My goodness, it has been a difficult weekend. I started feeling a bit "off" during First Friday morning Mass, and by the time I dragged myself home, there was only enough life left in me to slump onto the couch and go to sleep. My children were left to their own devices, which meant, thanks to Marie (17), they had all been fed a good lunch and were quietly sitting around the dining room table doing their work when I woke up hours later. So often, when people hear I have nine children, they are quick to say, "I don't know how you do it!" or "You must be a saint" or "I only have two, and they drive me crazy--I can't even imagine nine!" Yet, the truth is that by the time you have a house as full as ours, you most likely have a few helpful, competent teens to keep things on track.
To be honest, the most difficult time in motherhood for me was transitioning from zero to one child. I had been an only child myself and had never so much as changed a diaper. That was a time of intensive on-the-job training and fatigue like none other. Going from one to two was another challenge, as was going from two to three. After that, each baby just fit in easily and naturally. Sometimes, late in a pregnancy, someone would ask, "So, are you ready for the new baby?" The answer would always be "yes," but only because we had never put anything away from the previous one.
How well I remember when our third child, Margaret, was born. We had a three-year-old and an under-two-year-old, but I was determined to get out the door on a fine, late-summer day. My husband was at work, my parents were away, and my pal Lissa was in the hospital with her little daughter. This left me without my usual network of adult support and companionship. Unperturbed and full of the energy of youth, I unfolded the double stroller, popping Agnes in the back and Theresa in the front. I slipped Margaret into the sling across my chest and stuffed a new tote bag (that had been a gift with a magazine subscription) full of diapers and other necessities, hanging it from one side of the stroller. Bump, bump, bump--all four of us managed to get down the front steps of the apartment building and out to warmth and sunlight and life. I was feeling great, walking at a good clip and stopping by all my usual haunts. In those days, this meant Mass at St. Joseph's Church, a bite to eat at the Romi Bakeshop, dinner provisions from Sorriso Italian Salumeria, and a stop at the little neighborhood park for the girls to run and swing and wear themselves out before a nap.
I was feeling highly successful throughout this maiden voyage, yet I could not help noticing that people on the street were looking at me sort of funny. I mean, I was used to the attention you get when you push two blonde babies around in a stroller. Adding another one in a sling was bound to get you even more, but this was different somehow. For some reason, it seemed as if people were reacting specifically to the tote bag. They would look at it, look at me, look all the little heads, and suppress a smile or perhaps even a laugh. It was unmistakeable. It seemed odd, but, what could I do? I pressed forward and chalked it off to the sling being a bit of a novelty, or perhaps the lightness of mood that a fine summer day will bring.
Getting up the stairs was harder work than going down had been, but, as a newly-minted mother of three, I was a seasoned professional. We were in the door in no time, and I was delighted to find two out of three little ones already fast asleep. I settled them down and took off the sling. I folded the double stroller, and then, for the first time since this story began, I actually looked at the tote bag and heard myself gasp. The laughter and mirth of the entire population of Astoria was explained to me in an instant when I read:
"Couple to Couple League: Practicing the Art of Natural Family Planning Since 1971."