12 FebHave Children, Will Play
The other night I found myself with my twenty-six year old son at the artistic production Linea at Brigham Young University. Linea caught our attention because it included juggling. Rory learned to juggle when he was a teenager. I’ve seen him riding down the street on a unicycle juggling bowling pins. He taught me how to juggle, but I am limited to three cubes while standing on my feet.
There was juggling in the production, but it ended up being more of a contemporary dance between the man and woman that included object manipulation, and rope puppets. It was so beautifully rendered that when it was over I was exhilarated. What made it all the better was seeing it with my son who is now just a fellow adult.
After Linea we went to The Shanghai Restoration Project. It was a concert that combined a rapper, a Chinese-American keyboardist from New York, and a Chinese jazz singer from China. They took such delight in making their music that I waved my hands in the air with my son as we soared along with them. It was a wonderful night playing with my son.
The following day was Saturday. It is the middle of winter, and we live in Utah at an elevation over 5000 feet, so imagine our surprise when it was a balmy 60 degrees outside. My younger kids found me hiding in my office writing. They told me it was perfect kite weather and wondered if I was coming out with them. We pulled out the Patchwork Delta kite with the six-foot wingspan, grabbed the boomerang bag, and ran out to the back field.
The breeze was gentle, but the large wings of the delta caught it and rose silently into the sky. Story, my nine-year-old, manned the kite. He called his sister over to listen as the breeze sang an eerie song through the string. It was a family effort to bring the kite down without letting it touch the ground. Then the boomerangs came out. I throw and the kids catch. It isn’t easy to catch them. Much of the time they don’t come exactly back to the same spot so the kids have to develop a special sense to be in the right place. Also, they come spinning in pretty fast and can bruise the hands and fingers. The Aspen boomerang is light and not so scary to catch. I called out a $5.00 reward if my eleven-year-old daughter can catch it. She does. Dang. The Yanaki is heavier, flies farther, and can deliver more pain when you catch it. My fourteen-year-old makes it look easy. The Triblader flies in an almost perfect circle. It looks like it is going to take your head off if you try to catch it. But we do. We threw the boomerangs until the sun set in a flaming Southwestern sky. When we went in we were breathing deep and as happy as human beings can be. We had played the afternoon away.
I have eight kids. I’m not sure what goes through the minds of people when they learn this. The politeness of others keeps me from finding out. One reaction I see again and again is bewilderment. The bewilderment seems to come from the question of “Why would you do that?” or “How do survive with so many kids.” Both questions connote a negativity toward having so many children. I’ve never understood this. While I know having so many children isn’t for everyone all these children are just a fact of my life. So why did we do it? We didn’t see a reason not to. How do I survive so many children? It’s simple—I play with them.
My oldest son is nearly thirty. My youngest son is nine. That means I have been playing with my children for twenty-nine years. I just read that most hard-working Americans dream about vacations they feel vulnerable in taking. With eight children, and all the play time that entails, my whole life has been a vacation. How could I be any luckier? Do you know how many books we have read together as a family? A lot. Why does that matter? Because it has been so much fun. What’s more I get to read my favorite books over and over again with individual kids as they come of age.
My oldest son excelled in chess. At his first rated tournament he interrupted my game when he grabbed me and cried after an adult beat him. He grew up to become Utah State Champion one year. I took him to tournaments in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona. We had so much fun.
My second son played computer games with passion. He didn’t play shooters, but the more beautiful role playing games with artful storylines. You know what this means—I got to play with him. Sometimes it was just me and him in his room navigating the dangers in the world of Half Life. Other times it was the whole family experiencing the immersive world of Mass Effect. Always it was loads of fun. He is married now, but we still get together and the fun continues.
At forty years old I found myself immersed in taekwondo. This would never have happened if my wife had not signed up my kids. When I saw them break their first board I had to join them. I was working out with my oldest daughter when she started at six-years-old and was still working out with her when got her second degree black belt at sixteen. I happened to get a couple of black belts along the way, too, and had the time of my life with my family while doing it.
Having children is serious business. There is no question about it. The seriousness of it is leading to negative birth rates in many European countries. Denmark is in such dire straits that they actually made a commercial with the theme, “Do It for Denmark.”1 South Korean offered bonuses to couples who will have another child.2 At 1.88 children per woman the United States has fallen below the 2.1 children a generation needs to replace itself.3 I guess all these people not having babies are just more serious than I am. I feel like the one person who walks into the funeral smiling. The only seriousness I can feel is seriously not understanding why people don’t want children. One South Korean woman gave her reason as: “I don’t want to get hindered by raising babies, in terms of time, money and energy. I want careers and freedom.”4 Did she just equate a career to freedom? Yes, Clearly many people feel that way, but, seriously, I don’t see it. It just so happens that I do have aspirations outside of raising eight children. It’s true that the children have made reaching these aspirations more, shall we say, interesting; but in that “interesting” lies all the fun.