Life in an Oversized Family

by Shannon Weber

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    First-Place ArticleThere are joys that make up for having Cheerios squished in your scriptures and all your lipstick smashed down. Still, it’s not surprising that when we’re out in public together Dad tries to pass us off as a Sunday School class.

    The average American family has 1.8 children. Most of my friends’ families have two or three. Then there is my family. We have lots.

    It seems that when my parents read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your homeless,” they took it seriously. I figure the reason my parents have so many children is that after they had me, they thought, “Hey, honey, we couldn’t do much worse.” So they decided to have three, four, five, or eleven more! Now, my mom didn’t have all twelve. We adopted seven from different countries, so there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the hair and skin color differences in our patchwork family.

    It has become easy to shock people. I remember once a lady asked my mom, “Are all these kids yours?” We just looked at her and said, “Of course not, lady. She checks us out of the library.” I admit that being in a large family can cause a little bit of commotion. People always stop and stare or look at us funny. Maybe it’s because there are so many of us, or maybe it’s because the colors of skin don’t seem to mix or match.

    Many people would have a hard time dealing with this, but not my dad. He usually just tries to pass us off as a Sunday School class or birthday party when we are in public.

    A family the size of Helaman’s army does have its advantages. If we want to play basketball, it doesn’t take long to divide up into two teams. By the time we graduate from junior high school we are highly skilled in mass food production. How many of you have ever seen a five-pound bucket of peanut butter disappear by Thursday? How many of you can make ten lunches in ten minutes or less? Do you know what a pan filled with two dozen scrambled eggs looks like?

    For all of you who are wondering, I can clue you in about the lunches real quick. The key here is speed. Grab ten lunch sacks and write the kids’ names on them. If you forget one, just refer to the handy chart inside the cupboard door. Then get out 20 pieces of bread and put them on the counter. Blob mayonnaise on each piece and spread with one hand while using your other hand to put ham on every other piece. Now go back and put a piece of cheese on the other slice of bread. Match up a ham and cheese and the hard part is finished. Grab an apple, some carrots, and a drink. Throw them in the sack with a napkin, and you are finished. This has been done in seven minutes and 37 seconds, and my record has stood for three years!

    Speaking of food, my mom truly considers fast Sunday a day of rest since that is the only Sunday she doesn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to get us to church 15 minutes late.

    Another great advantage of a big family is that unless you are the oldest child, you can usually find a pair of shoes that almost fit. But this advantage has backfired. Can you imagine the horror on my mom’s face as she looked down the aisle in sacrament meeting to see my little sister Amaris in her white chiffon dress with dirty purple tennis shoes flopping on her feet?

    In sacrament meeting we take up the entire first row. Over half of our ward’s Mutual is my family. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to go to a stake dance to find that your brothers are four of the ten guys that showed up.

    When most moms make a birthday list of what they want, it usually includes things like perfume, jewelry, or maybe a sweater. But my mom’s recent birthday list included a set of scriptures without the baby’s Cheerios smashed in between the pages and a new pancake griddle which can accommodate ten pancakes at once. Her ultimate desire is to remodel our dining room with sloping floors, drains, and automatic water, spigots in the ceiling. I guess dinners at our house are a bit messy.

    On Saturdays, when many dads are asleep, reading the paper, or watching the Wide World of Sports on TV, my dad is constantly repairing bike tires, helping out the Cub Scout pack (we only need two more to have our own), or going to the wholesale food outlet to do our weekly grocery shopping.

    You’d think that turning 16 would be a festive event in our family. Well, if we can handle the horror of the transportation my dad offers us, then we will probably survive the dating scene. Our family has three cars from which to choose—the 1971 Chevy Impala which works most of the time (my friends dubbed it “the Beast”), my mom’s beatup brown station wagon complete with Popsicle sticks stuck to the ceiling, and the 15-passenger family van. Needless to say, when the Beast is working, I usually drive it. My dad has presented me with three things to keep it moving—jumper cables, a screwdriver, and an up-to-date Triple-A card.

    Now for the dating scene. Once my date passes the “date with Shannon interview,” my mom must see him blessing the sacrament, and then he must deal with the harassment and questions from my younger brothers and sisters. “Do you really like my sister?” “Do you always dress like that?” “Did you know my sister really likes Brad better than you?” I figure anyone who comes back twice must be a true friend.

    When the family really needs to get away from it all and get a little bit of rest and relaxation, we go camping. We drive our van, which pulls a tent trailer, and take a second car, which pulls a U-Haul filled with four pup tents and 14 bikes. By the time we get it all set up, it’s time to go home. Besides, it is getting to the point where we have to rent three campsites.

    One time we really splurged and got to stay in a hotel. The only problem was that we didn’t have enough suitcases to go around. So my dad nonchalantly plopped the black garbage bags used to hold extra clothes along with the suitcases on the cart for the bellhop to take up to the room.

    One of the hardest things to deal with is Christmas. You thought you had it hard because your mom made you wait until 7:00 A.M. to begin opening your presents? Well, that’s the easy part at my house. No matter what time we start, it’s usually three or four hours later before we finish. My mom insists that we open our presents one by one so we can “enjoy the other children’s exuberance.” I don’t know about you, but there is only so much excitement I can get from watching the wrappings being peeled off another doll or Tonka truck. By the time it gets to me, I have to brush off the cobwebs.

    Valentine’s Day is another fine day I could do without. My mom insists that homemade Valentines show more thought and care. Usually on February 13 at about 10:00 P.M., you can find one mom, dad, and big sister cutting out pink, red and white hearts numbers 412, 413, and 414. It’s a never-ending battle.

    Easter—18 dozen eggs later—you wish there were no such things as chickens or bunnies. And by the time I hop around the yard trying to find a place to hide all of them, I usually get pretty tired of it and shove a whole carton of them in the mailbox. But that’s not half as bad as the defrosted egg salad sandwiches we eat for two whole weeks!

    The only regret my parents have is that we don’t yet qualify for a group rate at Disneyland. But hey, we are only two short now. Our home teachers hope we don’t adopt any more children very soon because after a year they finally have all of our names memorized.

    My mom never has been very good at handiwork, so when she finished cross-stitching a family tree with our names on it, we were all impressed. But that was five kids ago, and she doesn’t have time to fix it, so she has taken to adding Post-it notes around the edges.

    There are times that make it all worthwhile. I don’t think there is an experience comparable to having an adopted sibling sealed to our family in the temple. No matter how many times we’ve been, it’s always neat to hear that we will be a family for all eternity.

    Whenever we do baptisms for the dead, I get really excited knowing that five of my brothers and sisters are in the temple with me.

    Besides all of that, I have the biggest fan club in town. It really makes me feel good to know that 13 people in the audience are really proud of me.

    This summer I went to Denmark, and I actually began to miss my family (except for the 6:00 A.M. Saturday morning “Smurf’s are on” call). When I returned and stepped off the airplane, there they were—13 people screaming, “Shannon’s back!”

    As I wandered through the house in the middle of the night suffering from jet lag, I saw the ten-pound bucket of butter in the refrigerator, stumbled over the assorted pairs of mismatched shoes in the front entry, and opened my lipstick tubes to find that they had all been bitten off or smashed down, and I smiled and said to myself, “I’m home.”

    Photography by Steve Bunderson

    There are joys that make up for having Cheerios squished in your scriptures and all your lipstick smashed down. Still, it’s not surprising that when we’re out in public together Dad tries to pass us off as a Sunday School class.

    The holidays are especially “fun.” We do Valentines and Easter eggs in multiples of 100. The sandwiches we pack for lunches are about that numerous, too.