[photopress:family_patio_picnic_910.jpg,thumb,pp_style] By Nettie H. Francis
I’m the second oldest of eleven children. My growing up years were spent taking care of my younger siblings. Changing diapers, feeding babies and entertaining toddlers were all natural activities for me, and I could do many of them almost as well as a mother! It was a pleasant childhood.
Serving in a big family was entertaining, enjoyable and fulfilling.
Managing a large family generally requires some sort of a system. My Dad (who is a die-hard Boy Scout) organized us into convenient buddy pairs. I was a “senior buddy” and had responsibility for my “junior buddy.” In the mornings the senior buddies helped their junior buddies brush out their hair and make their beds. At dinner time we helped them serve their food and cut up their spaghetti. And in the evenings, we helped them put on their pajamas and brush their teeth. When we went on trips, we helped our junior buddy pack and kept an eye on them at tourist stops. The buddy system was a blessing to my mother, who was then free to care for the youngest babies.
My first junior buddy was my sister Heidi Jo. Ten years younger than me, I remember well the day Heidi was born. It was so thrilling to have a new baby sister, especially one with lots of curly, dark hair and blue eyes. When Heidi was three, she became my junior buddy. I affectionately called her, “Poon.” We always had a special bond, and it was with pride that I watched her grow up, graduate from high school and college, serve a mission and make wonderful decisions in life.
Fast forward twenty-three years. Now I am a busy mother of eight children. This summer my husband and oldest son traveled to Virginia for the Boy Scout National Jamboree. They were gone for three weeks! I was happy for them to have such a wonderful opportunity, but dreaded the days that I would be alone with seven young children. After long nights, lots of meals and loads of laundry, being a single mother soon became overwhelming! Despite my best intentions, my temper began to wear thin. I was exhausted and my tears were close to the surface.
One day Heidi called to say she was coming to help! I was amazed. She was willing to leave her full-time job and busy schedule, drive several hours, and give me a week of her time. Hearing her voice on the phone was like a beacon of hope.
We anxiously awaited her arrival on the appointed day. My children (who were as tired of me as I was of them) eagerly watched for her car.
“It’s Aunt Heidi!” they cheered when they saw her. As Heidi climbed out of her car, I couldn’t help myself and started to cry! Here she was—an able-bodied person, with two free hands, willing to help. She immediately came into the house, hugged all of us and took a baby from me. Then she helped me serve dinner and clean up the dishes. She was a blessing.
As Heidi helped me bed down children that night, I suddenly had a flashback to the years I had tucked her into bed. During those days when
I was her buddy, I had never imagined that the tables would turn and Heidi would eventually become such a blessing to me.
For the rest of my jamboree “alone” time Heidi was there. She changed diapers, cut up spaghetti, took children swimming, gave me chances to nap, and fixed and cleaned up meals. I was incredibly humbled and grateful.
Our week with Heidi reminded me of other times my younger siblings had come to my aid. When my fifth baby was born, my mother was in the middle of sending a missionary out and dealing with my Dad’s cancer treatments. There was no way she could come and assist me.
Immediately after the baby was born, my younger sister Katie called to say she was coming to help. She found a ride from college and spent three wonderful days with us. College students have lots of energy, and while I rested with my baby Katie continuously entertained the other four children. Yes, I missed my mother during those post-birth times, but was still blessed by the presence of family.
In addition to physical help, my younger siblings have also offered spiritual assistance. While my twin brothers served missions, they regularly corresponded with my oldest sons. Hearing about the gospel from their uncles in the mission field was a non-threatening way to reach my boys, and they thrived with the letters of personal testimony and words of encouragement they received.
Heidi’s service—as well as that of all of my siblings—was a glimpse of the great lesson of life: that there is an eternal circle. What we give to others comes back to us not only ten-fold, but one-hundred fold.
Someday, when my children are grown and my hands are free again, I will drive hours to help Heidi with her children during an alone week, or assist Katie with a new baby. And perhaps my son’s mission letters will inspire a younger nephew or cousin.
Children are an investment. Service is an investment. Families are an investment. Investments grow over time, and eventually yield more dividends than we can initially imagine. Tables turn quickly, and our labor of love becomes an investment of the heart.