I didn’t realize that at some point over the past two years I have moved from cheerful optimism in the face of criticism to mumbled apologizing. It wasn’t an overnight change; it was a subtle shift taking place one interaction at a time.

When we took on three “little kids” at once, we knew we would have both challenges and criticism. We suspected it would be hard work at times. We ventured that there would be social repercussions. Undaunted, we forged ahead.

There is a bit of a “pack” effect when you have three children very close in age. So if one child, for instance, decides to break away and sprint up the aisle after church, the other two exuberantly join him and the three collapse into a giggling dog-pile frenzy in the foyer, usually a couple of feet away from the weary pastor who has just celebrated his fifth and final mass of the weekend. This normally elicits a comment like, “You sure have your hands full,” which is a slightly nicer way of saying, “You should get those kids under control.” Or truthfully, beneath that some are thinking, “You have too many children.”

In the beginning, I would just cheerfully reply, “Yes, we do! Let’s have you over for dinner so you can get to know them better.” Or, “Yes, aren’t they joyful? Where does all that enthusiasm go when we grow up?”

I had not realized that the comments had been wearing on me and that, to some extent, I’d started believing the unspoken criticism. These days, I’m more likely to mumble “sorry” and exit the scene as quickly as possible. I don’t blame the commenters. They can’t know how deflating it is to hear the same thing day after day, especially when I was walking up the aisle on top of the clouds celebrating the fact that I made it through an entire service with two teens and three toddlers and never whispered a single threat.

But it all changed for me at Thanksgiving. I was a little nervous; we had four of our five grandparents here, a baby cousin and his parents who, we’ve only met the kids once, and a few other relatives. I knew it was going to be a wild, crazy, and loud event. What I was not sure about was if everyone else was prepared for it. After nearly everyone else had gone, my Dad (the second of 10 kids) said, “That was so great. It was a truly wonderful day. It made me feel like a kid again.”

That’s when it hit me. We’ve chosen to have a large family. And we chose to create it in a way not everyone is suited for. At times, it’s loud, it’s crazy, it’s messy, it’s unruly– and it’s wonderful.

It’s what I wanted, and it’s perfect the way it is.