My future sister-in-law, Jill and her husband Doug, wake up at 4:30 a.m. on a regular basis. For most of us, that hour is considered the middle of the night, but for them, that is the hour when one or more of their children start the day.

During our weekend visit, the BIL and I usually didn’t make our way upstairs earlier than about 8 a.m. Considering when the rest of the house had woken up; I was surprised they weren’t sitting at the table ready to eat lunch. Instead Jill was in the kitchen making her brother and myself a breakfast of eggs and fruit and ensuring us that the coffee was brewing.

When it comes to juggling life with smiles on their faces, Jill and Doug are master ringleaders of their circus.

The BIL and I haven’t started our circus yet. As a newly engaged couple, we still live a pretty selfish life. Most mornings our biggest decision revolves around paddle boarding or sleeping in an extra hour. We both know we want to have children and we both are confident in our parenting skills. However, fantasizing about a life with children and the reality of having children are worlds apart.

I have been around children long enough to know that minute-by-minute they can throw you for a loop. One minute they are giggling and cuddly and the next minute they are arching their backs and screaming. In a single day a child can have more mood swings than a person who is bi-polar. Nothing lasts. By the time a parent figures out how to stop their children from sucking their thumb, the child has moved on to picking their nose. By the time they have bought every book on how to pottery train, the child is already picking out their underwear. It can be fascinating, frustrating, exhilarating and exhausting all in the same minute. Some parents get it and roll with it and others find it too challenging to handle.

Jill and Doug are parents who get it. This doesn’t mean they are perfect and have all the answers every minute of the day, but it means that when they are thrown for a loop, they try their best and they cut each other some slack when needed.

During the weekend we biked and hiked and played tag and even got some time to windsurf and paddleboard. Every outing included all of the children and sometimes all of them started and finished the activity and sometimes they finished before they even started. However, during those single activities their were dozens of up and down moments and moods that allowed us to learn that a perfect day or a perfect life, isn’t about what we expect, but it’s often what we didn’t expect.

One day, if we are lucky, the BIL and I will be the ringmasters of our own circus and our mornings will start before the sun comes up and our evenings will end with bedtime stories. However, for now I will let the sun wake us up and let the surf decide if I will take the boards out or pull the covers back over our head, besides like the BIL ensured, “Don’t worry honey when we have kids they won’t wake up until 7 a.m.”

Yup, like I said, the difference between reality and fantasy is worlds apart. Come to think of it, I bet our kids will also come out potty trained.