May 8, 2017 Life of large families
A reader asked: How do Hasidim raise so many kids?
I am one of fifteen. I’m the fifth. We have no twins.
I grew up with the cycle of the once in two years birth of a sibling creating a pattern in our lives as predictable, exciting, stressful, and rhythmic as the holidays. Every year in December our house was turned aglow with Chanukah, every year we built a Sukkah for the fall holiday, and every other year we took the cradle out and lined it with the white bunting with purple prayer words and birds stitched into it.
Every other year the eldest in the house got married and left the house.
There were always reasons for beds to be passed around and rearranged as the older ones moved up to the more desirable window bed while the younger one labored to pull out the high riser.
We all were little parents, the more people you had authority over the more like a somebody you felt. At one point, it was my job as a teenager to get five boys to sleep. Every night, five boys in two sets of bunk beds, fresh pajamas, and washed sidecurls. I ordered them around and felt like a king.
(My brothers are now married and grown men – the youngest of them will marry this year. Since I left the faith, things are tense and awkward when I visit home but when someone mentions the bedtime stories I concocted for these wide-eyed boys we all reminisce with warm nostalgia.)
When I think of large families I think…
… Of cities. How much more people share space, and yet how much less they know each other.
… Of my four-year-old brother in pajamas getting the two-year-old baby out of the crib, with the same seriousness as a toddler making himself a cup of coffee.
… Of independence. Kids who know how to take care of themselves.
…of many household chores.
… of the nights my older sister woke me because I disturbed her with my snoring. As she was older, her solution to this problem was straightforward: she was entitled to the better bargain due to seniority, so I was to sacrifice my sleep so she can save on the annoyance. It was resolved when my parents had my tonsils removed.
I guess you can tell I remember it fondly. I always thought I would have my own brood like that, but things looked less joyous from the perspective of mothering all that much. I will always carry a bit of sadness for the large family of my childhood hopes.