The moment is seared in my mind, like parenting moments often are.
It came during a dinner party with three other couples. Two of the couples were still childless, and the other had one child. We were sitting pretty at three kids then.
We landed on the topic of family size and one of the childless guests said, I would never have more than two kids.
I can keep my mouth shut about a lot of things, but never when it comes to my family. And though it wasn't meant to be personal, it certainly felt that way.
Like we were reckless or selfish.
Because he is a person whose opinion I value, and because I was probably tired and overwhelmed by the three young children waiting for me at home, I got defensive and challenged his statement.
One of the kids will always be short on attention, he said, most likely the third.
I will confess, there have been many times over the last seven years, that I've heard his words and felt their truth. She is our hand-me-down kid. Third fiddle to a firstborn daughter and son. She is often too young to do big kid stuff, and too mature to be paired with her baby sister.
She doesn't always get the attention she wants, and I have to work hard at giving it to her.
But I do. Maybe in part, because I was challenged all those years ago to prove we could, but mostly because she deserves it.
In 10-plus years of parenting, I've come to believe the best laid plans are the ones that aren't planned at all. She was conceived the same week my husband lost a parent. It seemed so ill-timed, and yet it was exactly what we needed.
She is the only one of the four kids that has her daddy's bright eyes—his mom's eyes. They brighten when she's scared, or sad, or mad. They light up when she's happy.
And when I look into them, I see how much she's led this family.
Double lines on a plastic stick, meant three kids under the age of four. I was scared. JB was in his final year of graduate school, and would be facing stresses and challenges that would stretch him thin. He was navigating tremendous grief. We had just moved to a town where we didn't have friends.
Adding a third child was a discussion we hadn't begun to have.
But the pregnancy proved to be a beautiful distraction. We filled with hope, and eventually with excitement, too.
And, at the end of my one and only exactly-as-planned birth, when the midwife called out, It's a girl, I felt an indescribable surge of joy and a great sense of peace.
She fearlessly led me to places I didn't know I could go.
The child who made me a mother with more kids than I have arms.
It was hard; so hard.
I floundered and put my marriage through stresses I am not proud of.
But she never gave up on me. She kept leading me.
We made friends, a lot of them. I built our village, because I needed one. She brought me and JB closer together.
She is the one who taught me imperfect is perfect. Maybe I wouldn't have achieved that if we had stopped at two. Maybe we wouldn't have embraced the idea of four, without knowing all we did about the good in three.
That night, over dinner, I felt like I was being judged as a parent. That our choices, even though they were made for us, were questionable. And maybe they were. If I had been more vulnerable, or even confident, I might have confessed that I had my own doubts.
But she has erased them all.
With her shining eyes and feisty spirit, she continues to lead our family.
We can do this, guys, she tells us.
And so we follow.