You know you grew up in a big family if:
You still resent the sister who had her own room; became accustomed to finding your toothbrush wet in the morning; were always under suspicion at school because of what your older brothers did; hoped your mother got your name right on the fourth try; Bought cigarettes before you were six, with a note from your dad; had to wear hand-me-downs that only your mom thought were still in style; made multiple visits to the emergency room; your parents lost you more than once in a public place.
Your big Christmas present was a space heater; you served time as a human remote control; you sat for hours at the dinner table, rather than finish your peas; your older brother repeatedly tricked you into playing “52 Pick-up;” you were essentially raised by your big sister; you were scared every time your dad got home.
No one taught you how to tie your shoes; you never had your own bike; there wasn’t enough room for you on the couch; sharing baths was common and bathwater could always be recycled; your dad wasn’t sure what grade you were in; your parents didn’t come with you on Halloween … or when you had to go to the dentist; you still cherish that family vacation when only three kids went to Michigan.
You never knew who was going to barge in on you in the bathroom; you were grocery shopping for the family when you could barely see over the cart; found certain relatives very scary but were forced to visit them anyway; could never find a restaurant that could seat the whole family; wished you had your friend’s cool parents; got your mother’s full attention that one time; Couldn’t remember your siblings’ birthdays — to this day.
Your middle name was either Mary or Joseph; you lost every fight with your big brother; learned to speak very rapidly at the dinner table; said the family Rosary together when times were tough; weren’t embarrassed as a little boy to buy female hygiene products when necessary; had to use hand-me-down textbooks that were missing a few pages; learned to disappear after dinner to avoid washing the dishes; never got tired of peanut butter and jelly.
Thought it was normal to wear your coat in the house on winter mornings; spent Saturdays vacuuming under and behind the furniture; dreaded your parents coming home from parent-teacher conferences; could mix cocktails at a very young age; had identical twins you couldn’t tell apart; Enjoyed the intimidated look of boyfriends facing the whole clan; got used to zipping and unzipping dresses for various females in the family.
Most of your pictures growing up show you in the same outfit; you got to sit on the mechanical horse but no one put a coin in; alternated between tuna fish casserole and fish sticks on Fridays; were told more than once that you were adopted; had patches on the knees of your uniform pants; worked funerals and weddings as an altar boy for extra cash; thought of your friends as your real siblings.
Your mother cleaned your face with spit; you were disappointed by empty boxes of cookies on the shelf and empty juice containers in the fridge; learned how to use a paint roller in first grade; thought it would be cool to dig a hole to China in the backyard … until your dad got home; had your Halloween candy confiscated and rationed; thought the Polish kid in your school was from another planet.
You have kids who wonder how you survived childhood.
John Rice, who writes a weekly column for the Forest Park Review, a Growing Community Media publication, survived his childhood in Oak Park.