Why would anybody want to have a kid, anyway?

We're all intelligent these days. We want the better things in life, and kids get in the way. Who needs diapers and whining, fights and curfews. I'm living for me.

That kind of thinking came back to me recently when Mary Ann and I took down our baby bed for the last time. It had been 10 years since I bought it from a hospital that was cleaning out old cribs from its pediatrics department. We sanded it down, painted it sturdy metal bars a bright yellow, and set it up in the spare room of our trailer.

A decade later, after having borne our four daughters in three homes and two states, the bed was finally ready to move on to another family, its work for the Pennings finished.

Four daughters! How on earth did we get four daughters?

Did we order them?

Not exactly. I didn't even think I liked kids when I was dating Mary Ann in high school.

By 1970 we'd been married two years. It was springtime. There was turmoil in the world, and we wanted to serve others through VISTA, the federal government's domestic volunteer program. After weeks of waiting, we finally received the telegram telling us we'd been accepted and giving us our assignment. It was all set, until Marni decided to enter our world.

Ruined our lives? No.

Neither did Rebecca, in 1972, Lisa in 1976, or Anna in 1979.

So after 12 years of marriage the two of us have become six.

Oh, we've had difficult times, and I'm not saying, of course, that parenthood is for everyone. But I know it is for me. I like being gang-tackled by four daughters. I like watching them learn. I like looking into their eyes and seeing a woman in there, just waiting to come out. I enjoy the challenge of growing with them as we come to know each other as separate individuals.

Sometimes the responsibility is overwhelming. Especially when I've done a terrible job at being a father, and I'm feeling insecure. But we're -- obviously -- all they've got and that power sometimes can be frightening.

After we'd loaded their crib into the car for its trip to a new home. Mary Ann burst into tears. A chapter in our lives had come to a close. I went to the family room and told the girls what was happening.

But the impact, clearly, was on us , not them.

They each were complete strangers when the arrived to lie in that old bed. The giggled and yelled and schemed and became -- right in front of us -- people we knew. Before long, they'll be gone, like the bed. On their own.

Supose we had said no. Supose we had said we don't want any children. What would our lives have been? More possessions, more freedom, more order, no doubt. And a hugh empty hole where our four daughters -- a family -- should have been.