When one of my oldest friends, whom I have known since I was sent to school in the US, for 11th grade, and my exact contemporary
, told me she was expecting her 7th child, I did what many people would do upon hearing this: congratulate her warmly, at the same time wince in mini-horror.
Not even 32 and already the mother of 6, with one on the way! Her sister with 7 of her own, to boot!
This unusual, modern state-of-affairs is probably why I was intrigued enough to watch Monday's TLC
channel programme, 16 Kids and Moving
, about Arkansas' Duggar family.
Here they are, in their Sunday finery and fruitful glory.
As pretty, healthy, preternaturally wholesome family as you'll ever see, I'm sure you'll concur.
And every last child with a name starting with the letter "J" too! An hommage to realtor dad, "Jim Bob" Duggar
, perhaps (who looks like he could be one of President Carter's sons).
For foreigners such as me, the name Jim Bob is instantly evocative of the Waltons. The smirk factor, especially for us Brits, just keeps piling up.
Looking at this picture-perfect, devoutly Christian, and doubtlessly conservative family with their gingham dresses, and high-and-tight haircuts, is almost scary.
It's the American Myth come to life, for foreigners.
The myth of the American Superman
, who does everything at a scale which dwarves other nations, even those who in the recent past, were all that and a bucket of buffalo wings themselves.
In the Old World, having 16 kids today is almost like declaring yourself a Martian come to take over the world.
Or something infinitely worse -- being a peasant.
And you know what?
The truth of the matter is, most people in Europe couldn't fathom having sixteen kids because it takes work, organisation, dedication, and self-abnegation which perhaps today, is only possible by virtue of a good dose of religiosity.
The kind of person that pups out 16 children, isn't exactly a coward, or afraid of back-breaking work. And we won't even talk of being optimistic!
And then of course, we Europeans know one thing, and we know it well.
Having loads of kids is expensive. VERY expensive.
Why the French have kept to a strict 2 children average cap since before the time of Napoleon. You think they'd sacrifice their lifestyles NOW, when Club Med
at Cap d'Antibes is beckoning??
But it's also true that having sixteen children is not any the less astonishing in the past, as it is now.
Even in my generously-sized family on BOTH sides, the top procreators only ever reached 14 children back in the 1850s (astonishingly, only one died before reaching his 20th year).
I recall hearing that the village vicar would mention their names, immediately after the Royal Family's, in prayerful intercession for bearing up so well for such a large-sized family!
So, this is it.
In Western Europe, having multiple children is either a sign of craziness, or of religious fervour or of being incredibly low-class -- both of which might as well amount to the same thing, according to the intelligentsia.
But in the US...well, I rather thought things would be a little different.
Of course, my friend has told me the stares she and her sister, and parents get, when the whole family goes out to dinner at say, the Outback.
13 kids, two sets of grandparents, and one Italian great-grandmother ain't easy to navigate in and out of two mini-vans. And sitting down to eat takes the military expertise of Field Marshall Montgomery.
More than one person, says my friend, looks at the family and mouths insults under their breaths."God, look at them. Bringing all these kids into the world. Almost obscene! Get contraceptives, fer chrissakes!"
...one lady said, not under her breath, as the family traipsed by.
That hurts them more than I can say, because though my friend attended my toney Catholic all-girl's school, she was a blue-collar scholarship girl -- and the family struggled, then and now, to make end's meet.
But they do. And without a lick of help from the government.
We won't even mention that both she and her sister have only had one husband each, who are the fathers of all their children, and are the only bread-winners of their families -- one, a handyman, the other, a graphic artist.
Similar, in fact, to the Duggars (and the Heppners, the family TLC portrayed just before this programme. They also had 16 kids).
I suppose to people who have made different life choices, and accept help from many quarters (in and of itself, not a matter of shame -- though it highlights the sacrifice of others, who don't), find this resentful.
It's the compare-and-contrast that hurts. If one set of parents can, why can't they?
Well, there are no easy answers to that. Some can, and some can't.
It's about character, and circumstance meeting each other, I suppose. And that hurts too.
In researching the Duggars, I found myself reading an Op-Ed piece about them, from an unlikely source -- a contributor to the San Franscisco Gate
From the title, to the opening lines, to the closing lines, it's a piece of writing that drips with venom, biliously corrosive venom that eats from within, and perhaps, astonishingly, something infinitely worse.
It reeks of envy.
I read it, and I felt so very sorry not only for the Duggars, who must be the targets of such constant put-downs for being nothing more than themselves, but for the person who wrote it -- because he sounds like the poorest human being alive.
God Does Not Want 16 Kids
Arkansas mom gives birth to a whole freakin' baseball team. How deeply should you cringe?
And goes downhill from there.
"Who are you to suggest that her equally troubling husband -- whose name is, of course, Jim Bob and he's hankerin' to be a Republican senator and try not to wince in sociopolitical pain when you say that -- isn't more than a little numb to the real world, and that bringing 16 hungry mewling attention-deprived kids (and she wants more! Yay!) into this exhausted world zips right by "touching" and races right past "disturbing" and lurches its way, heaving and gasping and sweating from the karmic armpits, straight into "Oh my God, what the hell is wrong with you people?"
The writer, Mark Moford, continues.
Perhaps the point is this: Why does this sort of bizarre hyperbreeding only seem to afflict antiseptic megareligious families from the Midwest? In other words -- assuming Michelle and Jim Bob and their massive brood of cookie-cutter Christian kidbots will all be, as the charming photo suggests, never allowed near a decent pair of designer jeans or a tolerable haircut from a recent decade, and assuming that they will all be tragically encoded with the values of the homophobic asexual Christian right -- where are the forces that shall help neutralize their effect on the culture? Where is the counterbalance, to offset the damage?
His screed ends with this pea-green nugget.
Ah, but this is America, yes? People should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want with their families if they can afford it and if it's within the law and so long as they aren't gay or deviant or happily flouting Good Christian Values, right? Shouldn't they? Hell, gay couples still can't openly adopt a baby in most states (they either lie, or one adopts and the other must apply as "co-parent"), but Michelle Duggar can pop out 16 kids and no one says, oh my freaking God, stop it, stop it now, you thoughtless, selfish, baby-drunk people.
Here it is. In all its misshapen, emotionally stunted glory.
A person who lets his frustration for all the things he resents take over his sanity, his charity, his fellowship to others, just to melt away under his furnace blast of hate.
It's the Christian angle. It's the Republican angle. It's the homosexual angle. It's the white angle.
Heck, it's even the Southern angle, and quite a few angles besides, which I didn't get, since I took remedial Geometry.
If this family had been sharecroppers, valiantly raising their kids on 40 acres and a mule's labour, the fangs would have never appeared.
If it had been a gay couple who graduated from the Mia Farrow School of Maternity
and adopted 16 kids, they would've been awarded the freedom of the City of San Francisco.
If it had been a desperate Mexican immigrant couple, raising 16 kids in East LA, hosannas would've been said for their predicament.
But for the Duggars, with their 16 "kidbots", there is nothing but contempt.
Instantly I think about my friend, who struggles to feed, clothe and homeschool her 6 kids.
I even think of my great-great-grandfather Tommy, a modest country doctor, often paid in chickens by his humble patients.
And I wonder...
When did being a decent, large, godfearing family, become the equivalent of being freaks?
I can only come to one conclusion, sadly.
I suppose it occured when the real freaks took over.P.S.:
I'm having 2 children, maybe 4. But as a young only child, I dreamt of having 9, non-gimmicky named kids.
Why, if my childhood heroine, Nadia Comaneci
, can become a mum at the age of 44
for the first time, maybe I too can be pushing out my future perfect 10s, well into my forties.
And if I hear one wisecrack as I pass by, I swear, I'll flatten them with my Pampers bag.ADDENDUM:
I've received more than my fair share of email about this post, and see that the Duggar's situation, hits close to the knuckle for some people.
Now, if those opposed to the Duggar's enormous fecundity were to stop at "My God, isn't it too much for two people to have 16 kids?" or thoughts to that effect, I think most of us wouldn't blink twice, and some who even appreciate folks like the Duggars, might even agree.
But oh no -- they don't stop at that.
And THIS vitriol that the Duggars engender, is what I find utterly fascinating/repulsive.
I found this blogpiece by one Kelly Garbato, on our Duggar Family. The blogger apparently has written about the topic before.
And this is what she offers on August 17, 2006
Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t have anything new to say on the subject. I still feel the same way now as I did last October. The godbaggers are just getting on the nerves as of late. Add to the mix the recent blog brawls between parents and non-parents, Xian mommies and heathen mommies, and mommies who think even their kids’ poo is special and those who simply loathe their little toeheads, and, well, I’m sick of hearing, talking, and even thinking about the Christian (mini-) Country that is the Duggar Family. Babies, religion, fundamentalism, blecht. It’s enough to make one half of a sterilized atheist couple puke.
And remember the photo above? Here's another version.
These people are so full of hate. And there but for the grace of God, indolence, and too much credit card debt, go I.
I was raised to think by my liberal-70s parents that life choices are not to be denigrated, because who are you, to do so?
It's been one of my DEEPEST sorrows to find out that those who share my parents' generation's ideals, and those they have influenced after them, have such nastiness, such bigotry, and such fanaticism inside their hearts, that whatever noble impulses they started out with, has long been overridden by the singularity, the zero-sum game of their world view.
To be sure, they're not the only ones, and you can find hypocrites on the dexter side as well.
But Conservatives are not the ones who pride themselves on being the ALTERNATIVE to the status quo. You know -- the ones with the humane ideals?
Labels: Conservatives, Family, Ideological Impasse