We are at a homeschool conference. It is time for the introductions session. I have slipped away from the hall. So has Andy. As I hurry along the path, I see him ahead of me.
“You didn’t want to stay for the introductions either?” I ask.
“No,” he replies, taking my hand and pulling me close.
In the hall, the introductions have begun:
“Hi, I’m Anna and this is my husband Greg. We’re from Beeton and we have ten children.”
“Hi, I’m John and I’m here with my wife Debbie. We have six children and one on the way.”
“I’m Peter and this is my wife Claire. We're from Victoria. We’ve got two children.”
I imagine: “Hi, I’m Sue. Andy and I have….” But I don’t want to define Andy, myself and our family by how many children we have. I don't want people to make an initial judgement of us based on that number. How many children we have is not who we are. (I can see that this isn't really true. Our children do affect who we are. I would not be the same person if I didn't have my children.)
What does a number tell us? Does each child we have add to our status as parents? Does it tell other people how open to life we have been? Are we better Catholics if that number is large? Or conversely, could that number condemn us as irresponsible in some people's eyes? Does it tell the whole story of a family? No.
Andy and I stroll along the path arm-in-arm until we think the introductions are over. Then we slip back into the hall but someone notices us.
“You missed the introductions. I’m Tom. This is my wife Jane. We have eight children.”
“Hi I’m Sue.” I glance at Andy who continues, “I’m Andy. Is this your first conference? Did you have to travel far to get here?”
We exchange details of our interests with our new friends. We don’t mention our children. It's obvious we have some because we’re at a homeschooling conference. I am sure details of our children will gradually emerge as we chat.
Maybe later when we know Tom and Jane better, we might tell them more about our seven living children and Thomas who lived for a day, and even about the seven children who were with us for only a fleeting moment. We might share the joys our children have brought us, and also the sufferings we have endured…if Tom and Jane would like to know...
How many children do you have? Fifteen.
How can you tell the story of your family in a number? It just isn’t possible.