Thursday, November 21, 2002

A wonderful piece by the mother of nine

"Complimenti, signor,’ the Italian customs officer breathed as he grasped my husband’s hand and practically stood to attention. My spouse of 27 years gave a deprecating little wave to the group of officers who had come over to gawk after the word had gone around that he was ‘il padre di nove figli’ — the father of nine children.....

...For me, concentrating on getting a life as distinct from a career has been a liberating experience, and in my case enabled me to start a career. When I turned 40 after my last baby was born, I started to write. As the mother of nine children, I’ve had a huge amount of life-experience. The children themselves, who range in age from 25 to seven, and their various friends gave me a ready-made young focus group. I tackled family issues at first but gradually I began to branch out into politics, religion and culture, all the while drawing on the experience of this family community which, unlike so many communities, really is a community.

I now have five children at home, all either at school or at university. Work is not the most important thing in my life and if it interfered with my children I’d drop it immediately. Not everyone wants so many, but having children early and close together not only means that one can concentrate one’s youth and energy during the time when one needs youth and energy, but also that one is left with a long span of life still to fill. It can be done, but not if you set out on the rigid, traditional career path. Above all, it requires support, and the most important support doesn’t come from family-friendly policies or more childcare. Women want families, and for that we need good men. IVF or frozen eggs are no substitute We need husbands for ourselves, to complement and fulfil us, and we need fathers for our children. So actually the real secret of keeping my very large show on the road is the modest man who should realise after 27 years that Italian bureaucrats are not the only ones who appreciate him.

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