Jodie Hughes married her high school sweetheart, Jimmy. They planned a future without children; they would buy a Porsche at 40 and retire at 45. For 11 years, Mrs. Hughes worked as a manager of respiratory hyperbarics at Doctors Hospital, a job that she loved.
After a vacation in 1994, that changed. Mrs. Hughes wanted a child.
"I was adamant that I never would have them. Then, I came back off that cruise and said I want a baby," she said. "So for two years, we went back and forth. Jimmy says for six months we didn't talk at all because it was such an argument."
Finally, the Hughes agreed and Jake was born.
Mrs. Hughes continued to work for a few months, balancing work and day care. One morning she dropped off a cranky Jake. That afternoon when she returned to pick him up, the teacher informed Mrs. Hughes that Jake was cutting his first tooth. Mrs. Hughes vowed not to miss another milestone in her young son's life, and she left her job.
"That thing with his tooth really got to me," she said. "It just seemed that I was doing what was best for me at that point and not what was best for him."
Mr. and Mrs. Hughes agreed to have one more child.
"If I'm not pregnant by the time I turn 30, then that's it," she told him.
Two weeks before her 30th birthday in 1998, Mrs. Hughes discovered she was pregnant.
She wouldn't find out it was with triplets until December.
Mr. Hughes works days at Garrett Aviation while Mrs. Hughes spends her days juggling 3-year-olds Rachel, Hanna and Abby and 5-year-old Jake, although as the older brother, Jake helps out a lot.
"And I couldn't do any of this without my wonderful husband," Mrs. Hughes said. "There are days when I will tell you I'd love to have another night's sleep, but there are no regrets.
"And I wish we had started sooner. I wish I wasn't hitting on 34 and fighting with 3-year-olds. But then again, if I'd had them younger, I may not have appreciated things like I do now. A walk down to see the horses wouldn't have meant what it does to me now. Their faces just light up and they're thrilled."
AT 7 A.M. IT'S TIME TO wake up. On this particular day, all four children have pink eye and no one slept well.
Cheese toast is breakfast. The girls are all in booster seats and Jake is helping Mom.
After breakfast, Mrs. Hughes gets everyone dressed. The girls are in matching but not identical outfits.
"For months, Hannah had a red toenail, until we could tell them apart," Mrs. Hughes said.
They play on the living room floor. "Tickle monster" seems to be the favorite game.
Then, Mrs. Hughes gathers all her little ducks into her lap and reads to them. Winnie the Pooh and Adventure of Little Bear keep the girls' attention for about half an hour.
Then the whole troop heads outside to swing and ride bikes.
Despite Mrs. Hughes' protests, Jake ends up in the pool - clothes and all. It takes less than a second for his sisters to grab swim noodles and follow suit.
"This is how you keep from going nuts - you laugh," she said, surrendering to the giggles of her children. "I knew when we went through that gate that somebody was going to end up in that pool. But what do you do? You get upset or you get over it. Why bother? It didn't hurt anybody, they had fun and it made me laugh. And to me the best sound - and there's a lot of noise in this house - is to hear one of them giggling."
AT 11:30 A.M., everyone is hungry again. Mrs. Hughes announces lunch will be at the family's favorite spot: Monterey Mexican Restaurant.
Mrs. Hughes buckles three car seats and Jake's seat belt in the full-size van and they are off.
The restaurant staff smiles when they see the Hughes. One server picks up little Abby and hugs her.
Lunch is noisy, each child trying to be heard over his or her siblings. Mrs. Hughes divides burritos and chips five ways.
"That lady over there is just staring," she said. "That happens a lot."
At the register, others comment or ask about the children.
"We don't go places where we feel our kids aren't welcome," Mrs. Hughes explained once back in the van. "Before, we would have gone anywhere we wanted to go and did whatever we wanted to do. But now everything we do we make a family affair."
Including nap time.
The routine is to pop in a video and the kids drift off while it's playing.
Today sleep is slow coming. Finally, Mrs. Hughes sneaks out of the bedroom to get some housework done while they nap.
Emptying the dishwasher, folding clothes and mopping the kitchen floor are on the list.
"Since I found out it was triplets, my prayer every day has been to give me strength and the knowledge and the will I need to get through it," she said as she emptied the dishwasher. "There are days now that I say, 'Oh, (working) was so much easier.' But the reward is nothing."
At home, Mrs. Hughes finds constant rewards in her day.
"Even little things like when they walk in here in my high heel shoes, you know the closet is a wreck 'cause they have been in there digging through it, but it just looks so cute," she said.
"Before, those goals were so materialistic that it was unreal. They were us then ... but they were materialistic."
The Mom: Jodie Hughes, 33, stay-at-home mother of four: Rachel, 3; Hanna, 3; Abby, 3; and Jake, 5
Three words that describe motherhood: Unselfishness, Love and Reward
Biggest blessing: "At night, when they're all piled in that bed like a pile of puppies, and in the morning when they just want you to hold them - that part is neat."
Biggest sacrifice: "Going to the dentist last week with three of them. That was probably the hardest thing we've done in a while."
Reach Lisa M. Lohr at (706) 823-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org