It takes Abigail Ionce 30 seconds to list the names of her siblings. It’s not that she has trouble remembering any of them. Quite the contrary. Instead, she patiently says them in order from oldest to youngest: Ioana, Alexandra, Anca, Adrian, Raluca, Alex, Lidia, Timothy, Sefora, Oti, Mariam, Simion, David, Aaron, Naomi, Filip and Paula.
Abigail is the youngest of 18 children born to Alexandru and Lidia Ionce, Romanian immigrants who came to Canada 1990—moving into a seven-bedroom home in Abbotsford, B.C. “When she was born, there were 16 of us in the house,” says Sefora, 11 years Abigail’s senior. And with only two bathrooms between all of them, “you learn patience and you learn to get in, get out,” Sefora laughs.
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There are plenty of benefits to having so many older siblings. Abigail says she really enjoys bike rides with them or playing board games. (She counts Monopoly among her favourites.) Abigail is also active in church, where she sings and plays guitar—a skill she picked up two years ago from watching her older sisters and studying their fingers.
Abigail has a youthful confidence about her, and she’s not afraid to make her voice known. Perhaps it’s a by-product of being the youngest, Sefora says. “To find her spot amongst us, she has to be pretty loud.” As for the hardest part of being in such a big family, Abigail says it’s “listening to everybody.”
The Ionce household only has 10 kids now living at home, though Abigail still shares a room with one of her sisters. Some of her siblings are away for university, while others are married. Fortunately, one of Abigail’s older brothers lives close by and has kids of his own. When she sees her baby nephew, she insists on being the first to hold him.
But she’s not projecting a desire for a baby brother or sister. “I’m happy being the youngest,” she says. — Aaron Hutchins
(Portrait by Jimmy Jeong)