Molly Coyle is playing Mom to the best of her ability as she and her husband, Tom, raise four girls, ages 8 and younger.
She stays at home, as her mother was able to do. She is the disciplinarian and shares in getting the girls to their many activities. And she knows that, even though she and Tom have to stay in the bedroom each night until the girls fall asleep while being read to, then later some of those girls will slip into their king-size bed, those precious moments will fade quickly.
“They’re not going to want us to be in their bedrooms forever,” she said. “I’ll miss that terribly. And there’s something about our bed … there’s plenty of room. They go right to sleep. I cherish that time, the snuggles, the sweetness.”
Five years ago, the couple had just one girl, Maggie. In their late 40s at the time, they chose the foster parent adoption route to add to the family.
“We built our family both ways, which is kind of nice and special,” Molly said.
Tom, who grew up in a family with one brother, was a bit overwhelmed at first.
“We went from one child to three in three weeks time and a year later to four,” he said. “They’re sweet little things.”
With the foster adoption option, they knew that they might not have the three girls for long.
“You get to know their parents,” Molly said. “You’re rooting for the parents. Even though it would have been painful for us for a child to come into our home and leave again, it would be wonderful to see those parents succeed.
“But unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.”
It’s fortunate for the three girls — Carlee, 5; Jolee, 4; and Arriana, 3 — who have officially been adopted. And Maggie loves it.
“It’s nice to have someone to play with,” Maggie said, as she took a break from a swirling dance in the living room with her sisters. She also enjoys being teacher when they play pretend school.
“I teach them their ABCs and numbers,” said Maggie, whose favorite subject in school is science.
The couple has seen its third-grader in a lot of ways.
“She took on the big sister role immediately,” Molly said. “She has developed empathy and understands that not all babies are born into loving, happy families or situations. It’s been a wonderful life lesson for Maggie.”
And the younger ones are showing signs of individuality, as well.
“(Arriana) has a very strong personality,” Molly said. “(Jolee) is very mild-mannered while (Carlee) is more outgoing. And (Maggie) is more mellow. It’s interesting to see the different personalities.”
The couple got married 11 years ago while building their home in rural Sherrill. Tom did most of the work but got help with things such as the roof and brick work. Now, they are remodeling the basement to handle the growing girls.
“We never dreamed, being older parents, that we’d have four kids to share the house,” Molly said. “We were hoping for one or two at the most.”
Tom works in the IT department at John Deere Dubuque Works. Since he doesn’t spend as much bonding time with the girls as Molly, he takes advantage of the time he gets.
“They have all got him wrapped around their little fingers,” she said with a laugh. “They know if Mom says no, they go to daddy. And they’ll go to the store with daddy and come home with gumball machines.”
“I go to work all day so, yeah, I spoil them sometimes because I don’t get that one-on-one time she gets,” Tom admitted, good-naturedly. “But she likes to go crazy on birthdays and Christmas.”
Three of the girls go to school, but surprisingly, Molly said, mornings usually go like clockwork.
“It’s really not bad because I’m at home and I don’t have to rush to work,” she said. “We have it down to a science.”
Tom said it would be different if he had to try to do it.
“If she was gone, I think they’d notice, and everything would run amok.”
Evenings are more of a challenge. As with most families, the kids are involved in a lot of activities. And, when they are able to have dinner together, it’s the usual scenario.
“We have a couple of kids who are pretty fussy and a couple who are really good eaters,” Molly said. “There are very few things that all of them will eat.”
Sometimes, they help Mom in the kitchen.
“The girls love to bake with me,” Molly said. “They’re at an age now where they can really help.”
“I like to help bake cookies and brownies,” Maggie said.
Discipline is handled with timeouts and a special space on the edge of the living room.
“We have a naughty rug near the front door,” Molly said. “They know where it’s at. As soon as I say ‘naughty rug’ they take themselves over there … sometimes not willingly.
“But they don’t throw tantrums. They go to the grocery store nicely with us. They’re not perfect, but they’re good kids.”
“The younger girls, being so close in age, is nice,” Tom added. “They can relate to each other, through the whole adoption process. They’re almost like triplets.”
Molly treasures being around them.
“My mom was a stay-at-home mom and I always dreamed of that,” she said. “I thought it would be wonderful if I was able to do it. Not every can or wants to.”
She did go back to work for about a year after Maggie was born, at IBM most recently and before that, the University of Dubuque. And when all of the kids are in school full-time, she is considering finding a job in the school system, so that their schedules would mesh.
Looking ahead, the couple is confident, but wary of the future.
“I worry about social media and bullying a lot,” Molly said. “Then come the boyfriends.”
“They’re all going to be teenagers at the same time,” Tom said with a laugh. “Teenage girls, I’ve been told, can be a handful.”
But the parents feel relief through the Me Too Movement.
“It’s putting a lot more awareness on what’s right and wrong,” Tom said. “Kids have a clear understanding now of what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not.”
And they have never looked back in doubt about adopting the daughters, despite initial jitters.
“At first, I hesitated a little bit,” Molly said. “I didn’t know if I could do that — go from one to three. Then I thought, ‘Why not? People have twins all of the time.’ It’s been a learning curve. But we’re very happy we did it.”
Jim Swenson writes for the Telegraph Herald.