Monday, November 12, 2007

A Mathematical Observation and the Music of Family

One of the ways Coty and I are different is that he thinks mathematically and I do NOT! He is always coming up with interesting facts and observations that involve figuring, that shed light on life in distinctly numerical ways. His thoughts about our growing children and their relationships, the ways in which our family has been changing as children go off to college, and how and why this affects us the way it does is the latest sphere for such a mathematical observation. Here's his observation:

When you have two children, you have one relationship between them. When you have three children, you have three relationships among them. For example, Andrew has a relationship with Matthew and Joel, and Matthew has a relationship with Joel. When you have four children, however, the number of relationships goes up to six. And when you have six children, the number of relationships among them jumps to fifteen! Fifteen relationships in which love is expressed through words and deeds, encouragement and teasing, helping and giving. Also fifteen relationships in which love becomes strained by anger, disappointment, frustration, impatience and more. There is a LOT going on relationally among the siblings in a big family. Add Mommy and Daddy and the number of relationships jumps to a whopping twenty-eight!

From 1994 when Joel was born to 2002 when Erin went off to college, we joyfully lived in the midst of the fifteen distinct, growing, changing relationships among our children We navigated the range of emotions possible among six very different children - children who are noisy and quiet, timid and bold, thoughtful and clueless, diligent and sluggish, introverted and extroverted, neat and messy, melancholy and sanguine. We helped children who differ in their intellectual, athletic, musical, and social skills to get along and appreciate each other. We watched "olders" care for "youngers" and teach them how to do things like set the table and clean the toilet. We intervened in squabbles when necessary and helped angry brothers and one sister learn how to say, "I'm sorry," and "I forgive you." We listened to the sound, sometimes music, sometimes clamor, of six children living under one roof.

In the past five years, the number of sibling relationships around us on a daily basis has decreased as each successive child has headed off to college. Coty's mathematical observation makes me realize just how much I am missing. It helps explain why after years of having a large family at home, it feels like such a shock to only have three sibling relationships around the table. It is not one, two, or three children that are not at home, but many, varied relationships that I do not experience day in and day out. The music has fewer layers. I do not mean that my children's relationships are not ongoing - they certainly are - and they are developing in new ways - but because we are not under the same roof, I don't hear the sounds of them on a daily basis. I don't experience the immediacy of all those relationships.

I think that is also why I can't wait to be with all of our children and our son-in-law for four days at Thanksgiving. It will be like music. Melody and harmony, fortissimo and pianissimo. The din of relational abundance may be deafening, like the wild clash of exuberant cymbals. I may wish for earplugs at moments...but you can be sure, I won't be putting them in, because as I listen I will hear, in the din, the sweet strains of the music of our family life. I will catch the familiar melodies and harmonies of my children's relationships. I will hum along quietly and maybe I will belt out my own refrain at times. After all, I am a part of that whopping twenty-eight. And my mathematical husband, well he'll be right in there, too, singing along at times, quietly listening with me at times, and gazing into my eyes with knowing and a chuckle. That's one thing that I love about growing old and going through all this with him - we see it and think about it all in different ways but in our hearts we know it together and we help each other understand and live it.

My next mathematical challenge for him is to calculate what will happen when we begin to add daughters-in-law and grandchildren!


the Olsons said...

I definitely miss th abundance or relationships at home, and can't wait for us to all be together at Thanksgiving! Yay for a multitude of personalities and relational peculiarities... now, Daddy, how many relationships will we be talking about on Thanksgiving day, when we add in all the aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents??? ;)

David said...

With our family still growing, it is good to have some insight from the other side. I to have noticed that the dynamic between the children gets a little crazy at times.