Jack Knox: Give yourself a pat on the back, Mom, if you can find a free hand

A woman in Morocco gave birth to nine children this week.

Nine. An entire baseball team. It’s being called a record.

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Imagine nine kids needing to be changed, or fed, or burped. Imagine having to comfort nontuplets after a bad dream, or after a scraped knee, or after they lose a tooth, a game, or a first love.

Speaking of games, a harried mother of a large Victoria brood once told me the key to keeping things under control was to enroll all the children in the same sport. Otherwise, the family mini-van ends up pinballing from field to rink to pool to gym, spitting out kids like a Pez dispenser. She once screeched to a halt outside the Juan de Fuca arena just in time for hockey practice, only to have the coach say: “Thanks for being on time, but you brought the wrong kid.” True story.

Which brings us to today’s topic: Mother’s Day.

I’ll start with an apology. Sorry.

Sorry, first, for using the phrase “harried mother,” which is redundant.

Sorry to my own mother for all I put her through over the years, though I believe the experience made her stronger, gave her what it took to reach 100 years of age last September. She soldiers on today, stubbornly independent, though my siblings and I like to think she will miss us when we’re dead and gone.

Sorry for what mothers have had to endure during the pandemic, when they discovered that they didn’t have to choose between home and career, as COVID forced them to do both simultaneously. Well done, Mom! Pat yourself on the back, if you can find a free hand.

Sorry for the transgressions of ungrateful children worldwide. Since last ­Mother’s Day we have read about:

• The execution of a Chinese man who killed his mother so that he could buy an apartment with the life insurance money.

• An Ohio woman who stole $750,000 from her mother to buy a horse farm.

• A Georgia man who robbed his mother at gunpoint.

• A Zambian man who stole his mother’s cow to pay for his dowry.

• An English woman who over a decade drained 80,000 pounds from her invalided mother’s bank account to pay for piercings, holidays and a luxury car.

Which raises the question: given the ingratitude (and apparent risk of gunpoint robbery), why would anyone want to become a mother? In fact, Canadian families continue to be much smaller than they used to be, for a range of reasons that are not, in fact, a laughing matter.

A country needs a fertility rate — the average number of children per woman — of 2.1 to maintain a stable population. Canada hasn’t hit that level for exactly 50 years. We have been burying more than we birth since then, relying on immigration to keep the population up.

Canada’s fertility rate peaked at 3.94 in 1959, and has been sinking since then. In 2019, the last year for which Statistics Canada has records, it reached a record low of 1.47. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of babies born in B.C. fell to 42,730 from 44,120 even as the province’s population rose to 5.2 million from 4.5 million.

We have become a nation with more old people than young. In 2015, Statistics Canada reported that the demographic teeter-totter had tilted, that for the first time the Great White-Haired North had more people over age 65 than under 15.

The capital region reached that point much earlier. With just 13 per cent of the population under age 15, Greater Victoria has the fewest children, relatively speaking, of any metropolitan area in Canada.

Think our housing prices aren’t affecting the demographics?

And now, on top of it all, there’s the pressure of parenting during COVID. The U.S. National Retail Federation expects Mother’s Day spending to hit a record $28 billion this year, almost twice as much as in 2010. The federation says the increase is being spurred by the combination of vaccines and stimulus cheques, but I suspect the real answer has to do with guilt over the extra burden placed on mothers over the past 15 months.

Again, sorry. And we truly mean it when we say those three little words: What’s for supper?

jknox@timescolonist.com

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