Yesterday around 3:30 in the afternoon I was desperate to get out of the house so I decided to take the children out to the playground down the street. We were all starting to drive each other crazy so out we went.

There were a few other parents there with one or two children on the swings and monkey bars.

So my girls go running around with all the aimlessness and predictability of tornadoes. My three year old boy however heads right toward the slide. Now, because the boy was wearing his old sneakers which he loves rather than the new ones which Mom bought him, he couldn’t climb the slide from the bottom. (I don’t know what year it was but I’m pretty sure a law was passed that children must crawl up the slide rather than climb the ladder.)

But he was struggling to climb the slide so my five year old quickly dashed up the ladder to the top of the slide, reached out, and cried out with all the cinematic drama of a B-movie starlet, “Grab on!” as if sharks, alligators and lava all awaited him menacingly at the bottom. So he grabs her hand and he’s now completely inert on his belly with his hand out holding on to his sister who doesn’t have the strength to hold a gallon of milk. So the six year old girl sees this predicament, crawls on top of the five year old, and grabs the boy’s forearm and starts pulling. The eight year old witnesses this debacle, runs over to the slide while supplying her own “swoosh” sound effects which I’m pretty sure meant she was flying (which is why the lava, alligators and sharks had no effect if you were wondering), she crawls up the bottom of the slide and starts pushing the boy up the slide by his rear end. And they’re all laughing hysterically. Even the kids who we didn’t know were laughing. Me -I was kissing any hope of academic scholarships for them goodbye.

But one mother who was sitting nearby was watching them smiling. She asked, “How do you get them to play so nicely together?”

Because I’m a lunatic who can never answer a question seriously the first time, I told her I sedate them heavily with animal tranquilizers. Thank goodness she laughed although she was probably secretly calling Child Services on her cellphone in her pocket.

She said she’s seen them many times and they all seemed so good and well behaved. She said she noticed that whenever I told my children it was time to leave the playground they all came. She said her young boy was out of control. I never know what to say to that kind of thing because I can’t say “Yeah, I’ve seen him. He’s a terror. My money’s on an extended juvenile detention stay by 14 years old.” And I also don’t want to say I hadn’t noticed that last week he threw sand in a little girl’s face (not mine) or that he screams at his mother. So without something to say I just stared into the distance and pursed my lips feigning deep thought.

She thankfully continued, saying “Your children all so loving with one another,” she said. “What’s your secret?”

I decided not to make another tranquilizer joke and said simply, “I really don’t know what I’m doing but I think it actually helps to have the older ones teaching the younger ones and they all always have someone to play with.”

She laughed and said, “One’s enough for me. Just having him around wipes me out. My husband wants more but I’m like no thanks.”

I never know what to say to those kinds of things because quite frankly they make me feel icky (and the boy was in hearing distance) so I resorted once again to pursing my lips and staring into the distance. Hey, it works.

But I was a little sad for her as we walked home. I was a little sad for her because I know that my life is so much better than it would’ve been and more just plain old fun because of the addition of each child. And here’s the secret that parents of bigger families don’t spread around. In some ways it’s easier to raise a bunch rather than one.

My kids have learned patience because I can’t drop everything for them if I have a baby in my arms.

My children have learned to work because there’s always chores to do in a small house packed with little messy lunatics.

They’ve accepted they can’t always get their way because other people have to get their way sometimes.

They’ve learned it’s not always their turn.

They learn to laugh at the insane non sequitirs of younger siblings.

In short, I think my children have learned to love because there are others around them to love and who love them. I honestly can think of no better way to teach children to love than siblings. Oh yeah, and horse tranquilizers help.