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I was recently gratified to learn of a survey of American mothers concluding that three is the most stressful number of children for a woman to have. Discovering this pleased me since my husband and I have three young kids, twin 6-year-olds and a 2-year-old, and we often feel harried by the relentlessness of parenting them. After reading the stories—to which, incidentally, several friends and my brother sent me links—I realized we were not alone in sensing that we were outnumbered and overwhelmed.

But I still couldn’t believe that, as “The Huffington Post” cited, stress levels seemed to decrease as the “number of children increased.” So when my brother offered to travel from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to visit us over Memorial Day weekend with one of his own three kids, I immediately accepted, not only because we wanted to see them, but also because I hoped to test the theory that four may actually be more harmonious than three.

My results may have been somewhat skewed, however, since my nephew arrived with his own adult in tow. But actually, I was occasionally tempted to count my younger brother, now himself in middle age, as yet another kid. For one thing, he kept losing his water bottle and cell phone. He chewed little caffeinated packets of ground-up coffee beans when he felt his energy start to lag. I think he enjoyed cracking the TNT Pop-Its I bought our children more than the kids, themselves, did. My brother confessed that he and some buddies gorge themselves one night a week on a recorded lineup of reality TV shows. And he even texted me the following picture of the most recent “Bachelor” and his chosen one, who apparently took the same West-to-East Coast flight——and expected me to recognize them.

I should divulge, however, that I’m no stranger to reality TV myself, being fond in particular ofBravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise. Plus, my brother played endless games of soccer and baseball with my son, listened to my daughters’ stories, answered approximately 1,387 of my children's questions—and bathed, fed and tended to the needs of his own son while here. These visitors from balmier climes supplied novelty and entertainment, so our kids pestered me and my husband much less fervently than normal.

The four children did somehow get ahold of several sheets of bubble wrap. That was a little annoying. The house was also a mess all weekend. But then again, it pretty much always looks like a cyclone hit it, and I found it liberating to have even less incentive to make myself or anyone else tidy up.

The lowest point of the entire visit might have been when the kids were furiously pedaling bicycles around our driveway, and my son started crying, “They won’t let me be in the pit crew!”

Also, my 4-year-old nephew kept asking to see the Liberty Bell.

“Maybe next time you come?” I offered.

“I’ve never even seen it,” my son said. “I think it’s broken or something.”

But I got to enjoy my nephew's dimple, listen to the scamper of his feet, and hear his little voice tangled up in conversation with those of my children. And after touring our local parks and running around with his cousins, my brother's son floated peacefully into slumber at night—much more easily than my own three kids did.

“You need to go to sleep now so you can play with your cousin on his last day tomorrow,” I told our 2-year-old, tucking her in for the fifth time last night.

“I’m going to miss him,” Jane lamented. “I want to go to California.”

“Me too,” I said.

And pulling her door closed, I wondered what we were going to do when my brother and nephew headed home to L.A., and we returned to everyday life—and the lonesomeness of just three kids.


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