What Raising 12 Kids (Yes, 12) Is Really Like

Image Source: Varda Epstein

I have 12 kids. And that’s something most people can’t fathom. It’s a staggering number of children. Mindboggling, even. So it’s no wonder people are so curious about what it’s like.

They wonder, for instance, if I planned things this way — if I always dreamed of having a large family — and the answer to that is an unqualified yes. I love children and always wanted a lot of them — mostly because I didn’t know any better. Also, I really liked the movie, Cheaper By the Dozen and wanted to emulate Tom and Kate Baker. Unfortunately, I lost count.

But really. Seriously. People want to know a lot of things when you say you have 12 kids. You’re probably even wondering them now. Things like:

Did I come from a large family?

Short answer: Yes. If four kids is called “large.” (This makes me laugh.)

Was I prepared for what it would be like, having 12 kids?

Short answer: What, are you nuts?

And of course, what people want to know most of all is: What is it like? Birthing and raising all those kids, who now span ages 15-35.

I try to put it into real terms for people, terms they can understand.

Take chores, for example. If you have more than one child, you know how it is when you ask your kids for help with a household task. It goes something like this:

“Who wants to wash the dishes?!”

* Dead silence. *

That went over well, you think. So you go specific.

“Brandon*, will you please wash the dishes?”

“I did them yesterday. Ask Mark.”

“Mark, will you please wash the dishes?”

“You always ask me to do stuff. I just got home. How come you never ask Bob?”

See where this is going? Okay. Now that I’ve got you nodding your head (because I know you know the drill), imagine this scenario with nine more kids in the mix.

And that’s the heck of it. You’d think that with 12 kids, I’d never empty the labor pool. That I’d have endless slave labor.
But no. What I’ve got is “no.” Times 12.

That’s okay, though. I have ways of getting my revenge. For instance, leftovers. The kind that appear and reappear over and over again like a trick birthday candle they can’t blow out (also a fun time!), because they didn’t like what you made the first time. And trust me on this, when 12 children don’t like your new recipe for Chicken Supreme, that’s a lot of food to throw away.

But moms are endlessly flexible, so naturally you morph into Mommy Dearest when need be.

Kid: “What’s for dinner, Mom?”

You: “Chicken.”

Kid: “Aw Mo-om, but we had chicken yesterday.”

You: “And you’re going to have it again today, tomorrow, and the next day, until it is g-o-n-e, gone!”

Of course, it’s not all whining and complaining. For instance, in the shower it’s quiet. There’s just the sound of the rushing water and your own heartbeat. They can’t follow you in there. At least they haven’t tried.

Not yet.

Then again, they have their own methods of revenge — ways to get you back for all the “mean” things you do to them. Like when a little one wets the bed, for instance. They think they can hide the evidence by cleverly draping their bedding over the radiator to dry, so when you come in to wake them up for school in the morning, there they are, all rosy-cheeked and sweet, snug as bugs in a rug, tucked into nice, dry, positively CRISP linens that smell like, um, ROAST PISH.

Image Source: Varda Epstein
Image Source: Varda Epstein

Yes, kids always think they’re pulling the wool over your eyes, and if not your eyes, a teacher’s eyes. So it’s only natural that if you’ve got this many kids, you go to a lot of parent teacher meetings. When we were new parents, we looked forward to them. After a while however, the shine and excitement wore off and we realized these meetings are BORING. A drag and a half at the end of a long day. So we, my husband and I, began to look for ways to shorten the torture.

Allow me to impart some of our hard-learned knowledge unto you …

The Epstein System for Shortening Parent Teacher Meetings

There are just three simple rules to follow for this one:

  1. Never ask questions during the general meeting.
  2. Give massively dirty looks to the newbie parent who asks multiple questions for brownie points (my, that forehead is just begging for a gold star sticker, isn’t it?). Such parents ensure that the rest of us are stuck in parent teacher meeting Hell and cannot leave the room until that parent shuts up.
  3. In the private meeting, remember that you are your child’s teacher’s therapist and proceed accordingly. Here, the mirroring technique can be highly effective.

Epstein Mirroring Technique for Parent Teacher Meetings

Another lifesaver you should try sometime:

Teacher: “Johnny has been terribly disruptive in class.”

You: “So Johnny has been terribly disruptive in class?”

Teacher: “The minute I turn my back, he shoots spit wads at the other students.”

You: “He shoots spit wads at the other students, the minute your back is turned?” *concerned look*

Teacher: “And he never does his homework!”

You: “He never does his homework?” *glance at wristwatch *

Teacher: “You’ll talk to Johnny?”

You: “You want us to talk to Johnny. ”

Teacher: “Yes.”

Here is where you nod your head, shake hands, and get the heck out of Dodge. Time elapsed? Five minutes max. We’ve done it in three. But then, we’re expert level.

But as expert as we are in acing the Parent Teacher Meeting thing, getting time alone is something else. It’s not just difficult, but next to impossible. Especially when they’re home sick from school.

They’re sick, but I still gotta share cat memes on the Kars for Kids Facebook page. After all, it’s my job — and what’s paying for all the chicken they refuse to eat.

Speaking of chicken, remind me to tell you the story of my kids getting chicken pox, one at a time, over a period of three months. As soon as one got better, BOOM. There went another one. It was the Mother of all chicken pox epidemics, a Paul Bunyan tall tale in which I’m sure Calamine lotion shot up three points on the NASDAQ and there was a run on colloidal oatmeal.

Image Source: Varda Epstein
Image Source: Varda Epstein

But these are the big stories. There are smaller stories that seem to repeat over and over again like a bad dream. Like this one:

Kid #1: “Stop breathing on me.”

Kid #2: “Phhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Kid #1: “I mean it. Stop breathing on me. Right. Now.”

Kid #2: “I can’t help breathing. I’m human. I need to breathe or I’ll die.”

Kid #1: “Okay. So stop breathing on the back of my neck. I mean it, now.”

Kid #2:”Phhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Kid #1: “If you breathe on the back of my neck even. One. More. Time. You will be breathing out of your testicles, which I will punch so hard they come out your nose.”

See, when I say these stories repeat, it’s because at Chez Epstein, the buddy system is the name of the game and it’s not by choice. It just seems to happen that way. Times six. What that means is that over the course of the past three decades or so, we’ve had pairs of siblings in active rivalry. They pair up, like the animals on Noah’s ark. Two by two, breathing on each others’ necks and threatening to displace each others’ body parts in creative ways.

And then, of course, they grow up and are each others’ best friends. They babysit for each other, vacation with each other, and the issue of breathing and body parts is as if it never happened. They are remarkably hearty (and also intact).

But yes, I’ve watched that scenario repeat itself over and over again. I know it’s what happens when they grow up. And I love to watch it happen. It gives me hope when the younger ones are attempting at-home castration.

In the meantime, however, I’ve still got a few of them left at home. Breathing on each other and threatening bodily harm. *sigh*

Image Source: Varda Epstein
Image Source: Varda Epstein

Sometimes, when I’m at my wits’ end with all their shenanigans, I say to my husband, “When all this is over and the nest is empty, can we take a trip, just the two of us? Please?”

“Take a trip??” he says. “Honey, I’m gonna take you to frickin’ Japan!”

Which is a good thing. I really don’t think they’d follow me all the way to Japan.

Unless … Nah.


*All names changed because who the heck can remember all their names, anyway?

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