(Written in early 2008)

When my husband Sean and I had only one child, I thought I had a handle on parenting. I needed to adapt and bend and give up some of my independence, but not too much. I was absolutely on top of Chris’ appearance, and he never wore dirty, stained, or soiled clothes. Chris was very “portable,” and we toted him with us wherever we went. When something needed to get done, we calmly set out to do it and got it done. I knew things would get harder as we had more children, but I wasn’t worried; I was pretty good at this.

Briana arrived next. She was an angel of a baby, waking only to gurgle and coo, and putting herself back to sleep. I had gained less weight during that pregnancy, so I was back in shape in no time. If I could ace it with two, I reasoned, I could handle anything. I was at the top of my game.

Enter Zoey. Exit all parenting confidence. It’s not that Zoey was difficult on her own, but suddenly “spontaneous” meant 45 minutes later. I often had kids crying in three different parts of the house. Doing anything as a family required the painstaking planning and execution of a mission to the moon. We began hearing comments like, “Just watching you wears me out!” But babies aren’t babies forever (before you can brace yourself, they’re toddlers!), and we learned to work with it. We learned that we didn’t have to be perfect. Neither did our kids.

At this point I think I started to better understand that being a mother goes far beyond giving birth and caring for my children physically; it means living my life through my children—not by imposing my ideas and dreams on them, but by rejoicing at and taking pride in their triumphs. Everywhere we went, people would tell us, “Enjoy them while you have them. They will grow up so quickly!” That truth started to sink in.

Four kids. Emily is every bit as special as her brother and sisters. Spontaneous now means at least an hour. We still have to plan everything, of course, but we only plan one activity a day, max. We have lots of play clothes and just a few “special” clothes. Once when Zoey got blue marker on Chris’ shirt just as we were finally ready to go out, I found myself thinking, Well, at least it’s on a blue shirt. It almost matches. We are a spectacle, but a happy spectacle that people seem to enjoy watching.

I’m continuing to learn about love in ways that are slowly changing the most stubborn parts of my nature. Each child and each day reshape me a little more, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s fun to be a family!