Children best taken in small doses


The thing I like about the holidays, such as Easter, is they give my family the time-tested tradition of getting together and wishing we all had earplugs.

That’s because when we all get together, on Dad’s side at least, there are always at least six children below the age of first grade in tow.

It’s not that I don’t like them. In fact, each one is just as important to me as the next, if by “important” you mean “loud.”

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

First of all—don’t get me wrong—I really do like small children, I just believe that they should be taken in small doses.

Remember that reality show called “Jon and Kate Plus 8” on TLC? I think that’s a good example of my point.

I don’t care what “Entertainment Tonight” or the supermarket tabloids say: The only thing that broke that whole thing apart was the fact that they had a set of twins, a set of sextuplets and no real-life commercial breaks.

One child is OK, though. In fact, a single toddler can be a wonderful source of entertainment. (This is how I am going to get back to my original topic.)

Take Gracelyn, for example.

A rare bit of Free Press Columnist Trivia is that Malinda Just (“Lipstick and Pearls”) and I are cousin-in-laws—or whatever it is when your cousin marries someone—and as a result I get to spend a lot of time around Malinda’s daughter, Gracelyn, on major holidays.

This is always a joy because, at least for a little bit longer, Gracelyn is an only child and she knows it, too.

A typical family gathering goes like this: Once everyone has arrived, we all eat around one big table, and then when we’re done we go and sit in a circle-like formation in the living room. And Gracelyn sits in the middle and entertains us.

Last weekend, for instance, we watched Gracelyn play with plastic Easter eggs. She tossed them, and rolled them, and opened them up and put the halves over Grandpa Darrel’s eyes, which gave him the appearance of Elmo (Gracelyn’s favorite Sesame Street character), which caused half the room to break out into the “Elmo’s World” theme song.

We did this for—by conservative estimates—two hours, which got me thinking: What did we all do at family gatherings before Gracelyn got here?

This is in stark contrast to Easter with Dad’s side of the family, in which I was more concerned with how much longer it would be until all the toddlers got to leave.

This year there were eight small children at the family gathering, the oldest being in first grade.

At this point in family history, we no longer fit around the same table, so the six most-able kids sat at a smaller table just a couple feet away.

And boy, were they talkative! (Although the Bible doesn’t explicitly state it, scholars believe that Jesus actually left the tomb because there was a table of six toddlers in there with him.)

The topic of the day was: What do you smell like?

This is a game in which each child gets a turn in trying to out-do the last by telling the kid across the table what they smell like. But don’t be fooled: A clause in the game rules states that nothing can be coherent.

The conversation went more or less like this:

Kid 1: Your mouth smells like crayons.

Kid 2: Yeah, well YOUR hair smells like sausage.

Kid 3: Oh yeah? Well you smell like a fire truck.

Kid 4: But your NOSE smells like chicken pox.

Kid 5: Oh yeah? Well…

I suppose a conversation like this could be humorous, had it not been at a decibel level similar to, say, a jet engine.

What was happening at this Easter was a phenomenon that occurs in elementary school lunchrooms across the country: one table is sort of loud, so the next table gets a little louder, then the other table gets a little louder than that, and then the other table gets louder than that, and it finally escalates to the point where the corned beef is disintegrating from the intense molecular vibrations in the air.

Eventually, I couldn’t even hear myself talking to my brother, who was sitting right next to me. (I think I was saying, “Yeah, well your ARM smells like a permanent marker.”)

Looking back, I think being in an atmosphere like this is a good form of birth control. Then again, so would having cameras crammed in your face 24-7 before having children.


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