"Our first concern is his happiness, health and safety." I said this all the time as a new parent - to myself, my husband and my son, Charlie.
I said it over that spot in my belly where they poked the needle to do the amniocentesis I never wanted, to confirm the chromosomal defect I never suspected.
I said it over his incubated and intubated body in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, after he was born at just 30 weeks.
I said it when he came home with a tracheotomy, and in the back pew of church when I flipped on the suction machine that sounded exactly like a tiny motor in a tiny lawn mower. Bowed heads turned discreetly as I waved the suction valve over his fragile neck.
It is only now, six years later, that I realise this motto, this mantra of mine, while true, is not something I can control.
On this night in the wasteland that is after dinner but before bedtime, I watch one twin hit the other on the head with the remote, which flips the television off Nick Jr. and on to some news report on the danger of potholes in winter. The twins scream as if local programming were truly a horror. Or maybe they are actually worried about road conditions. Charlie stiffens and falls backward into my shins. I gently roll us forward, but not before he starts crying too. His cries are the worst... the longest silence before the sounds.
This is my moment. With all three screaming I realise I cannot, in fact, have it all. I cannot keep all of them "happy, healthy and safe" at the same time, or in equal measure.
Happiness for the twins would be chicken tenders followed by a main course of Smarties for the rest of their lives. Would they be happy? Sure. They might miss their teeth after a while and the other four-fifths of the food pyramid that will ensure they grow to normal size and depth.
Total safety for Charlie would be staying home with me rather than going to his preschool where there are flu/strep/cold germs, children who careen off his wheelchair, doors that open too fast, curbs on the playground and teachers who cannot understand what he needs as well as me, his mother and mind-reader.
Even I do not want to spend 24 hours a day with me, so how can I expect him to? He would miss friends and circle time and music time and lunches packed in his train lunch box and yes, there are curbs on the playground, but at least there is a playground.
Parenting is forever and always a give-and-take, a trade-off of one plus for three semi-decent status quos.
I will risk the tears that come from shots at the pediatrician's office if it will keep them a tiny bit healthier this year.
I will encourage them to keep at the physical therapy or gymnastics or soccer even when it is hard, even when it hurts, even when they are not good at it because happiness is not always in the easy things. Hard-fought happiness is good too. Maybe better.