Recently I got one of those direct mail cards promoting a “Family of Four Fun Pack” to whatever Amusement Park of the Month was in vogue. Usually, these have a short journey from the mail box to the trash box. After all, we are a family of five and so of course…
Wait! We aren’t a family of five anymore? Stop the presses!
I scooped the ill-fated mailer from the clutches of the trash bin and stared at it in astonishment. Mad Scientist is off at college pursuing a biology degree, leaving the Hippie and me with only Design Diva and Half-pint keeping the home fires burning. The saints be praised! Maybe some of our kids have a shot at going to Disneyland after all before they turn 18. Maybe we won’t get hauled off by Protective Services for depriving of them of this basic childhood right.
“A Family of Four, a Family of Four,” I chanted in a dazed stupor as I sorted laundry, set a table for four, and planned a weekend getaway for four. What was this Family of Four? What did this mean? Who were these people who only had four in their family? Certainly, not us! For years we had stumbled under the burden of being a prime number family. The beauty of perfect symmetry and equal balance had eluded us. But now we had a shot at redemption. I clutched the crumbled mailer to my bosom and resumed chanting.
These observations all seem to hint that a Family of Four is the American Way. Who in their right mind would have more? Only unpatriotic lunatics like us would replicate themselves and have the audacity to add one more! Not only do we have to hide from Protective Services, but Population Control is sending us nasty emails. But Families of Four are loved on, fawned over and featured in glossy mailers with happy, smiling parents and well-behaved kids. Of course they are happy: look at all the bucks they are saving with their special Family of Four deals and insider Groupon trading secrets.
But now we had joined the ranks of Family of Four (not that Mad Scientist is in that Great Lab in the Sky, mind you. He just doesn’t live at home anymore. We do have a shrine to him on the fireplace mantle, though). This was truly a seismic shift in our fortunes. Now we could see how the better half lived. Now we were no longer living on the wrong side of the tracks. I never realized the depths of deprivation and discrimination our pitiful family of five had suffered.
For years we had been living like square pegs in round holes, like criminals hiding something. Well, actually were hiding something: that third kid. We had been sneaking into hotel rooms with two queen beds meant for a Family of Four. Oh yeah, we would pile sleeping bags on the floor and hope the maid wouldn’t notice in the morning, but we were still Fire Marshall Code lawbreakers. Most of the time, we got away with it. Until that one time.
“Excuse me ma’am, is that a third kid tucked under your arm?”
“What? This? Nah, that’s just an incredibly life-like teddy bear with surprisingly human features. Nothing to see here. Just keep moving along.”
“Ask your teddy bear to fork over some honey to cover the cost of another room.”
“What are you, a secret Family of Four Nazi? You hater, you!”
Our best road trip, though, was through Utah. Nobody there ever questioned our third kid. In fact, in St. George, they seemed downright disappointed we didn’t have five, six or seven kids. One man even wondered why my husband only had one wife, but that’s a story for another day.
During many of our cross-country jaunts, we ate at Denny’s, where for every paying adult one kid got to eat free. That meant Half-pint would have to hide under the table where we could feed her scraps when the waitress wasn’t looking. Don’t judge me: you have a similar story.
Date nights? Forget it! Nobody wants to babysit three kids. Two kids are perfectly acceptable, but if you go above that you are a leper. You must walk 50 feet behind everyone else and shout, “Unclean! Three kids! Unclean!”
As the kids got older it got harder to stuff our 6’ teenager onto a rollaway so we began vacationing in the Great Outdoors where Mother Nature sets no occupancy limits. We actually love the Great Outdoors so no real hardship there, but again the unspoken Family of Four rule reared its ugly head. The mess kits, the folding chair sets, the marshmallow twirly thing-a-majings and the affordable tents are for a Family of Four.
We could buy a big, expensive tent for all of us, but with teenagers we decided to get a kids’ tent and our own pup tent. This was a very dangerous decision. A private pup tent under a starry sky in a moonlit forest will most certainly lead to an increase in your family size, which of course is counter-productive to everything the Family of Four philosophy stands for. We lived recklessly. Did I mention my husband is a hippie? But I digress…
The slick mailer on the counter was demanding I refocus on the present and the glorious fact that our newly found Family of Four status meant we could once again vacation in places with indoor plumbing. The luxury of this possibility was intoxicating.
But the memory of our fabulous road trips, with three kids stuffed in a mini-van, driving late at night to find a place to accommodate us, hauling a cooler around with us because it was just too damn expensive to eat out every meal, kept tugging at my heart. Between the three of them, our kids have nearly 100 Junior Ranger badges from the over 35 national parks and monuments we visited. Between the three of them, there was never any child left without a playmate. Between the three of them, we will never lack for care in our old age! I’d like to see Groupon match that deal!
Yes, it’s true that for purposes of fun packs and deals, we are now a Family of Four, and in the near future a Family of Three and, finally, a Family of Two when it’s just us two oldies at home. But for purposes that matter, we will always be a Family of Five, right up there in the ranks of other famous families like the Jackson 5 and the Kennedys.
Take that you photographers who can’t figure out how to pose more than four!
Scrollbar image: Doc Searls/Creative Commons