Camping with the fab five

Someone told me at church today “If you go back and listen to old school Gary Smalley messages he said once ‘if you want to give your child great memories and bond as a family, go camping’.  Well, good thing something wonderful may come of our super challenging but super “fun” weekend.  Upon looking for this information online, I found this quote from him, which rings so true:

The real secret to becoming a close-knit relationship is shared experiences that turn into shared trials.

~ Gary Smalley

After a less than lovely and three hours later than planned departure (don’t ask), we were on our way with nearly everything we owned (except the portable crib for Finn which we wouldn’t know until bedtime).  After sticking it out to make almost three whole weeks with no fast food, we broke down and had McDonald’s on the way for dinner.  We got to the campground around bedtime and stayed up later than our norm getting all set up.  There were cousins which made everything more fun.

No computers, no dirty bathrooms that needed cleaning, no agenda besides to have fun.  It was great.  Until I realized we’d left the crib for Finn at home.  We figured we’d just make him a bed and he’d sleep on the ground on his sheepskin.  Notsomuch.  He threw the fit of his life.  I packed it up and went to the van with him.  We spent the entire night in there.  Me sitting up making sure he didn’t fall off the seat where he’d finally fallen asleep after a couple good hours of him screaming.  Afraid that any noise I made would wake him I tried to freeze and sleep for about 6 hours.  Instead of sleeping, I stared at trees and listened to him breathe and looked for signs up daylight.  There is something very un-fun about being awake when everyone else is asleep.

Some coffee and some happy campers beckoned me to choose happy and get on with the adventure.  We searched for crabs and found hundreds.  Finn chilled in the Boba on daddy’s back and looked positively exhausted, which made me slightly annoyed because really, he got more sleep than me.  By a longshot.

My sister, who is a rockstar, braved camping not with a needy 16 month old and four other kiddos but instead with a growing baby in her belly and her own two littles.  She deserves an award.  We both do, here is our game face the morning after camping, night one:

Our two girl cousin buddies enjoyed each other as always…

and all the boys ‘helped’ put up Nana and Papa’s tent on day two of camping fun:

Finn loved him some Papa…

and for that matter so did Kyler…

then everyone joined in to play “crawl to the beach like a crab” or something like that…

Ruby watched the silliness and stayed warm in her winter hat, because well, you know, this is still Seattle:

Daddy figured out how to build underground tunnels in the wet sand and everyone thought that was awesome…

It’s been just over a week.  I swore I’d never do it again at about 3 AM both nights while Finn kept me from sleep.  But you know what?  Our kids would tell you it was the best ever and a super fun weekend.  These are the things that memories are made of.  And as my sister so astutely observed ‘the terrible awful just sort of melts into the wonderful’.  One minute I was curled up in a ball in a van seat with a baby who wouldn’t sleep and shortly after I was sitting at the beach listening the absolute glee while my children found crabs of all colors and patterns and delighted in the simplest things.

It is that truth that leads me to say that probably, we will do it again.  Maybe we’ll do it a little better or maybe not.  But we will try again, we are crazy like that.

A nine year old!

Nine years ago last week we welcomed a tiny, sick, premature baby into our family and became parents for the first time.  She has grown into an amazing, beautiful girl who will be a young woman before we know it.  This is her birthday letter (part of it at least…) from this year:

  You are nine years old.  My heart bursts with gratitude for the girl you are becoming.  As I watched you open gifts last night for your birthday you were so grown up and polite and genuine as you found delight in each present you had been given.  I did not have to remind you to say thank you and you were so grateful and so quick to appreciate what you received.  It reflected a growing up, maturing heart that is often a beautiful reflection of Jesus to those around you.

Your heart for others Rylee, its amazing.  And for years now I’ve agonized over the lack of friends for you in our life and how hard daily life with your brother can be day in and day out.  You endure a lot with him and sometimes you have such a great time.  But there are days that he hurts you with words, hands and attitude.  We’ve tried our best to provide friendship-making-opportunities for you but nothing great has panned out.

Until now.  God has heard our many prayers and He has opened up new doors with a sweet group of girls that I can see becoming long time, precious friends for you.  He cares so much about you.  He knew just who you would be and just what you would need.  As you head into the pre-teen years, you will crave companions and these new girls are perfectly suited to share life with you.  They love animals, they are in 4-H, they go to our co-op, they have parents who love Jesus….the list goes on.  I just want to make sure I wrote you about how faithful God has continued to be to you and how much we see Him in and around you.

You love to put your baby brother down for naps and are so proud when you get him to sleep.  You often ask me if I got much sleep when you see me in the morning.  You are quick to help with meal preparation and love, love to organize things.  You share.  A lot.  You are the apple of your little cousin Ruby’s eye.  I’m pretty sure you’ll need chiropractic help for your back after all the time you LOVE spending holding little ones.

You’ve identified our baby pattern and have resolved that the “next baby God gives us will be a boy”.  It’s that simple to you.  Our value of life, all life, is so internalized in you – it often truly blows me away.  How you will live out your life and your purpose with driving truths as counter culture as these I do not know.  I do know that your dad and I cannot wait to see your life continue to unfold.  Your sensitivity to what is going on around you in the lives, faces and hearts of others is far, far beyond your years.



Our life, our family is so, so much better because of you.

Happy 9th birthday sweet girl!

Modeling the pillowcase dress she sewed last week at a 4-H sewing workshop!  After she shows it at the fair it will be donated to an orphanage in Haiti.

Life with boys

While I am no expert like my sweet friend Kimberly, the blessed mama to SIX lovely boys, I am learning.  A lot.  Having grown up with only sisters, the world of legos, star wars and weapons was entirely foreign to me.  Now that boys win around here (for the moment at least) with Phineas’ birth tipping to scale to boys-by-one, I’m trekking along on my journey of learning to love and nurture these little men the best I can.

There are some, like writer Sally Clarkson (whose two-part guest post on the MOB blog was excellent), far more seasoned in the raising of boys, I’m still a well-intentioned newbie.  Many a day I can be heard saying “how do you do that? why did you do that? that is NOT a weapon!”.    The way their little minds work is a mystery often.  They have energy and a zeal for rocks, dirt, things with wheels, tools and all things battle-related that blows me away sometimes.  How they could cultivate all that boyness in a sit down, school-room-all-day setting is beyond me.

I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to learn at home and lend them the freedom to spend hours taking apart home appliances with their ‘man box’ tools and to craft all sorts of things out of cardboard boxes and duct tape.  The freedom to whoop and holler and wrestle and be all the boy they are.  The simple gift of time to spend in wonder at the black beetle in the yard and how it always seems to turns itself right side up.  The chance to share a newly acquired skill with a younger sibling.

But I’m getting sidetracked.  My point today was simply the beauty of learning to embrace little boys for all the wonder they were created to be.  So that when you sit down to the lunch table, finally able to eat, and look to your left to see this:

And you hear him say with glee “It’s not a sandwich, its a TANK!” as he stuffs cherry stems into his grilled cheese sandwich in complete delight so much so that he inspires his older brother to do the same so they can have grilled-cheese-cherry-stem battles right there at the lunch table.

And I’ve walked this road enough to know that some days, I absolutely have to smile and giggle and tell them their ‘tanks’ look awesome and what a fabulous idea that is.  We can let the ‘don’t play with your food’ lecture wait for another day.  I’m pretty sure we’ll all survive (grin).

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).

Daily snapshot

Last week I glanced around and realized someday I’m not going to remember this moment.  So many little moments combine themselves to make each day and lack of sleep leaves me foggy at best many days.  I’m usually thinking of the next thing that needs to be done or even the next five things that need doing.  It’s hard for me to slow down enough to enter into simple, sweet moments with my children.  But I am certain that the times I do are what make okay days into great days or bad days into tolerable ones.

So I grabbed my camera and took just one picture of my five all just doing what they do one rainy morning in June:

I realize its not going to win any awards in photo journalism.  Totally fine with me.  I just want to remember the candid, messy moments that I know are fleeting and will give way to grown children sooner than I’d like.  I loved it so much, just looking at it later that night, pondering all the little nuances of it, that I might do it every week.  Just aim to capture them all living out their sweet days doing what they do….

  • Phineas in his bouncy, where he only likes to be if there are siblings busy around to watch and listen to
  • Boys reading in their zones on the couch, careful not to cross the ‘middle line’ of the book pile
  • Toys on the floor
  • Rylee getting books for her little sis then sitting to read to her
  • what a nice chance it is for me when they are all happy like this to grab a cup of coffee or change the laundry real quick!

Today as I thought about this picture and just the idea that time will just keep on moving and its up to me how I spend it, I opted to play UNO with the 7 year old who has asked me to play every day for 5 days.  I built a lego duplo set with the 3 year old who was lonely in her room and needed help.  It doesn’t really matter that UNO drives me nuts, his whole face lit up when he beat me, fair and square.  And listening to Audrey explain the exciting lives of the lego horses to me, pretty sure it was the sweetest thing I’ll hear all day.

Making room for the new

Though there is something wonderful about doing the same things every year-kids and grow ups alike (at least me) enjoy some amount of predictability.   But there is also (we’re learning) something to be said for be flexible and open to forging new paths when needed.  For ten years we’ve headed downtown into the city to see lights, look at window displays, ride the holiday carousel, etc.  One year we even took a ride on a horse and carriage.  Though it is still lovely, some things have changed.  Namely, the amount of children we bring with us!  Even with strollers, front packs, snacks and a good plan…it did not turn out to be the dreamy time it used to be.

We left this year thinking it might be time for a new tradition, who knows what, but the text my sister sent me on her drive home was “Remind of this day when I say I want to go next year!” as her kids screamed most of the way home.  Two of ours did too.  Times change and tradition sometimes need to evolve into something that will be fun for all.   We joked that we go to all this trouble, try hard to take fun pictures and enjoy it vicariously through the photos later because in the moment it is mayhem!

Here are a few highlights…

The cousins holding hands

Audrey thinking about enjoying her horse (Isaac looked about as thrilled in his pic!)

Between Caleb ‘injuring’ his knee every ten minutes and Kyler crying, we tried to snap a photo

Pretty sure Auntie Stephie enjoyed this year more than anyone else ~wink~

One tradition that deserves keeping is certainly Nana and the Nutcracker for the girls (Audrey stood in the driveway and cried for 10 minutes when they left, she is all set to go next year!)  Rylee was totally enraptured with the whole thing, even asked to sign up for ballet after she got home!

Another keeper so far, is the gingerbread making night.  Though it’s tough not to eat the candy, this year we learned if we bought gross candy, everyone would be less interested in eating it.  Having observed several big sugar highs and lows in our kids already this season, we were anxious to avoid another!  Black licorice, spicy gum drops, cinnamon drops and the like all made great decor and didn’t taste very good.

This house was almost as sweet as this little girl…almost

No candy for this cutie till next year!

Why not being perfect doesn’t deem me a failure

Any facade I was holding onto about being an excellent parent continue to be pulled away these past few weeks.  Perhaps it’s just me but in my experience with a uniquely challenging child that often eclipses the needs of the rest of the family, the long haul of it can be daunting.  I think that because we’ve seen great strides and wonderful improvement in our son’s life and coping skills, I began to feel like we were moving on.  Along with that, I let myself forget some of the tools that were built into our life and slacked a bit on the things that I know help him.  Without thinking about it a bit, on some level I thought we were all good.

After the dismal failure of swimming lessons and several other choicely located fits of a completely overwhelmed, overdone child – I remembered.  And it hurt.  I remembered how he is wired and why his brain makes life difficult for him.  I am so aware that so many parents have much greater challenges than I with their children.  I am so grateful that we’ve received all the support and tools and help we have.

But my heart just ached to be able to make life work better for our son.  To help him feel like all of life was not too much for him.  And I can’t do it.  Makes me cry just to type the words.

This is one of the hardest absolutes of parenting.

My son’s life is just that.  His.  I’m not writing his story.  God is.  All his current struggles and the far greater struggles that await him will shape the core of who he becomes.  I may be a key character in the story and goodness knows I want to be a great one.  But the reality is I will fail him more times than I can count.  I will weep beside his bed as he sleeps and pray for God to cover over the times I get it wrong.

The only way I can face tomorrow is in clinging to a truth that I believe with all my heart: the way my children turn out is not up to me.  God holds their life, their future, their whole being in His able hands.

Pondering all of these things, I just remembered that I never did a book review for a book that really spoke to me and is worth sharing.  Written by Leslie Leyland-Fields, the book is entitled “Parenting is Your Highest Calling and 8 other Myths that Trap us in Worry and Guilt”.  Yes, I know very long title for a book.  But the heart of the book held truths that I really needed to hear.  More than any is that parenting isn’t actually my highest calling, even though we often here this is church settings.  Loving and pursuing God above all else is actually the ‘parenting model’ that will transform not only my life but the lives of my children.

The other profound piece that I took away was the myth that “Good parenting leads to happy children”.  This was something I knew at some level but upon digging deeper left me feeling so hope filled and so freed.   Heart-level discipline and strong leadership may not lend themselves to happy children all the time.  Happiness isn’t actually what I’m aiming for.  If I did a quick inventory it’s the least happy times that often have shaped my life, for the better.

So though happy may not describe my son and it may not perfectly describe me at the moment, that is truly okay.  He will learn to overcome.  It is part of his unique and epic story.  I too am learning and will continue learning not just to survive what is hard but to overcome and relish the journey, even when it hurts.

Surviving the newborn phase

I laid in bed last night thinking about all the things we do as new parents to survive the bleary-eyed, exhausting stage of having a newborn.  I found myself making a mental list for each baby and thinking now how funny some of it sounds.  At the time though, not funny at all.  Serious business indeed this keeping a so-very-tiny-and-utterly-dependent-on-me baby alive on a daily basis.  Here is my mental list that kept me awake last night while texting a friend who just had her first baby and wondered “How does anyone do this every single day?” and while waiting for ‘the call’ from my sister who is a week from her due date with her second babe…

Rylee had bad acid reflux, mainly from being a preemie, so added to several doses of blood pressure meds she also took 2 kinds of prescriptions to help her digest food and not spit up.

We kept her upright, almost without fail, for at least 30 minutes after EVERY feeding day and night.  Imagine that fun.  But it helped her.

White noise machines.  We burned through 4 of them in two years.

Binkies.  Of course.  Only one of our four actually was soothed by it.  But we tried it for all.

The exercise ball.  We bounced on that giant blue ball for HOURS on end.  There were nights I wanted to stick a knife in it I was so tired of the gentle bounce, but for two of our kids they were super calmed by that movement.  We learned to watch entire movies on the ball, brought the ball on camping trips…again, it may sound crazy but it brought calm and sleep for us and sometimes that’s all you need.

The Baby Bjorn.  It is one of very few things we’ve kept and used without ceasing for each baby.  We learned to walk the house till tiny baby was asleep then mastered leaning back on the couch to ‘sleep’ while they snoozed in the Bjorn.

Then there was Caleb.  He cried basically for the first 6 months of his life.  So did I.

We spent, honestly, hours a night driving up and down I-405 with him so the other parent could sleep a bit.  We lived off of the 24-hour Starbucks near our house.

He liked a tight swaddle in the amazing Miracle Blanket.  I wouldn’t say it was miraculous for him.  But it helped.  Some.

After determining that maybe, possibly he slept better without us in the room, we slept downstairs on our couch….for several months.  We were completely desperate for sleep.  People thought we were nuts.  Some definitely judged us that we were letting our baby rule.  But we just needed to survive.  And far more than needing judgment, parents new to raising little ones just need a lot of grace.

Once they were strong enough to lift their heads, they all quickly became tummy sleepers.  They slept much (okay, maybe just sort of) better that way.

Our third born, Kyler, was as easy going as they come.  He loved the binkie and sleeping and nursing.

Getting rid of the binkie was rough but it’s done now.

Audrey was born quickly and in the water.  Calm at first then she was pretty sensitive in her early days.  She cried almost every time, the whole time, we were in the car.  It was not fun for anyone.

My midwife recommended a Cranial Sacral Therapist.  We went.  She worked some kinks out of Audrey’s little body and she was a different baby by the following day.  She also taught me baby massage for Audrey’s belly which helped her new digestive system work better.  We had no money and it seemed crazy but wow, so glad we did it.

Anyone else willing to share your craziest or favoritest strategy for making it through those first weeks with a new baby?

Children+pain=hardest thing ever

June in Seattle is never lovely.  Every year everyone here wonders if summer will ever come.  This June is no exception.  So today, being the native Northwest folk we are, we headed to the park for playing and a picnic in the (light) rain.

Everyone donned their waterproof parkas and we ran and swung in the constant sprinkle.  We enjoyed some lunch under the picnic shelter and then ventured to the giant grassy field for a rousing game of sharks and minnows.

It was all fun and games until the slippery grass landed Rylee flat on her mouth as she ran across the field.  She hit hard.  Really hard.  I was right in front of her.  As I got to her there was blood and she was starting to panic as it ran down her jacket and she started to gag and choke on it and couldn’t get it under control.  She looked at me for how to respond.  I had nothing to sop the blood up.  We were all in slick jackets.  Chris had gone running for something but he was a ways off.

So I did what any mother in a pinch would do when your child and a lot of blood is involved, I unzipped my jacket, took off my shirt and stuffed it in Rylee’s mouth.

Just as a car was pulling into the park and just as Christopher was getting back (with a tiny paper napkin that would not have helped anyway).  I had started to cry but I’m pretty sure I saw my beloved crack a big smile as he returned to find me shirtless in the grass field in the rain holding our sobbing, bleeding daughter.  She had instantly calmed a little with something to keep her from seeing the blood.  I put my jacket back on.  And tried to be strong mommy but it wasn’t working too well.

In those moments holding her, knowing it would be okay and knowing her mouth would heal, my heart would have given anything to ease her pain and fear.  Giving her the shirt off my back was nothing, it was done in an instant with no thinking.  I’d have done more if I could to help her but I couldn’t and that is I think one of the most heart wrenching, difficult things about raising children.

Having known them and loved them since the moment we knew of their existence, we want to protect them.  We want to keep their bodies and their hearts from breaking.  We want them not to be wounded by words, by attitudes, by people.  We would do anything to keep them safe.

But no matter what we do, no matter how we try – they will be wounded by the world because it’s made up of people who aren’t perfect.  They will even be wounded by imperfect me, the mother who loves them more than anyone else does.

The only way I can live with that is that I believe this to be absolutely true:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  -Romans 8:28

As my wise mother has always said, God doesn’t waste pain.  He doesn’t waste anything.  He can make good out of anything.  Even when I scream in anger or anguish as I have, many times.  Even when I won’t speak to Him for months because I hurt too much.  Even when I doubt His very existence.

Right now, our kids are small.  The wounds are (mostly) small.  But as they grow, I know too well that they will get bigger and harder and hurt more.  More than anything, I want them to know two things…

That they can trust God to care for them and to work it all for good.

And that they have parents who will love them without condition.

The joy of boys

While I’m not an expert on raising boys like my friend Kim who has been blessed with five boys, I am certainly learning a lot about a gender that I considered mostly a mystery.  Growing up with only sisters, I didn’t really know what life with little boys looked like until I had some.  After a strong-willed, sensitive, challenging first boy we were given a soft-spoken, calm, easy-going second born boy.  They are very different.

One reason we are really happy about homeschooling is that boys tend to need to move quite a bit, they can be loud, they often don’t naturally sit still for long periods, they are very curious and they love getting dirty.  Those characteristics, I believe, are intrinsic and don’t need to be fixed or tamed.  The way our American culture has feminized men has come at great costs.  That’s a whole other post and a can of worms I’ll leave closed today.

Just to say, that I am constantly learning and doing my best to allow the boys to be who they are.  Boys.  Messy, loud, creative, busy, active, wild, physical boys. This ‘boy nature’ doesn’t always fit well in an all day classroom setting and watching our boys be who they are is one of the great delights of home based learning for us.

Some days this means taking a snail break for Caleb:

Being outside is very calming for this high-need boy we have.  He needs time alone outdoors to help him reorganize. He collects snails by the dozens and carefully watches them and cares for them for hours a week right now.

Sometimes, like today all the kids find something to do together after we get some ‘table work’ done.  There are some fuzzy, friendly bees buzzing in a jar next to my hand while I type this.  The kids spent almost 2 hours capturing, studying, observing and being amazed by the incredible bees living in our rhododendron blossoms.

Audrey found a caterpillar on our walk today, brought it home in my coffee cup and carried around until naps.  She insisted on eating with it at lunch time:

Sometimes, boys at home means pain and sadness.  When we aren’t enjoying nature or good books, things can and do go awry.  Like last week when Kyler bit out of frustration at the injustice of his situation:

Or also last week, when Caleb silently took a pen to every single key of the precious piano that I grew up playing on:

And I was so very upset that I forbid myself to utter even a word and when Caleb was in tears because I could not speak to him I finally wrote him this note…

Lastly, in case you want to know, ziplocs can hold bees nicely in a pinch should you run out of mason jars….and mama’s can move very fast should a bee escape in the kitchen!