On Long Hair and Banishing Dementors

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It’s always hard to get pack to posting when I have been neglecting the blog for a while. Not really neglecting… we had some stuff going on and I needed to process out of the public eye so to speak. And I have done a lot of processing and made a few changes while I was at it.

I have started a lot of diets over the years, I probably begin at least a few times a year in fact, but I haven’t actually been able to do anything about this “baby weight” for the last few babies. The last time I got serious about exercise and diet, all I succeeded in doing was exhausting myself.

At the beginning of August, I hit one of those points when I had to either lose a few pounds or buy a bigger size. So I fired up MyFitnessPal again and began half heartedly tracking my food. Even that was enough to knock a couple pounds off. After a couple weeks of doing that, I had a day when I actually did my hair.

My hair lives in a bun of sorts most of the summer. It is hot out and I will likely be in the pool at least once a day, so why bother styling it when it will just be wet again in a few hours? But on this day my hair was dry and clean and I knew I wouldn’t be swimming, so I got out my straightener and Did My Hair for real.

My hair has gotten pretty long lately, probably as long as I have ever had it. Straightening and slightly curling the ends made it look so pretty and shiny, I pulled out my phone to take a picture…

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… and I was kind of shocked at what I saw. It’s amazing that you can look in the mirror every day and refuse to really see yourself, but that is just what I had been doing. On that day I saw myself, and I didn’t look like myself.

(Disclaimer because this is the internet and someone will get bent out of shape: I am not making a statement about anyone’s body but my own. I know the shape of my frame and my body was not reflecting that.)

I went ahead and took the rest of my “before” pictures and I began to buckle down and really get serious about my diet. I also dusted off my fitbit and started walking. I couldn’t handle anything else right then, that was my starting point and for the first time in a long time, the changes stuck and I began to lose weight.

I started feeling better right away and the pounds started really dropping. I’m not losing super fast, just about a pound a week on average, but I am now within spitting distance of 20 pounds lost. I’ll post those before, during, and finally some after pictures in some other post.

Feeling better physically rippled out into other areas of my life and I began placing a higher priority on my self care. I actively sought out time to journal or just be alone for a while (hard core introvert here) and I took a close look at my cluttered home and started working on that as well. I also started running again.

I love running. And I can’t believe I just said that. I was the least athletic kid in school – the slowest runner, the last to be picked for teams in P.E. classes, I didn’t even know how to play most sports. (I once volunteered to be the catcher in a baseball game, thinking that would keep me out of the way of the ball. See? I was clueless.) But running is like a brain cleanse for me. I am slow, and I still take lots of walk breaks, but it turns down the noise in my brain for a while and makes me a happier person.

So here I was – exercising, eating right (mostly), journalling, getting better rest, and other things to take better care of me. And then came my birthday.

My 45th Birthday.

Gosh, how did I get so OLD?

On the morning of my birthday I went for a run. Since it was later than I usually would go, I took a different route – one that I hadn’t wanted to take in the pitch black morning. This route took me through a tunnel under the street.

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Does that remind you of anything? It’s a little bit different, but it looked (and felt) very much like the tunnel in Harry Potter where Dudley and Harry meet up with the Dementors. I realized in that moment that I have been fighting some pretty serious Dementors and right now, I am winning.

I am winning. The thought very nearly took my breath away. While I have my bad days, for the first time in a long time (I can’t even remember how long!) my depression symptoms are at a very low point. That tunnel was such a gift on my birthday!

I have a long way to go, both in terms of my physical and mental health. I am figuring out what kind of maintenance needs to happen and when to help me stay here and even keep making progress. I know there are setbacks ahead of me and I am trying to have some contingency plans in place when those happen.

Through all this, the grace of God has sustained me in both the good and the tougher days, and my husband’s unfailing support (including  inconveniences on many work days) has made it possible for me to get to where I am now. With their help, I will keep going!

If you want support or to follow my journey you can find me on MyfitnessPal as NineLivesAZ and on Fitbit as jengroft at gmail (etc. You know how to write an email address).

No Green Rocks: What This Blog is Not

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I’ve had a bit of writers block the last few days, so it set me up to ask myself what exactly I am trying to do here and what I am not trying to do.

While I was procrastinating, I popped over to Pinterest to find some ideas for my Bullet Journal. Because if I can make my To Do list perfectly formatted and beautiful then my life will flow more smoothly and I will be able to think and write better. I think that’s how it works anyway. This led me to search for tips on hand lettering. From there, Pinterest must have read my mind because one of the things it suggested to me was a blog post about moms avoiding burnout. So what the heck? I clicked on through to see what it said.

It was a lovely blog with a well thought out post on how to keep your sanity when you have little children. The author has three children 5 years old and under. Then I knew, that is NOT what my blog is. This blog is not a list of how tos or life hacks. You may find some occasional advice here, but that is not the focus. Look up at the top there at the blog title, “Circling Jericho.” I am walking in circles, so the only how tos around here are going to be “Turn right, turn right, turn right again, now again…”

What this blog is about is living this life, stumbling through it. Sometimes being completely challenged to the point of failure and sometimes being bored to tears. There are so many slick, glossy images of life out there, that sometimes I feel alone, so I think you probably do to. I think that maybe if I share some of my confusion, you and I won’t feel so alone, and maybe we can laugh at it a little as well.

When I post things like Things I Said I’d Never Do or Why Am I Not Better at This Yet I am not putting those things out there to get sympathy or guilt people into helping me. I’m just pointing out some of the mess and cobwebs of my own life and how I am trying really hard to just keep swimming anyway. Feel completely free to enjoy my foibles and imperfections. I know that they are sometimes a little squirm-worthy. Sharing them helps me be more comfortable in my own skin and I hope knowing that someone else is such a hot mess will help you be more comfortable in your own.

I recently came home from picking up my kids from school and told my husband about how school pick up had gone. I forgot it was Yearbook Day, and that I was supposed to park and go sign the yearbooks out for my little kids. Well. I had two babies and a 4 year old sleeping in the car when I got there. I was so grateful for some quiet it totally slipped my mind and I got into the pick up line. Max saw me coming and met me before I reached the pick up spot and said, with a look of horror, “Mom! We can’t get our yearbooks unless you sign for them!” Luckily the car was a complete mess. I reached down and picked up a receipt that was only a little sticky, grabbed a pen from the floor, and wrote a note to the school to release the yearbooks to Max. Signed, Me. Off he ran to get the yearbooks. But I was still stuck in the pick up line, and everyone knows you don’t block the pick up line!

I pulled forward and the little girls got in, then we circled around and got in the pick up line again, to come by and pick up Max. By the time I reached the front the second time, Max was still nowhere to be seen and a teacher told me that the line was really long for the yearbooks. Crap. As I pulled out to go around again, I saw Max running up just a hair too late to catch me. So I went round again. This time the line was much reduced and we were finally on our way after our third time through. But by the time I left I am sure all the teachers manning the pick up that day were thoroughly mystified.

So you know, I forget stuff. I regularly make things harder for myself in weird ways. My husband thought my yearbook pick up was hilarious. He gave me a big hug and said, “That is what I love about you!” It took me a while to understand what he was saying by that, but I think I understand now. It is the way I handle the little situations of everyday life. It is circling around to try again, even when I’m pretty sure I’ve just made a fool out of myself.

When I was younger I remember going to dinner with our family at a home in Sun City, Arizona. Sun City is a retirement community. It is a whole city where there were whole neighborhoods that had painted green rocks instead of grass in their yard. From far away, it kind of looked like grass, and they usually had a few plants along the borders or some kind of decorative edging. But there was a starkness, a hardness to these streets of endless glued down green rocks.

My own life, and what I share of it on this blog is not a slick, well manicured lawn. Nor will it tell you how to achieve one (figuratively or literally.) You will see my weeds and brown spots in this virtual yard. I have to say, I feel a little self-conscious about it. But I would rather live this life as fully as I can and I believe part of that means inviting people in and letting them see our imperfections.

So come on in, move a pile of laundry out of the way, and let’s laugh and cry and figure this all out together.

7 Quick Takes: Summer Reading

What I'm Reading

Hello, my name is Jenni, and I am a book addict. I have an embarrassing number of books in progress at any one time, but I really do read them all… eventually. I set a higher than usual reading goal for myself this year. While I am a little behind schedule, I will probably finish up a few of these at around the same time so I will be trucking along nicely. But some of these are SO GOOD, I just had to share.

1. Rising Strong by Brene Brown. This book, guys. This book is a life changer for me. You see, I am an INTJ, otherwise known as the introvertiest introvert that ever introverted. I can get kind of stuck in my own head. I get all logicky, and emotions can freak me out a little bit, which is ironic, because being freaked out is a pretty strong emotion. Anyway, being human, my life can get filled up with lots of BIG EMOTIONS and it’s like someone tossed me a hot potato. I keep trying to pass them back and forth to avoid being burned, but in the mean time I’m thinking, What in the heck do I do with all these big emotions?

This book gives a process. It gives a way to handle the big emotions so that you can work through them and not just keep tossing them in the air or pretending the don’t exist. It isn’t some new age baloney. It doesn’t tell you your feelings are right or wrong. The first step in the process is recognizing that there is a big emotion happening and slowing down long enough to really investigate what is going on. I know I can get swept along for quite a while before I realize that some big emotion threw me over a waterfall and now I’m all mixed up.

That was just the tiniest sip of what this book has in store. I’m super excited about it and my kids want me to stop talking about it.

2. Emma by Jane Austen. This book has given me fits. I love both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, but I’ve had a hard time getting into Emma. I just don’t like her very much. I was about to give up on the book when I stumbled on this post about it. It cleared up what was bugging me and that Emma’s selfishness is really the struggle in the book.

One of the things I love about this is the way people treat each other. Even people who don’t like each other are able to spend time together and have conversations. In our social media saturated world, we are able to confine ourselves to conversations with people we agree with. Not only do the characters in this book have regular conversations with people outside of their personal bubble, but they also have a respect for them as human beings with dignity. Well, most of them do anyway. There are still a few that are self serving jerks. But we are able to see their behavior as unkindness and not a normal way of being.

3. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. I have issues with the parable of the Prodigal Son. This has been a sticking point in my own relationship with God for as long as I can remember. Growing up with a sibling with special needs put me squarely in the shoes of the older brother. And yes, I know what kind of things that says about my attitudes: bad things. Nevertheless, that is where I began.

This is a short book but I am taking it pretty slowly. There is a lot said about each viewpoint in the parable, and it has helped me loosen my death grip on the older son. It’s a work in progress.

4. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is one of my favorite books ever. I don’t know how many times I have read it – I’ve worn out at least two paperback sets, plus I have it on my kindle too. Right now I am listening to it on Audible. I was in the process of listening (again) to Angela’s Ashes when our recent health crisis hit, and I had to stop that one because it was too distressing. I needed something that was like a familiar quilt to snuggle up with.

The Audible version is tolerable. The narrator is good, but he doesn’t do any yelling, and there are just some parts of this book that call for yelling. Like the escape from Moria, the narrator had Gandalf speaking quietly and calmly. Just no. Also, being a person who doesn’t really gel well with poetry, I tend to skip over the songs, poems, and ballads when I read. The audio book reads through – and even sings – Every. Single. Word. Of. Them. It’s tedious and annoying. Other than that the version is fine.

5. Walking with Purpose by Lisa Brenninkmeyer. The Moms’ Bible Study I attend did this book study this summer. I began it but haven’t been able to do much more than the first chapter and section of the study guide. But I have been impressed with what I have seen so far. The first part talked about what sins you find yourself drawn to and how that is a symptom of running low on a particular cardinal virtue. Then it gives practical advice, and then it starts talking about fixing priorities. This is real stuff. This is about getting your heart in the right place to live in relationship with God. I’m excited to read more!

6. Loving My Actual Life by Alexandra Kuykendal. I swore to myself I wasn’t going to buy any books. This one just kept finding its way into my field of vision. I was feeling pretty discontented anyway, and the title was intriguing. So I caved, bought it, and I like it. It’s not deep, at least not all of it. This book is basically a journal of one mom’s challenge to herself to find contentment in her life, and what she has to do to get there. It is structured so that you could follow along and do the same nine month challenge that the author did, but I’m just reading it. It is good support for both Rising Strong and Walking With Purpose.

7. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, translated by Tiina Nunnally. I tried to read this one a long time ago and got a different translation. It was filled with thee’s and thou’s and I just couldn’t plow through. This translator though, brought out the simple language the story was meant to be in. Still, this is over a thousand pages. I got stuck about 75% of the way through, but I finally got past the boring spot and it is interesting again. This is the story of a girl, Kristin, in 11th century Norway. It is such a Catholic book! Kristin has her share of trouble with sin, but she wrestles with it as something that is wrong. She prays, she talks to her priest, she bargains with God. There is plenty of drama and life going on, it is not just about her spirituality, but that is woven beautifully through the story. I’m almost done. I’m going to finish this one if it kills me.

I’m so close to being done on a few of these. Please comment and tell me what you are reading, or give me some suggestions for what to pick up next.

Psst. Some links are affiliate links. Just wanted you to know.

That’s all for me, folks! Go see This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes!

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Gwendolyn’s Birth Story

Gwendolyn's Birth Story

Gwendolyn’s birth story has to go back to Gus’s birth as and introduction. I know most people think that the more babies you have, the faster it goes. To some extent that is true. Depending on the size and position of the baby, the births can be much faster. Once labor finally kicked in fully with my seventh baby, she was born in under two hours. But the more babies I had, the harder it was for my body to stay in labor. My contractions would space out too far, stalling labor.

With Gus’s birth, my labor had started and stopped two nights in a row and had begun again the third evening. My body was finally able to stay in labor, but it was one of my most painful labors and my longest pushing time. I was so exhausted from not sleeping for the previous two nights that I really had no coping skills left to deal with the pain.

I knew I didn’t want to go through anything like that again. Gus had been born at home, like most of my other kids, but we decided that baby #10 would be born in a hospital. In a hospital if I stalled out, they could augment my labor before I hit the point of complete exhaustion like I had with Gus.

So I saw my OB/GYN through the pregnancy and everything went pretty well. Because of my age, they began to do weekly ultrasounds and non-stress tests at 35 weeks. At the first one of those appointments, we discovered that the baby was transverse (lying sideways) and had way too much fluid.

I’ve never had anything but an “All systems go!” kind of appointment, so this was a big surprise. I worried a little, since there were some risks involved, like cord prolapse if my water broke. Then I researched c-sections a little bit.

We decided to try to turn the baby, so I went in the following weekend. I had an epidural – my first ever – for that procedure. She turned just fine when the doctor moved her, but then about two hours later she turned right back to her old position. At my next appointment, she was breech and there was still too much fluid. So we went ahead and scheduled a cesarean.

I was mildly disappointed at the prospect of a c-section. But really, I have had 9 variations of lovely natural births, in the hospital, at home, in the water, on the floor, couch and bed. I wasn’t all that attached to the actual event of how birth happened this time. The only part that made me nervous was the recovery time afterwards in our chaotic household. I wasn’t sure how I could get the rest I would need after a major surgery.

At 38 weeks I visited a friend who is a chiropractor. She had adjusted me when my labor was stalled out with Gus and it seemed to get things moving. She didn’t do any special tricks, just a regular back adjustment to help me be more comfortable. Before I left her house, we could see the baby moving all over the place. Big movements, swishing across my belly.

The next day, Jay and I took the kids to the mall to look for school shoes. It was a long walk, and by the end I could tell the baby was riding much lower than she had been, but I couldn’t tell what part was so low.

Two days later, on Tuesday, I had my weekly ultrasound again. Low and behold she was head down and well engaged. We cancelled the c-section appointment and my doctor warned me that I needed to come right in if my water broke because of the extra fluid. I laughed and told him that my water had only broken on its own once and even then it was when I was fully dilated. He told me that with the extra fluid it was much more likely to happen this time.

Sure enough, that night as I was drifting off to sleep I felt a little tiny gush. I waddled off the the bathroom to see what was going on but after a few minutes nothing else had happened so I went back to bed. A few minutes later I was dozing off again when I felt a definite POP and a big gush. I jumped up and ran to the tile floor like you have never seen a 9 month pregnant woman jump and run before. I only got a little bit on the bed. But now I was sure. My water had broken. My poor husband had gotten very little sleep the last couple days, so I decided to let him keep sleeping while I gathered up my stuff for the hospital. I waddled around the room with a towel between my legs while I packed my bag. Contractions started within about 10 minutes of my water fully breaking and they were pretty serious right from the start. For extra fun, I had a giant gush of water with each contraction.

Once I was sure there was nothing else I could do, I woke Jay up. I sat on my towel on the edge of the bed and whispered, “Jay?”

“Huh? What?” he said still half asleep. And then I think he realized what was going on before I even told him that my water had broken. He jumped up right away and began running around, asking what I needed help with and had I called the doctor yet?

No, I had forgotten that part. So I called him while Jay got dressed and took my stuff out to the car. Ben, our 18 year old, was awake, and he helped by lining the front passenger seat with a trash bag and towels.

Soon enough, we were on our way. One of our worries about the hospital we had chosen was the distance. It could be 45 minutes to an hour drive in traffic. But this was the middle of the night and there was no traffic to speak of. We made it in about 25 minutes. During the ride, my contractions had really taken off. I couldn’t talk through them any more and with each one there was a huge gush of fluid. The baby was moving plenty, so we felt like she was doing fine.

Once we arrived at the hospital, we checked in at the E.R, and were whisked up to labor and delivery right away. My doctor had called ahead and I was able to bypass triage. They took me to a Labor, Delivery, Recovery  room and a nurse helped me change. My pajamas were wet all the way down to my ankles and I was glad to be in some dry clothes. I got settled in the bed and the nurse checked me and hooked me up to a monitor. I don’t even remember how far I was dilated. It was less than I thought I would be based on the pain, but it was enough that I felt like my body was doing its job.

The nurse asked if I wanted an epidural. This was something I had thought long and hard about during this pregnancy. For my 10th birth, I decided that I very definitely wanted pain relief. I told her yes and she went off to get to work on that. For the next hour I did my best to breathe and relax through some pretty tough contractions. Jay was right by my side, calming me and talking me through. We’ve done this enough times that his touch is an instant cue to my body to relax.

The anesthesiologist came in sooner than I expected and put the epidural in. It was a pretty uncomfortable process, but it didn’t last too long. Over the next few minutes I became much more comfortable. I have to say, that as far as epidurals go, mine was perfect. I could still feel when contractions were happening, but they didn’t take my breath away, and it relaxed my body enough that the rest of my labor went pretty quickly.

As I got cozy, I put a movie on and Jay laid down on the couch to catch a quick nap. (With my full encouragement! I knew he would be up for a long time after this, especially since we were laboring all night.) I alternately watched “Ender’s Game” and dozed a bit. At one point the nurse came in the check on us and said she was a little concerned that my contractions were too far apart. This was the same thing I had experienced many times before. I told her I had kind of expected that to happen. She suggested that we watch it for a little longer and see if I made progress. If not, then they would start some pitocin. It turned out that we never needed it.

After a while, my contractions changed a bit. They weren’t super painful, but they were kind of taking my breath away. I had to breathe slowly and deeply with each one. This change in my breathing was enough to wake Jay up and he came and stood beside me. The nurse also noticed the change in my contractions on the monitor and came in to check on me.

Sure enough, it was time! She fetched the doctor and they began to set up for the birth. It was hard to believe it had gone that quickly! Because of the epidural, I had been able to labor the baby down most of the way. Pushing with the epidural was a new sensation. I had no control over my legs, so Jay and the nurse had to hold them up for me, but the baby was low enough that I didn’t have any trouble knowing where to push.

She was out in under 15 minutes of pushing. Gwendolyn was born at 4:25am on July 15. My water had broken at around 11pm. She was the most vernix covered baby I have ever seen. She looked like she was covered with a layer of frosting, almost completely white. Gwendolyn nursed vigorously right away. They didn’t take her to examine her fully or measure her for almost an hour. She just stayed right on my chest. She looked so tiny to us, but when they weighed her she was 8 pounds, 1 ounce, and she was 20 inches long.

I hadn’t been looking to have a magical, natural birth this time around, especially when we were so sure I would end up having a c-section. But this birth was everything I could have hoped for. I loved my hospital and doctor, I felt secure and cared for every step of the way. Jay was by my side. Our baby was born fairly quickly and was completely healthy.

{7QT} Quick Takes in Honor of a 10th Child’s 1st Birthday

Sweet Gwendolyn

Today is Gwendolyn’s first birthday. She’s still a tiny thing, not 20 pounds yet, and still fits easily in her 6 month onesies. Before she was born she decided to do everything in her own way, in her own time and she has kept with the theme. I have promised her birth story for a whole year, and it will be published on MONDAY. Cross my heart. In honor of her birthday, here are some special things about Gwen, including lots of nicknames. Stay tuned for the last one. It’s the best.

1. Talking to Baby Gwen: Gwendolyn loves learning baby signs and seems to pick up a new one every day or two. She won’t say much voluntarily, but every now and then she lets a word slip out. We’ve been fans of Baby Signing Time for a long time and Gwendolyn loves to watch them and try to imitate the signs. Our discs wore out a long time ago, so we are stuck renting them from Amazon for now. They are week long rentals, though, so I’m just renting a different one every week. It’s a small price to pay for how much she likes it and how it makes communication so much easier. She even does the sign for “baby” when she wants to watch the show, which is great unless it is 3am.

The trouble is that she has blended some signs and it is hard to tell them apart. “More,” “Cracker,” “Owie,” and “Shoe” all look pretty much the same. We’re working on those. Lest you worry about her speech, we always say the word when we use the sign, or when she signs to us.

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2. The birthday “Celebration:” We kind of suck at celebrations at our house right now. But that is a post for another day. Gwendolyn’s birthday celebration happened the night before her birthday with only half the family present and I ran out and bought the cake while dinner was cooking. Nevertheless, she liked the cake, but not until she had played with it a bit. Yay, Costco for last minute cakes! Also, Thursday nights may, in fact, be the magic time to go to Costco. No line for gas, no line for the cashier!

For her gift, we gave her a little riding ladybug. I love this one because it is on casters and is easy to turn. I didn’t manage to get it wrapped (see above statement on celebrations) but she didn’t care and immediately began to play with it, pushing it all over the kitchen.

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3. Gwendolyn’s Favorite Things #1 Books: I’ve never had a kid go so nutty for books this young. She just can’t get enough of them and wants anyone to read them over and over again. She loves “Goodnight Moon,” and any book showing animals. but she will also try to get you to read anything with pages to her.

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4. Gwennie’s favorite thing #2 Being an Aunty: Our grandson Elliot (and his mommy) live with us, so Gwendolyn gets to spend lots of time with her nephew. He is three and a half months younger than her and finally starting to fight back. They both get excited to see each other when one has been gone for a while. First thing in the morning sometimes, Gwen will hear Elliot playing in his room and go and pound on the door to try to get to him. You can catch the antic of Gwen and Elliot together under #babyaunty on instagram. (When I remember to use the hastag.)

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5. Winnie’s Favorite thing #3 Pacifiers: Or maybe they are my favorite thing, I’m not sure. We both love them and she often has one in her mouth and one in her hand. But if you offer her a bite or a drink, she doesn’t spit out the pacifier, she just opens her mouth and lets it fall out. it’s kind of cute.

Once she starts talking, the pacifier will mostly live in bed and in the car seat. We don’t allow talking with a paci.

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6. Woowoo’s favorite thing #4 Going outside: She loves going swimming or sitting on her big brother’s tricycle and being pulled along. She made up her own signs for both things and uses them often. “Swimming” is like two hands splashing, and “Bike” is one finger held up and moved in a circle.

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7. Gwendolyn Rose of the Desert: Gwennie is the only one of our kids to have her own original song. If you watch, you’ll see Molly cover her ears at one point of the song. The lyrics talk about not having any brothers or sisters and Molly was just so upset at that prospect, she just wouldn’t have anything to do with it. The song was written mostly by Jay, but the kids helped too.

Go to This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes!

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Small Graces in Hard Times

Small Graces in

It seems every time I make a resolution to get serious about my writing things get really intense around my home. I’m not sure if God is telling me to be quiet or if it is just that life just gets really intense a lot. I suspect it is the latter, so here I go.

Recently one of our children had a very near brush with death and spent some time critically ill, including more than two weeks at various levels of hospitalization. This was, of course, an intensely difficult time for our family. So much so that I am not ready to share much more about it so publicly.

But as always, there are little gifts that God gives in these times. I thought I would share a couple of them with you.

About a week before the beginning of the crisis, I sat at Sunday mass wrestling with a very wiggly, noisy baby. At 11 months old, Gwendolyn was starting to understand how pointing works so it was a little easier to point out things in the church to distract her. Each time I would ask her, “Where is Jesus?” she would look up at the crucifix and be silent and still for a few seconds. It occurred to me that this was a simple prayer I could use in the chaos of my life.

I little knew how I would rely on it just a few short days later when a prayer of words seemed to be more than I could do. In those wild hospital days, I could think, “Where is Jesus?” and know immediately that He was right there with me. It helped me to refocus on Him, to incline my heart toward Him even when I was so overcome with concern, worry, and fear that I could barely think. It really felt like that little moment with my wiggly baby in mass had been a gift. God had given me the tool I would need to use days later, watching my child cry and suffer in a hospital room.

While our child was in the hospital, my husband Jay stayed with her during the nights and I stayed with her during the days. Friends and family swarmed around us with love and care. Two friends in particular spent hours sitting with me at the hospital. They were long, lonely hours and I would have crumbled without their presence. They had busy lives of their own, but they moved things around to be there for our family. (As did many others who brought food, watched our other kids, and provided spiritual support.) At one point when Jay and I were actually in the same room for a little bit he mentioned a text message he had gotten from his brother. He said, “Yesterday’s homily was about carrying our crosses. One of the saints was quoted as saying that Jesus gives the heaviest weight to His dearest friends.”

I realized for the first time what that phrase might mean. In the past it had just made me think, Why does anyone stay close to God? If this is how He treats His friends… It seemed like a cruel sort of relationship. But in that moment I thought about how hard we had been leaning on our friends. We brought them (and they came willingly) into our suffering in a very intimate way. They saw through our eyes, they felt with our hearts. We let them do that because we love them. We did not do this to cause them pain, but because there is a certain unity in our friendship.

God does not need us in the same way we needed our friends through this crisis. But He loves us with the fiercest of loves. In our relationship with Him we find a unity beyond our relationships with people. For the first time I could see why there is pain that can come with that love and intimacy. Instead of feeling picked on, I realized just how much He loves us.

We are past the hospital days now, and are working our way back toward normal. It has been such a stressful time, but God has shown us His love and presence in so many ways. Thank you, friends who helped us and prayed us through this. We couldn’t have made it without you.

7QT: Summer Scramble: Grocery Stores, Bedrooms, Socks, and Gorillas

7 Quick Takes06.03

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks around here with the end of school, graduations, and trying to establish some kind of summer routine. I’ve barely been able to form a thought, let alone write them down. So here are some truly random takes:

1: A couple weeks ago I stopped at a small grocery store on the way home from picking my kids yo from school. We needed some milk and the baby’s favorite crackers, but truth be told, I really wanted one of  their awesome salads. So just me and my 5 youngest children made a quick trip through the store. It was kind of crowded, but otherwise uneventful.

Imagine my surprise when I got home and found this on my Facebook:

So I saw you at Trader Joes today, and then I happened to be walking down the aisle after you had left it when I heard this:

Lady #1: Wow, what was that?
Lady #2: I know! I’m trying to get over the shock of it! She has 5 kids!!! That just doesn’t seem right.
Me (interrupting): Actually, it is. And she has several more than 5. And she’s an awesome mom to them all.
Lady #2 (while Lady #1 hurries away): Ummmm…she does? But how can she afford them all?
Me: Good kids are a priority to some families. We sacrifice for them because we love them. And we love our society.
Lady #2: Oh…ummm…okay…(leaves in an embarrassed hurry)

It felt SO awesome to get to defend someone else rather than myself! Your presence at Trader Joes was a blessing today.

I was so grateful to have that support. At the same time I was also a little jarred, it hadn’t really occurred to me that the negative comments would come after I leave a place. I always counted it a success to complete an errand without a confrontation. I don’t get many confrontations about my kids, and mostly they are just nosy questions, nothing overtly negative. But yes, I guess we do draw a bit of attention even when things go well. The biggest effect of this encounter for me was a reminder to say something nice to other moms I see out there, dragging their kids through stores and errands. A kind word goes a long way.

2: Introvert Problems. I also felt a little bad that I hadn’t said hello to my friend in the store. I was having such a day and was having trouble getting out of my head long enough to talk to my kids. There is just this conflict between “Yay! Friends!” and “Oh no! I’m not ready for conversation!” But you know, I never regret it when I make the effort and say hello.

3: Where Mom Books fail. Being a mom is hard. Some days it is damn near impossible. I still reach for encouragement in books written for mothers, by mothers. But while those books are excellent encouragement for those busy, exhausting baby and toddler days, they fall far short when the kids get older. Once you hit the point when you are dealing with cyber bullying, kids who stay out too late, calls from teachers about homework not turned in, when someone “accidentally” sets fire to the alley, older children who are not practicing their faith anymore or even doing things contrary to it. There are kids struggling with depression, medical bills piling in. There is figuring out how to live with adult children in the house and not let them act like children anymore while also not treating them like children anymore. Those are surprisingly different. Then there are the friends whose children got all the scholarships and sports trophies when you are just so glad that everyone passed their finals just well enough to not fail. It is so hard for moms to speak about these things because on some level, they are not our stories to share. Are we gossiping about our own children? Sharing things about them that they would rather keep secret? And what about the effect of all those things on us and on our marriage?

This stage can be far more lonely than when there are only little babies in the house and you are stuck at home for weeks on end because someone always has a snotty nose. In the early years it is easier to share the stories of messes, mistakes, and frustrations. Later on in parenting, there is only silence. I want to see more support for parents of older kids. It is just so hard to speak some of the problems out loud.

4: Well that last one was a real bummer, now I will tell you why my house is such a mess. (This time.) Since my son Ben graduated from high school, he gets to move into his own room. He is also a musician, and his former (shared) room was in between the rooms of the two babies, which made it difficult to practice. Also, the babies rooms were too close to each other and they sometimes woke each other up. We have 5 bedrooms, and one of them belongs to Jay and I. We aren’t switching with anyone. But the other 4 bedrooms… ugh, what a mess!

It goes like this:
Move Tessa out of room 1, move Ben in.
Move Lily, Molly, and Gus out of room 2, move Posy and her baby, Elliot, in
Move Ben and Max out of room 3, move Tessa, Lily, and Molly in.
Move Posy and Elliot out of room 4, move Max and Gus in.

There were no straight up switches, so everything has been up in the air (or, rather, down on the floor) for the last week. The positive is that since Ben was getting his own room, he was highly motivated to help out. The beds are all in place – well almost – we have to buy one more since Gus is moving out of a toddler bed. But the closets and dressers are still all mixed up and most of the shoes are AWOL.

Molly just came to me crying about the missing shoes. I may have to make a trip out just to buy flip flops in case we can’t find them in the next couple days. Seriously, they could be anywhere.

5: Socks. We have a lot of socks. An embarrassing amount, really. Since the laundry is always behind, it is necessary to have a few extra pairs of socks (and underwear for that matter) per person. A long time ago I had one big sock basket and just matched them up whenever I could, but with our quantity of socks and people, that became unwieldy. So I came up with this:

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Top row: Mine (now holding sunscreen), Jay’s. Second row: Tessa, Ben. Third row: Max, Gus. Bottom row: little girls’ socks, little girls’ tights. Baby socks go in her dresser.

 

Mostly each person has their own bin, although I moved my socks into my room since they were forever being “borrowed.” The two little girls share a bin, since they are only one shoe size apart, but they also have a bin for tights, because those take up too much space to also live in their sock box. I do not match socks, except for Gus, and that is only sometimes. Oh, and I match my own socks.

Funny sock story: Tessa called me from school one day this past year to ask me to bring tights for her school concert. I asked her where I would find them and she told me they would be in box #3. The school receptionist overheard and couldn’t believe we had numbered sock boxes. Tessa thought it was cute because she didn’t even think the way we do things is weird anymore and had forgotten that everyone doesn’t just sort socks into boxes.

6: That whole gorilla episode. The whole internet has been held spellbound over the shooting of a gorilla when a 4 year old boy climbed into his exhibit. There has been entirely too much said about it already, but I’m adding my two cents anyway. I have a 4 year old boy. I live with a low grade level of terror over what it is possible for him to do. 4 year old boys are old enough to be trusted just a tiny bit – to walk next to you in a parking lot when your hands are full, to watch a video when you jump in a quick shower, to not put non-food items in their mouth, and a few other things. So when the internet began to vilify this mom for “allowing” her child to do this, I was horrified. Guys, pray for this momma. She is in her own personal hell right now. She watched her child dragged around by a gorilla, she watched him scream and cry in panic, and wondered if she would ever get to tuck him in bed at night again. It’s sad that the gorilla had to die, but the zookeepers knew what they were doing. Now this family has to recover from a very public accident and it won’t be easy.

7: Oh Hello, June. It’s June. It’s Phoenix. Welcome to the surface of the sun. The little kids went outside at 8am this morning and were back in after about 5 minutes, with cherry red cheeks and gasping for water bottles. Here we go!

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Stay cool everyone, and go see more Quick Takes @ This Ain’t the Lyceum!

7 Quick Takes: Things I Said I’d Never Do.

Pass the Salt,Photo credit: Max Braun

Time and tiredness teach a lot of lessons. I’ve had some pretty grand ideas about how things in our household would/should run, and I’ve had to let a lot of those go. I’m not saying any of these are bad, just that – well, I kind of thought they didn’t apply to me. Humility is a tough medicine to swallow sometimes.

1. Feed the baby formula – I’m going to start right off with the biggest one for me. I began parenthood as a young and idealistic person. I thought that breastfeeding was best and if it was then obviously everyone should do it or die trying. I became a LLL Leader and worked hard to “help” the cause. Guys, I peeked in other moms’ diaper bags at the mall and judged them for having bottles. I had the fever bad. I’ve long since been over that stage, so please forgive me for my young and stupid past. I had my first wake up call when my oldest went to school and met other smart and wonderful kids. I eventually found out that some hadn’t been breastfed at all. In fact, I couldn’t tell who was and who wasn’t breastfed by looking at or talking to the kids in her class. Huh. Who knew? I also developed friends who genuinely could not breastfeed, even after they tried their hardest. They were still amazing mothers who I looked up to very much.

Still, for myself, breastfeeding was kind of my thing. It was how I parented, how I fed the baby, how I got them to sleep and so much more. When I had a baby, which was often, the baby went with me and I breastfed on demand and it was just how we did things. Then I had a baby at 43 and suddenly things aren’t so peachy. Suddenly we began to notice long stretches of time when the baby had no wet diaper. She got constipated. She was super into solid food as soon as we introduced it. I gulped down my pride and bought some formula. Suddenly she was a lot happier. She pooped and peed just fine. I tried to be happy about it, I mean, there are some benefits here too. She is still nursing some, but my supply is dwindling. When I have to fix a bottle and give it to her in public, I feel uncomfortable. Is there a young, idealistic mom peeking in my diaper bag? I want to tell anyone who looks my way, “You don’t even know, man! I did my best!”

2. Sleep train – My 9th baby was a record breaking terrible sleeper. I think he was at least 18 months old before he slept a two hour stretch. We tried just about everything with him, except crying it out. That was where we drew the line. He did have some health issues – severe seasonal allergies kept his nasal passages swollen, but even with treatment he was a terrible sleeper. When baby number 10 began the same shenanigans, we decided to help her learn how to sleep better. I thought that first week was going to kill us both. But now she goes to bed at night and has one long stretch of sleep. She also takes naps that don’t involve me sitting motionless for an hour and a half ruminating about all the things I need to get done. She is still a crappy sleeper much of the time, so it wasn’t the magic bullet to fix all sleep issues, but going to bed is not the hard part.

3. Leave the baby for an extended period of time, on purpose. For Valentines day this year, my husband gave me a night in a hotel all by myself. He offered me two nights, but since I hadn’t done this before, I wanted to start small. Gwendolyn was already good at taking a bottle, and I pumped every 3-4 hours, except when I was sleeping. I needed this time so desperately and it did a lot to help me recharge my batteries. I never would have considered doing this in the past, even if my husband had suggested it. I would have seen it as him not being supportive of the mother child bond or some such nonsense. In reality though, it was the opposite. My husband knew that I needed to recharge so that I could have a better bond with all my children.

A couple months later, I went away for two nights. It was wonderful – I spent much of it in complete silence, writing or sitting in the bath.

4. All the other Attachment Parenting things I have just given up on. My baby sling – I’ve become a stroller mom. Cloth diapers – the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak, and I already couldn’t keep up with the laundry. Baby food – those little pouches are the bomb!

The next ones are a little more of a stretch – I never said I would never do them, I was just pretty consistent about always avoiding them.

5. Put the baby in the nursery. Years ago I investigated joining a MOPS group. But when I found out that there was an expectation that toddlers or even babies spend their time in the nursery I decided not to go. Didn’t they know that babies needed to be with their mothers? And if my 18 month old was still nursing… I mean, that is still basically a baby, right?

This year, for the benefit of my 4 year old, I joined a MOPS group. He had a lot of fun and it was nice for him to get out of the house and do preschools things. My favorite part though, was when the baby would be calm enough to stay in the nursery too. Then I could sit and chat, do their little craft, drink a cup of coffee, whatever it was we were doing. My baby wasn’t too crazy about the whole nursery thing, so she did end up spending some of the time in with me, which wasn’t a problem for anyone. Yet it was good for me to have those moments when she was lovingly cared for by someone else.

And now I’m sure you are thinking that all I ever want to do is get away from my kids. That is entirely not true. I have spent a lot of years though, being too hard on myself, believing that everything had to come from me and me alone. It doesn’t. My children have lots of people who love them and who are willing to help so that I don’t spend every moment stretched to my very limit.

6. Get cleaning help. I swear, the more I write this post, the more I think I am still a toddler yelling, “ME DO IT!” Getting cleaning help wasn’t something I was against because I thought it should only be me doing the work. I’m WAY too lazy for that attitude. No, sometimes I would consider it and then I just couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on something I was perfectly capable of doing.

Then in that notorious 10th pregnancy at 43 years old, I hit a point when I really and truly could not do that work. I also didn’t have the energy to do the amount of nagging it would take to get my kids to do all of it either. So out of desperation, we hired some help. Oh my goodness. What a wonderful thing! It relieved a ton of stress for me, it made my husband happier, and our home ran a bit smoother. I have continued to have help because I am babysitting my grandson at least three days a week. Having two babies in the house is not conducive to getting bathrooms cleaned and floors mopped.

7. Wear jeans to mass when I had perfectly good church clothes clean and ready to go. I’ve always had the idea that I should put a little extra effort into getting ready for mass. I would dress up to meet the President, why wouldn’t I dress up to go to God’s house? Well. When I can’t get enough sleep, my body goes after energy and rejuvenation in whatever way it can. This means that sleep deprivation equals weight gain for me. So, to be absolutely honest, none of my skirts fit. So jeans it is. I dread going shopping or trying to figure out something else. I still try to look my best. This time is temporary and I will be able to lose the weight before too terribly long. Then I will get some church clothes again. But for now, if it fits and isn’t stained, it’s good enough for public viewing. I’m trying, I promise.

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Why Am I Not Better at This Yet?

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I have been a mother for 26+ years now. I have ten children. Other mothers look at me and ask me how I do it all. But they are usually only the ones who don’t know me well yet. They don’t know that I have still not completely cleaned up after last night’s dinner and it’s 2pm. They haven’t seen that my floors haven’t been vacuumed in over a week, nor has the floor been swept in days. They don’t see that I am so tired that I find myself unable to sympathize with a child who was walking backward in Target and nearly impaled himself on a shelf.

When I ask for help, whether advice or physical assistance, some of the responses I get are:

“Your older kids should be doing more around the house!”

“You have ten children, you should know!”

“You need to just lower your standards a little, you have a large family.”

“You need to make time for yourself, get away for a while.”

“Just call me anytime, I can take {one child’s name here} to play for an hour or so…”

Let me address those one at a time, and maybe you can see how I can still be such a novice mother after 10 children and 26 years.

“Your older kid should be doing more around the house!”

You know what? They do help a whole lot. But once they are older there are other things to keep in mind as well. They have homework. A ton of homework. They have jobs. And, the bottom line is, they are still kids. So while they have jobs to do, I am still the one who has to follow up on every. last. one. What is that saying? Kids will do what you INSPECT, not what you EXPECT. Very true. And to my kids, if you are reading this? Thank you for the help you give, you know instinctively that loving on the little ones is higher priority than a clean bathroom, and I am grateful for that. But I do still need help with the dishes and bathrooms and stuff.

“You have ten children, you should know!”

Yes, I do. I know an awful lot. But here is a funny thing, I am so tired from trying to stay up late to make sure the computer gets turned off when the older kids are done with their homework, being up with the baby off and on all night, and then up at the crack of dawn with the younger kids, I start to doubt my own mind. I can’t remember things. I wonder sometimes if I am making mountains out of molehills because the only thought I can fully form is “Should I have another cup of coffee and try to be functional or should I stumble around half asleep and hope that I will get to close my eyes and take a nap?” And another thing… there are a lot of new things coming out, being discovered every day. Maybe someone has come up with a sure-thing cure for diaper rash and I am too busy to have heard of it. So I ask a fellow mom, “Hey, what do you do for this kind of rash?” Remember, since each child is different, we are a first time parent to that child.

“You need to just lower your standards a little, you have a large family.”

Oh. my. goodness. If I lower my standards any more the neighbors may complain. My standards are low. But even in houses with low standards the floor must be swept sometime.

“You need to make time for yourself, get away for a while.”

Yes I do. My kids are an overwhelming bunch. But if I ask you to babysit…

“Just call me anytime, I can take {one child’s name here} to play for an hour or so…”

I’d love that! It would be really nice for {one child} to have a play date. I do appreciate when they get that opportunity. And I’ll love it even more if you are the one to drive. But unless you are taking one of the kids who is really too young for a play date (and classifies more as highly focused aerobic babysitting) then my load isn’t really any lighter. In fact, if you are hosting one of my kids who is 8 and up, my job will become a little harder for that time because I have fewer hands around to help out. That’s okay, they need their breaks and social time too.

So here are some facts:

1. I am a mother with several small children. That is a lot of work. They make constant messes and still have “fussy days” when they just need a lot of holding. They aren’t fond of sleep.

2. I am the mother of a few middle grade kids. They can help a bit and yet still need a lot of help. They are hard to keep track of and try to negotiate out of bedtime.

3. I am the mother of some teenagers. They are a lot of emotional work. They need guidance making decisions that will impact their whole lives. They also sometimes need supervision somewhat like toddlers. They don’t sleep either.

4. I am the mother of some adult children. They help out, they need help. The help they need is often of the more expensive variety. They are a lot of worry because I am not the one in charge anymore. I don’t have to worry about their sleep unless they are doing it in my living room.

5. Each of the above groups are both delightful and hard work. All of them generate a lot of dishes and eat a lot of food. And the paper! Some days I am afraid I actually growl at the 4th or 5th child who comes home and hands me more paper.

6. I make a dinner for 8-12 people almost every night. And when I don’t cook it, it is still my job to figure out what it is going to be and how much it is going to cost. That is a major job.

7. I can have the laundry caught up OR the kitchen running smoothly. Not both. Never both. Sometimes neither.

8. If you have fewer kids than I do, I do not think you have it easy. Parenting (if you’re doing it right) is always hard work. I do not wonder why you have however many children. I can barely manage my own life, it wouldn’t cross my mind to manage yours.

I realized the other day that one of the reasons I am not more adept at this is that I start completely from scratch every two years or so. Each time a baby comes, I have to take time to physically recover and then I step back into running my home, but it is different after each baby. The family has grown, the kids are going through their own adjustments, the bedroom assignments have shifted. The youngest has been dethroned and is generally not happy about it. And I have to restart or refigure all my routines and plans, only this time with a tiny baby in one arm and a toddler hanging off the other one. Then… then a new school year starts and we shift who is going to which school and we have to get the routine down again – the snacks, the driving, the money, it’s a whole new plan.

I guess what it boils down to is that I am good at this. It just changes so quickly that adapting is difficult. For any plan I make to manage our lives, there are so many possibilities for variation (and disaster, lets just say it) that I often forget that I ever had a plan in the first place, which makes me feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants and wondering why I haven’t figured this all out yet.

Renting Space

CirclingJericho.com

There is a certain security that comes with the American way of life, an expectation that the future is predictable and controllable. For my family, home ownership has been a part of that security. It gives the appearance and expectation that what is ours is ours, under our control, and somewhat permanent – at least until we ourselves decide to make a change.

I am a planner by nature and thrive on that kind of predictability. When I feel overwhelmed my first impulse is to sit down and start making lists: things to do, stuff to get rid of, any way I can grasp to dig myself out of the mess I feel I am in.

Sometimes, however, that facade of control is lifted and we see our life here on earth as the temporary, wind blown thing that it is.

Eleven years ago, on a completely normal morning, I came to the realization that our house was on fire. Suddenly that normal, predictable morning became a pivot point into a time when our lack of control over our life was abundantly clear every moment of every day.

The insurance company moved us into a rental house, and suddenly everything we had was not our own. While we were well taken care of by our church community and our insurance, ownership and control were things we no longer had much access to. The house and everything in it were either items donated to us or rented by our insurance. Our furniture, sheets and towels, even our kitchenware were rented items as we waited for our house to be fixed. Suddenly the concept of stewardship became a glaring daily lesson of our lives.

With six children, we were living day by day on white carpet that didn’t even belong to us. White. Carpet. How on earth were we supposed to live with these belongings that weren’t even ours without damaging them? There was a clash between the need to live our daily lives using the tools given to us, and the need to be able to hand them back to their true owners without regret. The temporariness of our use of these things was never far from my mind. I was the steward, given use of these tools and trust of their care – but only for so long. These things were never meant to be mine to keep.

We eventually moved back to our home, replaced most of our belongings with new purchases and went on with life as normal. Ownership was again a comfortable existence. A few years later we moved to a new house, one that we meant to be our “forever home.” Again we settled in and filled all the corners, living our lives with the expectation that the situation was permanent and under control. But that is never how it works, is it?

Due to circumstances outside of our control we find ourselves again in a rental home, in a tangibly temporary situation. Each time I pass a wall that has a new scribble on it from the toddler (on flat paint, no less) I cringe and worry about the marks we are leaving here.

One day recently, as I was fussing to myself about not knowing how the next step of our living situation will pan out, I found myself remembering the days right after the fire. I was reminded that no matter how comfortable we are here, no matter how under control or permanent our situation feels, this is not our true home. We are only renting space here on earth. When I look toward my next home, I need to keep in mind that it is still not my permanent home, but only a working and resting place on the way to my true home. My home here is the school where I learn to love and serve God, and is not meant to be a place where I settle in and feel secure and comfortable and permanent. My belongings here are on loan, sometimes as blessings, sometimes as impediments and lessons on how to hold my own ideas for my life with a gentle grasp, ready to relinquish it for the next step towards heaven.

Ownership is a comfortable feeling. But when I remember that all this is temporary, then I can live better in the idea of God’s providence and a focus on my true home with Him, in Heaven.