It’s hard to imagine Melissa Buhr being the mother of seven. She’s pert and pretty, with hair the color of ginger, and a fresh-scrubbed complexion, nary a dark circle under her eyes.
Goodness knows Melissa’s got to be sleep deprived, but motherhood doesn’t seem to be wearing her down, despite the fact that she homeschools six and still has one in diapers, David, who is 9 months, another source of joy for Melissa and Mark Buhr.
The couple consider their children a gift from God, and Melissa tries to get the seven to 7 a.m. Mass each day at Immaculate Conception Church in Union.
“I try,” she stressed, listing the children’s ages and names at my request: John, 14, Luke, 12, Nick, 11, Mike, 9, Carol, 7, Jack, 5 and baby David, 9 months. That’s right — six boys and one girl.
“Carol and I always say we’re outnumbered but not outspoken,” Melissa said with a ready smile, adding that she’s used to big families. Raised in Kansas City, Kan., she had five brothers and one sister.
Melissa knows all about boys. “They have to move around,” she said, adding that she’s amazed at the uniqueness of each of her children. “We haven’t got any repeats. They’re all such individuals.”
Take Michael, for example. He answered the phone when I called to request an interview. “Hey, Ma, someone wants to talk to you,” he yelled. I had to share this with Melissa because this very thing happened when our daughters were young, no matter how many times we tried to stress phone manners.
“That’s Michael — he’s a spitfire — smarter than smart. And he drives me to confession,” she said.
Time and again, Melissa disputed the fact that she is anything out of the ordinary. She barks at the children, is impatient with her husband, and continually questions her mothering capabilities, as she makes the same mistakes over and over when all she wants to be is patient and good-natured.
Like mothers with one child or two this young woman is doing the very best she can, with lots of help from her husband. Her mother died four years ago and she misses her — and appreciates the gift she passed along to her, the ability to manage a large family.
A vacation day for Melissa, which doesn’t come very often, would be a visit to Washington Public Library, by herself, to the second floor to spend two hours in the adult book stacks. Or perhaps a long walk, “I love to walk,” she said, and a “gib gab” with a friend. A nap would be lovely too or just the opportunity to “put my feet up.”
Melissa didn’t envision the life she has for herself. After a short career as an occupational therapist, she met Mark. They moved to the Twin Cities, and married. In 2006, Mark got a job with Boeing, and the family relocated just south of Washington on property with acreage and a creek, plenty of space for their growing offspring.
Melissa admits she is type “A,” a list maker. She puts on her teachers hat after the family gets home from Mass. Rather than schooling the children around the kitchen table, she encourages them to go to spots where “they can focus.”
The Buhrs’ academic year begins the first week in August and concludes when the children complete their curriculum, usually the end of April.
Fourteen years ago, Melissa and Mark didn’t have a grand plan in place to homeschool when their oldest was born. “It just sounded kind of interesting, and we said ‘let’s try it.’ ” As each child reached school age, the size of Melissa’s class evolved. “It was all part of God’s plan.”
Being together so much, the siblings really know each other, and that’s one of the things Melissa likes about homeschooling. She also hopes the children develop a “love of learning” and “that they get” the lessons she is teaching.
Melissa might have to wait decades to hear, “Mom, you told me so,” or “Thanks for the sacrifices you made.” In the meantime it’s enough to be blessed with a packet of healthy children, a big family that might increase.
“We just don’t know,” Melissa said. “There’s no magic number. It’s all in God’s hands.”