Cheaper By the Dozen (Almost)

I often have people ask me what it was like to grow up in such a large family. When I did my blog giveaway asking for blog ideas, that was one of the suggestions--to give some of the details. To tell you everything about growing up in a family the size of ours would take pages and pages, maybe even volumes. But there are a few things that stand out in my mind.

Dad and Mom had wanted a dozen children, but a miscarriage before me and a miscarriage after my youngest brother made that plan impossible. They settled for eleven.

I am the oldest, and therefore, the luckiest. We often joke about how different things were for the younger children. For most of my growing up we lived in the country. At various times we milked cows, gardened, raised pigs, and butchered our own animals. We had to drive into town to go shopping and rode the bus to school. For most of the younger children's lives, they lived in town, walked or drove to school, and bought milk and meat from the grocery store. My own kids have been raised more like my younger brothers and sisters and I'm often struck by how different their lives are from mine.

The younger kids were raised with the luxuries of living in town (I sound like Laura Ingalls Wilder, or something), and there was more money as they grew up. My youngest brother would go grocery shopping with Mom and he'd put whatever he wanted into the cart. AND SHE'D BUY IT! That didn't happen with the rest of us. Things like that might lead you to believe that the younger ones in the family were the lucky ones.

But you'd be wrong.

I got to live at home for eighteen years with younger brothers and sisters. I was rarely alone. I got to stay up late and watch Marcus Welby, M.D. with my Mom. Dad would be at meetings and the rest of the kids would be in bed. But not me because I was the oldest. Sure, I had a good share of responsibilities associated with being the oldest, but I also got to stay home from school and watch younger siblings when Mom would go have a new baby. I loved that. I took pride in making sure that the family was well-cared for and Mom came home to a spotless house. That was a small price to pay for the privilege of missing two or three days of school without having to be sick.

I loved taking my younger brothers and sisters places--to movies, shopping, or other outings.

I loved being able to go to their games, track meets, and concerts. I have all those memories. I was always so proud of my younger brothers and sisters.

Having a family that large had to be hard. My parents worked hard to provide for all of us. Dad taught school and picked up bus-driving jobs, as well as taking care of our little farms. Mom sewed and cooked and made bread. She used cloth diapers that she made herself until the last baby. We didn't eat out much. McDonalds or Wendy's was a rare treat and even then we'd usually split the meals.

We drove large vans and when we'd travel (which we did every summer), people would pass our car and you'd often see them counting as they drove by. We were a curiosity. We always said we should have a sign that said "11 Children" to hold up when someone would drive by counting, but we never did.

Looking back, I realize there were many things that were different because of our large family. I often thought about how tragic it would be if Mom and Dad had stopped at a smaller number. If they'd have stopped at five, I wouldn't have had any sisters. If they'd have stopped at nine, we wouldn't have had the little boys. What a loss it would have been in my life without each of those seven brothers and three sisters.

A smaller family might have meant more material things for us, but we'd have missed out on so much fighting, laundry, work, fun, friends, loyalty and love. I'll never, ever be sorry I was the oldest of eleven children.

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Kristi said...

On Sunday night we ate dinner at the house of one of Spencer's coworkers. He and his wife have 16 children. It was so fun to sit and listen to their stories and hear of the familiar craziness and happiness that comes with a large family.

Anonymous said...

Love it! I am also from a family with 11 children, but I was not the oldest. I loved growing up in a large family. the thing I liked best was that i always had a friend and that was especially important when we moved to a new location. thanks for the post, it brought back memories for me as well.

Leslie said...

i happen to be one of those 'younger ones'... and i agree with you. you older ones are the lucky ones. you got to live at home with all of the other kids the longest. you get to have the most memories of bruce. you all got to know all of the grandparents the longest. you got to have more farm memories than any of us younger kids (although my 10.5 years of farm memories are precious and vivid).

we younger kids are also the lucky ones, though... because we got to have some amazing older siblings who helped to take care of us. who love us. and were great examples to us. i loved it when you would take us girls out for a movie or whatever.

we are all so blessed. we owe our parents so much.

cucciolo25 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cucciolo25 said...

As the 10th of the 11, let me agree with you that you were the lucky ones. I loved my childhood on the farms, but that ended when I was 9. I wish I had more of the crazy experiences that the older kids had...dynamite anyone? But we were also very lucky to have older siblings to keep us from following the stupid trends. Also it was fun to hang out with the older siblings; like when you took Mark and me to Dinosaur land. Riding the bus in Missouri, the high school kids who knew our siblings would let the "little Higginson's" ride in the back of the bus. One of my favorite things though was having everyone come and watch my basketball games and concerts. It was nice to see that everyone was proud of me even though I was "just" the 10th of 11. I think that no matter which number we were, we were all lucky in different ways. Big families are so fun!

Edonna said...

Awesome! Even the oldest of 6 had its perks. And when we took a family trip back to Illinois the summer before the move to MO, we DID make that sign. Because they still counted. And we had a dog. 9 seat station wagon.
Been busy, miss reading your posts. I'm reading right now instead of grading-need a break!