On big fam­i­lies

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Some global-warm­ing peo­ple are call­ing on fam­i­lies to have no more than two chil­dren— fewer hu­man be­ings will re­duce our car­bon out­put, you see— but they got it back­wards. The world would be bet­ter if more peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enced the fam­ily life I knew as a kid. I was raised the only boy with five sis­ters, which was both a bless­ing and a curse. One day when I was 12, the neigh­bor­hood bully was rough­ing me up. I didn’t have a brother to teach me to fight; my sis­ters taught me. I looked him dead in the eye and said, “You are soooooo im­ma­ture! Get a life!”

I suf­fered other in­dig­ni­ties. My fa­ther (the Big Guy) was al­ways look­ing to stretch a buck. He made me wear hand-me-downs. It wasn’t too bad most of the year, but Easter Sun­day was hu­mil­i­at­ing. I had a heck of a time out­run­ning the neigh­bor­hood bully with my panty­hose bunch­ing up on me and my bon­net flop­ping in the wind.

The Big Guy had it worse than I did. Un­til we added onto the house in 1974, we had only one full bath. The Big Guy never could get in there. He spent much of his adult life sit­ting on the edge of his bed in his robe wait­ing for one of my sis­ters to come out.

The Pur­cell house was a place of great drama over the years. This is the nat­u­ral course when so many peo­ple live to­gether un­der one roof— and when the males are heav­ily out­num­bered by the fe­males.

“For good­ness sakes, Betty,” the Big Guy fre­quently com­plained to Mother af­ter say­ing some­thing that caused one of my sis­ters to erupt, “if I have one more door slammed in my face ...”

But just as of­ten, we’d sit around the din­ner ta­ble laugh­ing our heads off, shar­ing sto­ries about some­thing one of us had done. I was a fre­quent tar­get of the laugh­ter. The girls loved to tell sto­ries about their stinky, sweaty, mud­caked brother.

It’s amaz­ing to me that I’m 45 al­ready and that my sis­ters are be­tween 50 and 35. But when we get to­gether, we laugh long and hard about the thou­sands of ex­pe­ri­ences we shared grow­ing up.

We laugh be­cause it’s clear now how much we were loved and how all of us helped shape each other— our sense of hu­mor, our val­ues, our hope­ful out­look. It’s no won­der that our pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences are the rea­son we’re all do­ing well in life now.

One of the great tragedies of our time is that so few peo­ple are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fam­ily life as my sis­ters and I got to. Fewer kids have brothers and sis­ters to en­joy, and what good is child­hood if you can’t an­noy your sib­lings?

What’s worse is that fewer adults are en­joy­ing the bless­ings my par­ents knew so well. A re­port from the Na­tional Mar­riage Project found that more Amer­i­cans are post­pon­ing mar­riage and hav­ing fewer chil­dren. One of Amer­ica’s fastest-grow­ing de­mo­graph­ics is that of sin­gle adults liv­ing alone.

I never met any­body who wished he or she had fewer brothers and sis­ters. And I know too many peo­ple in their 30s and 40s, par­tic­u­larly in pro­gres­sive metro ar­eas, who dream of mar­ry­ing and hav­ing a fam­ily, but have no idea how to make it hap­pen. I’m as guilty as any­one.

In any event, we ought to do what­ever we can to re­duce pol­lu­tion and car­bon out­put, but lim­it­ing fam­ily size to two kids would do just as much harm as good. Big fam­i­lies are ben­e­fi­cial to so­ci­ety in too many ways.

Be­ing a mem­ber of such a fam­ily taught me re­source­ful­ness, for in­stance. When my sis­ters caused me too much grief, I was forced to de­vise a clever strat­egy to make them back off.

I threat­ened to use their tooth­brushes.

TOM PUR­CELL

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