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I Just Want You to KnowLetters to My Kids on Love, Faith, and Family
By Kate Gosselin
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Katie Irene Gosselin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneORDINARY IN AN EXTRAORDINARY WAY
We pulled into the parking lot at Friendly's restaurant for one of our rare dinners out. I got out of our Big Blue Bus and was reaching in for one of the kids when a black dog ran over and started licking my leg. Though he was obviously a fan of my leg, I wasn't a fan of the dog. I looked around and saw his owner, an older lady.
"Excuse me, could you please put him on a leash?" I asked.
"You want me to do what?"
"Could you put him on a leash? I have to get my kids out of the car and some of them are scared of dogs."
"I will not!" she said indignantly.
Another lady in a van parked nearby had watched the encounter. "What did she say?" she asked the woman with the dog.
"She told me to put him on a leash, and I said I wouldn't."
At that point, Jon and I just tried to do the best we could. We got all eight of the kids out of the bus and assembled in a line holding hands, steering clear of the dog still panting at my ankles.
"They were just on TV," the van lady said to the dog lady.
Jon and I started to lead the kids away from the bus.
"Hey, were you just on TV?" the dog lady asked. Suddenly she didn't have as much attitude.
"Yes," I said over my shoulder. I didn't want to look at her and her salivating dog. I just kept walking.
We took off across the parking lot with the woman following us. "I know who you are. I love that show!"
What do you do with that? I've had plenty of practice since that first fan encounter, but practice doesn't always make it easier. Most people are respectful. They know how to say, "Oh, how cute," and move on. My biggest concern is getting my children safely to our destination, but persistent fans want to keep the conversation going.
Some people think the show took away our privacy, and maybe our right to it; but before the show even began folks would approach us. They wanted to see the kids. Let's face it-they're cute! I get it that people are naturally drawn to their sweet little faces. I understand people's curiosity about a large family with sets of multiples and the attention it attracts in a small town. But even then I longed to be inconspicuous and do the things ordinary families did.
In those early days, people didn't approach us much; they would, for the most part, just stand back and stare. If I had paid attention, I would have seen them pointing and counting, but most of the time I didn't even notice. I was usually so hyper-focused on making sure the kids got safely to our destination that I didn't notice people's reactions unless they made it impossible for me to ignore them-like the lady with the dog. A lot of times I would say, "It's nice to meet you, but I'm sorry, I have to get my kids in the car."
The persistent fans were often more concerned about what they were getting out of me than having respect for my situation. That's probably where my perceived bad attitude toward the public started. Depending on the location, I tried to be cordial and kind, but I probably didn't always respond very well. Frankly, it bothered me that people wouldn't leave us alone. Sometimes they even wanted to touch the kids. I got very good about quickly stepping in between them before they could.
These types of encounters caused Jon and me to long for what we called a "normal" family life. For us, normal meant being able to travel outside of the house with just the ten of us-no chaperones. Normal meant my kids could get out and play freely, instead of being restrained in their strollers because we couldn't keep sixteen chubby little legs from running in eight different directions. In my fantasies about "normal," I craved a quiet life where my family and I could go out in public without people staring, pointing, and counting my kids. It was hard enough trying to be a mom of twins and sextuplets without feeling like the world was watching everything I did.
* * *
Safety is always a concern for parents of young children, but for Jon and me, any usual concern had to be multiplied by eight. For example, what if our house caught fire during the night? That was one of my greatest fears. Physically, how would two adults get eight kids out of a burning house? Every night before I went to sleep, I prayed to God to keep us safe from a fire.
When the six were infants, the best plan Jon and I could come up with was for me to get Cara and Mady. Jon would then pile the little kids into one big blanket and throw it over his shoulder like Santa as we all raced to the nearest exit. We knew that wasn't a perfect solution-the babies would roll all over each other, maybe even break a bone-but it was better than the alternative. We always kept a comforter under the cribs just in case of an emergency.
But once we were in a new house and the little kids were no longer infants, we had to come up with a new plan. Though they could walk, you can't tell six two-year-olds, "Yeah, I know it's hot and smoky, but go ahead and walk down the stairs." No, they'd be terrified. We had to come up with contingencies for every possibility. "What if the fire is at the bottom of the steps?" "What if one of them runs back upstairs to grab a comfort item?" "What if they're too scared to come to us when we call them?" Other families had fire drills; Jon and I had fire interrogations.
Another thought that kept us awake at night was who would take the kids if something happened to us. For many families, it's easy to find an aunt, grandmother, or close friend to take in a child or two.
But eight kids?
It was important to Jon and me that the kids stayed together. Who would be willing and capable of taking all of them? My brother and sister-in-law offered, but they already had four kids of their own. It would be too much to have twelve kids in one house. Their intentions were admirable, and we were grateful for the offer. But twelve kids would send even me over the edge.
We struggled to find a solution. Eventually, we named our friends as the first choice to take the kids. We chose them because their kids were older, and we felt it wouldn't be such a huge burden for them to take all eight. I trusted that they would make family visits a priority for our kids in the event that something happened to Jon and me.
House fires. Parents dying. Certainly those are extreme, unlikely events, but they are still normal concerns for most families. What wasn't normal was how complicated it was to address those concerns. We could twist ourselves in knots over the right thing to do. It was never easy. The decisions we had to make seemed harder than those made by typical families, and I longed for the simplicity of an ordinary-sized household. In my fantasies these people's lives seemed much less complicated than mine.
* * *
Ordinary parents cook pancakes, but most don't quadruple the recipe. Ordinary families buy bread at the grocery store, but few of them buy it by the flat (that's twelve loaves if you're counting). Ordinary moms of two-year-olds run out of energy during the day, but I'm guessing they don't usually feel entirely depleted. From the mundane (we ate four boxes of cereal or two dozen eggs for breakfast every day) to the unusual (on Christmas we put a baby gate around our tree to protect the ornaments from the kids and the kids from the ornaments) our normal was never ordinary.
Our culture just isn't set up for supersized families.
Take trash for example. No one ever thinks about their trash. They collect it from their house once or twice a week, set it by the curb, and forget it until the next week. Not us. We lived in an area where there were strict limits on the number of bags you could throw away each week, and we always exceeded those limits-especially when the kids were in diapers. We easily had two bags of trash on an ordinary day, more on birthdays and holidays. By the end of an average week, we'd have four huge cans filled with bags of garbage and diapers.
I remember so many Sundays nights when Jon would be in the garage rationing out what garbage he could put out and what he could hold back for the next week. It was like a game of schoolyard trading where we always got the bad deal. "I'll trade one bag of dirty diapers for two bags of kitchen refuse that maybe I can compress down into a single bag to put out next week." But each week, the same problem only got worse.
One solution was to call our neighbor and friend, Miss Beverly. She came over weekly to fold our laundry and was always willing to help us out. She and her husband never used all of their garbage allotment, so Sunday nights Jon would wheel a trash can down a few streets and up a hill to leave it at her house.
I know it seems crazy to worry about trash, but Jon and I spent a lot of time in those days thinking about it. We would fantasize about normal family-sized trash the way other people dream of white picket fences.
During that time, we exceeded our trash quota so often that we left presents on top of the trash cans in hopes the sanitation workers would take everything we put out. Sometimes we left little snacks, baked goods, or candy-anything we had.
But not every problem could be solved logistically; sometimes we just had to make do. For example, some parents worry about their kids watching too much TV; I worried that my kids couldn't see the TV. We moved an old TV into the babies' room so they could watch a movie before their nap. But because the TV was small, and the perimeter of the room was filled with cribs, there wasn't a central location that gave all of the kids a good view of the screen. Several of the kids, Hannah, Leah, and Alexis, especially, couldn't see it too well. But we had to make do. Again, this was an issue I was sure normal families never faced-but it was another small thing that added to the guilt I felt.
Trash logistics and six little faces trying to view a TV screen aren't life-shattering issues. But in our family, the most ordinary activities could feel extraordinary. That also meant that unexpected events, like a sick kid, could feel downright harrowing.
* * *
Sickness is serious business at our house. Colds and flu don't just travel through our family; they take up residence in each and every child. But sometimes it's not just the illness that brings us down. The ancillary things like doctor's visits, prescription refills, and health professionals who don't understand our needs further complicate daily life.
Lots of families with kids have stories about how all the kids got sick at once. As a nurse, that part isn't hard. I'm used to taking care of multiple patients at the same time. For me, the hardest part is trying to get each and every child to the doctor's office when (and only when) they need to be seen.
In December 2006, five of the six had been coughing for nearly a week. I'm not the kind of mom who runs her child to the doctor for every little sniffle, but their coughs had gone on for a long time and I was particularly worried about Leah. When I put her into her high chair one day, I thought I heard her wheezing. I decided to listen to her chest with my stethoscope, and when I did, I heard crackling and more wheezing.
I called the doctor's office and asked if Leah could be seen that day.
"Well, we don't really have any appointments available today."
"Can you just fit me in between appointments?"
"We don't usually do it that way."
"I know," I said, "but I'm a nurse and I've listened to her chest and it doesn't sound good. I think she should be seen by a doctor. I'll take whatever you've got; I just need my child to get in today." Finally, the assistant gave me an appointment and I hung up. Now I had to find a babysitter to stay with the rest of the kids.
Most moms know how hard it is to be seen by a doctor at the last minute. Imagine trying to coordinate the one appointment available in your physician's schedule with the schedule of a babysitter to watch your other seven kids. Taking them with me wasn't an option. I called everyone I could think of and no one was available. As it grew closer to the appointment time I only had one option left-call Jon home from work early. I hated to do that unless it was a real emergency.
Jon came home to stay with the kids, and I was a little late for the appointment, but I was so glad I followed my instinct. My tiny girl had pneumonia! Poor Leah! I was right to insist that she be seen. Had I waited a day, who knows how sick she might have become? The doctor had me start her on a nebulizer, and she prescribed an antibiotic-Zithromax.
I picked up the prescription on the way home and gave her the first dose shortly after we got back. Unfortunately, my poor baby threw up fifteen minutes later. She was hysterical. I was afraid she had thrown up the medicine and I wasn't sure whether or not to give her another dose. She needed to be on it, but I didn't want her to overdose, and it was too late to call the pediatrician by then. Day one of the illness was anything but smooth.
The next morning Aaden seemed to be doing worse so I listened to his lungs. They also sounded crackly. I called the pediatrician, but before they would put me through to the nurse, the front office staff wanted to know what I needed.
"Well, now Aaden's lungs sound crackly ... Yes, I had Leah in there yesterday and her lungs sounded the same way ... She has pneumonia. So I was wondering if the doctor could call in a prescription of Zithromax for Aaden too? Okay, I'll talk to the nurse ..."
When the nurse called back, I repeated all of the information and answered her questions too. But then the conversation got weird.
"The doctor would never do something like that!" she said suddenly.
"Like what?" I asked.
"Call in a prescription for a patient she hasn't seen."
To get my kids the medical care they needed, I had to work hard to convince the office staff that when one of my kids got sick, the others did too. Finding a last-minute babysitter for seven so I could take one sick child to the pediatrician was part of my job as a mom of eight little kids. And repeatedly calling the doctor for appointments, prescriptions, and refills had to be done no matter how much I annoyed the office staff.
I was quickly learning that we weren't normal by the world's standards, but I also found out that with enough persistence, we could make things work. In the end, Aaden was seen by the pediatrician and was also treated for pneumonia. I've learned to always trust my mommy instincts.
* * *
If I learned anything during our time in Elizabethtown, it was that our dreams of "normal" as defined by an average-sized family weren't possible. Our logistics and our way of doing things was never normal and never would be, but we learned to stop comparing ourselves to other families, and we redefined what normal meant to us.
Normal for us meant, in part, having mounds of trash and weeks of illness; but it also meant having large group fun we could never have had with a smaller family, like team sports and playing school.
Another difference in our family was that we put extra effort into giving the kids special, individual opportunities. We knew they didn't get much time alone, so being intentional about allowing them space and attention was more important for us than for other families.
Redefining normal helped us to accept that things for us would be different, and whether it was good or bad depended on what we made of each situation.
I think every family needs to understand what makes their household work-even if it doesn't function quite like other families. During our time in that house, we learned to make a new kind of ordinary, a Gosselin normal that worked for Jon and me and for our kids. We learned we could feel like a regular family when we went out and made it home safely without any major logistical issues. (When that happened Jon and I would high-five each other because we felt so, well, normal.)
We stopped comparing ourselves to other families and set about making our own path in the world. People still stared at us and counted us when we went out. Our safety and health issues were still magnified times eight. We still ate more boxes of cereal and more eggs at breakfast than other families did. But we began to see all of that as our normal.
Learning to redefine our expectations was a huge blessing because it was during those years that our show really took off. By the time we left Elizabethtown, we would once again have to redefine a new normal, one that included even more stares and pointing, as well as lights, cameras, and a whole lot of action.
Excerpted from I Just Want You to Know by Kate Gosselin Copyright © 2010 by Katie Irene Gosselin. Excerpted by permission.
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