Loving our kids well

The room is bright green now and it’s been so long since I lived in it, I can’t remember what the color used to be.  I remember being royally annoyed at the pitter patter of feet above in the kitchen.  There must have been no insulation between that floor and my ceiling.  I remember sneaking out the ground floor window one night at 17, not to go anywhere, simply to say I’d done it.  No one needed to know I only sat in the cold bark for a while right? I laid on my bed in that room for hours upon hours talking till sometimes 3 AM to a boy.  It was eons before texting and email.  It was the days of the face to face or at least the real talking over a phone, probably one with a cord.  I have no clue what we spoke of all that time or how we got up the next day for school.  But somewhere in the talking, in the time spent, love unfolded and twenty years later, here we are – still unfolding.

How we have an almost twelve year old, I don’t know but I knew this summer I wanted some face time with her before the hustle and bustle of fall took off.  I shared with her some of my thoughts and worries from that age, told her why it was wonderful to be a girl and to get to grow up into a woman.  How we have this incredible opportunity, to get to be givers of life through our attitude, heart, words and eventually our body.  Something amazing happens when you get to be alone with just one child and with the only intention being time together.  No grocery list or agenda.  No phone on the table beeping or buzzing away.  No other siblings to share the time with.   No distraction, only purpose.  As they nearly always do, they know.  They sense that the time is set apart and they enter in in a different way.

Once I was back home, we were talking one night about how to facilitate depth of relationship with each of our children, how to be keyed in to every one and building something solid so that as they grow and the stakes are ever higher, the losses greater and the dreams bigger – they know we’re right here.  We agreed there really is only one way to do that.  Time.  Shared time, set apart with the purpose of listening and loving.  Our six are wildly different.  Unique and one of a kind.  So naturally, it wouldn’t look the same for each one.  We decided to each take an hour a week and each rotate through the oldest five kids.  Sounds small?  Well maybe.  But let me tell you it was hard to find a regular one hour spot to set aside weekly where the other of us would be home to be with kids.

Our third born, he’s a dreamer, an artist and the most easy going kid of our brood.  His name means peaceful and while he may be all boy and energetic as the rest of them, it really does describe his demeanor.  He’s very different from me.  He’s not book-crazed.  He is meticulous with his pencil but not with his room.  So when I asked him tonight for his choice of a spot for our hour, he said McDonald’s.  And I fought every urge to say “Gross, no!”.  I simply said yes and off we went.  He asked if he could splurge and have two $1 cheeseburgers, I said yes.  Then he asked if we could sit outside by the (dumpy, old) play place.  Again, I was like really, are you kidding me? but I said a smiling “sure!”.  He told me where to sit so I could watch him slide.  I left my phone in my purse and sipped my smoothie.  He was over-the-moon happy to have my undivided attention while he played.  No one else was out there, so I thought I’d see if I could fit in the tunnel.

Oh glory.  If you haven’t squeezed yourself through the play tubes at McDonald’s for decades, it’s about time.  He shrieked “I can’t believe you’re doing this mom!  I can’t believe it!’.  He led me around and told me the best way to go down the slide.  Upside down and backwards.  Alrighty then, of course I want to do that.  He said he’d catch me if I was going to fall off the edge.  So reassuring.  Once I was safely down the slide, my eight year old darling of a boy literally jumped up and down squealing in glee.  He then did three somersaults on the padded floor to further express his delight.  I laughed out loud and climbed back up for another round.  Why in the world not?

We headed for the library to get his books on hold and he grabbed my hand in the parking lot and said with great fervor, “I llllllllloooove you mom.  So much.”  Mission accomplished.  Though it didn’t look like what I expected, it met his needs and filled his love cup right up.  And that’s the whole point.

Building meaningful relationships with my kids doesn’t have to be complicated or involve ten steps or a how-to book or an agenda.  It really only hinges on one thing.  Am I going to show up?  Like really show up…put the phone away, turn the mental to-do-listing off, pay attention, listen with the heart, engage completely in the time spent together.  When we do that, the dividends are beyond measure.

Why mud means hope

It may not make any sense to anyone except me.  Which is entirely okay.  But coming outside just now to rally some boys for some heavy lifting work only to find them emerging from the forest wearing wide grins and pants covered in thick mud….it was a glimmer for me.  A glimmer of what might be some day soon.

Spring might come.  We might some time, not too far from now, spend days outside, one after another.  My boys, despite their glaring, enormous differences in personality, might get along with each other within the common cause of the outdoors.  Though the wind whipped brisk and chilled all bits of skin that weren’t covered tight, warmer days will arrive.

It’s been a long winter.  The metaphorical one and the real one.  There have been many, more than normal, cold days where we’ve been sequestered to the indoors.  This is especially hard for one of our kids, the one who lives and breathes all things nature.  So finding my boys wielding my purple pruning sheers and pants that will for sure never be the same again, somehow this fills me with hope.  Getting stuck in two feet of mud and losing a pair of boots in the process was the common ground these two needed today, even if for just one day.  The mud means the ground isn’t frozen which means we’re not frozen.  We will pull through. We might be messy and sure get things wrong along the way.  But we will be all the stronger for it…


All in the family

One of the challenges that I’d never really thought much about that we would face as our family grew was that we would have choices to be made about what sorts of things we would say yes to outside the things we do at home.  Not that we spend our days here in a bubble not engaging with the outside world.  Not at all so.  We love having a steady stream of people here for one thing or another.

Some of our friends are highly involved and committed to year around sports.  While for certain families this works great, it also has the potential to fragment the family quite a bit.  Dinners together are the exception instead of the rule.  The costs for kids who move beyond recreation-level sports are into the many hundreds of dollars per season.  However, even for just 6 weeks of YMCA level, “for fun” soccer for our kids it would have cost us almost $500.

When one child excels in a sport, it’s easy to get excited and put others on the sidelines (literally and figuratively).  We’ve watched this play out just this past year in fact.  It is harder than I’d have guessed to find things that a family with several children can be involved in together.

Two years ago this fall we happened upon a county wide 4-H meeting near us.  We stopped and talked with each club leader for any animals we were interested in.  The commitment levels varied a great deal.  The personality and “feel” of the groups did as well.  We still lived in our tiny rambler with our five children, mostly quite happily.  We had chickens and a dog and a cat.  We were far from anything that resembled any sort of country, agricultural life.  But we signed up anyway.  Figuring we could just learn about animals, make some friends and have some fun.

We had no idea what we were in for.  We spent that first year learning all sorts of interesting things about dairy goats.  But better than that we made some great friends.  Grown up ones as well as kid ones.  Each of our children were challenged to give presentations to the group.  Learning to stand up in front of your peers and share about something is such a helpful lifelong skill.

When we had the opportunity to move part way through that year we found ourselves living at the end of an unmaintained county road with a small pasture already in place.  And it happened to be just about kidding season.  Three baby goats quickly found their way to our little family farm and into our hearts.

Of course fair season is the culmination of the 4-H year.  We didn’t really “get” that the first year.  Last year we showed up at one small community fair and had a ball.  This year we did the same fair (pictures below!) but had anticipated all year long that we would do the Big One.  The full Monty of the fair world around these parts.  But it requires its own post which I promise to work on this week.  For now, here are some snapshots of us enjoying our time at Silvana together.  Even just a one-day, all day event for seven people isn’t a small affair….but it was insanely fun for all of us.  Finn included!

Finn getting ready to take on the show ring with the Tiny Tots
Audrey getting Little Su ready
Finn and Kodiak
Audrey and Little Su in the ring
Finn showing Kodiak
Finn with the (lovely) judge
Kyler with Posey
Caleb with Wyatt
Rylee with Blanchette
the lineup!
lovin' us some cousins who came to watch!
our little goat show-girl
the fantastic Finn
sweetest Kyler face ever
going for a sno-cone run
taking a snooze wearing his show ribbon - hard work wrangling goats when you're two!

Heads, hearts and helmets

No brilliant person’s words of wisdom, no fantastically written book, even no astute observations on my part could have ever prepared me for what would happen to my heart when I had children.

What it would feel like to hear tears down the street, to not worry too much because daddy was nearby and to go running down our little lane only to be waved back to the house by the daddy carrying the middlest one who obviously had met much pavement at a very high speed on his bike.  The blood pumping strong I run back toward the house and do what he told me to do “turn around and get all the first aid ready”.  The word “all” makes me start to worry much.  I clear the counter in an instant and realize our bandage supply is meager, it is the end of summer after all.

The pain in his voice as he’s carried in the door makes my insides shudder.  I never knew I would know all the different sounds of ‘boy’ and that only a few would make me feel like this.  His helmet is still on and we gently take it off (we don’t play the “what if he hadn’t had it on?” mind game now, but it comes later).  He is writhing and I want to just hold him but I have to assess the scope of it all.  The impact was obviously head first and then the whole left side.  I see deep open sores on his side and he is holding it so tight, I think spleen? and keep taking mental notes on everything while trying to play calm mommy.  Left elbow maybe broken, lots of blood and road rash abrasions.

We make the decision to head to the ER.  Too many variables not to go.  And he is getting foggy.  Not responding normally to us.  So we pack up and go.

The drive from our new place to the ER that we know and love seems like an eternity.  I pull over on the side of the freeway because he isn’t answering me.  I tug on his foot and he talks back but I know we aren’t in good shape.

As soon as they see him they bump him to the top of the line and send him straight back and there is a doctor there before we are even on the bed.  He is sharp and kind and takes the very best care of my boy.  When he gives me choices on what to do and I waffle and wish my hubby was here to help me decide, he offers to call him right then and there and talk with him in the room with me and we figure it all out together.

The only reason we probably had choices and didn’t head straight away for a CAT scan was because he had his helmet on.  More than once, he said “with that kind of impact, if he had not had that helmet on, this outcome could have been very different”.  As it was he still had a concussion.  And he was badly beat up from his body meeting the road at that speed.

The first hour he is so out of sorts and I wonder how this is going to turn out and would he be okay?  He is in and out of it.  Completely not his normal self.  My mom keeps me grounded and keeps talking to me and we talk to him and we watch and wait.  For several hours.

He finally turns a corner and we go home on strict limitations to his activity and super close watch on his demeanor.  We wake him all night every two hours to make sure he can wake up.  In the morning, the pain of waking up completely undoes him and in doing so undoes this mama too.  He is nauseous and e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g hurts him to tears.  He can’t moved from curled up on the couch.  It breaks my heart.

Dressing wounds also makes my list of “things I did not expect to learn to do”.  But I do it because that is what a mother does.  And it honestly hurts me physically to have to pull gauze out of open spaces of skin that want to grow new into the bandages.

I spend a RIDICULOUS $60 on bandages, bandaids, non-stick gauze and my kitchen counter looks like a Red Cross clinic.  Never again will you find me out of stock when it comes to these necessities.

The days pass and two nights I hardly sleep.  I keep rehearsing our conversation and spilling over with thankfulness that it went down the way it did…

Me:  “I sometimes felt like the dorky mom always making my kids wear helmets, when the neighbor kids mom’s don’t make them wear theirs’.”

ER doctor:  “Well, if you hadn’t done that though, you might not be heading home right now.  Things could have very differently.”

Me:  “Sign me up for dorky mom.  Any day of the week then.”

I can hardly eat anything for several days after.  All the sores and pain and trauma leave me sick to my own stomach even though I’m not the one injured.  But it feels like I am.  And that’s what else no one could make you understand before you are a mother.  When your child’s heart or body is broken, it actually feels like it is you who is broken and sometimes even I think we feel worse than they do.  The whole phenomena is something I’ll never wrap my mind around and forever be thankful for.  The way these little people grow my heart is totally beyond me.

A boy and his dreams

Today the wide-eyed one who loves to wonder told me with with brazen confidence:

See that tree mama?  What I’m gonna do is climb it to the top and jump out after I make some wings.  I’m going to glide down (a brother interjected, “won’t you FALL?”) Oh no, I won’t fall I will GLIDE.  It’s going to be great!

I smiled at the blue-eyed one.  Much of life seems to bear down hard on this precious son.  The way he feels and learns and sees and hears makes for
o-v-e-r-w-h-e-l-m-e-d him more often than I wish.  Who am I to crush his dreams?  Who am I to be the voice of reason and tell him he can’t and it won’t work and here are 10 reasons why that is a terrible idea?

How many times have I crushed him already?  Not been tender enough when he was (slightly) injured for the millionth time and I could not muster one more ounce of compassion?  This the one child that managed to break his foot simply leaning back on a kitchen chair because he could not sit still through dinner.  How have I taken the fun out of something meant to be lighthearted when all he wanted was to dream big?

He’s hard at work behind me right now.  The sweet grunts and groans of boy deep in his work.  Believing big that he can do something great.  Is it my job to tell him he can’t fly?  He can’t change the world? Just because I feel so darn grumpy this morning?  Or just because the world is a terrifying place where the most unimaginable things happen?  Every.  Single. Day?

He just finished the work.  “I’m going out to fly mama!”  Hope filled and an ear-to-ear grin.  “I’m right behind you, hang on” I call to him. 

I grab a camera and chase the one who I know will one day conquer great things, for all the small he has to learn to conquer everyday.

“Do you think its going to work?  I’ll climb up and you hand me my wings so they don’t break, okay? (he pauses) Maybe I should come down a few branches and try lower first?”

He trusts me, implicitly, despite my daily failing him.  He knows I’m in his corner.  Despite the thousand times I’ve wondered why he didn’t get a better mother than me, somehow he loves this one that he has.  He asks if I think this is the right height. I breathe relief.  I didn’t want to say it.  Thankful he figured it out on his own.  He waits and shouts “READY!” and jumps.

My eyes well up behind the lens because its not every day I see this kind of sheer glee from him.  I love it.  I love his sparkle and his creativity and his determination.  I love the way he cradles grasshoppers and moths in his hands.  The way he knows the sounds of different birds in our yard.  I literally relish every single second because I know it won’t last an hour, maybe not even five minutes but the taste of this moments, these moments with this boy….they are so sweet my heart hurts.

Where big brother goes, little brothers long to follow.  This does not always pan out well here.  But it did today.  Little brother searched for his own cardboard, his own scissors and tape and formulated his own ‘wings’.  The littlest brother was happy to swing in the hammock chair while the big boys proved their awesomeness. The tree proved a challenge so we moved the picnic table to the edge of the deck which was a perfect, still challenging but not quite so crazy, height.

Someday his jump will take him out of my nest and into the wide world.  I will miss his good days and his bad.  I will miss the way he tucks himself under my arm on the couch because someday he won’t fit there.  I will not always be his leading lady so I am determined to find more days like this one and love them with all my heart.

From the back seat

Overheard in the van this week:

Caleb –  “I’m going to grow up to be bigger than Rylee you know, because boys are bigger than girls.”

Kyler –  “Maybe…but mom is bigger than dad, so maybe not?”

Caleb:  “No, I will, I’m sure.”

Kyler –  “But mom is a little bit the E-word.”

Caleb –  “No, she’s the F-word, you mean.  Yeah, but don’t say it, it isn’t polite.”

Mama is thinking these boys don’t realize that in 5 short months since Finn’s birth I’ve lost 30 pounds and am pleased as punch to be back at what I weighed before baby #3 – even if I’ve still got a ways to go!  Not to mention they’ve no idea what most people think when they hear “F-word”.  Making a mental note to work on phonics some more with Kyler, who apparently has E and F sounds a bit mixed…

Kyler:  “I KNOW, I didn’t say FAT!”

Mama can’t control the front seat giggles and thanks them for trying to be courteous.  If this isn’t the most humbling job in the world I don’t know what is (grin).

Ranger Kyler’s birthday party

A few months ago I found old movies on DVD from the thrift store.  One was a bunch of old Lone Ranger episodes.  The kids were hooked.  So naturally, Kyler ended up with a Lone Ranger party this year.  I’m actually finding it a delightful challenge to pick a theme and plan a party that doesn’t blow the bank (like $250 to rent Jump Planet!) and that is plain old fashioned fun.

My sister had her baby last week so my planning had been minimal but we still pulled off a super fun day at a gorgeous local park

The kids were instructed on the Lone Ranger’s job of bringing justice to the Wild West, they were informed that a bank robber bandit was loose in the park (Daddy) and they need to find him.  So they headed out with hats and horses gallivanting  around the park.

Doesn’t he look bad? (grin)

It was a great day for this little man and although he got a bee sting and his eye is now mostly swollen shut, I’d say it was just about perfect.  We’re getting the hang of this birthday thing…two years ago we decided that we wanted birthday’s to be a bigger deal and to take the focus of Christmas off the gifts and focus on the Gift and on blessing others.  We also talked about how having a large family we needed to be intentional about celebrating the uniqueness of each person in our family.  While we don’t have it figured out, it’s sure fun learning!

Just Heard Thursday

After an unusually long stretch of not one kid-free moment for me, I could feel my internal reserves running on fumes.  Usually I do a fair job of getting out, taking care of myself which I’ve come to find a non-luxury but an honest necessity in this stage of life I’m in with little kids, homeschooling, not working outside the home…

So last night around 9 I headed over to a friends’ home (her husband is out of town for the week) for a movie, popcorn and good wine.  It was just what I needed only I was left in charge of movie selection and I’m embarrassed to say that my choice was not the best.  We watched The Blind Truth-a smutty, low quality romantic comedy chock full of sexual innuendo.

At dinner tonight, I intimated to Chris that the movie had been fairly sub par.  He asked what it was about, to which I replied “It was about the ‘truth’ of what men really want.” He cracked a smile and instantly caught my drift.

But Rylee immediately responded exceedingly confident that she knew the answer:


We were undone.  I’m still laughing typing it.  I hope she thinks that all men want is coke for MANY years to come 🙂


Kyler (bursting in the door from the yard):  “Mom, I saw Mason’s peanut.  It’s huge.  And it’s a hairy peanut.”

Two things are important here:

  1. Mason is the dog who lives behind us
  2. Peanut is Kyler’s term for boy private parts

I hid behind the counter laughing.  Mainly because my mother was there and I wanted to act grown up enough not to bust a gut laughing at bathroom humor.  But really, I’m not grown up enough.  Yet.

Downhill in a hurry

Usually on Monday’s I have some sense of a fresh new beginning and if I’m lucky a well stocked fridge from weekend kid-free grocery trips along with a good bit of rest under my belt.

Today was no such Monday.  It was an absurdly crazy weekend for us.  One thing after another, a massive impromptu home renovation project, naps and meals all mixed up, dinners, play dates, two soccer games, a baptism and a church meeting.  I had worked double time trying to keep up with dishes and food and people.

Well rested, menu-planned, organized and brimming with optimism and perspective I was not.

The kids were oddly calm this morning (despite the fact we had their cousin over for the day) so we actually plugged away at a good many school lessons and then the younger 3 took naps.  Oldest 2 and I played tag (they quickly deemed me too slow), hide and seek (they announced our yard didn’t have any big enough spaces for me to hide) and then button-button-who’s-got-the-button (which turned out to be the crowd favorite!).

We planted 144 seed starts in our little greenhouse trays on a table in the backyard before the babies woke up.  We learned that tomato seeds are really tiny and we aren’t sure if any at all made it into the soil.  Time will tell.  We got dirty fingernails.  It was lovely.

Somewhere in the day Daddy called to say that he’d be home around 7 or 7:30 (he left at 4:45 am!).  I don’t remember what I said but I don’t think it was very nice.

I realized this meant soccer practice back to back for Rylee and Caleb while entertaining the rest of the troops on the sidelines.  This sounded potentially disastrous and I thought about opting out and staying home.  I’d already been through over half a pot of coffee and I was fading.  When it’s time for our read alouds and I’m slurring my words together, I know bedtime can’t come soon enough.

But we (I) decided to persevere, hoping for the best.

A kid or two was able to be in the child care at the YMCA during the two practices (did I mention they were straight through dinner time, till 7 PM?).  So it went relatively well.

Until we needed to leave.  I had given no thought to dinner.  In desperation, I planned that we’d head to McDonald’s to eat on the way home.

As Kyler walked out the child care area door, he laid down on the floor and started sobbing, screaming, shreiking, writhing around like a crazy person.  Audrey would not let me put her down, she was pooped.  The nice employees quickly came out and gently moved him out of the doorway so they didn’t have to hear his fits.  People are everywhere.  I ask him to go to a bench, the problem-I deduce-is needing help with shoes.  I will gladly help when he goes out of the traffic path to a bench.  I cannot even hear myself think he is so stinking out of control.  And it happened in the blink of an eye, honestly.

Everyone stares, my face is turning red, I’m feeling immense regret for whatever burst of confidence (or insanity) moved me to try and do this all by myself.

I sit the boy on the bench and put his shoes on.

The trouble now though is that he can’t calm down.  No matter how calm I am, no matter what mommy tactic I try, he will not be consoled.  He will walk, but fervently bawling for all to see.  I ask what is the matter more than once, the answer is the same:  “I don’t know Mama” and then sobbing resumes while the other 4 of us lead the long and windy way out of the YMCA.

We grab McDonald’s drive thru on the way home, Christopher meets us in the driveway, we throw some wrapped up food on the table and Kyler eats 11 chicken nuggets (his own, Audrey’s and Caleb’s). So I guess maybe he was hungry?

My healthy efforts and painfully slow process of losing some baby weight (when your baby is 2, can you still call it baby weight?)  take a giant hit.  I’m so hungry at this point I eat my fried, fatty food as well as kid leftovers.  Then feel like throwing up after it’s all gone.  Lesson learned (I hope).

Maybe Tuesday can be my Monday?