When you have six children, aged three to eleven, you have to accept the reality that most of the time whatever you are doing would seem completely insane to most other people. To say that a family this size makes for unpredictable situations would be an understatement. We are nuts. We know this. We make plans and then fly by the seat of our pants. This is how we ended up spending our first family vacation, a three-day trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, scouring milkshake shops, ice cream stores, and cafes between seeing the sites and buying souvenirs.
Our family packed a Honda Pilot and then a small creek-side cabin with as much stuff as a regular-sized family might need in a month, and vowed to spend the next three days exploring the Black Hills while we explored our new family dynamic. We were still in the new stages of our blended family. All of the ingredients were there—one part preteen boy, two parts toddler, three parts eight-year-old girl, dash of Midwest dad, splash of East Coast mom—but we hadn’t turned on the blender yet.
It was an impeccably planned first day. We dressed them all up in stripes so we would be able to find one when they got separated. We planned each activity based on the time of day and attention span of each kid. We packed wipes and snacks and coloring books. We plotted out our path on the map.
We did most of the things we had planned, we spent way more than we meant to, and we only got lost once. When we got back to our little cabin, a nice quiet dinner was in order. Bill barbecued and the bigger kids reluctantly set the table. (Although, they were encouraged by the fact that paper plates didn’t have to be washed. We were still in the initial stages of figuring out how chores would work and the general consensus was: someone else is in charge of that.) Once we had all the kids settled at the table, Bill claimed “alone time” and took his fishing pole down to the creek. I tried to get the kids to finish eating and at least make it look like I was in control. Levi wasn’t cooperating. He started to stand on the benches and jump around. I went through all five stages of the well-known parenting phenomenon called “this-kid-isn’t-listening to me.”
“Levi, sweetie, let’s sit down nicely.”
“Levi, I asked you to sit down, please.”
“Levi, do you hear me?”
“Levi, you need to sit down right now.”
“Levi William, if you don’t sit down right now, then no dessert!”
When he fell backward off the table, my first thought was, well, that’s what happens when you don’t listen! But when he opened his mouth and blood came pouring out, I quickly changed my tune.
I’m sure his new wife running toward him with an armful of his bleeding, crying child is not what Bill was expecting as he sat quietly fishing, but it’s what he got. Much calmer than I ever hope to be, Bill just carried the wriggly little blond back to the cabin and assessed the damage.
Since it appeared that Levi had bit almost all the way through his tongue, Bill decided a trip to the emergency room was in order. Five hours later, the doctors announced that no stitches were needed, but Levi was not allowed to chew for the next forty-eight hours.
Levi and I were still getting to know each other, but we agreed on some main aspects of life:
1. Make sure people can hear you when you talk. (He has the most amazing deep throaty un-three-year-old voice.)
2. Run! All day! Use every ounce of energy you have and when you are tired, sleep like a log. (Wherever you are.)
3. Check people out before you make a commitment, but once you decide to love someone stick with it and make sure they know it.
4. Eat if you’re hungry. But only if you like it.
5. Most things are better in the blender. I like margaritas. He likes smoothies.
The last days of our vacation were not as organized as the first. We had a hungry three-year-old who wasn’t allowed to chew! He’s not what I would call a picky eater, but he does draw the line at most mushy foods. I had to figure out how to continue on as planned, but also make sure that we could feed him the one thing he agreed to eat every time he got hungry.
We slid the alpine slide, bought cowboy souvenirs, and saw the fireworks over Mount Rushmore. But our unpredictable new life taught us a lesson that weekend—our focus would have to always be figuring out what each person needs and making it happen. And in this case, that meant we spent the better part of those two days … finding banana smoothies.