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Stephanie Cox: There Was a Young Mother

  • Published
  • By Karen Petitt
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – Stephanie Cox steps out of a white 15-pax van affectionately called the “mamma beluga” to unload her eight children to swing, slide and blow bubbles at a playground near their O’Fallon home.

Together, they frolic and sweat and read and climb. There may have been a few tears shed, but time spent in the shade sipping some water with a kiss on a boo-boo and all is well again.

The children, who range in age from 13 years old to newborn, were excited to spend the Friday—their free day—outside in the warm spring-like weather at this park complete with a castle fort. This was the end of a routine week where Stephanie, who holds a master’s degree in Math Education, homeschools Monday through Thursday.

She sets her own schedule and plans their coursework with a typical day starting out with a song, prayer, the pledge of allegiance, scripture study, foreign languages, music lessons, science and history, and of course—recess. Also weaved into each day’s agenda is reading and pairing up siblings to spend time together.  They earn screen time for favorite digital games like “Plants vs. Zombies,” and take turns planning meals and shopping for the ingredients. During the summer they ride their bikes to volunteer at a community garden designed to support a local food pantry. 

She encourages her kids to be problem solvers and gives them real-world challenges such as how many Christmas lights are needed to hang on their house, how to use fractions to scale recipes, how to conduct science experiments to answer questions, and how to fix broken electric toothbrushes for example.

She takes personal time to run each day and ensures that each child receives special time alone with mom and dad—who was deployed during her most recent pregnancy.  Thanks to technology the children still communicated with him regularly.

How does she do it all?

“To be honest, I’m not even sure how she does it all, but here are some observations,” said her husband, Maj. Clay Cox, who is an attorney assigned to the 375th Air Mobility Wing legal office. “First, she is very selfless and giving. We all know from the oldest to the youngest that she has our best interests at heart. Second, she is a master logistician, and meticulous planner.  She coordinates school curriculum and family vacations with a level, steady hand. Third, she’s a woman filled with faith and optimism, and loves each family member with all her heart. As for me, I try not to get in the way. I try to add a little fun and playfulness into the mix without causing too much chaos. When I come home, I look for ways to help out with whatever is going on. I’ll leave it up to her to say if I’m any good at it.”

The Coxes met and married in 2007 while at Brigham Young University in Utah.  He finished law school and she finished her masters’ while welcoming their first two children, Emma and Lily. He clerked for a judge, noting that the military was not part of the plan initially. However, while expecting their third, William, Stephanie warmed up to the idea despite having reservations about the long absences often required of military members.

The family grew as they welcomed Andrew and Eliza. In 2018 they experienced heartbreak when twins Lucia and Evelyn were born.  They brought their girls home but within a few days both became very ill and required care in a newborn intensive care unit.  Stephanie was at the hospital when Evelyn sadly passed away. Clay arrived soon after and the rest of the night was very painful, but they found some comfort in each other and their faith.  The next morning they brought the rest of the children in to say goodbye to Evelyn and to see Lucia who was also clinging to life. Stephanie left with the hospital with the children and as she did, she saw a beautiful big rainbow in the sky. It was completely unexpected as there hadn’t been any rain or other conditions that would have made her anticipate seeing one.

“We found comfort in it as a promise of hope, and rainbows became a symbol of our sweet daughter,” said Clay. “Stephanie often wears necklaces that either have rainbows on them or rainbow colors, like an opal stone. We have prisms hanging in our home and the kids enjoy the little rainbows created by them. We also have the wooden rainbow blocks we include in our family photos.”

After Lucia returned to full health, they added Vivienne and most recently, Kristina, who is now seven months old.  They’ve lived in Montana,  Oklahoma, Virginia and in Illinois for about two years. They’ll be moving this summer back to Virginia, and thanks to Stephanie’s homeschooling prowess, the kids say they don’t mind the moves and enjoy the flexibility their lifestyle offers. Emma added that with big families there’s always someone to play with and that they’re all good friends—even if she sometimes prefers to be alone to read. For mom, her degree allows her to certify that her children are meeting (and usually exceeding) state requirements for education, which are different in each place they live.

During Clay’s recent deployment, Stephanie said she created a strategy for their time apart, and accepted help from her parents who stayed with them for part of the time. Mostly, she said, the children helped out a lot, and that she’s thankful for all those who checked in on her this past winter.

For Stephanie, being a mom makes her happy and that children are a God-given gift.  Despite some “shocked looks” from people as they go about their daily routines, she wants people to know that she genuinely loves her life and all the busyness involved. She appreciates it when people are happy for her instead of considering it “too much” or a “burden.”  She is very opposite of the nursery rhyme which can come to mind when seeing large families:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

She had so many children, she didn't know what to do.

She gave them some broth without any bread;

And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Instead, Stephanie can be described with this version:

              There was a young mother who lived in a boot.

              She had so many children, that life was just a hoot.

              With daddy deployed, she stepped up her game;

              How she did it all will forever be her fame.

Clay said that their final family numbers will remain open as long as Stephanie wants, and that most likely they’ll stay in the Air Force until he is able to retire.  In the future, they’d like to settle down in a place where they can have a little orchard and serve their community.  Wherever they end up, there will no doubt be lots of little hands and hearts, smiles and giggles, hugs and kisses, trials and triumphs, and most of all … love.