offensively adorable and blowing the most endearing spit bubbles.
A few years later, my sister told me she was pregnant again, and just after Christmas, she gave me my second niece. Then a few years later, my third niece. Then we were pregnant together and neither of us found out what we were having, and wouldn’t you know, spring brought a pair of chicks; one for each of us. Then, she got pregnant about four years after that and it was, you guessed it, another girl. At this point, it’s starting to get crazy, right? Well, unbeknownst to any of us, including my sister, she wasn’t quite done. In a surprise turn of events, this past fall Kirsten welcomed her sixth little bambina.
They’re beautiful, each of them. My sister’s husband is Mexican and Kirsten is tall, pale and blonde, so it’s a fun little genetics recipe to play with. Some are blessed with the beautiful olive tone and big brown eyes that will just straight up level you, Disney princess style, and others get to be curly towheads with our family’s signature blinding white complexion. The teams currently stand at Brownies: 2, Blondies: 3, TBD/Mashup: 1.
Sometimes I forget just how sensational my sister’s harem is. And then I have a moment of drowning in my own personal kiddie pool (by comparison) of estrogen. Three girls is a lot of emotion, I tell people. We’re never short on tears, drama or clogged toilets. And then I think about doubling down. I think about that feeling when you finish a half marathon and no way, ever, would you consider turning around and doing it again. But that’s my sister’s life. When I tap out and take my melatonin at 9, whipped and tattered from 13.1 miles complete, my sister is a short highway drive away, winding down from a full 26.2. She is a hardcore, badass marathon mama.
It earns her a bit of grace, I’d say. But she’s built for it. She’s my opposite in most every way. She knows when to just roll around in the sea of torn wrapping paper rather than frantically scoop it up and risk missing the moment. And that, I’d say, makes all the difference. Dancing rather than disinfecting. Laughing rather than laundry. It can all wait, and it will. I mean, the mess is multiplying by six at her house as we speak. But she is the perfect woman, partnered with the perfect man, for bringing a big ole gaggle of gals up right.
The stories that come out of her house are gold, as you might imagine. Someone’s always drawing on someone else’s face with permanent marker or painting themselves from head to toe in Desitin cream. Once a mouse got in the toilet. Her oldest, Olivia, who was much younger at the time, unknowingly sat down to go potty and, upon discovering the rodent clawing and frantically swimming beneath her bottom, screamed, “I pooped a mouse! I pooped a mouse! Mommy, Daddy, I pooped a mouse!” She wouldn’t sit on the can for weeks after that. There are self-administered haircuts that will live on in infamy and scars from sister-on-sister war crimes. But all in all, it’s pretty organized chaos.
People always ask me how she does it, and the truth is, I honestly don’t really know. But like any good journalist, I’m always willing to go straight to the source for you guys. So, settle in for this lovely little testimony from one of my favorite tired, brutiful mothers, who happens to be my big sister.
SOME KINDA SUPERWOMAN: KIRSTEN
– Written by the woman herself
December 26, 2015. I’m brushing my teeth and watching the screen of a digital pregnancy test. I say I’ll never forget it, but does anyone ever really forget those moments? The screen showed a clock flashing, then suddenly a “YES +”. I froze. My heart began to race and I felt hot from the inside out. This was not part of the plan. This was not on the family calendar. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but the reality is that in that moment that was not what I wanted. Two thoughts ran through my mind: First, “What will people think?” and then, “What does this mean for my plans and my dreams?” I had no idea how this surprise would fit into our already crazy family.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me introduce myself.
I’m the manager of this circus. I’m the one who attempts to hold this show together while delivering an appearance that resembles anything even near the neighborhood of normal. My fearless husband is our ring leader, and, doing various acts and flips and stunts in rings on either side of us, you will find six beautiful, intelligent, strong-willed, persistent, messy, hilarious, challenging little girls. Yes, I know, I know … SIX GIRLS! No, we were not trying for a boy. No, we aren’t Catholic. Each one of these little tyrants can take us from gut-wrenching laughter to the edge of a cliff in a matter of seconds, and to say it’s like a rollercoaster ride would be a laughable understatement.
On any given day, there will be at least one room (usually more) that I walk into and then immediately turn around, walk out, and shut the door. Today that would be Sloan’s (our fifth) and Izzy’s (our third). I truly believe that I would have better luck trying to teach those pigs to fly than I would have keeping this place clean. If you come over, you’re going to stick to my counters. You’re going to find more apple cores around my house than in the pages of a Berenstain Bears book. There’s no guarantee that a little surprise won’t still be lurking in the toilet when you go into our bathrooms. (WHY WON’T THEY FLUSH?!) I’ve also seriously considered just giving up and telling people we run a fruit fly breeding program. I mean we’ve got reproduction down in this neck of the woods. In other words, if you stop by unannounced and miss the very tiny window where I have tidied enough to present my pretend house to planned company, please bring a hazmat suit.
The truth is, whenever anyone asks me how we do it all, my answer is easy … we don’t! Hang around for 20 minutes and you’ll see for yourself.
I am not supermom. Mass chaos is considered the routine. I forget things all the time. I can’t tell you how many rolls of toilet paper we go through because, honestly, it’s too frightening to keep track. I yell. A lot. I go to the grocery store more than the bathroom. And you should see us all in the car. It’s like a clown car, only instead of men-children with their faces painted in freaky patterns, it’s grumpy, needy little gremlins fighting the entire trip over who looked at who first. (Did I mention they all suffer from extreme motion sickness? That’s right. Envy me, people.) Someone always feels left out or let down. Someone is always hungry. Someone always has to pee at the worst possible time. I’d love to tell you I’m Carol Brady reincarnate. I’d love to say that I’m patiently and calmly helping them learn to solve their problems and hug it out, but I’m not. I’m human. I’m reactive. I’m selfish.
This brings me back to the little surprise I mentioned earlier.
Two days after finding out I was pregnant I started bleeding. I wholeheartedly thought I was having a miscarriage. That was such a strange moment. Strange because I was terrified, and strange because just hours before, I’d felt so much uncertainty about what this baby even meant. This was one of those moments when I had to stop and get my poop together. (Yes, I said poop. I’ve adapted to censorship.) I had to start reevaluating what family means. I had to realize what I would be losing in this new adventure (plans, so-called dreams, schedules and calendars) didn’t amount to a hill of beans, as my dad would say, compared to this new little life.
Having a large family is extremely uncomfortable. That’s the honest-to-God truth. Nothing is easy. Nothing ever goes as planned. As I’m writing this, my husband is picking blue slime out of our three-year-old’s hair. We weren’t put on this earth to be comfortable, though. I truly believe we were put here to be challenged. That’s how we change and grow. I know it’s cheesy, but I often think about diamonds and how much pressure it takes to transform them from a nasty lump of coal into something beautiful. Challenges do that. They teach us. They mold us. I pray that when this journey of motherhood slows down, and my little gremlins are grown, I will see that I have helped mold my kids into loving, God-fearing women. I hope to accomplish that for them, but I know they are doing that for me.
We always talk about our responsibilities as parents and how difficult they can be. God help us all, it really is difficult. But what we don’t discuss enough is what we get out of it. Each and every one of my babies has a totally different personality, and each one of them teaches me something different about myself. It’s like being in a fun house and having six images, all different, but all reflecting me. They are my mirrors, pointing out everything beautiful in my life, but also every flaw. Sometimes what I see is hard to swallow, and even harder to accept, but without them I’d never unlock that piece of myself. I wouldn’t challenge myself to keep growing, and keep going.
Everyone tells you that your kids grow up fast. I have a 14-year-old! Trust me, it does go fast. Every day with them is a gift. I won’t pretend for one second that I appreciate this gift the way I should on a daily basis. I won’t pretend that there aren’t times I think, Man, two kids would have been so much easier. What I will say, though, is that I will be eternally grateful for the moments I laid in bed feeling like the biggest failure in the world (and there are a lot of them), because those are the moments that humbled me. The ones that built and are building me. Those are the moments I had to pray for strength and step outside my comfort zone. I can’t quit this gig. I can’t give up. I have to become more. I have to keep pushing myself. The stakes are too high. I have to keep running, knowing each day I’m a little more equipped for the marathon. Eventually, I will get to a finish line and all the inconveniences and all the mistakes made and lessons learned will amount to something so much bigger than me.
When our little surprise baby was three weeks old, she gave her mama another big scare. She came down with a pretty serious infection. What followed were months of uncertainty. Months of stress. Out little seven-pound gift from God once again brought me a reminder: Life is so precious and makes you no promises. When I look at her, the reflection is one of gratitude and appreciation for what God has entrusted to me.
I used to worry about what everyone thought of me. I used to strive for the façade of perfection, or even normalcy. My large family may look like an inconvenient mess to many, but I just don’t care anymore. God knew it would take six girls to get through my thick skull that His purpose is so much bigger than anyone’s opinion. Love is not some beautiful fairytale. Love is hard. Its fabric is flaws and mistakes, discipline and tears. It’s laying in bed at night feeling like you can’t do this anymore only to get up the next day and try again. That’s the gift my large, insane, beautiful family brought me. The gift of love.