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By Staff | Apr 9, 2010

A recent stint at a dairy exposition enabled me to do some people watching. This a much more interesting hobby than bird watching, although the use of binoculars seems to be frowned upon when one studies the sapiens species.

Among the many forms sighted, one that caught my eye was a Haggard Mom With Large Brood In Tow.

This shouldn’t have warranted any extra attention, yet it did. Maybe it’s because I read some years ago that the average family had 2.3 children. I’ve heard of a child being called “half-pint,” so would that .3 of a kid get the nickname “third-pint?”

These days, the average family has 1.9 kids. Back when I was young it was not uncommon to see families with six children, while my great-grandparents begat a baker’s dozen of offspring.

Were this math extrapolated into the past, one would reach the inevitable conclusion that families of yore had scores of children. And they accomplished this feat the old-fashioned way, without any help from the technology that gave rise to “Octomom”.

Having grown up in a family that contained eight kids, I obviously have nothing against large families. But I do have some insights about growing up in one.

For instance, it’s challenging to live in a household that has 10 people and only one bathroom. And by “challenging” I mean “often uncomfortable.”

This was especially true when my older sisters entered high school. For some reason, they began to spend untoward amounts of time in the bathroom, primping and preening and otherwise gussying up. You would think it was against the law to go to school smelling like our dairy barn. I was certainly never arrested for this “crime.”

It sometimes got to the point where I thought my kidneys would explode. I would urgently convey this information to the bathroom’s occupant by shouting at the door and might receive a reply along the lines of “go outside and water a tree.”

This is why the trees nearest our house did so well. But there were situations when watering a tree wouldn’t have solved my pressing problem.

At such times I might be informed by the bathroom’s tenant that the old privy was likely unoccupied. The trouble was, the old outhouse was cold and drafty in the wintertime and just plain yucky otherwise.

Plus, its wooden seating arrangement meant the user faced the very real possibility of getting a splinter in a highly embarrassing place.

Another issue with growing up in a large family had to do with the dearth of entertainment. Disneyworld wasn’t an option, mainly because it was still just a figment of Walt’s imagination.

Yes, we had a television. But Dad was the sort of guy who believed that watching daytime TV was an abomination, a nasty habit that put one on the slippery slope to mental enfeeblement.

We played indoors until the ruckus rose to a level similar to that of a space shuttle launch. Our parents would then vociferously impress upon us that we should GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!

So we were forced to play outside. Not only that, we had to invent our own games! These days, the child welfare folks are called if kids don’t have prearranged “play dates” and are simply left to romp in an unstructured manner.

Oddly, some of the most fun we had involved structures. An example of such a thing was building a maze of tunnels in the hay mow.

Eight is enough

These hay bale tunnels became extremely elaborate with dead ends, chimneys, and sudden drop-offs. It was possible to lose a kid in our bale labyrinth, so a head count was required at the end of each day.

Our family believed in hand-me-downs when it came to clothing. As the oldest boy, the stuff I got was generally new — although I wondered about a shirt I wore in grade school that contained a suspicious amount of lace and buttoned on the wrong side.

We also handed down our bicycles. Actually, we had two bikes for the entire family, the Big Bike and the Little Bike.

Kids learned to ride on the Little Bike. This was before training wheels had been invented, so the novice rider was simply placed on the bike, steadied, then gently launched down an incline.

This resulted in numerous spills, but no serious damage ever resulted. The bike was well protected by the legs of the learner.

I could go on, but you get the picture. And while we were deprived by today’s standards — kids nowadays believe they are underprivileged if they don’t have tiny TV’s surgically implanted in their eyeballs — one thing is certain: growing up in a household of ten people and one bathroom helped me hone a certain ability.

Just call me the Super Tree Soaker.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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