Raising Seven Children With Humor and Grace

IT is easy, with hindsight, to find the humor in raising seven children, and in being married to a career military man. But the outright laughable experiences we had were so funny and interesting we didn't have to wait for hindsight to recognize them for what they were. At the time, we laughed. An example: One of my four sons gleefully selected a shampoo that was packaged in a plastic teddy bear - a squeeze made it come out in joyful spurts for a seven-year-old. I cautioned him not to make it a toy, for in our household we could not waste and still make ends meet.

Apparently one morning before school he couldn't resist the temptation. Not wanting to waste it, he squirted it onto his hair, combed it carefully and set off to school, only two blocks away.

A sudden rain came up in that west Texas town and, like all of the rare rains in the desert, the first drops were large and they seemed to hit with a powerful force. Even in the desert sometimes you see imprints of raindrops in the sand. These wonderful raindrops fell on my little son's carefully combed hair, stiff with shampoo that had dried in the air as he ran. They mingled with the shampoo, turning it to heavy, bubbly lather.

When he walked in the classroom, I was told, the children erupted into such laughter the teacher had to get the principal to quell their surprise at seeing a classmate with the imagination to come to school with his head covered in a cap of white, foamy, inviting bubbles. Since they all wanted to feel it, and couldn't stop laughing, there was nothing to do but send the boy home to rinse the offending ingredient out of his hair.

He came in with a note from his teacher and his bubbled head intact, completely unaware of how he looked. I asked him to look in the mirror. Then he doubled up with giggles.

``Mother, it was only a little rain - how do just a few drops make so much lather?''

``Those raindrops did such a good job because they fell from so high in the sky, hit your head with such a force, and they did what raindrops are supposed to do - make us smile - and more than that, expose every little boy who grooms his hair with shampoo,'' I answered seriously, hiding a grin.

When raising my children, if I could not work on a newspaper staff, I wrote as a special correspondent, a stringer. At our quarters on one air base, one day I was marking time until the arrival of a new baby, when we heard an ear-splitting, thunderous roar that shook the house. Running outside to see, we saw the experimental XC-99, a forerunner of the Concorde. It was coming in for a landing at our base.

Hurriedly, I told all the children to get in the car. They knew the routine. We drove to the runway, and sure enough there was the mammoth XC-99, too awesome for words. We had never seen such a plane. The crew was on the ground. I took my pad and pen and went over to get the story. (Now, some women with imminent motherhood are not very obvious in their appearance. Let me say of myself, I was never one of those.)

The pilot, a tall, handsome captain, invited me aboard to inspect their great airship. I looked back at the children, now on the hood of the car, waving and shouting, ``Mother, let me come, too.'' Not very professional for a serious writer, to be sure.

I looked with dismay at the high ladder leading to the first section of the plane, negotiated that, and still two more in the multistoried behemoth.

I took notes on all the crew, on the staggering statistics, gasoline, speed, and range capability. The zeal of the crew was contagious, so when they asked me to join them on a trip to San Antonio, I said ``yes.'' Then the copilot brought us to reality as he gazed at my girth and width.

``Captain, sir, if you make out a manifest with one newspaperwoman on this flight and you get two passengers, pick up another in flight, you'll be in for lots of paper work.''

I got disinvited.

But the crew didn't leave me with total rejection, for as I walked back to my children a crewman joined me to say, ``Bet you have a spunky baby, and lady, if our plane awes you, you are pretty awesome to us.''

Sure enough, before the XC-99 thundered in for a return touchdown at our base, I had a new baby girl.

(My mother-to-be status was never overlooked. A witty judge at a Southern courthouse on one of my ever-changing news beats observed my condition one day and wryly noted, ``Mrs. B., my docket is so full today, please don't put a minor on it.'')

Besides seeking to instill qualities of avoiding wastefulness in our low-budget household, I tried to teach tact. Christmas was never a season we could afford to overdo. I recall results of my effort of teaching tact. When answering how she liked her inexpensive gift under the tree, my daughter said, ``Mother, do you want an honest answer or a Christmas Day kind of answer?''

Making transfers, moving during the school year, taught my children some valuable lessons in priorities; possessions accumulated had to be sorted through and some left behind. Even good friends and teachers and favorite places.

I hope I taught them to have faith that the other side of the river has exciting times and good friends. And that there are ``more white mice for the ones you had to give away because the movers just don't take white mice.'' That the extra dogs we rescued from the dogcatcher will be replaced, and the litter of kittens born on moving day will survive without us and we will have more.

In a column I wrote for the Honolulu Star Bulletin once, I described how my home was never decorated with the Early American d'ecor I really admired in store windows. Interior decorators never came to mull over my accessories.

Instead I had very artistic, impressionistic, sometimes abstract arrangements anyone could appreciate.

Why, just see the dynamics of the baseball bats gracefully embracing the mitts, accented by football cards in a delightful array of color and form - placed within a margin of well-thought-out framework of dolls and doll buggies. Lunch boxes and band instruments - a trombone, trumpet, and clarinet - were a suave understatement of design sophistication. All this proclaimed that ours was a custom-designed home no millionaire could duplicate.

Our homes had a motif no name-brand decorator label could give, for even today I call it ``Young American Sweet Girls and Boys.''

And to all those houses and duplexes and apartments on military bases and in all those cities and towns we lived in, I have a wish for them. I hope every day there is some reason to laugh out loud and to smile for the people who live there now.

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