Articles

HOW TO RAISE TEN KIDS IN SIX ROOMS

Frank and Helen Teskey don’t think there’s anything remarkable about having ten children under fifteen in the city and they’d welcome more. Their secret is a smooth mixture of love and discipline. Chores go as fast as a quart of ice cream when sister helps with the baby and the boys grab dish towels

JUNE CALLWOOD October 15 1951
Articles

HOW TO RAISE TEN KIDS IN SIX ROOMS

Frank and Helen Teskey don’t think there’s anything remarkable about having ten children under fifteen in the city and they’d welcome more. Their secret is a smooth mixture of love and discipline. Chores go as fast as a quart of ice cream when sister helps with the baby and the boys grab dish towels

JUNE CALLWOOD October 15 1951

HOW TO RAISE TEN KIDS IN SIX ROOMS

Articles

Frank and Helen Teskey don’t think there’s anything remarkable about having ten children under fifteen in the city and they’d welcome more. Their secret is a smooth mixture of love and discipline. Chores go as fast as a quart of ice cream when sister helps with the baby and the boys grab dish towels

JUNE CALLWOOD

THIS Frank Teskey lives in Toronto and he’s got a good job. He’s not in the Cadillac class by any means, but he can go out most days and buy a roast of beef. He also has a house with three bedrooms, a car, a piano and ten children.

“There’s just two things the matter with having a big family,” he says. “Your furniture always looks a little worn and you can’t keep a lawn. You just CAN’T keep a lawn.” These grave problems don’t discourage Frank and Helen Teskey but they feel their friends should understand what they can expect in trying to raise ten children in a city.

People who go into the Teskey home thinking that having ten children would be like having ten millstones come out convinced they are ten bless-

ings instead. Each of the Teskey children—the oldest is fourteen—is handsome, intelligent, healthy and so well behaved that some stories about them have almost become legends among their friends.

Once at a Christmas party attended by close to three hundred children someone noticed eight of the Teskey children sitting on the floor with their backs to a wall. They were eating ice cream; the other two hundred and ninety children were eating ice cream—and crying for more; eating ice cream - and wiping their spoons in their hair; eating ice cream—and shouting for joy. In the sea of confusion the Teskeys were an island of serenity.

Suddenly their father appeared. “Time to go,” he said as he elbowed his way by with an armful of door prizes. His older children set down their

empty dixie cups, went to the check room and came back with all the snowsuits and bools. Then they helped the smaller ones into their heavy clothes, got dressed themselves and waited for their father. Mothers of one or two children, who were busy trying to find their offspring, watched with amazement as the Teskeys quietly filed out.

Frank and Helen Teskey know they can depend on their children. Because they can rely on them to behave they take all the children out to dinner on occasion, take them all to, church without incident from the time they are two weeks old and also take them to the local movie. Nine of the ten saw Cheaper by the Dozen, a movie about a family with twelve children.

A recent visitor to Continued on page 82

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the Teskey house on Davisville Avenue, north-east Toronto, was introduced to the three oldest boys, Bob, thirteen, Greg, twelve, and Paul, ten. The boys came into the living room and shook hands, sat down when their father invited them to and were silent throughout the adult conversation. When addressed they answered without a trace of the smart aleck that characterizes the young Canadian male.

The visitor could stand it no longer. “How do you manage this?” she exclaimed to the Teskeys. “Have you beaten them into submission?”

In answer, Frank wheeled to address his ten-year-old. “Paul, when was your last spanking?”

“Oh golly, dad. Two or three years ago anyway.”

“Can you remember what it was for?”

Paul thought a minute. “Oh yeah,” he said with a grin. “It wasn’t a spanking. Greg and I were throwing sand on the girls and you made us put soap on our tongues.”

“Only we swallowed it,” added Greg. “And another time when Paul and I were fighting you made each of us hit the other one on the hand with your razor strap.” Frank and his sons laughed heartily at this recollection.

The visitor soon realized the Teskeys don’t regard their children as sweet little nuisances. They seem to find them all interesting people, listen with their whole concentration when they speak, never interrupt or try to finish a child’s sentence if he falters.

“Bedtime now,” said the mother after a while.

The three boys rose, said goodnight politely and went upstairs. Their bedroom was above the living room but they appeared to go to bed soundlessly.

How do the Teskey» do it?

“You’ve got to be tough when they’re young,” is Frank’s answer. “I handle the disciplining of the children and by the time they’re two they are so accustomed to obeying that we have no problems.”

The Teskeys believe a six-month-old baby is old enough to try and put something over on his parents. “I’ll take off the baby’s wet clothes, wash and dry him and powder him and assure myself that there’s nothing wrong,” says Frank. “Then I put him down and let him scream it out.”

As the baby grows older he is given a little tap for persisting in something he has been told not to do. Nothing is ever put out of reach in their home. “I let the baby know what he can have and what he can’t have,” says Helen. “Any baby old enough to creep is old enough to learn that.” (Denise, at the age of eleven months, once crawled - over to a box full of bright buttons,

I eyed it longingly, but crawled away without touching them. Her mother hadn’t said a word.)

By discipline the Teskeys don’t mean the twenty-four-hour relentless variety. “Fifteen minutes, a day, done properly and at the right time, will take care of it,” they say. Another important factor in rearing contented children is for the parents to back up one another’s decisions to the hilt. This is no problem for the Teskeys for each considers the other a most remarkable person.

“Finally,” adds Frank, “you’ve got to tell your children you love them, or how is the kid gonna know.’

The Teskeys’ love for their children goes beyond vocal appreciation. Both parents always take time out for some-

thing that’s important to a child. They were admiring consultants when three of the boys built a racing car out of orange crates; they promptly framed the first piece of art their oldest daughter brought home; the lamps thirteenyear-old Bob made at school are in the front living room.

When twelve-year-old Greg came home despondent over a 22-0 shellacking at hockey his father remarked acidly: “You’d have been better to

lie down on the ice. Maybe that way they would have tripped over you on their way to the goal.” The next night he was out coaching his son’s team, later saw them beat their tormentors 4-3. Last winter he coached three hockey teams in the Catholic Youth Organization and a girls’ basketball team. The man loves kids.

Helen Teskey shows her love of her children in her care of them. They are all spotlessly clean, never a button missing or a hole in a sock. She’s the type who can be eight months pregnant, have cookies in the oven, two children in bed with the flu and a washing in the machine in the basement and still be unruffled when someone drops in. “Sit down,” she insists. “We’ll have a cup of tea.”

Teskeys Are Born at Home

She’s a strong woman with the lanky lean build of a good athlete. In high school she won every sprinting award going and was in turn junior, intermediate and senior champion on field days. Although she has been pregnant a total of seven and a half years she has no trouble getting her figure back. She once said: “The only thing that

bothers me during my pregnancies, outside of the nausea at the beginning, is that my leg gets sore.” When her ninth baby was born she got up the same day to help the younger children go to the bathroom and get ready for bed. “That was a mistake. Next baby I’m going to stay in bed two or three days.”

The last six Teskeys were born in the six-room house on Davisville Avenue. Helen always refuses any anaesthetic because she likes to have something to eat as soon as it’s over.

“But don’t get the idea that it gets easier as you go along,” warned her husband. “The last one took fortyeight hours of labor.”

“That wasn’t the last one; that was the seventh one, Jim,” Helen interrupted.

“We’ve had fifteen-minute babies too,” continued Frank, unabashed. “That was Greg, plays second base now in a semi-pro league. 1’U take a fifteen-minute baby anytime.”

Have any of the Teskeys arrived before the doctor?

“Sure. Once I was the only other person in the room when a baby was born.”

“Twice,” said Helen.

“Twice, was it? Oh yeah, Margot was a ten-minute baby, wasn’t she?”

Frank is fairly vague about names and ages. He once remarked: “Our

Margot is good in school. She’s only a little kid, six or seven or so, but she’s in grade something-or-other. A real student.” Margot is eight and is in grade five.

When the ninth baby was due the score stood at four boys and four girls; the girls wanted another girl and the boys were pulling for a boy. After the delivery the doctor stepped into the dark hall and called: “Okay kids, I know you’re awake. Come and see you new sister!”

The children stumbled into their mother’s bedroom, the girls with smiles of delight and the boys looking a bit grumpy. Frank got them all back in bed after a while, said goodnight to the doctor and made Helen some tea and toast. They were just settling down for a few hours’ sleep when the boys came tiptoeing back. They had been worrying about their poor reception of the baby and wanted a chance to do it over again. “Say, she isn’t bad,” they said to their mother, sheepishly. “She’s kind of cute at that.”

A few months later Ontario Liberal leader Walter Thompson’s daughters gave Frank a puppy to bring home. The boys were elated when it turned out to be male. “Now we’re even!” they shouted.

None of the Teskey children thinks babies emerge from rose bushes. As soon as Frank and Helen know a new baby is on the way the children are told and with great delight they help their mother shop for nighties and diapers.

Potatoes For Bored Kids

The Teskey household never seems to reach the frantic crescendo achieved by most young families just before dinnertime, when the babies are hungry, the younger children are tired and cranky, and the older ones bored. Children who are bored can peel potatoes -fifteen to twenty of them —or feed the babies. Cranky children are sent to their room and ignored until their tempers improve.

The household moves with shaming efficiency. “How do you manage?” exclaim her friends. “Nothing to it,” answers Helen. “We all help.” Most of the children are experienced with a dish towel; an eight-year-old can clean out the washing machine; a seven-year-old can scour the bathroom sink; a three-year-old can fetch the baby’s powder and a clean diaper. The children put their own clothes and toys away, keep their rooms and the bathroom tidy. Helen maintains a gloss on the front living room but feels that keeping the children happy is just as important as housework.

Once on Frank’s insistence she hired Continued on page 84

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Continued /roui page 82 a once-a-week cleaning woman and fired her in disgusta month later. “I’d hang the drapes on the line; to blow, clean down the Venetian blinds, vacuum through the downstairs and put a washing in the machine in the time it took her to clean the bathtub,” said Helen. “1 was paying her to watch me work !”

Like all housewives Helen sometimes has days when she hangs on to her temper by a thread. Someone spills milk on the freshly waxed floor, it rains all day, the children whine, everything she* irons needs to be mended. She never explodes “That would make things worst;” but she goes to bed as soon as the babies are tucked in and leaves the older children to do their homework and put themselves to bed.

Homework is done on the six-foot kitchen table in an atmosphere much like* that of a lightly supervised study hall. ’There is a blackboard there to work out problems and the older children sometimes help the younger ones. Hu I there is no distracting horseplay.

'The laundry is half Helen's housework. She changes the clothes on the younger children twice and sometimes three times a day, keeps the sheets on eight beds clean and fresh. This results in four washdays a week: a

brulc* of a wash on Monday when she starches dozens of dresses and shirts; smaller ones on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. She irons all day Tuesday, once counted one hundred and eightyseven items.

She says meals aren’t much trouble: “A few more potatoes to peel, a few j more vegetables to prepare that’s about all. We don’t use any more pots and pans than a small family.” They average ten dollars a day on groceries, never try to save money on food. “We have raw vegetables, like celery and tomatoes, at every dinner, and plenty of milk and fruit. We save it on doctor’s bills. Last year when we had six children in school they missed a combined total of five days of school through illness.”

The Teskeys have no urge to move out of the city and live on a farm. “Only big trouble with city living is the lack of space,” says E’rank. “The kids get used to the hazards and they enjoy the advantages of a city.” Four of the children last year had paper routes; this year the three oldest are scattered in two different high schools to suit their separate needs; many of them play hockey or baseball in organized leagues.

’The children are kept well dressed and well fed by a combination of good management and hard work. Teskey is a reporter-photographer with the 'Toronto Daily Star and Star Weekly and puts in a fabulous amount of overtime. A few weeks ago he started to work at seven in the morning, came home for his dinner and returned to the office until twenty minutes to seven the following morning. He earns better than five thousand dollars a i year.

His wife manages most of the money and is concerned when she can’t save any. She gets the best cuts of meat, likt* a sirloin tip roast, because there is no waste, and always gets the very best quality snowsuits and shoes. She buys between twenty and t hirty pairs of shoes a year but figures shoes aren’t budget killers. “We spend about seventy dollars a year on each child for clothes.” she estimates. “1 save a lot of money by getting good things that will last.” Often they purchase clothes in a secondhand store downtown.

“And besides that,” adds Frank, “there are people all over the city helping the Teskeys. The shoe-repair

m m knocks himself out fixing our kids’ shoes just because he knows we’re a big family. Jocko Thomas and Howie Anderson at the Star give us shoes their kids have outgrown. The pharmacy and the children’s store where we deal send us gifts when we have a new baby. We get discounts and wholesale prices for some things. All those people will never get any credit, but they’re helping to raise the Teskeys.”

No 'Teskey birthday is ignored (three in February and five in September) but the children have a party only on their sixth birthday. Other times Helen makes a cake and the evening meal is the celebrating time. Christmas gifts are not bought on any definite monetary scale: a three-year-old girl will be starry-eyed over a two-dollar doll and big sister Frances, fourteen, was equally agog last Christmas when she received a thirty-dollar radio. There is also a gift on the tree from Santa for every

child. “Kids will always forgive you for a happy delusion,” Frank comments.

Psychiatrists say the essential factor in raising happy well-balanced children is that they be given a sense of security and a feeling of being wanted. The Teskey children have this in handfuls. The parents haven’t been away from their children in fifteen years. When they have a holiday they pack all the children in their station wagon and take them too. 'They rarely leave their children even for an evening. “When you’re raising a family you can’t do much else,” explains Frank. “We can’t return visits with our friends on a mv-turn-your-turn basis: they have

to come here.” Infrequently the Teskeys step out and hire a sitter but last winter they left the children in the care of their two eldest.

“Rob and Fran started their homework when we left and waited up for us,” Helen said, “We only went a block away to a bowling alley and we phoned once during the evening. We have too many little children to take any chances.”

The Teskeys had their opportunity to raise their family in a small town and rejected it. Both come from Collingwood on Georgian Bay. Helen was an only child, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ulerieh Muller who run the Arlington Hotel in Collingwood. Frank was one of five children of Joseph Teskey, a night engineer in the shipyard, and Anna May 'Teskey. His father died twelve years after a fall in the shipyard that broke most of the major bones in his body.

Although Frank had known Helen in high school he didn’t start dating her until the year he coached her basketball team. “She was a lousy basketball player,” he recalls.

“Was not,” mutters his wife.

“You never scored a point!”

“I was a guard, and besides the coach wasn’t very hot.”

Their first child Frances, a replica of her mother, was born the first year they were married. Frank loves to tell the story of a neighbor who told him then a husband should always buy roses for his wife when she presents him with a child. Frank, a great sentimentalist, promptly purchased Helen a giant bouquet and has done so ever since, usually including a boutonniere for the baby. A few years ago he met his neighbor’s wife on the street.

“Well, Mrs. Wilson,” he said, “I see you’ve had roses six times.”

“Roses?” she said blankly.

“Yes, you know. For your six children.”

She stared. “I’ve never had roses in my life!”

Fifteen months after Frances, Bob was born. Gregory followed exactly a year later and Paul two years later. Though she had four children under school age Helen didn’t feel overworked. “I managed all right,” she says. 'To support his family Frank worked as a Star correspondent in the Collingwood district, put in a twelvehour day as a steamfitter in the shipyard and at night was caretaker of the Bell Telephone building. Saturday nights he clerked in the Arcade. “Had a lot of steam then,” he grins.

When 'Tommy Lytle, now news editor of the Star, offered him forty dollars a week to come to Toronto as a reporter Frank was making four hundred dollars a month in Collingwood. He owned his home there, had four small children. “Well,” said his wife, “you’ve always wanted to work on a city newspaper. This is your chance.” He took it.

They found the six-room house they now live in and rented it for a while. After selling their home in Collingwood they bought the 'Toronto house and had it paid for in five years. It has the conventional floor plan of many narrow city homes, with the living room and dining room joined by a wide archway to one side of the entrance hall and the kitchen at the back of the house.

They’re literally bursting out of their home now. Frank has knocked out the back wall, extended the kitchen and built a small porch which can be glassed in to make a playroom for the smaller children. Upstairs the master bedroom is the smallest and the other two bedrooms are shared by the ten children. 'The boys’ room has two double-deck bunk beds. The Teskeys plan putting their four oldest girls into two three-quarter beds in the girls’ room, with the two cribs in the same room, Frank built five closets in the two rooms with separate cupboards at the top for storing winter clothes and blankets. “We’re crowded but the beds are clean and comfortable,” says Helen. That’s more than some kids get.”

Religion is important to the Teskeys. “It’s background,” explains Frank. “We all say our Rosary every day. It’s like a shot in the arm, pays bigger dividends than International Nickel.’’

He was influenced strongly in his enthusiasm for a large family by an experience he had as a young man in Collingwood. He came upon Howard Smith, one of the town’s more successful citizens, crying bitterly on his front steps one morning. Smith had two children: One died in his teens

and the other had left home that day. “If I had my life to live over again I’d have twelve kids,” he told Teskey. “I thought at the time we couldn’t afford more than two and now it’s too late.”

Say the Teskeys about their children: “As many as come are welcome.” if