There's a strange phenomenon that happens when you tell people you are having your fourth child. They look at you differently — they sort of cock their heads as if they perhaps didn't hear you correctly, and their eyes go wide.
Then, inevitably, people ask you if you are having any more children, even if you haven't actually given birth to said fourth child yet. Why would they think to ask you that? My theory is that when they realize you are having your fourth, they decide you are definitely out of your mind — so then the only question left is, Exactly how crazy are you?
Siri and Carson Daly are likely getting these questions right now: The couple announced they're expecting their fourth child this spring.
I mean, I can't really blame people for having questions. In case you, like the Dalys, are considering joining me in the Four Kid Club — my children are now 17, 15, 12, and 7 — here's some things I wish I had known about having four children before I bought a permanent membership card.
1. You have to lower your standards. No, lower than that. Keep going.
The research says that the most stressful number of children to have is three, because parents of three still try to maintain their practices and routines as if they only have two, but they're outnumbered. Four children is actually less stressful, the experts say, because when you have four, you call the game: You cannot physically be everywhere for everyone; you cannot possibly fulfill everyone's needs at once. You have to accept the fact that there are twice as many children as there are parents, and you lower your expectations accordingly.
Here's the thing: Yes, sometimes it bothers me that I cannot go on every field trip or class party. There was also a very awkward moment when my fifth grader's elementary school graduation was at the exact same time and day as my kindergartner's graduation down the street, and the kindergarten parents were shocked and appalled that we chose to skip kindy graduation altogether in favor of having the entire family represented at the other ceremony instead. We were OK with the decision, though. We were pretty confident the kindergartner would graduate from other grades and have other ceremonies, and we accepted the fact that dividing and conquering would be inappropriate in that situation. Four kids teaches you those lessons.
2. Four kids is really, really expensive. Really.
When we decided to have our fourth child, we were not naive to how much they cost — after all, we already had three of them eating us out of house and home. But while we had the discussions about how we would possibly pay for college or if our house was big enough to shelter them all, there were costs I did not factor into the equation. When you have a fourth child, you're not just committing to four beds and four portions at every meal or even four college tuitions. There are also four mouths that might need braces, four pairs of feet that outgrow their shoes at alarming rates, four sets of school fundraisers at any given moment. There are four people who might play youth sports (in which case, you might just open a vein and let the world drain you of all your lifeblood now), four potential music instruments, four camp tuitions. And they eat so much. Even a casual fast food lunch costs more than I can believe, and a Stouffer's Family Size frozen meal won't cut it anymore; we have graduated to Party Size. My family is officially Party Size, y'all.
3. You don't fit anywhere.
America is not made for a family of six people. Four? Absolutely. Five? Tight squeeze, but usually, yes. But six people in one family? That is just crazy talk here. When we (very rarely — see above re: cost) travel by plane, we take up both sides of a plane aisle. When we need a car, UberXL it is. We rarely fit into one restaurant booth. When we need to stay in a hotel, we need two rooms... because six people in one room is a fire hazard. It takes strategic planning that sometimes is above my pay grade, I can't lie.
Also, it would have been good to know ahead of time that sometimes, four kids don't fit into my brain. I have had to forgive myself for all sorts of parenting transgressions... perhaps the worst of which was when we accidentally left child #3 in a Savannah, Georgia, hotel lobby, pulled out of the parking lot, and were already driving toward the highway when we realized that the din in the back of the minivan was a little less ridiculous than usual. When you have left a child somewhere, "Home Alone"-style, that's when you know you have enough offspring.
4. Your family becomes its own gang, and it's awesome.
So yes, we have lost kids in public places. We will likely never vacation in Europe as a family. The laundry is a mountain I will, in fact, one day die climbing. But at the same time, I love the chaos. I love the rollercoaster. I love that when two of the kids can't stand each other, they can each still find another sibling they can stand at that moment if they need support. I love that holidays are big and loud. I love that we are a walking party. This is the definition of abundance: Four small humans in progress to love and grow older with, four sets of eyes and four smiles in various stages of orthodonture. Four sets of arms to hug, eight hands to hold. I wish I had known that it would be hard and expensive and loud and logistically a nightmare, and that none of that would matter, because four kids are exactly the right amount for our family. I might run out of space in my brain, but I never run out of space in my heart.
And I'm pretty sure the fourth kid is the one who will take care of us in our old age (thanks in advance, Lucy!), so we might be geniuses for having her, when all is said and done. Glad we invited her to the party.