Family of 4: it’s the American Way!

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.

Photo and Effects/Sophia Noelle Photography

In the ensuing days, I begin to notice how everything revolves around a Family of Four. Not just fun packs and amusement park tickets, but restaurant seating, cruises, travel packages, and bowling parties. Even portrait studios offered tips on how to pose a Family of Four, as if posing five or six would be cruel and unusual punishment for the photographer. Are you really insisting on more than four? No problem, we can Photoshop out the offending member. Besides, who will miss Junior? He was probably just an oopsy-doopsy anyway after a wild night of marital bliss and sangria.

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!”

No occupancy limits in the Great Outdoors! Photo: kbrookes/Creative Commons

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.

Photo/Creative Commons

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

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8 thoughts on “Family of 4: it’s the American Way!

  1. As another prime number five family, I can attest to your experiences. At a church family camp we attended, we were placed in the “large family” dining room. This amazed us (I guess we thought we should be in the middle-size family room). Maybe should have had one more, to get to an even number. This was a fun post to read.

    • Hopefully, you also got the large family menu with more choices! It’s funny that a family of five is considered large these days. We had seven in my family and that was pretty normal, back in the day!

  2. I can relate, too, Maria. We’ve gone from five at home to three — and soon (we hope), two. I’ve long wondered how other families could afford to travel when they needed two motel rooms at every stop.

    Another great post. I love the nicknames you use for your kids.

  3. Hi BB55: I can’t tell you how many miles we have logged onto our mini-van (well, actually I can: 246,645 to be precise) toting the tribe to the hinterlands and back. In the midst of that I kept thinking how glorious it would be when it was just the two of us and no more tons of gear to haul. But the reality is that for our upcoming 25th anniversary we are planning a trip and guess who we want to bring? The kids!! Go figure. Their nicknames are totally them!

  4. This is so on-track with “Among the Hidden,” by Margaret Haddix, the “hidden” referring to third children in a future society where they were rendered illegal by the government. The families had to devise strategies to cope with really, really wanting a third child in a world that was not on their side. I adore the heart-warming twist at the end. And I am sure happy to be a third child too.

  5. Thanks for the book recommendation, Patricia. Sounds kind of like “Brave New World.” I will have to check it out. We had five kids in our family growing up, so I was just used to a larger family than four. Our third child brings so much joy to our home: a happy, sunnny personality that blesses us! Being a third child, you probably got lots of “baby of the family” perks and privileges! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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