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Managing Larger Families

Written by Crazy-Mom Bushnell

              One of the hallmarks of a large family managed well…. is the care of socks.  Now I  have a confession to make….I don’t think that we will ever reach the point of “managed well” because to be honest...I hate folding socks. 

I have, in the past, tried to interest Sheela (who is 20 and blind) and Lynny (who is 16 and has CP, is one handed, and has autism) in the project, and they have doggedly tried… but the men folk raise such a ruckus when they unfold mismatches (one of mine and one of theirs.)  True, both socks are white, and even similar length, but the lacey finish adorning the top of my sock, (in their opinion) doesn’t go with the work boots….

Actually, I was pretty impressed with their team work.  Sheela does the folding and Lynny does the matching. 

So next I had a bright idea.  We purchased a huge box full of large metal safety pins.  For hours, we matched tiny socks, huge wool socks, loads of boy’s white tube socks, girl’s ankle socks, men’s black dress socks.. You name it we have it.  We ceremoniously dumped them in the washer in a few loads and gleefully looked forward having our problem solved.

I should have gotten a clue, as I pulled the first mass of socks out of the washer and put them into the dryer.  They came in one armful… no choice.

After a musically clinking drying session, we opened the dryer door and pulled a laundry basket over, ready to sort, once and for all…

Have you ever seen a can of worms….?

Intertwined, in an impossible fashion of some bent-opened pins, stuck into the next sock, tangled with pinned socks, each piece connected with a swivel that hooks to other swivels… made for a mass of socks.  It was hopeless.

So much for our organized sock endeavor.

Socks are just one of the areas that as a large family, we (never?) will be accomplished at.  Two huge, green tubs reside in a state of constant flux, full or not so full, in our mudroom.  They are, in fact, the first thing you see as you enter our home.  Our main door opens into the laundry room.. Oh help! What were the people who designed our house plan thinking?!

Our entire family when putting on shoes (except for me, I do my own laundry!), go to the sock tubs in the mudroom, after rummaging around a few minutes, pull out a likely pair and don it each day.  That is just how it is done in our house.

Honestly, each of our family members has the option to do their own laundry.  In the past, the boys all did their own. Or perhaps each room combined their loads to simplify sorting.  Now they are all working full time and have resigned themselves to group laundry care, with numbered garments. 

Yes, I make the guys all number each item with a pre-assigned number.  Now that the guys are all grown, everything is the same size, and property rights are an issue.  It was humiliating for them, at first, to have to number their stuff.  But not half as frustrating as it was for me listening to the World War III  I had started over whose sweat shirt, jeans or name brand shirt I had just given to the wrong person.

Happily we co-exist in a jumbled fashion… it works for us.  The laundry does get done, sorted and put away thanks to a group effort and Sheela’s persistence.

Meal time.

We have not had very many sit-down dinners over the last 15 years.  The very few we have had involved both mom and dad scurrying around our huge, 14 foot table serving food, refilling plates and mopping up spilled serving bowls.

The dynamics in our home are such that young children, mixed with a blind sister, mixed with a not-paying-attention-one-handed sister and a son with DS who wouldn’t, even if asked, pass something, made sit-down dinners a real stress.  I am convinced that if we had to all sit down each meal, with all of my running around I would never get a bite to eat. At 5 ft. 8” I would be a size 5 and thin as a rail.

So we do buffet style.  Mom and Dad do the plate filling.  Kids sit.  We dish.  At around 8 years of age, and if they fill their plates appropriately, they get the PRIVILEDGE of dishing themselves!  Sound harsh….?  It works for us.

Part of our reasoning in keeping everybody seated at meal time, is that in the past, we have had some interesting experiences involving food and large numbers of people eating at once. 

When we attended a local church, when Jordan was about 15, he was really just starting to experiment in the food dishing area.  At a church meal, one Sunday afternoon, after all was eaten and clean up begun, the ladies started the process of emptying tables and throwing away trash.  The cups full of water, juice, coffee and such could not be thrown away in the big trash can without being emptied first, so they routinely took a pitcher and emptied the cups before they threw them away.  A church full of tables can be a big job and takes a while.

Jordan, seeing the need for help, watched for a while and then felt that he could probably do this.  He started throwing the plates away and making himself useful. The trouble arrived when he came upon the pitchers full of various liquids.  He looked at the garbage can.  He looked at the empty cups.  He shook his head.  He picked up the pitcher and promptly took a nice long swig.

Now, I can see his reasoning… no sense in wasting (I often grumble myself) but his solution was... What? Nobody wants this nice stuff? I’ll drink!

My red face and the howls of his brothers and sisters was enough to make me hurry over and assign Jordan to a less tempting clean-up job.

So, as far as dishing himself from a serving bowl at the table, the idea that there might be others who want some, may not occur to him. Over the years we have carefully helped him moderate his choices.  He is still tempted to “clean everybody’s plate” during wash-up time.  In fact, if you are not watching your sandwich, and you turn around to warm up your bowl of soup in the microwave… and the sandwich comes up missing…  no need to hunt far in our house….

We all adapt to our most pressing needs. I think every large family (or every family in the process of becoming large) works this out as the need arises.  Evolution.  That’s us.  What we did to cope 20 years ago, is not the same now.  Nope. Instead of shopping weekly and filling one cart, we buy 3 carts of groceries or more a week.  I enter Costco trembling.  It is impossible to get out of there without spending hundreds of dollars.

Most shopping trips I take a capable soul or two to push a cart (meaning an older teen or my husband). They see me coming…. “Good morning Mrs. Bushnell...!”  Can I get you another cart Mrs. Bushnell...?  Would you like a case of oranges today Mrs. Bushnell...? Is there something special you are looking for Mrs. Bushnell...?”

Now I haven't figured out if they pay me these kind respects because they know that I am a faithful big spender… or because they want to avoid a hazardous accident as my carts fill to overflowing, looking  ready to spill over onto the floor…. Honestly it is organized!

All in all, we love living as a big family.  It has its challenges.  No, we do not offer a complete college education or even name brand shoes.  We do offer a lot of love and acceptance, sprinkled with hilarious moments.