By: Jill Pertler

People who allow themselves to be outnumbered by their children are a different breed. Children, as individuals, can be lovely things. They give you something to do at 2:00 am when you are so bored that you've fallen asleep in your bed. Children are fun. They make you laugh when they clog the toilet with Matchbox cars or when they get sick all over the waiter at the fancy Italian restaurant. They add substance (i.e. laundry) and intangibles (i.e. sleep deprivation) to our lives.

The world would cease to exist without children. Lately I find myself lagging and lacking when it comes to my kids. I'm late to pick one up, forget about another and fail to get the gallon of lemon juice for the middle school science project. I misplace permission slips and activity fees. I cannot put together one much less four pair of matching mittens. Simply put, there are more of them than me, and many days that feels like a lot. So I make excuses. For the most part, people understand. The other day, however, I had a woman tell me that four is not a lot of children. Anyone who makes such a statement has obviously never had a child with an 8:00 hockey game in a town two hours from home, another with a choir concert at 7:30 and math homework that was due yesterday, a third with a piano lesson and soccer banquet (both scheduled for 6:30) and a fourth at home vomiting, mostly into the toilet. I challenge anyone to face these commitments without feeling like four kids is a lot.

Everyone understands that two children are twice as many as one. This is a well-known mathematical fact. What many don't know, however, is that children are exponential. Three children are twice as many as two; four are twice as many as three, and so on.

The way to complete this math equation, scientifically speaking, is to take the number of small warm bodies in your family, multiply by energy level (or number of hours awake each day), exponentiate by age (which is calculated by taking years-old, minus 18 and multiplying by negative one), add in all activities scheduled for a particular 24-hour period, multiply by the square root of pi and finally, divide by number of non-sleeping parents in the house. When you compute the numbers, this makes four children equal to at least eight, and more likely closer to a baker's dozen. (Trust me, I've done the math.) People don't start out with four children. They work up to the exponential truths gradually, like a snowball rolling uphill. In the beginning the situation seems innocent and easy. Two adults pre-parents believe they have what it takes to nurture another living being. Instead of taking the smart route and getting a puppy, kitten or even a bunny, these pre-parents opt for a human child. When a baby enters a household, the adults (now full-fledge parents, without the pretext) do not realize that the sanity of their lives has been compromised. That is because they are still using old math where an integer is an integer and two is always more than one. Plus, they are too busy changing diapers and conducting middle-of-the-night feedings to worry about new math.

Next the unthinkable happens. Most parents in this situation use convoluted logic to determine that two children will be easier than one, and they add to their brood. When you have two children in the house, you will find quite quickly that they can run in different directions, forcing you the parent to choose whom to follow: the child with the permanent markers aimed at the bedroom walls or the child with the scissors aimed at Fido's fur. There is no mathematical tomfoolery in the fact that the combined energy level of two children far surpasses the energy level of two adults. No matter how you figure it, parents with two children have a certified math problem on their hands.

Do we dare approach three the number that on any accountant's books puts parents at a statistical disadvantage? A numerically sound person wouldn't, but there are lots of us non-mathematical daredevil types foolish enough to be outnumbered by our children. Once you are outnumbered, there is no going back; no amount of creative algebraic manipulation is going to restore the sanctity of your life as you knew it BNM (before new math). Perhaps four children may not seem like a lot if you are Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. For the rest of us mortals, one, two, three or more kids can feel astronomical. So, we go into survival mode and learn to ignore the numbers. Oh sure, we count the number of popsicles needed to deliver the children playing in the backyard, the loads of laundry that we do each week or the times we get out of bed each night to retuck the covers, but in the end, we know that the gifts and responsibilities of parenthood have nothing to do with math.

Does two plus two equal four or eight? Does it matter? True miracles know little of the logic of mathematical equations. Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and award winning freelance writer. She appreciates your comments and can be reached at pertmn@qwest.net, or you can check out her website at http://marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/.