Eight is enough.
It's enough children for Travis and Stacy Cecil. And, for Travis, eight months was long enough - maybe too long - to be in Iraq while his wife was pregnant.
So when the Army reservist received word that he was being granted emergency leave from his deployment in the Anbar province to join Stacy for the birth of their daughter, Travis couldn't get home fast enough.
"The whole time you're like, 'Let's go, let's go, let's refuel and let's go because I've got somewhere to be, I've got family to go to,'" said Travis, 31.
He returned to the United States on April 15, an agonizing week after he heard he would be coming home. Three weeks later, on April 27, Stacy, 41, gave birth to a daughter they named Freedom Rayne. She was born three weeks premature and is wrapped in a pink blanket because she has trouble retaining body heat.
Freedom, you see, is a generations-long theme for the Cecil family - Navy, Army, parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts. Travis counts the generations on his fingers. And rain, well, it just rained all the time (they changed the spelling, however).
After Stacy visited her husband at Fort Bragg, N.C., prior to his deployment to Iraq in September, it rained in Lawrence. It rained as Travis prepared to leave for the Middle East. When he came home for the first time, it rained, and again when he left. It even rained when they drove to the hospital April 27.
"Rain has been a big thing," Travis said. The name "just sort of fit. We knew of one child named Freedom, and we liked the name."
Things are normal for now. At least as normal as they can be with five children under age 6 running around. The Cecils keep busy with their six children who live with them, including two sets of twins: Brianna and Catherine, 5, Gwendolyn and Braeden, 2, and, of course, the newest addition to the family, Freedom. Stacy has one son, Cody, 15, from a previous marriage. Daughters Steffany, 21, and Tamara, 23, round out the family.
But normal for the Cecils is a comparative term. When you enter their home, your eyes are immediately drawn to a large, pink bassinet that sits adjacent to the kitchen. And then there's the strange dichotomy that populates the floor: Toys, loads of toys - trucks, books, dolls - that sit next to Travis' Army gear. His patterned boonie cap. An olive-drab rucksack. His camouflage backpack, fresh from duty in Iraq.
A specialist in the Army Reserve, Travis is part of a psychological operations unit, serving in the western Anbar province, which includes the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. There will be a time to talk about the war, he says, but not now. He's just glad to be home.
A father's 'privilege'
The Cecils weren't even positive Travis would receive emergency leave. But, with his track record, there was no way he would miss Freedom's birth.
"I've had the privilege of being there for all of them, and it really scared me that I might not be here for Freedom," he said. He looks at Stacy. "I'm sorry, honey."
It's OK, she says.
It wasn't easy to leave Iraq, he says. He's got another family there.
"Even though this family's more important in the long run, there's just a bit of a tear, because you're over there, doing a job. Now you won't be able to finish that job with who you were with. But you really need to get back (home), you really want to come back," he said.
But work is work, and family is family.
Stacy says the months when Travis was away were hard. But she learned from his first deployment, part of the initial push into Iraq, not to watch the news.
"That was my downfall the first time. I watched 24/7," she said. "They don't tell you who got hurt.
"And even though no news is good news, that doesn't help either."
Caring for her brood posed problems Stacy hadn't considered.
"It never crossed my mind that one of my 5-year-olds would come up and ask repeatedly, 'Is my daddy is going to die,'" she said. She just told her daughter that daddy's soldiers would take care of him.
They did, and when Travis came home for leave in December he surprised Brianna and Catherine at their school. They "tackled" him after they realized that the man in full uniform was Daddy. It was a far cry from 2003, when he returned from Iraq and the girls, only a year old, were "terrified of him."
"It was better this time than it was the first time, because the kids actually knew who he was when he came back, and throughout the whole experience when he was gone," Stacy said.
And, with any luck, Freedom will always have her father at home. Travis, whose second enlistment ends in 2010, says he probably won't re-enlist. He will return to Fort Bragg in a few days, where he will spend the rest of his deployment. Iraq, for now, is out of the picture.
"It's getting to a point where it's time for Dad to put away the adventures. He's done his part," Travis said. Then looking at his wife and children, he says, "But I worry about you something fierce. Besides, I think our family has done enough."
As Stacy finishes school in medical office administration, Travis is looking to a future in architectural drafting.
"It's one more reason to go back to school and get a good job," he said. "It's one more reason why I personally probably will not be re-enlisting."
Travis looks at his baby girl.
"She's beautiful, and I'm glad to have her, and I love holding her and I swear she smiles," admitting that he knows babies aren't supposed to smile.
But just then, Freedom smiles.