"Several months into our relationship, the subject came up of the number of kids we wanted to have if we ever got married," says Priscilla Peterson of Mount Horeb. "Erik thought maybe two or three sounded good. When I said I'd like six, maybe eight, his jaw dropped."
In recent years, the media have made stars of Jon and Kate (plus their eight) Gosselin and the even more prodigious Duggar clan from 19 Kids and Counting. But these supersized families don't just exist on reality TV. While the average number of kids in a Dane County family is just over two (according to the 2010 census), there are some folks in the Madison area who could easily qualify for their own TLC series.
Being pretty far apart on the number of children desired didn't turn out to be a deal breaker for Priscilla and Erik, who married in 1994. Their first child, son Konur, was born in 1998 and was followed in quick succession by daughters Maja, now 12 and Annalis, 10. Erik, quite happily, was forced to revise his premarital offspring prediction upward when Priscilla became pregnant again in 2003 - this time with twins.
But even while driving sons Hakon and Erik home from the hospital, Priscilla still felt there was "someone not yet in the picture." Those "someones" became Thor, 6, Kajsa, 4, and baby Annika, now 2.
Priscilla, who works part-time as a group fitness trainer at the Princeton Club West, likes her version of motherhood. "Sure, nothing ever seems convenient," she says. "But every day is so full. There is so much happiness. I love watching the dynamics of how they interact when they don't know you're listening." She pauses. "They all have their moments, but within minutes, they're best friends again."
Dr. Peggy Scallon, of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency program at the UW School of Medicine, says there are definite advantages to growing up one of many. "In a big family," she says, "the good will of the group is very important. You can't be a prima donna. You realize quickly the world doesn't have to revolve around you."
And although Scallon doesn't see a lot of large families in her practice, she knows firsthand about some of the perks. "I am one of six kids and had a real sense of belonging growing up," she says. "Belonging to clan, a tribe, is very powerful."
Molly Tupta, an early childhood special education teacher, and husband Joe, a physical therapist, have also embraced the idea of a big family. The Madison couple have been parents to 22 kids, most through fostering, over the past 13 years.
"We fostered a sibling set first, and then a baby girl," says Molly. "We became totally hooked, and when they left there was a huge void. So when we got the call about 2-year-old Levi, and the Department of Human Services asked if we'd consider adopting, we said yes."
Around the same time, they also welcomed Tamika, 5 at the time (now 16), into their home. They adopted both children in 2002, less than a year after they gave birth to their first biological child, Jack, now 10. "We went from zero to three permanent kids in less than a year," says Molly. "And while we didn't say yes to every call, we kept on fostering."
Molly gave birth to child number four, Olivia, in 2005. And when she asked the family if they could rally to take on baby Evi, in need of foster respite care the summer of 2009, the answer was "of course." "We adopted her this past December," says Molly.
Their all-time household high was eight kids total in the summer of 2011. And although Molly admits it was stressful, she feels there are huge rewards to having a big family. "We just love all the activity in the house. There is always someone to play with. The kids keep asking when someone new will be coming into the picture."
Besides the obvious concerns about finances, where to house all the shoes, and what to drive (the Petersons have a 15-passenger van), there are even bigger challenges to parenting a small platoon.
"The hardest part," says Priscilla, "is juggling the multiple stages of life that are going on all at once. I have teens and their social issues at the same time that my youngest is in diapers. And we have every emotion in between."
And the fact that Erik, who is a full-time colonel and F-16 pilot with the Wisconsin National Guard, can be deployed overseas (as he was for six months in 2006, when they had six kids) keeps things interesting.
"In some ways you grow up faster being in a big family," Priscilla says. "Konur learned to change a diaper at 5. The two older kids are kind of like second parents, and they've only helped out more as time goes on. I rely on and trust them more than anyone else."
Molly concurs that older kids really pitch in. "Tamika is a huge help - an older girl who loves kids is great," she says. "She's known in our neighborhood as a great babysitter.
"Sure, we get comments and stares sometimes, especially last summer when we had eight, but you need to have a sense of humor and thicker skin. You can't worry about what other people think," says Molly.
Priscilla says that for every rude comment they've gotten ("outsiders really like to share their opinion on family size," she says), they've also gotten lots of positive feedback. "We don't go out to dinner often, but when we do, people remark how well behaved our kids are."
When asked how she finally decided eight was enough, Priscilla is careful to point out she never said that. "Eight feels good," she says. "I don't feel stressed, I don't feel overwhelmed. But I'm not ready to close any doors just yet."comments powered by Disqus
I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Verona resident Melissa Wardy got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.
Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.
At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.
Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"
After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.