“Yes, you can play with Play-Doh,” Katie Potter said as she answered the phone.
That’s not Katie’s standard phone greeting. She was talking to Maggie, her 3-year-old, who attends pre-K at the Shelter Island Early Childhood Learning Center.
Maggie is the fourth in a lineup of Potter kids, including Lily, 9, Alice, 7, and Sam, 5. When Katie and her husband, Dr. Josh Potter, were married 10 years ago, they knew they wanted a big family.
“We had already been best friends for years so he knew I wanted a big family and was on board,” she said. “I grew up as an only child because my brothers were so much older. I thought 12 or 13 kids would be ideal.”
The couple moved to Shelter Island three years ago so Josh could complete his residency at Southampton Hospital.
Prior to the Island, the family lived in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas, the result of Josh’s transition from a career as an English professor into medicine.
“This is the longest we’ve lived in one place since we’ve been married,” Katie said. For the young couple, a handful of moves and a new career wasn’t a reason to hold off on having kids. They decided to have as many as they wanted as quickly as possible.
“When we were done, we were going to be done,” she recalled. “We figured that when changing diapers and pushing strollers were over, it’d really be over.”
And now with Maggie potty-trained and all four kids in school, that time has come for the Potters.
For the first time in 10 years, there’s no stroller in the car, no kids in diapers. “It’s happy, it’s sad, it’s all of the emotions at one time,” Katie said.
With Maggie in school, Ms. Potter has three hours to herself a day for the first time in years and, she admits, it’s strange to have time to focus on herself instead of the children.
For the Potters, the transition from newlyweds to a family of six didn’t come without challenges, with a few years of difficulty getting and staying pregnant. Katie said that between the post-partum hormones she didn’t expect and the increased concern resulting from the pregnancies, she was extremely anxious when Lily was born. The new parents took shifts sleeping so one could watch her at all times.
Naturally, her confidence grew with each child.
“With your first, you’re calling Poison Control every time they chew on a leaf,” she joked. “Then four kids later you watch them eat dirt and think: ‘Do I still have to give her dinner?’”
Four kids later, Katie says what still shocks her the most is each child’s individuality. “Other than being human, they have nothing else in common,” she said.
“Each one I parent differently and as an individual. With each kid there’s different struggles and adventures.”
What do the Potters have planned for Mother’s Day on Sunday?
No big celebration is in the works, she said. “They usually make me breakfast and there’s a few packages wrapped in brown napkins from the art room at school waiting on the mantle,” she laughed. “If I’m lucky,
I’ll get to go to the bathroom without little fingers poking out from under the door.”
Katie admitted that a few minutes alone now and then — whether it’s a minute to text a friend or closing a door to read a book — is needed in the life of a mother.
Although she said she knows some mothers feel guilty for needing a break, “It’s important to take care of yourself while taking care of everyone else,” she said.