On a sunny Sunday afternoon, a visitor to the five-bedroom Silver home in Chevy Chase is greeted at the front door by 10-year-old Peyton, who is wearing both an infectious grin and gigantic, inflatable bright red down shoes on her feet. Before long, several more inquisitive children appear and stand in the front hall eyeing the guest. Peyton bellows, “Mom! Mom!” and in a few moments, Wendy appears, a youthful, attractive woman with short blond hair and the calm, soothing demeanor of say, a yoga instructor, combined with the unflappability of a circus ringmaster. Judging by her appearance, Wendy has taken her mother’s advice to heart: “It’s OK to have eight children; it’s not OK to look like you have eight children.” Wendy’s mother, who lives at a safe distance in Florida, is said by her daughter to prefer her own life to be ordered and regimented. “She can only take one or two hours with us,” Wendy admits.
We move into the family room, where the children assemble, tumbling about us on the couch as if they were a litter of adorable puppies, with the exception of the two oldest girls, Ashley and Carly, who perch demurely on the coffee table, at a slight remove from the tumult.
Steven says firstborn Ashley was their “gold standard.” He says he and Wendy are fond of telling her, “If you hadn’t been so wonderful, we wouldn’t have had more.”
So in this day and age, why would anyone choose to have eight children in quick succession? No religious dictates were the impetus for their big family. The Silvers are not adherent Catholics, Orthodox Jews or Mormons. But Wendy loves being pregnant (always easy with quick deliveries) and had the four youngest children after she turned 40. “I had to cram them in—it was a desperate race [against the clock],” she says.
Overhearing the question about the number of children, impish Peyton quickly replies, “Because we’re super-duper!”
But underlying the good-natured joking is a melancholy story. When Wendy was 19 and living at home in Florida, her two brothers, David, 23, and Ionny, 26, were on a scuba diving trip in Mexico. Tragically, Ionny drowned and the family never recovered from the loss. “There was a lot of silence in my house for a long time. I could feel the weight of that silence—it was like a brick bearing down on me. I never wanted that silence again,” Wendy explains.
With baby Brooke squirming gleefully in her arms, Wendy says, “I am well aware of how lucky I am to have all these healthy children, of what a gift it is.”
Steven, on the other hand, had pictured something different: His original master plan included two children in an apartment in his native New York City. An officer in a commercial financing company with offices in Chevy Chase, he tells this tale with a shake of his head, but his obvious delight in his household is clearly evident. “You plan, and God laughs,” Steven says, adding “I’m done planning.”
When people learn of his eight children, their curiosity frequently prompts this question: “How many wives?” The answer, “just one,” often elicits what Steven calls a “better-you-than-me kind of attitude,” from the questioner, he says.
“Kids are just more interesting than adults—there is no filter on what they say. I prefer kids to adults,” Steven adds.
Steven has learned over the years to roll with the punches, including the children’s incalculable number of stitches (Wendy has a list of pediatric plastic surgeons on her Rolodex just in case), a few clunked heads and one broken nose. Nearly four years ago, though, a real family crisis occurred when Tory, who will be 7 in February, was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor, a cancerous growth that required immediate surgery and the removal of a kidney, followed by chemotherapy and radiation at Children’s Hospital.