Thursday, March 7, 2013

"How many kids do you have?"

I've been dreading this question since Kol died, hoping no one would ask it, yet knowing that someone would.  How would, should, could I answer?

When Kol was sick, we got asked that question often.  We saw many different nurses, social workers, psychologists, doctors, interns, etc., most of whom were meeting us for the first time.  Often at some point during the initial meeting or exam, Kol would comment about what his sisters had done recently.  Then they would either ask Kol "How many sisters do you have?" or ask us "How many kids do you have?"

We learned quickly when we were expecting Annika that there is a big difference in people's perceptions between 4 and 5 kids.  When we had 4, people would say something like "You must be busy." but they weren't surprised.  When we said 5, eyes widened, jaws dropped, and most didn't quite know what to say.  After being annoyed or surprised ourselves the first few times we got that response, Kirk started to enjoy watching the responses we got. 

It took a little while to get used to our identity as parents of five, but it is who we are.  When we go places now, with our four girls, it feels like someone is missing.  Someone is.  Even when we are sitting together at home, playing a game or watching a movie together, I'll look around me, around the room, and it feels wrong.  It takes a few moments to realize what the problem is.  There aren't as many bodies around me as there should be.  It's an instinctive reaction.  I think, that after years of keeping track of where all the kids are,  most moms (and probably dads, too) start to know intuitively how crowded the space around us should be.  We don't need to do a head count to see where everyone is, we just know.  I feel that there is too much space in my space now.  It takes another moment for me to remember why there is too much space.   

When we do something as a family now, o the rare occasions when all of us are together at a movie or shopping, and strangers see us, they see six people.  They see what looks like parents with four girls.  Rationally, I know that most people who see us barely even notice us, but I have an intense desire for everyone to know that what they see is wrong.  I want to scream it out, for everyone to know, that we are not a family of six, we do have a son, too, and we are seven.  I am a mother of five, not four.   THAT is who I am, who I should be, who others should be seeing.  Yet, in some ways, I am not.  I need to learn to accept, that from now on, that is what others are going to see. 

How many kids do I have?  How should I answer that?  I am, and will always be Julianna's, Mari's, Kolbjorn's, Birgitte's, and Annika's mom.  Always.  But Kol is no longer here for me to take care of.   So, then do I say I had five?  This doesn't really work, for two reasons.  One, it opens the door for people to ask why I said had.  I don't necessarily want to explain everything to a stranger.  Two, it feels like I'm denying Kol's existence.  He is an important part of our family.   Still.

I will say I have five children. 


  1. That aching space. Thank you for sharing your wrestling and pain with this simple yet wrenching question. In a conversation with a man I was getting to know, I asked that very thing. He replied, "We have four children". When I asked more about them, he described each one briefly, where they were and what they were doing (he had three adult children). About one he said, "Luke is now with Jesus and we can't wait to see him there".

  2. Thanks for sharing your feelings, many people don't understand the simplicity and yet complexity of that question. Oh that innocent question that is often asked but is very hard for more people than one thinks. I think you need to answer that question on how ever you feel. We too will always have 4 kids, many times we tell people we have 4 kids - 3 here and 1 in heaven. Sometimes that opens up the questions why, sometimes they don't say a thing. I will sometimes answer them vaguely and tell them "Oh we have 3 here." I understand that empty space feeling, at the table, in the vehicle, even in doing laundry. Thanks again for sharing. Kelly Manske