Nine bears in the bed

While Sam was teaching a workshop in California a few years ago, the three boys and Daisy and I went to the Getty Museum together. We were riding the tram up the hill to the museum, and Abe and Seb were flitting around from strap to strap, and Ky was jabbering to me, as he does, and Daisy was falling off the bench and making her lip bleed, and so forth, when a lady sitting nearby (stylishly dressed, impeccable fingernails) said, "My goodness! Are they all yours? You're not planning to have any more, are you?"

Now, let me interrupt myself to say that although I hear of people saying things like this, and I know that many people feel this way, I haven't actually encountered it that often. People are usually so nice to us! And I have heard people with few or no kids say they have felt "judged" for that as well, so I know we all feel insecure or defensive about our situations sometimes. And I understand that kids can be chaotic and especially when they're other people's, they can seem extra annoying, so I don't really blame anyone for being overwhelmed when we're around. I get it. I can usually laugh about it and joke with Sam about how our family's presence is reminding those around us to have a serious discussion about family planning. So this isn't a story to talk about how bad that lady was.

But anyway, her tone was awful. She was disdainful. Kind of disgusted by us, I would say. And I felt so embarrassed. So I said, apologetically, "Oh, no . . . I don't think we'll have any more."

And meanwhile, I was AT THAT MOMENT pregnant with Baby Junie.

And then I felt so, so ashamed of myself.

As soon as we got off the tram I think I started crying. I wondered why I cared what that lady thought of us. What did she know, anyway? Intellectually, I knew she didn't matter to us. But emotionally, I wanted to be approved of. I spent that whole night lying awake, alternating between thinking about what I should have said, and feeling cowardly, and apologizing to the baby inside me…I was afraid the baby would know, and feel rejected. I felt like I had denied something important, like when Peter denied Christ, and it made me miserable.

But I think that experience was kind of a turning point for me. I thought about our life, and how much I love it; how much I love being a mother and how much I enjoy our kids. And I decided I wasn't ever going to be apologetic or embarrassed about it again. We're crowded, we're noisy, we're crazy sometimes. When we all snuggle together in our queen-size bed, it's true, someone inevitably falls out! But I feel just like Nancy in this post: my husband is my favorite person, we make absolutely charming and delightful babies together, and if someone thinks I should apologize for that—well, I'm not going to! They should thank ME, for bringing such splendid specimens of humanity into the world! :)

So two babies on, and here I am expecting again. Number seven this time. And I find myself thinking about that lady sometimes, kind of laughing at how horrified she'd be if she could see us now! (Like the birth control lady in Cheaper By the Dozen.) I think I'm braver than I used to be, and maybe if I could go back in time and let her ask me that same question, I'd straighten up and look her in the eye and say, "Why yes, I'm glad you asked! We ARE planning to have more. Thousands of them, if possible!" Ha! That would show her. :)  I was talking about this incident with the kids earlier this week, reminding them (by my negative example) how we don't ever need to let others make us ashamed of our beliefs. And I realized that I just feel sorry for that lady now. Maybe she had a happy family; I hope she did. But by narrowing her conception of what was "the right way" to have (or not have) a family, she is missing out on so much potential happiness! I think that's what drove me to write this poem; not at all the sense that "big families are best for everyone," but just—how narrow, how joyless, if we were all the same. How arrogant to think we should be! How much abundance of joy can be ours, if we will let it come pouring in. And how the mindset of "there is enough, and to spare" can overflow from our own families of any size, and we will want to—indeed, be driven to—share our love in ever-widening circles with those around us.

Because really! How to imagine our lives without this little puss-in-boots?
Or this funny Goldie-clapper?
What if we hadn't had these two monkeys? I shudder to think of it!
And aren't we lucky, to have enough of us to play with a parachute in the backyard?

I feel like we are the luckiest ones alive.
And I'd tell that lady so, if she asked me.


  1. This reminds me of Timothy's conversion to family. I had more to say but it all sounded preachy when I typed it, so I'll stop there. I'm so glad you're having another one. You name them so beautifully. :)

  2. Ohhh hooray! You just said it so calmly -- this whole "here I am expecting number seven" business; when I feel like every time I hear that announcement from someone I sense a chorus of hallelujahs and cheers and celebrations going on just barely out of earshot. Good heavens! At least give us some idea of when this little soul is expected to be totally earthbound!

    I had a similar experience to yours several years ago (well, I've had LOTS of similar ones -- people love to make snide remarks about my family size to me), but I meant one where I was apologetic like, "Yah, it's kind of crazy" and then I realized that made my oldest -- who was just savvy enough -- feel a little embarrassed, and I was mad at myself because I didn't care a lick what that man thought, but I DID care that my kids knew they were loved and wanted and we were THRILLED to have them. I too vowed to never "apologize" for them again.

    Anywho, an interesting thing has happened to me as my own family has increased in size, rather than feel like I am doing something right that everyone should be doing, I have become more acutely aware of our individual plans. I have felt more unique and more aware of how Heavenly Father has different paths for each of us. I have felt less like anyone else needs to be or do the same things I am. Perhaps because, after number five, I really did start needing to truly pray and know that another was the next move for me. And knowing so specifically that they were somehow made me realize that they WERE specifically mine. My people. My plan. Different from anyone else. I can't explain it really. BUT, I've had a particularly wild experience recently that I would love to share with you sometime. It has testified more certainly to me that this isn't just all chance, but that there is far more to our paths here -- there are things we planned, and promises we made, and people we always meant to connect with us that we could only relearn here by having the spirit guide us. And it does. And, all of the sudden, you have another small piece -- no, HUGE piece -- of your eternal puzzle just figured out. I'm so happy for you! So exciting. And so exciting that it is YOURS, your plan, your husband's plan and your kids' plan and this new person's plan and nobody else's.

    And even though I said how I've realized more that we are all different, I didn't mean you and me, of course. It has felt completely wrong that I have seven and you have six. Thank you for fixing that. ;)

  3. Andrea, as you well know, I wish I could have 400 kids, just so I could name them all. :) Yours are quite excellently named, yourself!

    Nancy, you are the best. I love your comments so much. And I, too, really feel that we should have the same number of kids, so I'm happy to be catching up to you. :) The baby is due mid-February! And Hallelujah is right!

  4. I just came back here to see if I read your due-date right. WHAT? As in you only have like three months left??? Please don't tell me you have been able to keep it a secret this long. Please tell me that those who actually see you have known . . . because at six months there is SO MUCH pregnancy going on here. Even at four months with this last one people were bravely exclaiming, "You're pregnant!"

    Anywho, I hope I finally sent an email to your correct address. It occurred to me today that if there is a marilyn nielsen with the en spelling on gmail . . . she just got a very WEIRD email. Yipes.

    And, I am with you on possibly wanting children just so I could name them. I haven't come close to using all the family middle names I would have loved to have used!

  5. Ha! Nancy, here is the thing. I always look like I am pregnant now. It's like my body said, "oh, this is how it is now? Okay!" so I've been asked many times when I'm NOT pregnant, if I am pregnant. Much to people's chagrin, of course, but I don't usually feel too bad about it, because I get it. I just look slightly pregnant all the time. Anyway, so yes, I think it has been obvious for quite awhile, but no one has dared ask, for the most part. :) Although I do, now, look quite a lot MORE pregnant than I do when I'm not. If that makes sense. :)

    If you sent an email to Nielsen with an -en, someone else is now enjoying it. :) I'm Nielson with an -on. Those pesky Nielson/Nielsen/Nelson/Nelsens are such a pain! My maiden name was Nelson (no "i") so believe me, I know the potential confusion. Re-send it! I'm dying to hear from you.

  6. Agh! Did it still not come??? I sent it over yesterday when I realized my error with the en from the day before!! I checked and double checked that I typed . . . Is that right? Sheesh. Maybe you are not meant to get my email! If it still isn't there, email me at and I'll just copy and paste my email from days ago into a reply!


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