Thursday, April 25, 2013

Family Today, as Seen on Vacation

When you are not employed, you vacation when you will. This year that meant an April trip back to PEI and Nova Scotia, to see relatives we have not seen in years, and so that children can be seen by relatives who have never seen them before.

When you have five children, vacations that mean seven hours in a car for two days straight are a rare event. My previous, 'never again,' returned this year in the last 100-kilometer stretch, though with a smile...

It was a very nice trip. I am glad that the kids have a closer connection with their extended family now. But I want to talk about the very phenomenon of the five-kid family in today's Canada.

The first thing you notice is the looks at Tim Hortons. Especially Quebec Tim Hortons. I think many people assume that you have other people's kids with your own. Why are the kids not in school (or daycare) they no doubt wonder. The second thing I noticed is how initial wonder and perhaps negative judgement turn into smiles and warm-hearted attention towards our one-year-old, especially. The response of a Quebec woman about my age who obviously didn't have kids of her own stood out to me. She adored Lauren, but what does this mean? Is she one of those cursed with infertility (perhaps brought on by the Pill), or, what is more likely, statistically speaking, is she a victim of a culture that places motherhood well below everything else, who suddenly finds herself at forty wondering if she did the right thing, who suddenly finds herself wondering if admiring other people's kids has the same charm it did when she was twenty-five or thirty? This wasn't a one-time event. Every time we went somewhere, there was an admiring woman. Sometimes older, perhaps missing her own grown children, sometimes just like this middle aged woman.

What has become emblematic for me of the subject - how does our family fit into this modern world? - was the fact that at the Dartmouth Sportsplex, where we took the kids swimming one night, we are not a family at all, no, we are - according to the young man who took out money, anyway - a "family plus two." I wonder which two were demoted? Is this going to cause them issues later in life, I wonder? Thus, despite the fact that the only DNA present in those five children are mine and Anne-Marie's, we do not qualify for the family rate. It's amazing that in this day and age when everyone and his dog qualifies as a 'marriage' under the law, my family does not, at least not at the Dartmouth Sportsplex.

All parents are familiar with the reaction that kids garner from older adults in restaurants, etc. There is a special reaction, though, that the appearance of five children with two adults brings about.

Not much is set up to accommodate us. Some hotels charge you more for this many kids, for some reason, even though you are cramming yourselves in to the same number of beds. Some don't even let you put seven people into one room - whether they are your children or not. Fast-food restaurants are intrinsically biased against families when you think about it. They price on individually-sized portions. Only a place like KFC would have something resembling a "family portion." Sure, pizza is also a viable option. But burgers and fries - forgot about it. You'd do just as well at a 'sit-down' restaurant. Order the nachos and ask for some extra plates. And here's a question - why don't restaurants offer, like, apples and oranges - unpeeled, unprocessed - and a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese? That would be a very healthy and inexpensive snack for a family-on-the-go,wouldn't it?

But it's not about health and it's not about saving your larger-than-average family a buck. It's about how to maximize profit and efficiency in this one-size-fits-all mentality. Conform or suffer the consequences, says the Dartmouth Sportsplex, MacDonalds, Tim Hortons, Best Western and Quality Inn.

You know things will turn around when this generation ages and looks for someone to take care of them in the old-age homes - my five children. But that's little consolation to my wallet and to my sense of belonging in this country right now.


And let me just say one last thing, for as much as we love our families, I have no desire whatsoever to move back to Nova Scotia. There is only one place I have found where I feel my family is welcomed and respected, and that is in Barry's Bay, where there just happens to be a lot of good Catholics around. It's not about being around other people with large families. It's about the Catholic respect for life and the family. In fact, two of my closest friends there are an infertile couple. I'm sorry, secular people, but I am not all that comfortable around you. You send off wicked vibes.

When we lived in NS we had one family we were close to. We eventually became friendly with another. NS has a population of 900,000. In Barry's Bay, which has a population of about 1,200 souls, we have a number of good friends... people we like to be around... people who don't give off that vibe like there is something wrong with us for liking our children and for not being wealthy and materially-oriented.

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