If you’re familiar with Jim Gaffigan, then you’ve definitely heard him glowingly speak of his hilarious wife, Jeannie. The two comedians joined forces to write a TV series, the aptly titled The Jim Gaffigan Show, which is a fictionalized version of their real lives. In particular, it focuses on how the two raise a family with five children in a two-bedroom New York City apartment. What’s amazing about the show is that not only is it incredibly funny – come on, with that dream writing team, you knew it was going to be – but it also feels exceptionally real.
Part of the reason why the show feels so authentic is because Jeannie has lived it herself. In addition to having five kids, Jeannie also grew up with eight brothers and sisters. Needless to say, she knows a thing or two about being part of a sizable family. And she knows that there are certain things only people from big families can understand. Here, Jeannie Gaffigan tells the real story of what goes down in large households.
You were called seven different names before your parents landed on the right one. You got grounded for things your siblings did even if you were sleeping at the time of the incident. You were known in the community as “Which One Are You?” However, you developed a resilience that would have been impossible otherwise. You learned how to run a washing machine before you could read. You babysat three younger siblings by the time you were nine years old. You developed an uncanny ability to disregard loud, irritating noises that drive other people crazy.
You never had a pair of matching socks. They may have both been white, but they were different shades of white. Or different shapes of white. Or white with different stripes at the top. If you lost a pair of jeans, you could probably find them in the halls of your school… on your sibling. If you were the last one out the door in the winter you had to wear the goofy hat and the mismatched mittens. On the other hand, you were always happy and excited for one of your siblings to get a new item of clothing. Mostly because you knew it would soon be yours.
It may not have been pretty, but it was the most fun. Your house was always a disaster but everyone in the neighborhood sent their kids to play there. While they cleaned their own house. More things disappeared in there than the Bermuda Triangle. Your house had a pillow shortage. You’d wait for a sibling to fall asleep just so you could take their pillow. You had the largest and ugliest car in the neighborhood and someone had to sit on “the hump” when you went anywhere.
Your garage had everything in it except the car. Your yard looked like the set of Sanford and Son. Instead of a jungle gym, you had a big tree and everyone was in it. You may have had the least grass in your yard but you had the best mud hole.
Getting in the bathroom before your sisters was the only way to get in the bathroom. There was no such thing as a shower that was hot from start to finish. Your shampoo and conditioner were in huge bottles you could barely lift. You never saw a cap on your tube of toothpaste. The first time you had your own hairbrush is when you moved away for college. Using toilet paper always started with changing the roll. It was a normal and daily occurrence to hear someone yell from the bathroom,“Bring me a towel!”
If you made a sandwich and walked away for 10 seconds, there was a bite out of it when you came back. You mostly ate not because you were hungry, but to prevent your siblings from eating your food. The only motivation for waking up early was to get a bowl of cereal before the whole box was gone. Instead of a safe, your parents had a locked cabinet that only contained cookies. You had a gallon-size jug of milk in the fridge that had 1/16 of a glass of milk in it. You got ice cream in a plastic bucket that later doubled as a huge sand pail. Your family had at least two full shopping carts at the grocery store and each cart had a baby or a toddler sitting in the front.
Grocery day was every day and “helping” your parents put away groceries meant the opportunity to hide items you wanted to eat. The quantity of food prepared at each meal was enormous. The first time you made dinner for your boyfriend you made two boxes of spaghetti because that was just how much you were supposed to make.
Especially when someone got left at a rest stop and no one realized it for an hour.
Teachers assumed you were exactly like your sibling, good or bad, and on the first day said, “Oh. Another one of you.” On the other hand, if you got a different teacher, you could just re-tool your older sibling’s science fair project the night before it was due. Peer pressure was hard because you never had any of the new toys. Luckily, you developed your creativity by lying about all the Christmas presents you got.
When you’re part of a big family and you tell a sibling something in confidence, you can be sure that the whole family will know your business by the end of the week.
The first time you bring a significant other over for dinner, you have to give them an explanation that rivaled a national security briefing. And get ready to be embarrassed. The entire dinner conversation will be identical to multiple awkward best man toasts.
You may have moved out and started your own home but you will always live in that crowded house. Get ready for a lifetime of endless data-draining group texts and emails that may or may not have anything to do with you. You may also receive late night texts from a sibling asking for suggestions for “The Top 10 Things Only People From Big Families Can Understand.”