Of the many prejudices prevalent in society, there are two that are rarely addressed. The first is a prejudice against families with many children. I should know: We have seven, thank G-d, and I find myself apologizing wherever I go. The frequent stares loaded with disapproval and scorn seem to imply that the housing crisis in New York and the famine in Ethiopia were caused single-handedly by my own large brood. I suspect that now with seven, I present a most extreme example of selfish overpopulation. But any family with more than three kids meets with subtle, or not so subtle, condemnation from strangers. When I have broached this very issue with others who dare to overpopulate, they relate to the experience of suspicious stares and raised eyebrows. We have grown accustomed to the looks on the faces of strangers-first puzzlement, then pity, then scorn-as they try to fathom why we would voluntarily subject ourselves to such a horrific fate. But while we now know to expect it, I fail to understand it.

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I fail to understand hotel owners who will not accommodate families with more than four children, even if you propose paying for three separate rooms. I am still puzzled when restaurant managers put up reserved signs on empty tables when I appear with my crew, even though the restaurant is nearly empty and our business alone would double their evening's intake.

It got so bad that this year that we decided to take our family vacation in an R.V. so that we could be assured a place to rest our heads at night. We drove across the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, where each night we met families, large and small, sharing space and earth and sustenance around a great fire. Most of these families were not rich, but they were clearly happy. So why can they accept large families, while the privileged vacationers of Martha's Vineyard or the Hamptons cannot? What are they scared of?

I suspect that a family with many children implies a backwardness that worries the bourgeois of America. Looking at the birth rates for 2001, the large families cluster outside our Western sphere, while those of us living in the "developed" world stick to our 2.2 children. The United States averaged 14.2 births for every thousand Americans. Our restrained European forefathers in the United Kingdom count only 11.54 per 1,000. And Japan has managed to get down to 10.04 per 1,000. These are the nations we recognize as orderly and civilized. These are the nations that we can relate to.

But look at African nations like Uganda, at 47.52 births per 1,000, or Niger with 50.68 births per 1,000. That is five times the rate of Japan. Fertility like this frightens us. Thus, we conclude, only the "uncivilized third world" would ever venture to have more than three kids.

As a sex and marriage writer, I cannot help wondering, is it the idea of abundant fertility that scares us about large families? When we see a couple with several children we know that they have had an active intimate life. When we see families with many children, and especially young children, we know that somewhere along the line they must be making love. Is this too much intimacy for our Western sensibilities where passion is increasingly missing from marriage? Maybe they miss what these other couples clearly have: a passion and desire for each other that remains years after the honeymoon has ended. Or perhaps it is simply that children are seen as burdensome without the blessing, difficult without the deliverance.

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