No Green Rocks: What This Blog is Not

No Green Rocks-

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.

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: 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.

Head on over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes!

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.

7 Quick Takes: Crazy, Crazy May

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May is always a crazy, crazy month around here. And it never fails to sneak up on me at least a little bit. There isn’t going to be much of a theme to this one, unless random thoughts is a theme, which I guess it is.

1. The baby of the family is graduating. Okay, he’s not the youngest child here, nor does he act babyish (did he ever?) But he was our the baby of the first “set” of kids. If we had not had the vasectomy reversal, he would be the baby of the family. Whoa. Maybe in some alternate universe there is a me whose kids are all grown up. I am very much not ready for that. As exhausting and busy as all these little people are in this house, I am so grateful that this chapter is not over. I get to spend more years savoring them, seeing the world through their eyes, and, yes, ticking off minutes sometimes as they somehow both drag and speed by.

Anyway, this baby of ours, soon to be 19 years old, is an amazing person. He’s just itching to get out into the world and figure things out for himself. I’m pretty sure he will do it too.

I don’t have those mushy saying goodbye kind of feelings right now, since he has no plans to move out. But I am sure they will hit me at some point in the next few weeks and turn me into a puddle.

2. How does May do this to me every year? It sneaks up. The calendar looks all empty. I knew that there were many events lurking, since we have a graduate, but there is this eerie calm that settles over things in April. It’s like those first few bars of the Jaws theme.

Then suddenly, emails, phone calls, invitations in the mail, notes home from school, and more all begin to fly in at once. It hits like a hailstorm. If I get one more email from school about, well, anything at this point, I may lose my mind. But here we are again, white-knuckling it through May. I think I made Google calendar cry the other day as I added yet more items to the agenda. (Thankfully, after next week we will get a bit of a break in the pace of things until the last week of July or first week of August.)

3. All of this would be easier if the baby would just SLEEP. Gwendolyn will be 10 months old on Sunday and is still taking one hour naps during the day and mostly sleeping 2 hour stretches at night. I did get a 4 hour stretch of sleep out of her the other night, but I paid for it the next night in 1 hour wakeup calls. At this point, I just always have a headache from being tired. We tried everything. Every. Thing. She is just going to have to outgrow it.

4. Fun stuff: I’m trying to get back in the habit of daily bible study (which is difficult when the only thing you can think is, “Please God, let me sleep.”) And I found this great thing:

QYH

Here’s what it looks like inside:

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I’m a little bonkers for coloring. Or, at least I love the idea of it, I seldom get to do it. But I try. I even set up a table so the coloring stuff would be available at a moment’s notice. When people come to my house they just love that I have a craft table set up “for the kids.” But this little journal incorporates just a little bit of coloring and a little bit of guidance with what to write. It’s the perfect helper to make that 15 minutes or so count. I really like these pens, you can write AND color with them:
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5. Joe vs. The Volcano. (I told you this would be random.) I love this movie and I was having a tough day a couple days ago, so we had an emergency viewing of Joe vs. The Volcano. It was perfect. The house was a mess, the kids’ homework was shoddily done, and everyone stayed up just a little too late. But we all went to bed happier. If you have never watched it an you like quirky movies like The Princess Bride, this one is for you.

6. My reading challenge. About the only real goal I set for myself this year was a reading goal of 50 books. I’m doing pretty well so far. I’ve finished 19. You can check out my current reads on the sidebar and the books from my reading goal over on Goodreads. What are you reading? Doe have any good recommendations? I know you do!

7. Here we are, finally at number 7, what else can be said right now? Maybe I will conclude by just being very thankful that our kids’ teachers don’t give us a grade for our parenting and follow through with homework and projects for the past year. I am worn out and ready for summer. We’re almost there.

Head on over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes!

A Year (or so) in Review

I knew I hadn’t blogged in a while, that much was obvious, but I had to pull up my website to actually see when my last published post was. Nine months ago. So now that I have one regular post up, I thought I would tell you about this past year and how things are going. I’ll probably skip some things accidentally, but this isn’t a life story, it’s mostly just a list of excuses – no, just a story about why I let a lot of things slide for a very long time.

Let’s go all the way back to October of 2014, when I discovered that baby number 10 (or 12, including the two miscarriages) was on her way. This was not my idea. I had PLANS. I was finally sleeping through the night on a regular basis and that made me feel so very normal. I wasn’t even carrying a diaper bag any more and had thrown out all my nursing bras. But okay, another baby. We quickly adjusted to the idea and even came to look forward to meeting our newest bundle.

About the time life was moving along swimmingly again, our 20 year old daughter came to us and told us of a new family member brewing. She was pregnant, not in a relationship with the father, and due 3 months after I was.

I have been in her place, although my now-husband and I were together at the time. Now I got to see things from the flip side. I have to say, my parents did an excellent job of adjusting the the news, and I tried to follow suit. We let her know that we were here for her and would do all we could to support her as she went forward. Then, knowing the difficulties and pain ahead of her, we wrung our hands and cried a bit, and prayed a lot.

Being pregnant at the same time as one of my daughters wasn’t quite the picnic I imagined it to be. Since I am, ahem, of advanced maternal age, being pregnant was a little harder on my body and I struggled to keep up physically. And two pregnant women in the house is probably not fun for the rest of the people, but I’m just guessing there. Let’s just say there was a lot of take out eaten.

During the last month of my pregnancy we discovered that Gwendolyn was transverse and I had excess amniotic fluid. I underwent a version to get her into position. She popped right into a head down position. And then popped right back to transverse again two hours later. We shrugged and decided she must have a reason for being that way and scheduled a C-section.

Long (birth) story short: at 38 weeks she turned head down and was born vaginally three days later. I promise, I will put her birth story on my to do list and get that posted sometime before she turns one.

About a week after she was born, we got some strange phone calls and found out that our identity had been stolen. There was no personal financial damage but it was very stressful and took a lot of time and many phone calls to clear up. We are still on high alert.

Next up, I had been having pain in my upper abdomen each evening for a few days when it suddenly became unbearable. Jay was able to come home quickly from choir practice and rushed me to the emergency room. I was admitted, although it took them over 12 hours to find me a bed, and diagnosed with gallbladder pancreatitis. Gwendolyn was 8 weeks old at the time. I spent 5 days in the hospital undergoing tests. Jay ran back and forth from home to hospital with a baby in tow so that she could still breastfeed as much as possible. My gallbladder was removed and I was sent home to recover with the stern instructions not to lift anything over ten pounds for six weeks. How on earth is it possible for the mother of a new baby to go anywhere and not lift more than ten pounds? That meant that I could not carry both the baby and the diaper bag at the same time. And I was told explicitly not to lift the stroller. I did the best I could under the circumstances, and nothing seems to have ripped, as far as I can tell.

Around the time I had fully recovered from my surgery, Elliot, my first grandchild, came screeching and humming into the world. It was kind of weird for me to be on the other side of postpartum issues, I’m usually the one recovering. My daughter Posy had a hard time getting nursing started, enduring a lot of pain and worry in those first days and weeks. But she persevered and has become an amazing mother to this little guy.

In the midst of that struggle, when Elliot was just a few days old, my sister died. It was quite sudden. One day she was living her normal life – doing better than she had in a long time – and then she was gone. It was early November. We found out later that it was a pulmonary embolism. There was nothing they could have done. She passed away at home, where she was living with my parents.

At this point in our story, my own baby was finally starting to come out of her colicky phase. Yes, the preceding few months had mostly played out with a soundtrack of baby screams.

A few weeks later we hosted Thanksgiving at our home for the first time. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of work. I’m happy to do it again this year if I can, but it was a major event with all the other things we had going on. It stretched my introverted self to the limit.

Christmas came and went, and Posy went back to her job waitressing. While she works, I watch Elliot. It has gotten a lot easier in the last few weeks. But at the start of 2016, when both babies were still really little all I could do was sit on the floor and rock one and then the other. Now, they are both mobile, happy to play with toys, and sometimes even nap at the same time. They are absolutely adorable together. What an amazing gift to have two babies in the house!

There are other things I’m sure I have forgotten, but I’m just trying to list the reasons I haven’t made writing a priority. There are also a lot of feelings mixed up in the above list of events, but I can unpack those another day. I’m not sharing this to make you feel sorry for me, I certainly hope you don’t. I love my life, and while it is eventful, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. One thing that I have learned through this is that I have to fight harder to maintain the things that make me, me. I have missed writing, creating, reading, time alone, and running. I had forgotten a lesson I’ve learned few times before; how much those things filled me up so that I had something to give my family.

The Privilege of a Wide Age Spread

When my fourth baby was born, my first child had only recently turned 7. What followed was a year of unparalleled turmoil and chaos in our home. I honestly have very few memories of that time, it was just so intense and so much work. Bedtime stretched on for hours every night. Going places was difficult. I’m afraid I yelled at that poor little 7 year old, a first grader, to make her own lunch for school. For that year, the only pictures I have of our children they were either sleeping or in the bathtub because that was the only time I could look at them with fresh eyes and see their loveliness and joy. We spent that year just trying to white knuckle it through, constantly holding on to the mantra that “This, too, shall pass.”

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It wasn’t all terror and tears, but it was a hard, intense year. That year each of the kids had a fun birthday party. Our Christmas was beautiful – with snow flurries on Christmas Eve, in Phoenix! We had lots of great times with friends and family. It was just a very hard working year with all those little bodies to care for plus trying to keep up with what I assumed were everyone’s expectations of me.

Now, 18 years later, I find myself in a similar situation. I have four children under 8 years old. Things are busier now, with older children come larger concerns – college applications, dating and other social drama, and car insurance, just to name a few. But now with these little ones, I find myself saying not “This, too, shall pass.” but “Oh no, this is passing too quickly!” As I rock our two week old baby in the fussy evenings, while listening to the older kids race around the house with the occasional crash of something falling or tears from a collision with a sibling I think back to that endless year when we had those first four children and wonder where the time went.

That baby (baby number 4) will be a senior in high school this year. He still never goes to bed on time, but if he is tired the next day it is his own fault, and not something I have to lose (much) sleep over. I lived through that tough year, and it really didn’t last all that long, even though the minutes within it could drag on forever.

I have been gifted with a do over. Not with the same children, of course. No, the mistakes I made with them that year will stand in their memories or a therapist’s notebook. But as a mother, I get to do this again – a closely spaced group of small children, school days, bedtimes, parks and games and activities.

I am not trying to romanticize this phase. I am just as overwhelmed as the next mom. Last night I heartily congratulated myself for being able to get some of the laundry done and folded when the 5 year old came up and said, “Yay! Clean panties!” My kitchen has a giant pot of mostly gone macaroni and cheese (the boxed kind, nothing pinterest approved) that has been sitting on the stove for no less than three days. But the plates made it into the dishwasher! So that’s a win, too! When the call for volunteers went out from school yesterday, I humbly turned it down. I was looking forward to working the back to school days – it’s so fun to see people again and to feel useful. But I know I wouldn’t actually BE useful, because I would be nursing the baby in a corner the whole time I was supposed to be working. Maybe next year. With my husband out of town for the past few days, a trip to Target is the only time we have made it out of the house and that was purely a rookie mistake on my part, to say I wasn’t prepared for a shopping trip with four small children so soon postpartum is an understatement. The cabin fever is at an epidemic level these hot summer days.

That first time with all the little ones, I felt like I had to keep up with the pace of life in the general population. I don’t feel that way anymore. I have watched other mothers who have had the gumption and the brains to slow down when the kids were young and not try to be all things to all people. There is a blissful freedom there, and those are some of the best mothers I know.

The perfectionist in me cries, “There are still things that have to be done! The rest of the world doesn’t go away because I slow down.” But now I know that I can only do what I can do, not one bit more. So that will have to be good enough. I’m stronger than my inner perfectionist now, and while she can sometimes break out and cause anxiety, I mostly make her sit in a disorganized closet.

In this wild and loud, hush-the baby’s-sleeping time of our lives, I will be ticking off minutes slowly and seeing the weeks go by in a flash, trying to cram it all into my brain: the tiny baby who still feels like a bean bag whose sighs sound like heaven itself, the dimpled knuckles on my 3 year old’s hands and how he looks like such a big boy unless he is peacefully sleeping, the 5 year old who reads so slowly and is so proud of herself, the 7 year old who always does her best to help out and always dances when she goes down the hall. All of this will be gone – sometime between a minute from now and an eternity. Then they will be driving their own cars away, living their own lives that I only know snippets of.

But for now there is this:

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Laundry waiting for hangers. It will be all over the floor the first time someone goes for something at the bottom of the pile.

And this:

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“After” the dishes were “done.”

And this:

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(I rounded them up from all corners of the house and begged them to smile.)

And a whole lot of this:
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I’ll leave you now with a trite but wise poem. I’m sure we have all read it many times but it fits here so well:

Song for a Fifth Child
by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

Oh My Word, Happy New Year!

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I told you I’d be back in January, even though it did take nearly half the month to get back. I’ve been trying, I’ve been trying!

My purpose for taking a little blogging break was to focus on my family and to spend time with them. I did some of that. Not nearly what I had planned, but some… You see, most of the last few weeks have been spent with one thing on my To Do list:

  1. Do Not Throw Up

The very day after I decided and announced my blogging break, I discovered there was a NEW BABY on the way. And I was so very, very glad that I was on a blogging break. I was scared of another miscarriage, I was angry at the change of plans, I was happy because – BABY. I have, predictably, been a nauseated, emotional time bomb ever since.

So far, so good! The ultrasound is healthy, the heartbeat is loud, the belly is rounding out. Things seem to be going well, so I am making this baby blog-official! Due date: Late-ish July.

Then there is that whole Word of the Year thing. That made for a nice focus last year, even though I cheated a little. I started with Presence and it kind of turned into Intentional, because I just seemed to trip over that word every where I went. Are you ready for this year’s Word?

Lean in.

I know, it’s two words, but you get the idea.

What on earth does that mean? I am a hider, an anesthetizer, a distract myself at any cost kind of girl. If there is a strong feeling to be had I would just as soon run in the opposite direction. The problem with that is that it leaves me with all this emotional fallout, and it tends to drop on me in the strangest situations, like when there is too much laundry to fold and I find myself a weeping, anxious mess and can’t figure out why. So this year is about not running. When the strong feelings come, it’s time to lean in, to feel the feels, scribble the journal, let the mascara run down my face, and, just maybe, say what I mean.

It’s a scary word.

Since so much of my life is rolling along out of control (Each day dawns without the knowledge of whether I will feel good enough to be functional, etc.) My sole quantifiable New Years Resolution is to keep track of the books I read this year. I made a list on Evernote and everything. I am even counting (I have a special part of the list for this:) books I skim or just don’t finish. I tend to do that with a lot of my kindle books.

There are other foggy resolutions like walk more (when I feel better), eat better (when I can stand to eat food that I can smell), and take better care of the house (again, when I feel better). But those will either kick in later or be measured in a looser way. books read makes for a nice, clean list.

I enjoyed the break, but it sure is nice to be back!

Taking a Little Break

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At bible study the other day – I was saying something and others were saying things. It was a good conversation, but it all fell to the background when a friend said the words, carefree timelessness.

She was referring to Matthew Kelly’s The Rhythm of Life, which we have gone through as a group. I had completely forgotten those words existed, forgotten that carefree timelessness was even a thing. And I knew I was missing it, my whole family is missing it badly. This was confirmation that the decision I had mostly made the night before was the right one.

Matthew Kelly has this to say about carefree timelessness:

Most of us know that the happiest people on the planet are those who are focused on their personal relationships.  Relationships thrive under one condition: carefree timelessness.  Do we gift our relationships with carefree timelessness?…We have to make carefree timelessness a priority.

I began November looking to post more, about lighter things – link ups, stuff going on, clothes, shoes, makeup, and photography, and have strangely found doors shutting in my face each time I turned around. God was trying to say something to me and I think what He was saying was:

Hush.

We have a lot of crazy things in our life, lots of misfortune and blessing. We laugh at it all the time and I get the sense that you have laughed with me. I hope you have. But as the days ticked by I have been laughing less.

To_burn_a_candle_in_both_ends_by_espobTo burn a candle in both ends by espob on deviantART

I have been running at a deficit for so long, it’s hard to keep the pace. I’m burning the candle at both ends, and there just isn’t much candle left. Survival mode is not meant to be a permanent state of being.

So I am releasing my plan for lots and lots of blog posts this month. I am scaling back in search of that carefree timelessness for myself and for my family. While the holidays seem like a weird time to try this, I wasn’t really the one who chose the time. My plate is overfull and I am scraping off as much as I possibly can right now. My plan, as it stands right now is to go back to regular posting in January. I hope it is early January, but I’m giving myself a little leeway there.

I’m okay, I really am. I am taking this break to be more than okay.