The response to our family is generally split in thirds. First of all, there are those who assume that we couldn't possibly handle one more thing and so they never, ever want to impose upon us. They won't call, they don't allow their children to suggest playdates at our house and they would never, ever stop by unannounced. They won't participate in carpools with us without committing to do all the driving which, consequently, usually means it isn't happening. We miss these people. We enjoy their company and our kids would really like to develop friendships but that's just a wee bit tough to do when they are afraid to talk to us. I'm terrible about making and receiving phone calls - you're more likely to get an email or a text message from me just because our home background noise is not conducive to telephonic conversation. But that doesn't mean we don't want you around! I suspect these people carry around a lot of guilt about being our friends because they never actually *do* anything with us in spite of their good intentions. And I also suspect that their expectation is that they will serve our family by not adding one more thing to our plate which means if they are going to get our children together to play, they will pick up all of them at once, host, drop off, feed special diets and run an errand for me on the side - which is unrealistic for all of us which is probably why we never see these people.
Then there are the ones with a more middlin' attitude. Those are the realistic folks we're probably most comfortable with. They let their kids play here, they invite ours over from time to time and they realize that, just like for them, some days are going to be better than others. They give us a call before they send the kids over or they call after they've been here for a few minutes to make sure the arrangement is working for us. Their kids are comfortable here, they know the rules and their parents don't mind if we call them on it. They don't mind if their kids show up and I promptly send them home because I'm incidentally having one of those trying-to-get-tons-of-people-fed-and-out-the-door hours. They also realize that I drive taxi too so if I suggest the I'll-drop-them-off-if-you-pick-them-up option they recognize that this would be *helpful* to me. Sometimes they take on a younger sibling or do me a favor but that's not the expectation and we all know it. It's no big deal to say No once in a while.
The ones who really get me, though, are the ones who look at our household and say, "What's one more?" They just assume that there's enough chaos in our household that we would never notice one more kid. Unfortunately, these are usually the kids who don't like rules and we have plenty of them. One more kid in the mix *can* really, really make life miserable here. I've been mulling this post over for a very long time and I've come up with the things that make our household seem like a foreign land to some kids - especially kids from very small families. Here's the low-down:
Food Rationing - yes, food rationing. We have a lot of mouths to feed at least 3 times a day. Food is expensive and we splurge on the side of healthy, additive-free foods to boot. Grocery shopping to replenish depleted stores takes time and energy I just don't have a lot of. We serve 3 significant meals a day and then close the kitchen until the next meal. If I made it, they eat it. No arguments. If you put it on your plate, finish it. We can't afford to feed to feed the trashcan. Occasionally there are snacks served if people seem to be getting peckish but don't ask me for one - I'll let you know if it's happening. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cleaning up and preparing in between those meal times but just because I'm in the kitchen doesn't make it open for business. Standing around and staring at me with big eyes only irritates me.
A Thing - Our kids know exactly what this means. There are some things that are just way too complicated to get into with everybody. While coloring may be a great activity for one or two kids, make it 8 with a couple of toddlers thrown in and it can become a huge messy affair. So if our kids want to initiate a new activity they need to ask and make sure they are not starting "a thing". As soon as one gets an apple -the rest are going to want one and the next thing I know I've gone through an entire 3 lb bag of apples. One of them mentions a craft involving cutting things with scissors and my entire floor is now covered with scraps of paper which nobody seems to know how to clean up. One kid is allowed to read a library book in their room and now they all think it's ok which explains the $23 fine on our next trip to the library. Yeah, you get the idea...whatever you do, Don't start A Thing.
It's Everybody's Business - I can't do it all. I gave up that expectation long ago. So if something needs to be done I will call on the closest hands. You may be asked to pick up a stray toy, coddle a baby or switch the laundry over. We expect it to be done without argument, and we don't care if your last name is Klopcic or not. Helping out is second nature around here. There is no such thing as "but that's not *my* job".
Leaving is an Hour Long Process - It takes a long time to leave the house, especially if we are headed to an activity that either involves taking food or feeding people before we leave. Everyone should have their shoes on the steps so they are easy to find on the way out the door. We have three in diapers who need to be checked and changed before exiting the house. Anybody is fair game for a job - fetch me diapers for the bag, grab the hotdogs from the freezer, find the 3 year-olds' shoes outside, buckle a baby into a carseat. In order to leave all hands need to be on deck and available, they may not be able to play and they sure as heck better not be making a mess somewhere.
Rules, Rules, Rules - we have lots of them and they don't often make sense to people not in our household. To further complicate things, everyone's rules are different. We have preteens with a lot of responsibilities and privileges and we have teens and preteens who are not allowed to do the most basic things due to their limitations. Age does not necessarily mean more privileges around here. Toys all have a place and they are not to leave the place. Train tracks go in Nathan's room and they are not to leave Nathan's room. Food gets played with in the girls' room and don't even *think* about taking the chalk out of John's and David's room and away from the chalkboard. It's easy to tell when these rules have been broken - the house looks like it's been attacked by a hurricane within just a few moments time.
No Cacophony - people who do stop by our house often comment how quiet it is. I suspect most people expect chaos to reign here which is just not the case. (As I type this there does happen to be a large amount of screaming and running about which is due more to my pregnant state than business as usual.) Just because we have a large family does not make us uncivilized. Screaming and yelling is not allowed indoors, neither is ball playing and wrestling should be done in the basement - out of sight, out of earshot. Good manners are practiced (practiced, not always perfected) with due diligence at all times. This goes hand in hand with the next point:
Quiet Time is Quiet - When on our usual schedule we institute a daily quiet time. The expectation is that this time will be quiet. All should be in their rooms, reading a book or doing a quiet activity and not chatting with others or bumping about. Usually if we have visitors during quiet time they may play outside with whichever of our kids is hosting them but they may not come inside and disturb the quiet.
It always seems to me that it's the "what's one more" proponents whose children cause the most grief around here. Their parents toss them in the mix and they immediately go into shock when asked to follow a rule, are denied a snack, put in time out for whining or are expected to keep their voices down. Fortunately, we don't have a lot of these friends - and most people will say it only jokingly without ever actually tossing their children into our home unannounced. We have lots of kids who are welcome here just about any time and they are ones who understand that "just one more" can make a difference.