Bringing up five children on a budget has taught this family to eschew consumerism and buy into quality family time.
BABY No. 5 was born on one of autumn’s warmer nights. As he slid into his father’s bare hands, his waterbag still intact, it was not (as always) easy to process the magnitude of birth – time standing still - the centre of being at that very moment, breaking out of the protective shield that was created by the Perfect Artisan of pregnancy and emergence.
Holding our newborn for the first time, we felt that giddiness of welcoming a new person into our lives. And there he was: wailing through the silent warm waves of the night, filling the room with his presence, his cord pulsating as we stared at his slippery self, sliding around in our arms.
Ask any parent, and they will tell you how they feel for the older child or children when a sibling is born. There is joy for the gift of a younger brother or sister, a friend bound by the womb. There is obvious gratitude for a growing family; happiness before the reality of laundry sets in.
Then there is also a tinge of guilt, for the dethroning of the previous baby, the only or the youngest child just before the sacred emergence.
It only takes so much to prepare for a new baby, but to prepare for a new baby to household of children; it’s really quite a different ballgame.
Sure, there’s a lot of love going around. It twirls and swirls, in laughter and in happiness. But then there is that need to divide attention.
Yet the havoc created by the other children does not disappear, and neither do the noises they make, the questions they ask, nor the feeding they require (seven times a day).
On top of all that, we are also a homeschooling family. How would we cope? Would the others fall behind?
These doubts are best addressed by like-minded friends: “Don’t try too hard. You should let the others get to know No. 5,” she reminded me. “He must have turned everything upside down.”
It was the reminder I needed.
My youngest’s birth was a pebble’s flick away from the onslaught of the festive season. The holidays were trawling in the sales, parading pricey candy canes and reindeer sweaters. Signboards were going up everywhere.
Carved in that stone of consumerism are of course lots of toys to covet. One of my reasons for homeschooling our children was to have them value family relationships over and above the gluttony of consumerism. The scenario is not different in Malaysia, and even more so with multiple festivities throughout the year.
Celebrating, partying, and buying and buying and buying, has become a norm to the point that important relationships between one human and another has been on a decline. While parents get busier, and children get less and less attention from them, a certain void is left to be filled, usually by material things.
So families buy for their children, hoarding many expensive and “educational” toys they may or may not be able to afford. Very young children strut branded clothes. Some buy children’s books but have no time to read with them. Don’t get me started about iPhones for tweens.
Parents have ultimately bought into this materialistic culture, creating an illusion that they could buy their way to happiness. And henceforth, children go on a rampage of asking for material belongings, to fill that void between them and their parents. They buy into consumerism because they are taught it’s the route to happiness.
We don’t live in a cave, and my husband and I do embrace gadgets in all forms and sizes, especially when they help with the children’s learning or our work. You can’t live without technology today. But having five children on a student scholarship and not being able to live in a massive house has certainly shaped our values, which we plan to instil into them.
Toys – if any – come from the weekly Sunday carboot sale. Clothes come from the charity shop, as they learn to give back to war-torn countries in their own capacity as “consumers”. And we have plenty of books to read throughout the week, without going to the community library.
We are blessed to be able to live this way.
Though we are a far cry from parenting role models, I admit having a romanticised vision of my children on the horizon: the band of brothers and their eldest sister trawling sparks into the future together – each special in their own idiosyncracies and ideals.
It’s also why we prefer to homeschool: to honour siblings as friends who never fade, keeping rivalry at bay, and having them love as a family and not live apart.
There was the time we snagged a children’s Ikea drawer at a recycling centre and No. 3 officiated it by climbing into the lowest rung. No. 4 ended the ceremony by rolling the drawer shut. Only after the cries, “Hey, get out me! Get out me!” were sounded, did No. 4 nonchalantly leave his handful of toy cars to let out his older brother. Today, No. 2 devised a family (card)board game with a bundle of rules that didn’t make sense. Everyone played happily until the insanity of his logic began to surface and a squabble broke out.
There is no relationship more unique and sacred between two siblings who share a womb, and what more with five look-a-likes running around the apartment.
What I wish for my youngest is for him to slide right into the havoc and mayhem of this family, and for his siblings to accept him as part of their homeschooling journey. We don’t want him to get stuck in the flood of the sales crowds while everyone else hits the shops. We want him to play hopscotch on the pavement when he is older.
We hope not to see him stuck in front of a screen, even if the programme is “educational”. But we would love for him to sit in front of every puppet show or insane cardboard game that one of the older ones manufacture.
Whether the children are doing their book work at the kitchen table, crowding around the freezer for a science experiment, turning playdough into cookies, or lugging groceries from the front door to the pantry, No. 5 will be there watching and learning, just as they will learn from his wails and slimey smiles.
It’s Winter now and the days are getting colder. The feeling of being snuggled up with five noisy and inquisitive children, all pouring over a textbook is nothing but gratifying.
Life is too short to be running after things that can’t shape values for a meaningful existence.
A baby brother before the season of hibernation was just what the fabulous four needed to appreciate that one special relationship that only they will have, and it all started with that special emergence one warm autumn night.