It’s hard to remember what life was like before children.
Raising our three boys has taken so much attention and energy that it sometimes feels like Carla and I did not exist as a couple before they came along. The truth is, we dated for eight months before getting engaged, married four months later, and had Barron four years later. We had five whole years together before kids.
Although I honestly cannot remember a monumental conversation in which we concocted our plan for a family, Carla does and recounted it to me in detail. We sat in the driveway of first house after a dinner out and discussed taking the plunge. I do remember quite clearly that our plans after marriage included graduate school and having multiple kids. We had one summer of adjusting to life as husband and wife before starting our plan.
In the late summer of 1997, Carla began traveling from Macon to Lawrenceville two nights a week to attend the University of Georgia’s part-time Master of Social Work degree program. She was working at the Bibb County Department of Family and Children’s Services and knew a master’s degree was the best way to improve her skills and advance her career.
At the time I worked as a reporter at The Macon Telegraph, moving from general assignment features to news in the fall of 1996. I covered business and local government, which meant I frequently attended council meetings and committee hearings at night, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays when Carla was in school. It was a difficult schedule for both of us, and it was made more difficult by the stress of Carla’s two-hour school commute, one way.
About two years into Carla’s degree program, I transitioned to The Telegraph’s bureau in Warner Robins and began covering Robins Air Force Base. I no longer had meetings to cover at night, but I was driving 30 minutes south to Warner Robins while Carla was still commuting to Lawrenceville for classes. Within a year, I was back at the main office, promoted to assistant metro editor and working longer hours, including weekends.
In the first four years of marriage, we did not see each other much, and when we weren’t working, Carla was doing schoolwork. Our intention to delay having kids seemed rational and wasn’t hard to follow through on. We did not have time to have kids at that point in our lives. It proved to be a wise choice. As Carla progressed past the half-way point in her degree, we decided it would be OK to start trying, not knowing how long it would take to get pregnant.
During that stressful time I developed a deep distaste for the phrase “trying to get pregnant,” particularly in polite conversation. Everybody knows what causes pregnancy. Telling anyone “we’re trying to get pregnant” is advertising more about your life than I am comfortable with. Although it took 18 months, Carla and I acknowledge in hindsight that the timing worked out for the best. Her last few months in school were incredibly challenging, and if she had been pregnant on top of juggling work and school, she may have damaged her health and the health of the baby.
Carla finished her master’s degree in May of 2000. By that time, I had transitioned out of journalism to work in public relations for Mercer University. As I submitted my resignation to Telegraph editor Cecil Bentley, he asked if there was anything they could do to keep me or if this was a “lifestyle decision.” I answered truthfully, “It’s a lifestyle decision.”
By the end of the summer of 2000, Carla had earned her master’s degree and was pregnant. Goals 1 and 2, check and check. That fall, Carla was promoted to a manager at DFACS because of her master’s degree, and I started the MBA program at Mercer, taking one prerequisite during the day and one at night. We were working our plan.
Our family expanded in February 2001 with Barron’s arrival, but by the time Carla’s six weeks of maternity leave ended, she was not ready to resume full-time work. She resigned from Bibb County DFACS where she had been working in foster care in-take, an incredibly draining and challenging job, to take on family assessments on a contract basis for one of DFACS’s contracted providers.
Carla bore the brunt of the stress, trying to adjust to a new baby, making appointments with families, and writing the comprehensive assessments. Meanwhile, I was working all day and taking classes two nights a week. It was difficult by any measure.
By the time Barron was two, I was offered an opportunity to leave Mercer and build a media relations program for the Atlanta-based non-profit, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I had been wrestling with a sense of calling to some form of ministry, and at CBF I would be reunited with my former Mercer boss, Ben McDade. Hesitant to uproot our family from Macon, I commuted to Atlanta four days a week for five months before we succumbed to the reality that we would have to move.
We settled in Lilburn in March 2003, found a church home at Parkway Baptist Church in John’s Creek, and enrolled Barron in the Smoke Rise Baptist Weekday Preschool. We put down roots and settled. I traveled five to 10 nights a month for work, and Carla shifted from contract social work to teaching at Barron’s preschool. I was still finishing my degree, but our schedule seemed more manageable.
Having four years between our first and second child was the right amount of time. I finished my MBA in May 2004, and my travel schedule for CBF abated to only half as many nights a month. Harris joined us in May 2005, and we began the adjustment process all over again.
Through it all, we had lots of help from Carla’s parents and our church family. Through the schools and Cub Scouts, we began to feel a part of the Lilburn community, and we at least had access to babysitters, giving Carla and I a night out occasionally.
As we settled into life with two kids, we reached the crossroads of whether to call our family complete with two boys or try for a third child. Being an only child, Carla liked the idea of a large family with siblings interacting and lots of activities to keep us occupied. I grew up in a house with three boys, so that dynamic felt familiar and actually fulfilled a prophecy – or maybe it was meant as a curse – my dad would pronounce us when my brothers and I acted up: “I hope you have three boys, and they keep every light on in your house all the time.”
When Carlton arrived in the fall of 2008, our family felt complete. We had three healthy children, and it seemed greedy to want more. They were four years apart in school, so each one was in a different phase of childhood, keeping us busy and our lives full. We also thought the spacing would help when it came to paying for college one day. We had conversations about what it would be like to have a girl, but as I often said to Carla in those days, “Trying for a girl is how you end up with four boys.”
Looking back, I have no regrets. We made the best decisions we could at the time, and I love each of our boys for their unique personalities, gifts and challenges. We are a complete family, full of activity, laughter and love. Our plans proved sound, and I wouldn’t trade lives with anyone.