Up close and personal: Leakies Q & A on family, children, and work

Continuing with answering personal questions from the Leakies from way back in November (it took me a while to get through them!), I share here some of my answers regarding our family lives.  I could answer some but not all out of respect for my family, besides, I can’t imagine anyone really wants to know that much about me!

Photo by Click. Wind. Repeat in Houston, TX

Family, children, work 

Q: How did you and your hubby meet?

I like this story.  We were music majors in college and in the same music group.  I had noticed him and he had noticed me but we had never talked until one night in the music building practice studios.  Our practice rooms were right next to each other and as I struggled through a Bach piece a loud, an impressive display of Rachmaninov was shredding through the paper thin walls blowing me away.  Annoyed I went to see who dared to be better than me.  Just as I was peeking into the tiny window I heard the door to my room click and realized I had left my key in the room and was locked out.  Around that same time my best friend came out of his practice room and we talked about the show off between us, who, as it turned out, was lived on the same floor that my friend was RA for.  He must have sensed something because he interrupted the hot guy at the piano to introduce us.  My friend moved on but the future Piano Man and I talked for hours, he kept me company as I waited to be let back into my practice room.  Within a few weeks he was the student accompanist for my voice lessons and the rest, as they say, was history.

Q: I’d like to know how you afford 6 children. I love the idea of a larger family but I’m stressing about how we’re even gonna be able to have another baby and make a grand total of TWO children right now. Does The Piano Man have a great job or something?

Financially speaking, no, he doesn’t and neither do I though we both love what we do.  But we used to.  Once upon a time we both worked full time and were fairly well paid.  We had less kids then too.  One thing we learned though is that depending on how you live, it can feel like you never have enough.  We have chosen to live simply, a decision that was helped by us both losing our decent paying jobs within a month of each other a few years ago and following the sexual abuse and court case of two of our daughters.  Personally I don’t believe that anyone ever makes enough money to have a family and it’s never a good time, too many things in life are unpredictable and in a flash anyone’s status is subject to change.  Instead, we determined our family size on what felt right for us and then set about making it work.  These days we are very lower middle class and would qualify for all of the aid programs should we choose to utilize them.   Our expectations have changed and we’re pretty creative in figuring out how to afford things, assuming we actually need those things in the first place, which often we don’t.

Q: How old are you and your children?

I am 34 and our girls are 2, 4, 9, 11 and 13.

Q: I was wondering if you are a SAHM plus the blogging and this facebook page or if you have another job as well?

I am a work at home mom for the most part.  I do have another job outside of TLB, most of which I can do from home which gives me a lot of flexibility.  The same is true for The Piano Man.  We work together and love doing so and choose to live with less and having simpler lives to do work we love (in the non-profit sector), are passionate about, can share, and affords us more time with our family.  Having been in the fast paced world of music performance and production environment I sometimes miss that stimulation but I’m much happier finding this more simple balance for our lives.  We have both been the SAHP at some point and find that us both working, flex-scheduling, and equal share of the parental/work responsibilities work best for our marriage and family.

Q: The origin of your daughter’s names and any possible names for Sugarbaby?

All of our girls real names are taken directly from the arts, so far, all from literature.  The 3 eldest are from Shakespeare plays, then we have one from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline,” and our last one comes from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable.  A few requirements for our names: must work in both French and English (bilingual family, The Piano Man is from France), must not be in the top 1000 recently (or ever if possible), must not know anyone or know of anyone with the name, must have a meaning that we want for our children, and must appeal to both The Piano Man and me.  Sugarbaby names are being tossed around and we think we have one fairly firm.  However, we’re top secret about our names, they will not be revealed until the birth.

So we have:

Ophélia Chantelle- little helper, little song (Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

Lavinia Celeste Bailey- pure beauty of heaven or lady of Rome and heavenly (Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus)

Helena Christelle- light of little Christ (Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream)

Evangeline Claire- clear good news (William Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline)

Cosette Marguarite Constance- constant flower, song of the victorious people (Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable)

Q: How did you come up with the nicknames for your children?

You can read about that here.

Q: Did you always want a big family our did it just happen that way? Do you or dh come from large families? Was your extended senility always supportive of bf?

I wasn’t sure I wanted children at all.  But then I had Earth Baby when I was 20 and I was then certain I didn’t want more than one.  Ha!  Over time and after getting over the shock of having unplanned #2, obviously that plan changed.  I’m one of three, The Piano Man is one of four.  For the most part, yes, our extended families have been supportive of breastfeeding, with a few exceptions.  However, our nearest relative is 1800 miles away so it doesn’t really effect me if they’re not, we only see them occasionally.

Q: How do your family planning?  Do you just let it happen when it happens?  Use birth control?

We have used a variety of contraceptions over the years.  A couple of our children weren’t planned but very welcomed.  We are done now though, Sugarbaby was a surprise that we’re very grateful for happening outside of our plans.  It’s snip-snip here for us, all done.

Q: How you space children & whether or not the spacing has any impact on their relationships with each other.

Our spacing wasn’t exactly intentional.  We just let it happen how it happened though we thought we were preventing some of them.  The spacing does impact their relationships with each other but I have noticed that they are pretty tight no matter the distance.  Certain things seem easier/harder depending on the spacing and hands down having an almost 5 year gap between babies was the least stressful on me physically.  There are advantageous either way I think.

Q: Have you ever received any negative comments about having so many kids and if so, how do you respond to them?

Yes, we have received a lot of negative comments.  Interestingly enough, we had more with Smunchie than we have with Sugarbaby.  Maybe because they figure we’re aiming for 20 now?  Not sure.

As to how I respond, I usually just ignore it and call the person names in my head.  Or if they are super rude about it I just go for rude right back and bring out the snark.  My favorite is asking them if their mom taught them anything about manners and being rude.  It usually shuts them up.  

Q: How do you make time for all of your children? It seems my 2 keep me busy nonstop.

Time is a strange thing, we only have enough for what we have to have it for.  We all share each other.  My house is usually a disaster because I could choose between cleaning or experiencing life with my kids.  I pick living with the mess and having time with my kids.  We date each other too, all of us.  The girls love having sister dates, mommy dates, daddy dates, etc.  We’re creative about those, it could be cooking together in the kitchen, painting, playing duets on the piano, going for a walk, a trip to get ice cream, etc.  Whatever form it takes, we seek to do it often.  More often than dusting for sure.  Though I count dusting together to be some serious quality time.

Q: How do you mother 5, be pregnant, run a support group and blog… and still have time for everything in between!?!

I don’t clean my house!  Haha!  No, really.  At least not more than the bare minimum.  😉  But again, time tends to be available for what you decide you really need to do.  I am a night owl and I often stay up too late.  It’s worth it to me to be able to squeeze those extras in to my life and having a balance that works for me is critical to my overall wellbeing and health as a mother.  Finding time to nurture myself makes me a better mom and these extras do nourish my soul.

Q: I want to pull my hair out most days with my 2. How do you keep your sanity?

Um… I don’t.  Really, I’ve just learned to redefine much of life: sanity, clean, happy, enough, time, balance…

It gets easier as they get older too.  Difficult in it’s own way (schedules!) but easier in terms of taking care of the kids.  They are more independent, can help, and don’t require as much supervision.  Usually.  It helps that I really love the people I see them becoming.

Q:  Do your kids go to school or do u home school? If so, what do you use to teach them, is it structured?  Also, what is your typical day like?

Yes and yes.  We used to homeschool completely and then a few years ago added in a homeschool program once a week.  This year we went for an entirely different arrangement more customized to each child.  Earth Baby (13) is primarily homeschooled, attending a homeschool university modeled program once a week.  The Piano Man and I work with her on the other days.  The Storyteller (11) and Lolie (9) both attend a local Waldorf initiative school but only 3 days a week which is the perfect set up for our family.  The other 2 days a week they are home we continue with a few subjects we wanted to teach (French, piano, world history, geography, and some math).  Squiggle Bug is only 4 and attends the same Waldorf initiative school 2 days a week.  Our pedagogical approach is relaxed, Waldorf and unschooling inspired.  We use a variety of materials, none of them very structured, all very hands on.  Often we follow our children’s lead as we’ve found what naturally interests or inspires them leads to an insatiable appetite for learning.

Q: I have 4 children and I a sahm and I’m very curious about ways to cut corners but stay healthy. My twin pregnancy put a lot of weight on me and I’d like tips on how to lose weight and exercise with being the stay at home mom of a large family with small children.

Being realistic about our budget and how our budget needed to reflect our priorities has been an important part of this for us.  We don’t have cable, don’t have a new TV (we have a clunky outdated thing), shop at thrift stores for household items and most clothing, and buy almost no prepared, prepackaged food items.  The bulk of our food budget goes to fresh fruits and veggies, we make most of our own bread, and we try to only do whole grains.  We’re not huge meat eaters, only about 1-3 times a week, which helps keep cost down too.  But we’re not the epitome of health, we have our splurges and vices to be sure.  Additionally we have a growing value on human rights and fair labor practices and have made a decision to not consume coffee or chocolate that can’t show that child labor was not used at any point in the production of those products.  This value cuts down a lot of our spending and encourages healthier habits simply because we can’t afford to eat a lot of Fair Trade goods.  Less is more.  For exercise I try to wear my babies as much as possible, go for walks with the kids, and do wii fit while babywearing if possible.

Q: Why is there such a big age difference between your oldest three and your youngest two? How many children do you want, or are you not sure yet? How long did you nurse your oldest ones for? I really enjoy you and your advocacy for breastfeeding. I refer a lot of pregnant/nursing moms to your page.

Because we really thought we were done.  I had serious heart damage during Lolie’s pregnancy and was advised to never do it again.  But my heart felt like we weren’t done and wasn’t ready to take a permanent step.  I got pregnant with Squiggle Bug on birth control and it was a huge shock.  I’ve nursed my babies for 10 months, 4 months, 18 months, 22 months, and 27 months so far.

Q: I am still curious about your everyday. What is grocery shopping, road trips, vacations, one on one time like….. homework time, chores, etc…. how do you/piano man manage to keep 5 children behaving well?? 🙂 how do you deal with conflict? how many do you think you will end up with? What do you think your kids will be when they grow up?

Our everyday is… busy and normal.  Grocery shopping: The Piano Man and I usually go alone or with just a child or 2, the other stays home.  Sometimes we have to take everyone but they love it.  We play games and enlist their help.  Road trips: big ones we have a plan for activities and stops, short ones we kind of wing it pulling from our arsenal of ideas when they get impatient.  Chores: we teach early on that we’re all a part of a community, our family.  Just like we have to be good citizens in our larger community, we have to do our part in our family.  There are consequences when they don’t do their part such as people getting frustrated with them, mommy and daddy doing their chores but not having time to make a good dinner (this one is really motivating), missing out on the special community (aka: family) times, etc.  For the most part it’s not an issue, they seem to understand.  Conflict: I could write a whole book on this.  The short version?  We moderate and help walk them through their conflict.  Behaving: define “behaving.”  We first look at our expectations and make sure they are developmentally appropriate.  Then we look at our parenting to see if we’re provoking our children in any way.  After that we make sure all their needs are being met.  It’s only then that we address their behavior.  In general, they are well behaved children but they are children and as such, act accordingly including “misbehaving” from time to time.  How many will we end up with: I’m thinking 6 at this point.  What will they be when they grow up?  Hopefully confident, educated, kind, caring, free-thinking women.

Q: With 5 (almost 6) children how do you manage space wise in terms of sleeping, storing clothes and toys and just finding space for everyone to do their own thing? I have 4 children in a 3 bed house and we are right at our limits space-wise but I would love more children. Xxx ps( you should be extremely proud of what you have achieved with TLB, there is nothing compares to it and it is a backbone for many women on their breastfeeding journey! 🙂

We live in a tiny house.  An old, tiny house that we rent.  About 1,400 square feet and 3 bedroom, 1 bath.  There isn’t much storage and it’s a constant battle.  I’m ready to move.  The Piano Man made loft style beds with a play platform in the middle to help maximize space.  We try to use the walls as much as possible and we keep things simple in terms of play things.  Lots of cubbies, baskets, bins, shelves, and boxes trying to contain our stuff.  When it gets to be too much, we purge.  We’re always picking up, encouraging each other to put stuff away, and always deciding how much mess we can live with.

Q: How do you grocery shop and prepare healthy meals for so many people? I have a really hard time with meal planning. I think we spend way too much money on groceries for 2 adults and a baby. Any tips would be great.

Well, this is just about lunches but I wrote some about that here.  Otherwise, I do something similar for our regular meals.  We shop primarily on the outside of the store buying whole foods such as produce, whole grains, dairy, etc.  Most everything we make is from scratch.  We have a list that we occasionally update and add to but about 50 of our favorite meals are on there, all price ranges.  Usually we pick a few main meals and that becomes our shopping list plus some staples we like to have on hand.

Q: Like many others I want to know how you manage so many children and $$$? My DH and I seem to have litters, we could easily jump from 2 to 4 to 6, etc. I would love to have more but $$ is an issue

We don’t have a hard and fast budget, largely because it tends to flux.  But we do sit down to create a ball park budget and communicate frequently about where we stand.  We have no debt.  Our van is old and we paid cash for it.  Our rent is low and well under what we could afford.  We don’t have cable and our cell phone service is fairly modest though we use them for work as well so we have more than we would if that weren’t the case.  Much of what we do (i.e. our daughters in dance, the school our girls go to) is bartered.  We don’t have new anything and don’t feel the need to.  We make what we can and we shop at thrift stores over buying brand new most of the time.  When things have taken us by surprise, we’ve decided to sell things to be able to buy the new item or dip into our small savings.  Sometimes we just choose to go without until we figure out how we can afford it.  This has taught us so much, actually.  Given us incredible opportunities to slow down if need be to make things work.  

Most importantly, we rarely stress about money.  We don’t have much but we are well aware that we have so much more than many in this world.  Perspective on what we can and can’t live without help us to focus on our blessings rather than on what we don’t have.

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Comments

  1. It’s a pity we live so far apart…from what I have read and heard from you I would love to meet you 🙂

  2. We have many of the same beliefs/thoughts on things. I’m a mother of 5 (just had that fifth little wee one last month), and we live on a small budget. Old vehicles, paid off. No debt policy. Pay in cash.

    We believe people are more important than drywall and stuff so we are willing to live in smaller spaces with less junk so we can maximize time with family. Priorities is what it’s all about!

    We’re currently working on getting some land out in NW Houston so we can get out of the sardine can neighborhood and do some farmin’! 🙂 Ah, our kids would so love that!

  3. What a beautiful family!
    I wanted to tell you I appreciate what you said about the ‘right time’ to start a family/add to the family. If you wait until everything is perfect, it will never happen. Babies don’t care about stuff, all they care about is food, warmth and contact. Those don’t need a 5,000 sf house or a six-figure income.