Debbie Kelleher has spent seven and a half years of her life pregnant.
Debbie herself came from a family of five children. Her husband, Dennis, was one of eleven. They never discussed how many children they would have, and certainly never settled on the magical number of 10.
At 28, Debbie gave birth to her first child, Becky.
Next came Darcy. Then Abbey. Then Jack, Harry, Meg, Stacey, Brittany, Eliza and Lilly.
Over the course of 11 years, Debbie had become a mum to 10 children.
When I asked Debbie why she decided to stop at 10, she jokingly replied “Well…I don’t like odd numbers.”
My overwhelming question, which I asked approximately 12 times throughout the interview, was “BUT HOW!?” She laughed and insisted “…well, you just do.” Luckily, my questions became slightly more specific. I wanted to know about laundry. And cooking. And clothes. And weekend sport. And the fights. And her sanity. Indeed, Debbie appears to be an oddly sane mother of 10.
I was interested in how Debbie was able to attend to the needs of a newborn baby, while having so many other kids of varying ages to take care of. She explained that they were constantly stimulated by the noise and movement in a busy house; “The baby slept in the family room and whoever walked past would give them a toy or something to play with. That’s why they’re all such good sleepers!” Years later, the Kelleher kids possess the remarkable ability to sleep just about anywhere.
"Whoever walked past would give them a toy or something to play with." Image via iStock.
In terms of entertaining the children as they grew up, she reflected, "they were pretty easy kids". They would run off to the park for the day, or disappear on their bikes.
She laughed that the beauty of having so many, was that they could make up two armies.
On the subject of arguments, she said, "Oh they went through stages, someone would say 'I don't like them', but they always had someone else to play with. It wasn't nearly as severe as when you only had 2 or 3 kids. You always have someone."
Having a (literal) army of kids to play with meant that "they were never ever bored". The Kelleher's backyard always had a few rabbits, birds, a cat and a dog.
I asked Debbie about the concept of 'Me-time', assuming she had given up on it long ago. But she found moments between the busyness, reflecting, "You can always sit and have a cup of tea while they're playing."
Debbie also made sure she got up at 5am, almost everyday, and went for a swim. Sometimes she would go on her own before any of the children woke up. Other times she would take a few of the younger kids with her, and they would play in aquatic center while she swam laps.
As the kids grew up, all of them played sport. Most of them played multiple sports, from early morning swimming, to touch football, to soccer, to netball. Debbie not only encouraged their participation, but stood on the sideline. She took me through a typical afternoon with all the kids' training.
When they were all at school winter afternoons were the worst 'cause as you know they all played sport. So you just dropped them at different grounds for training, and then went past home to put dinner on....and then tell whoever was home when to turn it off...then negotiate the traffic for pick up from training. It was a bit like planning a military operation making it back to all the grounds on time. The girls would wait in a certain spot, and would do a kamikaze roll as I slowed down.