We have four kids.
I really never thought that such a sentence would refer to me. As a child, I knew I wanted to be both a mom and a writer. I fancied myself growing into a popular children’s book author, and I think my ten-year-old self might be disappointed to know that I’m well into my thirties with no Newberry in sight. I remember as a child, riding my bike with my doll in my front basket, planning how I could effectively be both a mom and a writer. I liked that my own mother stayed home with me as a child, and wanted to do the same, but didn’t want to “lose” too much time away from what I imagined as a phenomenally prolific writing career. My plan was twins. I would get my writing career established before having children, then I would have twin girls. Twins, unlike singleton births, would allow me to have two babies simultaneously, thus saving time waiting for two children to get through babyhood and the preschool years. I know this sounds like an unlikely thought for a child to have, but I spent a lot of time riding my bike and planning my future. I really thought it was an outstanding approach to being a working mom. My twins would have blond hair and I would dress them alike.
While my plan faded over time as I matured and began to understand that not everything in life can be so carefully strategized, I have to admit that I am still somewhat surprised to be the parent of four.
“T,” the foster child we had for over a year before we adopted our daughter Jamie, was removed from her father’s home. She is in foster care once again, and was placed with us last Friday. While “T” is ours only as a foster daughter, not an adoptive one (or even a pre-adoptive one), her presence in our home makes us parents of four.
There are plenty of jokes about big Catholic families, and while four children is still on the “small” side of a big family, four has ratcheted the intensity of our family life up a notch or two.
Four children mean that there is rarely a moment in the day when we’re not attending to someone’s needs. Three-year-old Jamie calls for a wipe in the bathroom; four-year-old T needs someone to open her granola bar; eight-year-old Liam is hoping that Dad will read him his spelling words and 11-year-old Jacob wants to tell us a story about recess. The little girls’ needs seem so acute and immediate that it’s easy to give them precedence over the older boys’ needs, which are more easily shelved. Liam, after all, will not start to scream if we don’t get on those spelling words right away, whereas Jamie — still in the bathroom — will. Yet, if we don’t get to Liam and his words, the risk is that he will drift away from the words towards the basketball hoop outside, and by the time we notice this, and are ready to read him his words, we have set ourselves up for an argument. And just because Jacob, a quiet kid, a rule-follower, and a generally helpful fellow, will not complain when we say we don’t have time for his story about recess right now, doesn’t mean we should take advantage of that.
Just a week into my experience as mother of four, I do understand it will probably only get easier from here. T, new to our home, needs our supervision just about every moment so she can learn our rules and blend into our family. And Jamie and Liam, on either side of T in age, will not need as much reassurance of their place in the family and in their parents’ hearts, as time goes on.
But even when things get a little easier, four children is still twice as many kids as grown-ups. Eleven years into parenting, I feel like I am once again learning to how to manage my family. From experience, I know that every addition to the family requires a shifting of time and priorities until the right rhythm is found. Baby Jacob shook my world, yet now, I look at just having one baby around the house as something that would be incredibly easy. Each subsequent child pushed me to redefine how I used my time—how I balanced that child’s needs with what Bill and I needed in our marriage and with what I needed to remain a person in my own right, beyond being a mother. “T” is still so new to our family that the needs of our children are still trumping everything. Bill and I remarked that even at night, all we’re dreaming about is one child or another in a crisis.
Yet as crazy as my life is right now, with overflowing hampers and toys scattered everywhere, I wouldn’t trade this family of mine— two lanky boys, two big-eyed girls — for those mythical easy twins who would have allowed a smoother and more literary life. My life is not how I imagined it as a wondering ten-year-old. I’ve written fewer pages than I would have thought. But I’ve given more hugs. Maybe the Newberry will wait for me, and maybe it will go the way of the blond-haired twins—a fantastic dream of a little girl on a bike. Time will tell. But right now, my life is bursting with life itself. I’m a mother of four and I’m still getting used to that. And somewhere within me, the little girl on the bike is watching in awe.