I only planned to have one child. I thought I knew everything about parenting. It turns out my eldest daughter was a very easy and cooperative baby.

But 27 months later, my son was born a screamer and remained so for the first year. We had to muffle the noise with cotton balls in our ears. Two children were enough for our family. I love my son, but his infancy was jarring on the senses.

My husband bargained, “I’ll stay home with the kids if I can earn my college degree when they are both in school.” Who could refuse? We even purchased a new vehicle in the advent of commuting to classes. It seats just four.

Everything was going according to plan. With a kindergartener and a preschooler, the coursework began on two days per week. The gradual transition of returning to academia mollified his spirit. The future looked bright, and better yet, predictable.

Then I picked up the flu — the baby flu. A third child? What about our plans? Oh, well, how much trouble could a tiny baby be?

And so we met Abigail. I never knew there were more than two sides to an argument. This child refuses to eat, to sleep and to wear clothing. The frequent refrains around our house are “Don’t be like Veruca Salt (‘I want it now!’) in Willie Wonka” and “Keep your top on, this is not Biker Week.”

I have been planning the celebration for this first day of school for years. I was dreaming of the moment when all three children climb aboard the bus. No more day care! Everyone on the same schedule!

Friends and neighbors asked if I’d cry. Nah, I planned to begin my writing career. I planned to focus on my husband, to speak with him uninterrupted for the first time in 11 years!

I couldn’t wait to pick up my life where I left off more than a decade ago. But I find I’ve missed a lot. In exchange for cellphones, digital music and Facebook, I can recite Disney movies verbatim. And the icing on the cake is that my husband lovingly pointed out my first gray hair on our last family outing.

Well-meaning strangers would advise me, in the throes of raising three young children, to cherish the moments. I would smile as I wiped the spit-up out of my freshly washed hair, thinking, “When will this part of my life be over?”

So here I am, now on the other side; now, the first day of school for the last child has come and gone, and that part of my life is totally over, and I am the one telling strangers to cherish those moments.

It really is a temporary honor to care for young children; clouded by sleep deprivation and slowed down to a tortoise pace with car seats, strollers and diaper bags, the days blurred together.

So there I was for 11 years, counting down the months and weeks. Did I cry on the first day of school when all three children boarded the bus?

You bet I did.

– Special to the Telegram