"Are they all yours?"
Looking up from my bag of tomatoes, I see a lady in the produce aisle pointing at my children.
When I answer that yes, all 6 of them belong to me, she laughs, "Well, God bless ya, honey!"
I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult or simply the equivalent of crossing yourself in a spooky graveyard late at night, but I smile politely and move on toward the bagged lettuce.
"You have your hands full!" observes the cashier at the register, scanning my fifth gallon of milk.
I sure do. After I pay for my groceries with the toddler on my hip furiously trying to push all the buttons on the credit card reader, I have to use two carts just to get the food out to the car.
"Just wait until they're teenagers," a guy in the parking lot says, stopping to watch my brood file past.
Indignation starts to well up inside me, because my kids are going to be just as delightful when they're teenagers thankyouverymuch, but he's gone before I can even think of anything to say.
This is par for the course when I take all 6 kids to the grocery store. Or anywhere, really.
Our culture has a framework that is pretty strict when it comes to the number of people in your family:
One child is okay, but kids need a sibling. We won't say anything if you stop there (that's a lie, we will,) but you really should have a second.
Two kids? Great! Your family is perfect. Pass 'Go' and collect $200. Bonus points if you managed to score exactly one boy and one girl.
Three kids is pushing it but we're willing to humor you, especially if you already have two of the same gender. But seriously, this is the last one, right?
Four kids means that (a) the youngest was probably an accident and (b) you are definitely done now. Because nobody in their right mind has five kids.
For a society that preaches the gospel of "you do you," people sure can be critical when "you" don't happen to be doing the same thing as everybody else.
If you have a big family and you're feeling drained by other peoples' negativity, I have three suggestions for you.
1. Try to take it in stride.
Give people the benefit of the doubt, because most of them probably aren't trying to be rude. They just don't realize you've been hearing it all day long and that you just want to buy your groceries without feeling like you may as well be throwing candy from atop a parade float.
Some people might be negative because in their mind children are just loud and expensive, but if you respond positively it could show them that not all people feel that way. Above all, remember that if someone is deliberately insulting it reflects on them, not you. Just laugh it off and enjoy your family.
2. Find other big families.
At a mall playplace once with my three youngest, I struck up a conversation with a dad with three similarly-aged children. You should have seen us when we discovered we both had older kids at home. We may have exchanged matching necklaces that said BEST FRIENDS on complementary half-heart shapes. We were pretty excited.
3. If all else fails...
Interestingly enough, I found myself on the brunt end of more negative comments when I had 5 kids than I do now that I have 6.
I have a few theories about this. Maybe it's just harder now for strangers to reach me through the swirling mass of children, or maybe they've all collectively abandoned their efforts to talk sense into me after I went off the deep end and had a sixth baby.
Either way, if you're getting a lot of negativity you could always have one or two more and see what happens.