Mary Green/New York City
December 25, 2006 12:00 PM

When she became a mother for the third time in May, Angelina Jolie felt her world shift yet again. “Your first child changes you and makes you a parent, and then every other child is special in different ways,” Jolie tells PEOPLE. Among the Jolie-Pitt children—Maddox, 5, Zahara, who turns 2 on Jan. 8, and Shiloh, 7 months—those differences are becoming clear. As the oldest, does Mad rule the roost? “I bet if you asked Brad, he’d say Zahara,” says Jolie. “Mad is very smart, but he’s got a certain sense of calm. Zahara is possibly the funniest person I’ve ever met in my life. So dramatic and creative and loud and charming. She’s definitely the biggest personality in the house.”

That’s saying something in a family that grabs attention wherever it goes. And this past year, the passport-stamping clan went everywhere: After announcing Jolie’s pregnancy last January, they hopped everywhere from Paris to Namibia to India to Cambodia to New Orleans. Along the way, Mom and Dad welcomed baby Shiloh, squeezed in movie roles and pursued an ambitious humanitarian agenda. Looking back, “I feel very, very blessed,” says Jolie, 31, whose new film The Good Shepherd opens this month (see box). Despite racking up all those frequent-flier miles, Jolie says she’s trying to take it easy. “I’m reminding myself often to slow down and enjoy this,” she says. “It’s such a special time with my family, and I don’t want to be too busy exploring the world and working.”

Does that mean she and Pitt, 43, are ready to officially settle down? “No,” says Jolie about marriage rumors. But there’s no doubt that they’re already full partners in parenting—and that Pitt is the softie. “I am the disciplinarian,” says Jolie. “Brad can be, but if Z doesn’t get the bottle from me, she’ll very quickly run to Daddy.”

As parents, what makes them most proud? “Somebody said to us recently that they were happy kids,” says Jolie, “and we talked about how much that meant to us to hear. And they’re good kids. God knows how we managed to do that—but they’re good kids.” As for what worries her, “Like any parent, you get nervous,” says Jolie. “I think they’re going to be not unlike us, in that they’re very bold people and they’re very brave. Mad rides a motorcycle and he doesn’t seem to have any fear of anything. Zahara, we took her to the beach and she ran into the ocean, even though she didn’t know how to swim yet. Everyone is just crazy-brave and free.”

Jolie and Pitt hope to nurture safely that boldness. “A big part of what we’re trying to do is make sure they never get too comfortable,” says Jolie. “In one place we stay, Maddox has an Xbox. But we don’t have that anywhere else. So it’s exciting when he gets to play it, because he knows he can’t have it all the time. Same with Z. We’ve tried to make them very adaptable, so when we go to a country like India or certain parts of Namibia, they’re happy to play with sticks and rocks outside—they’re happy to blend.”

Through their international charity work (see box), she and Pitt are also hoping to instill compassion and, with their older children, a sense of pride in their homelands (Cambodia for Maddox; Ethiopia for Zahara). On a recent visit to Cambodia, where the couple are sponsoring a relief project in Maddox’s name, “He recognized himself in the people,” says Jolie of her son. “Which is a wonderful thing.”

That nomadic existence has meant that her eldest has “had a tutor since he was 3,” says Jolie, but he “can read, he can write … we don’t worry he’s not picking up that basic stuff. With school, we’re going to make sure they do enough to get the social skills. But it’s hard, and maybe one day we’ll have to stay in one place. I would rather they go to international schools. We’ll see if we can balance it. That would be my dream. I’m sure they’re going to be 18 and say, ‘God, I just want to stay in one place,'” she says with a laugh. “They’ll never want to leave home!”

Will she and Pitt adopt again? “At some point,” she says. “We’re always open to adoption. That’s kind of how we decided to live the next few years of our lives, just to be open. But we haven’t given ourselves a deadline.” Looking ahead to the new year, “my wish each day is that everybody stays healthy,” says Jolie. “That’s the only thing I want—to have as much time together as we can all have.”

For more information on Jolie’s causes, go to http://www.cambodianhealthcommittee.org, http://www.tourismcambodia.com and http://www.globalactionforchildren.org

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