Kids are wonderful. We all know that. Well, some of us know that. Some of us would beg to differ, on some occasions. And the problem is, once you have them, any of them, you can’t imagine being without them. Each individual child is an angelic godsend... except when they’re not. Each individual child is a perfect, unique gift... except when they’re not. Each individual child is a blessing... except when they’re anything but. But let us also not forget that each individual kid was the result of a choice, conscious or subconscious, to forego that TRUE godsend... which is contraception. And don’t try and throw all those figures at me about the failure rate of each method of contraception because I will argue that, except for the very, very odd occasion when there was a true glitch in the system, most of these statistics could be proved wrong if we could wind back time and find out that a pill WAS forgotten that one day, or the condom WASN’T checked that one time.
Oh what do I know, I’m not a family planning statistician and I don’t have any kids yet, but I do know this, sex without contraception usually leads to kids... except when it doesn’t, the agony of which I have also witnessed. I have watched close friends struggle through fertility issues, and let me assure those of you who get pregnant when your husband comes home, smiles sweetly, and asks, “How was your day, honey,” that you have no idea.
I know many people, with many kids, but I haven’t met many families with four of them. That’s because I’ve never been to New Zealand before, where a family of four kids is considered relatively modest, average at the very least. So when I found myself in a household with four kids, their ages ranging from 8 to 15, to say it was a shock to the system is something of an understatement.
My friend, my somewhat new friend, but I hope friend for life, is the mother of four. She is the mother of four and works full time. She is the mother of four and works full time and runs an efficient household. She is the mother of four and works full time and runs an efficient household and... (wait for it, this is the best part) still manages to have lot of fun with her kids. This is the great the thing about Brit/Kiwi hybrids, they get the best of both worlds. They have that inbuilt British survivalist mentality (“Get that vacuum out at 11pm, and do the dishes before you go to bed, hard work never killed anyone, lass!”) mixed with the “She’ll be right, whaddaya reckon?” laissez-faire Kiwi attitude.
Wait, I’m totally getting off the point. The point is people have an awful lot of kids in New Zealand. In Los Angeles, most of my friends have one child. In fact the most populated household I know in LA contains two adults, two kids (aged 5 and 2), two (outside) dogs and two (indoor) cats. And that seriously feels like chaos! In New Zealand they seem to breed like rabbits. Well, I guess they have the room. Seriously, there is no one here. I went to the beach the other day, on a Saturday. It’s a stunning beach, just north of Auckland. The weather was beautiful. Last time I was on a beach, it was several miles up the coast from Malibu. I think it was Zuma Beach. Well, getting a spot on Zuma beach on a Saturday afternoon in July that gave me enough room to spread out my super-size beach towel, erect my beach umbrella, and not be forced to smell someone’s sweaty feet was a veritable bun fight (I’ve been dying to use that analogy since my sister used it to describe the parking situation in their narrow Victorian street in Southwest London). I couldn’t look in any direction without seeing a smorgasbord of people and hearing a cacophony of sounds. On my Kiwi beach the other day I saw the grand total of five adults and two children, and overheard a seagull having a fight with a magpie over an apple core. You might think that sounds a little boring, but imagine what it’s like having four or five children in your house. You need the damn beach to get away from the chaos.
So getting back to the crazy woman, my friend, the one who I actually think might be a set of triplets pretending to be one woman, because I really can’t see how one woman does so much and stays standing. Well, she’d impressed me already, but she floored me last week. Here is this woman, this highly successful executive, who runs the best part of one of the biggest banks in the Southern Hemisphere. She leaves the house at 7am, she has back-to-back board meetings, she gets home at 5pm, shovels some food down (she skipped lunch), and spends the next two hours making pizzas and setting up games for her 10 year-old’s graduation party. Balloon blowing, cake making, and disco ball rigging had been delegated to the 15 year-old and 12 year-old before she’d left the house that morning, and the 8 year-old had his share of jobs (sign making and tidying) when he got home from school.
With an hour left to go, this Superwoman races around the house, picking up clothes and toys, and gathering up other random objects (where do kids find half the stuff they leave lying around, anyway?!) whilst hollering last minute instructions. Without a moment to spare, at 7pm, a group of thirty 10 year-olds descended on her immaculate house. She immediately divided them into five teams in order to do an “Amazing Race” style challenge around various stations in the house. In the dining room there were word games to be completed. In the living room there was a blindfold game. In the garage, teams of two had to carry medicine balls balanced between their heads around an obstacle course, and upstairs there was apple bobbing in the bathtub (it was pouring rain so this location was an inspired contingency plan). She supervised most of it herself, using a small army of other mothers whom she plied with Champagne first. At 9pm, she threw the last of the kids out, put her own ones to bed, loaded the dishwasher, downed the last of her wine, and got out the vacuum cleaner.
Okay, let’s back up a few months. I remember a friend of mine in LA giving her child a birthday party. This glamorous woman sits in an office all day negotiating contracts for some of Hollywood’s most sought-after talent, for which she is paid handsomely. She has two assistants, a part-time housekeeper, a full-time nanny, a weekend nanny, a gardener, a pool guy, and a dog walker, and a massage therapist comes to the house twice a week. She paid a party planner to hire a venue to give the kids a themed tea party. I think she had a manicure and pedicure an hour before it started.
Well, never mind the comparisons between the mothers, the point I actually want to make is about the comparisons between the children. There aren’t many. “I’m not going to bed,” and “It’s not fair she had more cake than me,” are the same words in different accents. There’s gratitude for you!
I was standing in my kitchen in LA a few weeks ago with my old Mexican housekeeper and she suddenly announced that she thought I should have kids soon because I’d make a really great mother, and I told her that was a little hard since there wasn’t exactly a suitable male in the picture yet. And she laughed and said maybe “God” would give me a baby, like Mary, then I wouldn’t need a man. Perhaps God is a sperm bank, I thought. But I didn’t say this out loud, I just gave her a wry smile and said,
“You don’t seriously believe that Mary didn’t have sex to get pregnant with Jesus, do you? You have two children, you know how babies are made. You do realize that Mary and Joseph had sex out of wedlock and to protect her honor, some bright spark put it about that she’d been knocked up by “God,” which made it okay?”
No. Clearly she didn’t realize this, because she looked at me in horror, quickly crossed her chest, and mumbled something under her breath that I took to be a prayer for my poor depraved soul. The moment reminded me of my friend who, when she was 12, asked her minister if he thought their “God” might let Jews into heaven if they were really, really good.
Forget the Immaculate Conception, someone needs to invent the immaculate contraception. Maybe we should all be made to hang out with a bunch of screaming 10 year-olds for a few weeks straight before we make any life-changing decisions. That might do it.