Too Hick To Be Square

Reason #81 why my family has scarred me for life

Growing up in the Clan has scarred me for life in many, many ways.

Reason #1: I consider six kids a small family.

Reason #2: I can’t cook for one unless I’m making a bowl of cereal.

Reason #18: I am highly suspicious of the contents of all smoothies.

Reason #23: I look at some weeds as potential food.

Reason #47: I will say (out loud, in public) “Yup, that smells like cow poop. Pig poop smells different.”

Reason #69: Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit don’t sound right unless Dad is reading them.

Reason #74: Swimming in water I can actually see in is strange.

Reason #81: I’m really bad at being alone.

As in, by myself. In the house without anyone else. Where it is quiet and the only person making noises is myself.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s downright terrifying.

And I would know, because this past week my parents and all my siblings went camping to the North Shore—and left me and one sister to run the house alone. While this isn’t a huge deal (I’m nearly 20, I can survive without my parents for 5 days), there were some pretty big drawbacks to the situation because I realized five minutes after they left the driveway that I don’t like being in the house by myself.


You might think that after years and years of always being around all my siblings and never being able to snatch more than the barest bit of peace and quiet and privacy, having the house all to myself would be a dream come true. And for the most part, it is. But because I’ve spent years and years around all my siblings without any peace, quiet, sanity, or privacy, the house feels too big and too quiet when I’m there all by myself.

Thank goodness I had M with me. And normally “thank goodness” is not a phrase I would attach to M’s name in any way, shape, or form, so you know this was a special occasion.

The thing is, I’m used to there always being someone making noise, wherever I am in the house or yard. Whether it’s talking, washing dishes, or bouncing off the walls with wooden swords, it’s never actually silent at our house. Even at night, there are enough snorers and sleep-talkers in this house that I never hear the furnace banging or all the peculiar and unique noises the house makes at night unless I wake up for no reason at 2 in the morning. So to suddenly be in the house with just my sister (and sometimes not even her) is very quiet and very strange.

When I’m there alone, I have to turn on some music, put a DVD in, run a sink of water, start the washing machine, or do something else that makes noise. Without Van Morrison or Star Wars providing a more normal level of background volume (turn that knob up to the point where I can hear it wherever I am in the house), I just can’t take it. The quiet is just too quiet.

I’m sure my mom thinks I’m crazy to say that, but in my defense, I’ve never been a mom. And also in my defense, it’s still too quiet, regardless of how crazy she thinks I am.

And going to sleep when no one else is home is pretty terrifying too. This past week I had to turn on a fan or something so I can’t hear all the furnace clunks and pipes banging, because they’re all strange to me. It’s incredibly easy for me to convince myself that all the perfectly innocent nighttime noise of an ordinary house is actually the sound of some burglar sneaking into the bedroom to attack me. Although if they did, they’d trip over the obstacle course of laundry, wooden swords, and toy boxes on the floor. In theory, I’d be safe, but you never know with these imaginary burglars.

Also, there’s the off chance that I’ll actually wake up in the middle of the night because it’s too quiet to sleep. Frankly put, my sister’s deep breathing is no substitute for twelve people snoring. I’m saying deep breathing instead of snoring because we still sleep in the same bedroom and I’d rather not wake up to find her killing me. Better to play it safe.

M’s death glare still looks just like this. She just has more teeth to go with it.

Here’s another thing about being home by myself: I can’t stand to live in a messy house all by myself. When the whole family is home, I could care less, which is why my desk, bedroom, and closet are habitually disaster areas. But the first thing I did after the van pulled out of the driveway (after I turned on some music) was sweep all the wood floors, vacuum the rugs, wash all the dishes, and fold all the laundry. Not because I’m a neat freak, of course, but because I couldn’t stand to live in everyone else’s mess without having everyone else around to nag about cleaning it up.

Basically, without a scapegoat to blame it on, I really couldn’t see the point of living in a pigsty. However, since M was staying at home with me, my cleanliness stopped short at cleaning up the girls’ room because I could always pester her about doing that. See how this works?

I would also like to add that although being in the house alone makes me anxious, I didn’t decide to invite friends over to solve that problem. After all, I just got all the people out of the house. Why in the world would I want to bring some more in? I’ll take the occasional panic attack over disruption of five days of solitude.

And before you ask, even though I can’t cook for less than a dozen people, I was also not forced to go to town for every meal. Not only am I too cheap to spend $100 feeding myself for a week if there are any other alternatives (including eating the same meal for week if necessary), but there were two whole watermelons in the house to eat.

If I have to sleep in the bathtub because I ate a whole watermelon for supper, I will still consider it a decent trade-off.

But staying at home by myself wasn’t all being terrified of the empty house, cleaning, or eating watermelon. While there were some drawbacks (and I was definitely experiencing family withdrawals by the time they got back), there were some unexpected benefits as well.

For instance, I had the Internet to myself for once in my life. Mom often claims that we don’t have wi-fi at our house, and she’s partly right. Between all our personal laptops and smartphones, our poor Internet constantly has more than a dozen devices trying to connect to it. We practically have to make appointments to use the Internet at our house, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed having it all to myself.

Another bonus was that the only person leaving the door open to let in flies was me. And since I didn’t leave the door open, I only had to swat a half dozen before the house was pretty much fly-free. I gotta tell you, that was really nice.

I also didn’t have to compete for time with Jo’s new puppy. Of course, I also had to walk her and take her to the bathroom, but it was still a bargain.

Still, all things considered, I’d say this week of “adulting” by myself provided ample proof that my family has scarred me for life in yet another way. I suppose when I eventually move out I’ll be able to artificially generate the level of background racket I need to operate (sorry, future neighbors), but it’s definitely a lot easier to just have the rest of my family around to do it for me.

Posted in hickness Tagged with: , , ,

Great neighbors are the kind who hire kids

The Clan is lucky enough to have some pretty great neighbors.

And when I say neighbors, I’m using the term loosely. We live in the country, so “neighbor” could be used to include everyone living on our particular stretch of gravel road as well as people who live over three miles away. (Or maybe it’s just me who does that.)

But however near or far our “neighbors” might actually be from our front door, those are the people I’m referring to when I say we have great neighbors.

And I say this not because several of them have let us strip surplus apples off their trees in the fall for free applesauce (although, no lie, that’s a pretty good sign all by itself).

But the reason I’m saying we have great neighbors is because our neighbors are the kind of neighbors who are willing to hire a bunch of skinhead boys with scrawny arms (and long-haired girls with scrawny arms) for an assortment of jobs around the yard, farm, and/or field.

Hauling hay and picking rock are some of the most regularly appearing jobs Clan workers have been hired for, but between the lot of us we’ve seen a huge variety. We’ve done everything from chasing cows to raking gravel after snow piles melt. We’ve weeded gardens, mowed lawns, and stacked firewood. We’ve also chased cows, cleaned grain bins, shoveled manure, and both put up and taken down fence lines. A succession of Clan boys have worked at the local pig farm, and we’ve done every kind of sitting there is: babysitting, dogsitting, housesitting—you name it!

I should also mention that these great neighbors have also turned out to be willing to pick up and drop off kids who can’t drive and will even feed them on occasion. That’s a pretty big deal since working kids, especially the scrawny-arm variety I’m familiar with, can and will eat anything and everything they’re offered.

Exhibit A: This is Skinny’s first helping. At breakfast.

See what I mean about great neighbors? Anyone willing to feed and pay one of these guys is doing us a great favor.

Of course, our neighbors probably realize they’re getting a good deal as well. Not everyone has so many kids readily available to hire for random manual labor jobs (or strong back, weak mind jobs, as we call them). And since we’re all within a year or two from someone, there are always new workers coming up the shoot to replace us older ones when we move on to other things—working full time, or going to college, for instance. Jobs Tubby was still too short and scrawny for a couple years are now the ones he gets first dibs on, and Skinny has taken over almost all the jobs David and Eli used to do. It won’t be all that long before even Nah and Fro join the roster of Clan workers.

And before you get to thinking it’s just the boys who get hired out, let me repeat that we have great neighbors. They don’t have a problem hiring Clan girls to haul hay bales and pick rock alongside the boys. I once heard someone I had worked with to pull up an old fenceline tell Mom that I had worked as hard and well as my brothers on that job. Since I was only 13 or so at the time that was a big deal—and still is. Nowadays I may not be able to haul hay bales as fast as Skinny (who is one year younger than me)—I’d be hard-pressed to even keep up with Tubby!—but at least I have proof that at one time I was at their level and matched them fence post for fence post, mashed finger for mashed finger.

Of course, I have almost nothing in the way of photographic evidence of how often my siblings and I get hired out, but trust me on this one. We have the bank accounts (and LEGO collections!) to prove it.

Long story short, the Clan has been a fairly reliable source of workers in our neighborhood for a number of years. And while some of that is due to our reputation for being a willing and capable group of kids, you have to hand it to our neighbors for hiring us in the first place. There aren’t many 10-year-olds who get the chance to make a couple hundred dollars rock-picking, but more than one of my siblings have had that opportunity.

From left to right: Tubby (14), Cob (13), and Pete (11). This is Pete’s second year rock-picking – and since he’s still grinning, I’d say he’s got 3+ years left in him yet.

And that’s all made possible by of our neighbors. Even the ones who live three miles away.

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Mom is as patient as—Squirrel!

I sometimes wonder if people think my parents planned for the Clan. Do they think Mom and Dad decided when they were married that they wanted to have a boatload of kids and home school them all? Do they believe our parents had any clue what that experience would be like and how it would change and stretch them?

If that’s what you thought, let me be the first to put those wild ideas to rest. The Clan was actually not in either of my parents original plans and certainly was never expected. And as for having a clue: I don’t have a clue still, and I live this!

The story I’ve heard Mom and Dad tell over and over is that when they were married, they thought they would have a big family. Like, maybe six or seven kids. And then after baby #9 or so, they decided they would just have as many as God gave them.

Can you imagine what this family would be like if there were only three of us? Or even just five? I certainly can’t.

But although Mom and Dad never expected the Clan to happen or for this family to go in the direction(s) it has, I think the rest of the world has even less of an idea what to think of us. When I tell people I’m one of thirteen kids, all 16 months apart with no twins, their reaction is almost predictable and usually goes in one of two directions. Either they’re so shocked they can only say “Thirteen kids? Wow!” Failing that, they’ll say something along the lines of “Your mother is a saint! She must be so patient!”

To which, if you know my mom at all, the only response can be “Ha!”

Because, no disrespect to Mom, but last I checked she wasn’t a saint, and I’m pretty sure that hasn’t changed since. And as for patience, well…you know how dogs can be, where they can only pay attention to one thing for so long? As soon as something new turns up, they’re distracted and completely change their focus. And by something new, I’m thinking a bone, someone to play with, or possibly a squirrel. That’s how things work with Mom.

It’s not that she has the attention span of a gnat (quite), but Mom does tend to be easily distracted and prone to forgetfulness. (Before you accuse me of being the pot calling the kettle black, I just want to point out that in my defense, I got it from her.)

Let’s just say that when we’re making long road trips, she’s the one who has to get out every few hours to run a few laps around the parking lot so she can sit still again. I think Mom’s leg stretching breaks used to be disguised by pit stops to take umpteen million (OK, just thirteen) kids to the bathroom, but a few years ago she and Dad drove to Memphis and it became extremely apparent that we kids weren’t the only reason we made those breaks.

In all fairness to Mom, of course, she does show patience (or sheer stubbornness and determination) when it really counts. We have video evidence to prove this, like the time she spent hours folding one basket of laundry while David, Eli, and I were little. It took so long because she was having us bring her each piece of laundry, towel by shirt by random sock—and none of us had the attention span of a gnat at the time and had to be constantly reminded to “go grab another piece!”

On top of that, Mom has sat through the early learning stages of thirteen different people and watched us all make the same mistakes and complain about the same things when we learned to read, write, and do math—which basically means she’s seen this pose more times than you could possibly count.


She’s had The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the book she starts all new Clan readers on, read to her thirteen times—and it got boring by about the third repetition. She’s probably SO tired of that book by now. And speaking of SO tired, she’s also probably sick of hearing us thump out the same tunes on the piano. And getting the same notes wrong.

So it’s not that Mom doesn’t have patience. It’s just that she’s got a certain amount, no, she actually can’t sit and listen to the quibbling in the back seat without doing a few laps in the—


Actually, I’ve observed that if people aren’t shocked speechless by the size of our family, they tend to make some kind of comment about my mom that reveals just how little they know about how life works around here. If it’s not a remark on her unlikely sainthood or her nonexistent patience (squirrel!), then it might be a comment on how much my parents must love kids. Again, that’s not necessarily as true as they think. Sure, my parents like their kids, but they aren’t the parents that are going to ask to hold every baby in sight.

People also tend to assume that my mom must be super kind and gentle and caring to have raised so many kids. But while she certainly does care about how we’re feeling and what we’re doing and is more than willing to smash us into the carpet to remind us that we’re special, she’s also been known to tell kids who have skinned their knees after a fall from a bike, “If you’re not bleeding and nothing is broken, you’re fine. Finish your school.”

The other one we get a lot is people who think that because Mom has home schooled us all, she must have gone to school to be a teacher. Nope. Nursing. And she was planning to move to Alaska, too, until she met Dad. We’re still not quite sure how all that happened, but we’re glad it worked out the way it did.

One of the few things people have correctly assumed about my mom is that she’s organized. If you saw the state of her closet/bedroom (which tends to be a dumping spot for everything in the house that has no designated home at the moment), you might question the accuracy of that statement. But Mom also has epic list-making skills and when it comes to executing mealtimes, chores, school, and garden maintenance on top of our daily dose of squirrel moments and surprising last minute plans, she’s right up there with Super Woman.

Or, if you want to take her at her own words, she’s “actually a very ordinary person living an extraordinary life.”

And we like to think that’s for the best.


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Home school learning experiences never end. Ever.

Maybe I’m biased, but the way I see it, there are many advantages to being home schooled. And for once I’m talking about the quality of experience rather than the quality of education.

When I was in school, I crunched multiplication problems between shifts of cutting bushels of apples for applesauce. I took study breaks from solving algebra proofs to pick eight gallons of green beans or husk forty dozen ears of sweet corn. When I did science experiments, my lab partner was the same person who washed dishes with me in Woodlawn Academy’s obligatory Home Ec course. And it didn’t matter that we were in different grade levels in everything else, because all the grade levels are in that Home Ec class.

In fact, when I was in school, I never knew what grade I was in. I took my teacher to all my appointments so that if anyone ever needed to know my grade, we could put our heads together and come up with something reasonably close.

PE at my school included everything from “carry quart jars of canned food up and down the stairs for half an hour” weight training to “run downstairs for a third pair of clean underwear, because someone isn’t doing well with potty training today” endurance tests. I may not know how to vault in the traditional sense, but I can leap over a pile of potentially lethal LEGO’s like you’ve never seen before. And while my siblings and I aren’t experienced in organized sports like baseball or football, we can play “Let’s take 15 people swimming at the lake this afternoon” – which might not be a sport but certainly covers the organized part.

Being home schooled has made all of that possible, and while it’s certainly not what your average person is going to experience growing up, it’s still a good experience to have. (Although between you and me, I’d give the infinite trips up and down stairs for clean underwear during the early stages of potty training a miss if I could.)

But not only has home schooling equipped me with a bunch of strange and potentially useless skills, it’s also meant I was able to spend all day, every day, with my siblings for most of my life. That’s potentially both the best and worst aspect of home schooling, but family tends to be that way.

As I got older, I helped more and more with the hands-on teaching of my siblings, but even before that happened, I’ve been able to watch all their light bulb learning moments from the vantage point of across the table.

I got to see them learn to read. I got to see them learn to write. I got to see them learn to add, multiply, and divide—and then pound their heads against a wall when they tackled pre-calculus. Been there, done all of that.

If I ever cared to relive my memories of frog and earthworm dissection (complete with the ghastly smell) I have three or four more opportunities in my younger siblings who have yet to start biology.

But not all of the light bulb moments I’ve witnessed are of an entirely academic nature. Some of the mind-blowing learning experiences I’ve seen my siblings have had more to do with things like pronunciation and telling time than science and advanced mathematics.

For instance, there was the time Eli learned magenta is actually NOT pronounced magnet-ah. That was a very transformative experience for him, and really changed the way he looked at the world.

Mind = Blown!

And all of my siblings have been told at one time or another that the correct way to say Yosemite is actually not “Yo-say-might.” Unfortunately, all that’s really done is confuse us so much we now avoid saying that word if at all possible.

Although, if I’m being honest, the person in my family who makes the most glaring word goofs would be me. I blame it on all the reading I do. It’s given me a huge written vocabulary, but when it comes to saying some of those words for the first time, people look at me like I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Telling time and understanding concepts like yesterday, today, and tomorrow are similarly difficult for people in my family to grasp. As the youngest, Becca is still in that stage where she’s figuring out the days of the week—so far all she’s got down is the difference between a school day and a weekend. Anything more than that involves confusion and a lot of “this day” and “the last day.”

Cob has also had some memorable moments, such as back when he could only get the time right twice a day: at 8:09, because that was the only time he could think of. Of course, since that was before he could read, much less read clocks, I think we can cut him a little slack.

I’m with Cob on this one. Time is confusing!

And maybe it’s just that Becca is the youngest, but there seem to be considerably more hilarious stories to tell about her than the rest of us, especially in this case. Whatever the reason, though, the time she woke up one morning and remarked to Mom that it had been “a short night” was more of a learning experience for me than for her. Why? Because that particular short night was only six inches long.

I’m sure if I felt up to it, Becca would be more than happy to teach me how to tell time in inches and feet instead of boring minutes and hours. But I think that’s one learning experience I’d rather observe from safely on the sidelines where I can sit back and watch her inflict that particular light bulb moment on someone else. I’m sure she’s more than capable.

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