Every 4th of July our neighborhood has a parade. It’s a small event, spearheaded by one family, that consists of maybe 40 people walking down the street behind a “Happy 4th of July!!!” banner, to the tune of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” playing on a boom box in one of the banner carriers’ hands. The parade takes about ten minutes, and then we settle in the neighbor’s lawn to eat red, white, and blue popsicles and chat.
Our four children, five years and under, love it. They have not been to a “real” parade before, so they are very easily impressed. And, really, they should be. This parade gets everyone in our block out of our houses and into conversation… even us, who are not nearly as neighborly as we should be.
The parade always gets me thinking about community and neighborhoods and my failings with regards to both. But this year I had a conversation that drove this home for me in a new way.
With four pre-school aged children, it’s rare that I leave the house without receiving at least one comment from someone about our family size. The comments are almost always some version of, “My, you sure have your hands full, don’t you?” or “You must be very busy!” I nod, smile, move on, have never thought much about these comments, and have certainly come to expect them. But this year I got a new one: “You have four children? You poor, poor woman!”
I was flabbergasted. A complete stranger just pitied me because I have four children who I love more than anything else in the world?! And he did it right in front of those children! And, yet, what did I do? I nodded a little, smiled, and moved on.
Inwardly I fumed, but I didn’t say anything. At first I was angry with our neighbor. Then I began to realize how deeply I had failed at being a good neighbor. I know something from personal experience that many people do not, that a family is a community, a most wonderful community, and each child brings something new, precious, and irreplaceable to it. Each child makes it better than it was before.
Even though it is hard to take the time when one has four children in tow, even though it is easiest to play along with the social stereotype of the beleaguered mother, I owe it to my community to share the joy of a large family. I now make an effort to turn thoughtless comments into opportunities to witness to the blessing of children. I cannot continue to gripe about our generation’s negativity about families and children when I am not doing anything to change peoples’ minds.
And, as I write this, I realize that we need to befriend that neighbor, so that he can realize that I am far from poor.
Angela, a philosopher, neighbor, and mother extraordinaire, lives in Indiana with her beautiful family. This is her first guest post at Texas Schmexas.