Eileen Reilly doesn’t look old enough to have nine grandchildren, but when she gathers the entire clan for Christmas, that’s how many little elves she has waiting for Santa’s presents. But she says she’s always wanted a big family. With seven children, ranging in age from 36-year-old Colleen to Mike, the baby of the family at 22, the Reilly family gatherings are sure to get larger though the years.
Reilly and her husband, Kevin, managed to juggle seven children with their own business and Eileen’s own nursing career. You’ll find her in the emergency room at Maynardville Hospital three or four nights a week.
“The craziness of the ER doesn’t look as bad when you have five kids, three under the age of five, at home,” Reilly said. “And when one of the kids would come in bleeding, it was a lot easier not to panic because I could tell if it was serious or not.”
Reilly always dreamed of being a nurse, and cleaned houses after school when she was a teenager to save up the money for nursing school.
“I’ve always worked at least part-time, except for a couple of years when Maggie and Brianna were born just 11 months apart,” Reilly said. “I still love what I do, and I don’t plan to retire anytime soon.”
Full name: Eileen Catherine O’Meara Reilly
Family: My husband of almost 40 years, Kevin, and our seven children: Colleen, Dan, Bridget, Maggie, Brianna, Katie and Mike. We’re also lucky enough to have five great sons-in-law, Eric, Chris, Gideon, Marshall and Phillip, and nine grandchildren. My parents still live in town, with my sister-in-law, though my nephews moved away after school.
Childhood ambition: I loved the Cherry Ames books and wanted to be a nurse just like her.
Three most important people in life: Kevin, definitely. I can’t single out any of the children, so it would have to be my parents next.
List of three things would take if evacuating: The family photo album, a dish the grandkids painted for me with all their names and handprints on it and the Reilly Construction backup drive with all the files.
What would your last meal be? Something somebody else cooks.
What’s in your iPod? I listen to a lot of Beatles and other oldies, the songs from when I was a teenager. I still have a lot of old children’s records around, too, from when the kids were little. The grandchildren love listening to them.
Dream vacation: We’ve talked about trying to rent a big house down the Cape with enough room for everybody and taking a week off down there, but it’s hard to coordinate schedules.
Idea of hell: Coming off a 12-hour overnight shift to a house full of children with stomach flu and a husband who’s on deadline to finish a job for a client.
Best advice you ever got: I’m going to say the same thing Dan said when you interviewed him: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We tried to raise the children to live by that, and I hope we succeeded.
Fun Friday night plans: Once or twice a month we have some of the grandchildren spend the night so the kids can have a date night. It’s fun to have the house full of kids again, and even more fun to give them back the next day.
Ideal date: I love music, so Kevin and I will go over to the college or into Worcester to listen to a band. Our son-in-law Chris is a jazz musician, so we often go watch him play.
Favorite sport? I used to play basketball — I still remember when they got rid of “women’s rules” — but watching the NBA these days hardly seems like the same game. Like the rest of the family, I won’t miss a Sox game if I can help it.
Hobbies/activities: Now that I have more free time with all the kids grown, I’ve started playing piano again.
Favorite season: Winter. It’s always a quieter season for Kevin, and there’s nothing like hot chocolate by the fire.
One thing you would tell your 13-year-old self: You learn what kind of person you are when you’re backed into a corner — make sure it’s somebody you can be proud of.
Favorite quote: “Children are likely to Iive up to what you believe of them.” Lady Bird Johnson.
Person you’d love to have dinner with: I wish I could go back and have one last dinner with my brother Billy, who was killed 20 years ago.
Coffee or tea: Tea. I couldn’t drink coffee when I was pregnant or nursing, so I finally gave up and switched to tea.
Beer or wine: I like a nice glass of wine with dinner
Righty or lefty: Lefty.
Introvert or extrovert: I’m an extrovert, but a quiet one.
Beach or mountains: Beach. I love the ocean.
— CJ Jenkins