Eight Isn't Enough

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with only one child? Stretched beyond your limits with two? Frazzled out completely with three? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have, say, five children? Six? Seven, eight, nine?

Like my own mother, Gail began having children during the era when women stayed home and had kids. She joined the Catholic Church when she was twenty-two and always looked to God for guidance. She didn't work outside of the home, and cared for the children while her husband went through college. After about seventeen years at home, she went back to college to finish up her nursing degree. Most recently she got her bachelor's degree in women's studies and multicultural studies.

There is warmness, calmness, in Gail's disposition; she radiates tranquility and speaks softly. The charming South Minneapolis home she shares with her second husband is just as serene as she is; it is adorned with many family photos and her affinity for Latin culture is sprinkled throughout the house.

When the children were little, Gail says they did a lot of artwork and made quilts for the beds. "They tell me now that they can laugh at the poverty parts of growing up, where they'd all be sitting around the table, drawing, and the baby would be in the middle [of it]. There were difficult times." Some of those troublesome periods came during winter, especially when it was below zero. "It was very difficult having several little children inside and maybe trying to give the older kids a ride to school. I'd have to bundle them all up, to take them along." But no matter when and how arduous things got, her philosophy was, "the harder things get the more I dig in."

She can recall only one time the entire family went out to dinner, but they always ate supper together. It was the cooking for eleven people every night, the pots and pots of food, providing food at all costs, that she remembers the most. She would get up early in the morning and go to the farmers market to buy mounds of tomatoes to make containers of homemade spaghetti sauce, which she'd freeze (they ate a lot of pasta), and she baked many cookies and bars. She breastfed all her children and actually helped form La Leche League in Minnesota (the first meeting was in 1963 in her home). It became an important dedication and a mode for her to socialize and communicate with other women and families.

Gail acknowledges there were times when her children may have envied other kids. Her daughter Jessie had a girlfriend whose father was wealthy, and this girlfriend got new wallpaper in her bedroom. "First of all, the friend had her own bedroom, and there were twin beds in her bedroom so she when she a friend stay over, she'd have her own bed. Anyway, she got some kind of shiny wallpaper and Jessie came home and told me about it and I could tell in her voice [she felt] 'Why can't I have new wallpaper' or lots of other things." Now, when they look back at that time, they get a kick out of it and laugh.

Although she wished she would have been able to send her children to private schools, Gail and her husband (at the time) exposed the children to "a lot of books because he was teaching at the University of Minnesota and I read a lot, too." So the children were introduced to books, art, languages, and traveling whenever trips were possible.

It didn't appear to Gail that a battle of wills was an overwhelming cause for concern, but she says, "Certainly there were--are--minor irritations. But it doesn't seem like a lot of family feuding. They did a lot of things together in clusters and groups. All of them seemed to be good friends. They played together well. They were good for each other. They're still good for each other now. They stand up for each other, and blood is thicker than water. The blood between the kids is amazing. If one of them gets in a jam, they're all right there."

She feels that raising children was and is a spiritual as well as a physical and emotional passage: "I can sit back and watch my kids' lives unfold. I think my kids are at peace, too, [concerning the outcome of the family]. They're all doing very well; I'm happy with their lives. There have been hard times but I'm grateful. My life is extremely happy now. I'm at peace. I feel blessed."

THE MILLESSES

Not quite what you'd expect to see, size wise, in today's familial "economic market" is the Milless family. They put the kibosh on the notion of monetary concern. Thirty-seven-year-old Mary Jane Milless is the mother of nine children: Melissa, sixteen; Melinda, fourteen; Mitchell, twelve; Marcus, ten, Matthew, eight; Monica, six; Martin, three; Margaret Mary, two; and Marie, eight months--the "M & M's," as Mary Jane lovingly refers to her family (her husband's name is Mike).

I wasn't sure if I had the right address when I arrived at the Milless's Coon Rapids home. But once I saw Monica, Martin, and Margaret Mary--in her pink footie pajamas--running to the door to make out who the stranger in their driveway was, I knew I had the right place.

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