Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Haircut

Lil' Girl got her hair cut last week. She asked for it, and I feel very strongly that my kids should be in control of their own hair. She was really excited. It is just below her ears. Of course, she looks adorable - she always does.

I had a mini panic attack. Maybe not so mini. I worry about her so much. I've seen the way kids can sometimes be rude to each other when someone doesn't conform to their expectations, and where we live now has a lot of rigid gender stereotypes. I would hate for someone to say something hurtful to her. And even if they don't tell her she looks like a boy, what if she gets so much praise for her shorter hair that she thinks its better? Better to not be stereotypically feminine because girls are worse and being a girl is somehow inferior?

And then there is the why...... Why did she want to get her hair cut? Several months ago she got it cut. It was really long and we donated the 12 inches of blonde curls to Locks of Love. She was excited for the change and got a lot of praise and attention for that, too. She overheard me telling the story of how happy and cute she was while getting her haircut to her Grandmothers and aunt on the phone.

[side note: I try to be careful about what stories my kids overhear me telling about them. They are always, always, always listening!]

And I took pictures and put them on instagram and facebook. Sometimes when she is bored or upset we look back at all those old pictures of her. And she is still very proud of that haircut.

So is she doing this now because I created this story about her? Because she now has to be this person I said she is? Did I create a script she is following?

She tries so hard to be good, to do what she thinks is right. And I have no idea what I am doing. It scares me that she trusts me so much. What if I say the wrong thing, or get angry with her about something stupid and she lives the rest of her life believing something completely backwards because of me?

And I probably already have. I know I already have. I've already made her life harder; and all I want to do is watch her become this amazing person with this huge personality that she already is. She just IS amazing, and I don't want to ruin that.

So I panic about little things like haircuts and I'm scared a lot. The only thing that really helps is prayer.

Because I don't need to be reassured about my parenting. I know I'm doing all I can. And I know that at the end of the day, she is a strong person. But I also know that I majorly fail her a lot.

And this is the whole point of the atonement. This is why I need the grace of God every single day. Because I have messed up and will again, even when I am trying my best. And grace is the only thing I know that can actually fix these problems.

Please, please, please protect my girl from me and the whole world. We are not a good as she deserves.

p.s. I will add pictures when the computer and I are playing nicely together again. For some reason we are having issues today. :)

Saved by Grace

Last Monday was a bad day around here. I mean epically awful. A terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. Everyone cried. Everyone yelled. It isn't that unusual except that most of the time we can get through a tantrum or two and move on. I take a breather, and everyone eats and we read some stories and are able to salvage the rest of the day.

Not this day. It was non-stop. The children and I just passed around this angry, upset, awfulness all day. As soon as one person calmed down, another would start.

There are a lot of theories out there about why this happens, but I don't really care why - I want to know how I can fix it. Psychological and metaphysical theories aren't so helpful with that part.

9:30am saw me sucking deep breaths of fresh air as I sat on my porch and read my scriptures. Then I was on my knees by my bed praying as hard as I know how. And you know what? The BadDay did not quit. I was still tense, the kids were still always five minutes away from a meltdown. In those moments the only thing I could do was react as calmly as I could and keep breathing.

Looking back, the only thing I know for sure is that through it all I was not alone. I felt the presence of God lifting me up just enough to keep my nose above the proverbial water and no more. I was not saved FROM my day - I was saved IN my day. We survived it, but it was purely on the Grace of Jesus Christ.

This is why I am a Christian. I love the doctrine of Divine Justice for the evils in our world that go unpunished, and the promise of Redemption for the sinner, and the comfort that His Love can heal all broken hearts. But all of that is not enough for me. I need the everyday, personal connection with Deity. I need to be saved by His Grace. Not just once, when I accept Him as my Lord - But hourly, when I accept Him as my Friend. My religion has to be woven through the whole tapestry of my life, and not something I tack on as a comforting afterthought when someone dies.

And I can guarantee you will have this day. This monumentally awful day. You may never be an eight months pregnant stay-at-home mom of five small children at the end of a hot August. But we all have this day. And we have it more than once.

And when that BadDay hits I give you all the sympathy I have. Sometimes just having a shoulder to cry on will be enough. And I'm happy to offer you that. But there will be BadDays when even that does not help. And I hope that you will reach out the the only One who can truly help - and choose to be saved by His Grace, again and again and again.

Romantic aspirations of a four-year-old

The girls have been in bed for 20 minutes, but are still talking....

Me: "Stop talking. It is time to sleep!"

Child #4: "But Mom! I'm just trying to decide who I should marry!"

Me: "I'm pretty sure that can wait. Stop talking so you and your sisters can sleep!"

Child #4: "But Mom! It will only take a second!"

Me: "Go to sleep!"

I went back upstairs. I'm pretty sure she kept up the conversation (but in a whisper), until she made her decision. I'm too afraid to ask.

*    *     *

Overheard Child #4 and her father.....

Child #4: "Dad, do you know why I am so sad?"
(bear in mind, she does not sound remotely sad. Only matter-of-fact)

Him: "No, why?"

Child #4: "Because no boys love me."

Him: "I love you. Your brothers love you. Your grandpas....."

Child #4: "No! Dad, no boys MY AGE are in love with me."

Him: "Oh. Ok, then."

If anyone has any tips on how to keep her from growing up so fast, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Meditations on Housework

So the new house has much better carpet than the old one. Its newer, higher quality, and specifically designed so the dirt doesn't show (much). And the layout is such that the inevitable spills from every single meal are not immediately tracked into the living room where any casual visitor can be grossed out by our mess.

The result is that I don't vacuum as often as I used to. (Throwing up several times a day may have something to do with it as well.)

At first I thought it was great, because who needs more work, right?

Another fun thing: there are lots of weeds around the house and on the kids' route to school - the prickly kind, where the stickers cling to your shoes and then drop off other places - like the living room.

You've probably encountered these before. According to my extensive five minute google search, this is goathead, or puncturevine, and it lives to torture feet. They're everywhere around here and now, thanks to my lax housekeeping, all over the house.

Stepping on one of these is worse than stepping on a lego! So bad. And I feel especially terrible when I have to pick them out of tiny toddler feet. Its entirely my fault. Can I really not spare five minutes to vacuum the entryway every couple of days? (Sometimes I really can't. But I'm not the only one in the house who can cover this chore - I just have to remind them)

But I was thinking about the simple, everyday things I need to do to keep my inner self clean. Thoughtful prayer, scripture study, making time for my husband, all of these are a little like vacuuming. Nobody who visits my house can tell if I'm keeping up with those things. Only those people I live with, who take off their shoes and get comfy. They are the ones who are hurt by my neglect of my own spirit. They are the ones who are stabbed by the barbs of my attitude and frustration, by my lack of patience because I thought I was too busy to take ten minutes to talk to God and ask for his help in my day.  And myself, of course. I am not immune to my own negligence.

I'm not perfect at this. And even when I make time to listen to Husband and nurture our love, and make sure I spend part of my day in devotional and prayer, I still mess up and lose my temper and make my own life more complicated than it needs to be. 

Those tiny little barbs are not going to kill anyone. In the grand scheme of things stepping on a little thorn isn't going to ruin anything. You won't even need a bandaid. (Though if you are one of my children you will ask for one anyway.) And there is no way I could get rid of all the weeds in the universe even if I wanted to, and no way I can stop them from occasionally getting tracked into the house. I don't have control in the rest of the world. And occasionally having to deal with someone else's bad day isn't going to ruin you either. 

But in my house I am the queen. The boss-in-charge-of-it-all, and if I decide to clean up then I can. Its as simple as that. If I decide that I want our house to be safe from those little, painful barbs, then I can make it so. 

So that my family will want to come in and take off their shoes and get comfy. So that here, in this place, you are safe.  Even from simple little hurts. We vacuum up as many as we can before they can bother anyone and get rid of the occasional thorn that makes its way in as quickly as possible. With a kiss and a bandaid if it helps.

Simple things really can be that important. Prayer for example. You may be able to go weeks and even years without praying and not even realize how it is hurting yourself and those close to you. And maybe you will decide to just keep your shoes on all the time, to ignore how it feels to walk through the thorns. But that requires never getting comfy with your own feelings, and not letting anyone around you be safe with their spiritual feelings either, for fear of the barbs you are leaving for them.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that prayer is even more powerful than that. We're talking life-changing, earth-shattering power. Way more important and way more influential than one small weed could ever hope to be. I know this for sure. I have tried it in my own life. And failed at keeping up with it and tried again. Its a process. And like cleaning the house, it is never really going to end, because we continue to live here. But it does get easier. And better.

It doesn't matter so much what you say or how you say it. But I will say that for me, simply meditating and trying to clear my mind is not enough. I need the words. I need to talk aloud and say what I'm thinking - all of what I'm thinking, even when what I'm thinking is, "Man, I'm really distracted by that TV show I watched earlier." 

And I've found that God isn't picky with how he is addressed either. God, Allah, Heavenly Father, Supreme Creator of the Universe, or even Hey, you, power-that-I-don't-understand, all get you to the same place. He knows who he is. And more importantly, he knows who you are. And he is never too busy to listen. 

My mind tends to wander when I clean, thanks for following along with me, I may have gotten off on a tangent or two. I'll end with a quote from The Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis. 

"Whenever there is prayer, there is danger of his own immediate action. He is cynically indifferent to the dignity of his position... and to human animals on their knees he pours out self-knowledge in a quite shameless fashion."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

No power in the 'verse can stop me

Let me begin this post by taking you back in time. Just a short hop to last fall, right around the time that school was starting.....

We had a fantastic summer. We managed to keep a up with a schedule of practicing handwriting and reading (most) everyday while still having lots of adventures with cousins and the zoo and the lake. Then school started. The oldest three were gone all day with teachers I had a lot of confidence in and friends that they loved. After the first couple of weeks of me dropping them off, they asked if they could walk alone - and I figured "Hey, we've been walking there and back twice a day for the past five years, we know the neighbors, the crossing guard, I have absolutely no qualms about them walking home from school safely." And I was at home with only two little darlings, and they actually are quite darling much of the time.

It was phenomenal. My house was organized. Everything had a place, and everyday it was cleaned. It didn't always stay that way, but it didn't matter because it never got that bad. I even started to get a callus on my hand because I was using the vacuum every time it was needed (a lot). [Fun fact: having a clean house isn't nearly as satisfying as I dreamed it would be in those days of bouncing a crying newborn and thinking my life would be better if only my feet weren't sticking to the floor]

Nearly every morning my little ones and I would run an errand in the morning or play at the park. And then we would come home and have lunch and they would play quietly by themselves. No one napped anymore - but no one needed it! The best part was that I wasn't exhausted. With the youngest a whopping two-years-old I was sleeping through the night at least 4 nights a week. I was getting up in the morning to exercise, I had time for hobbies and friends and all kinds of amazing things.

Husband was also in the very final stages of his PhD adventure. This means pressure and deadlines and dissertation, but it also means almost done! And in the shuffling of volunteer responsibilities at church, I had been moved to a calling that was a) more rewarding and b) less time.

We weren't quite at the "Sweet Spot" that this awesome blog post from Rants from MommyLand talks about, but we were so close. So close that I started making plans. About going to Grad School myself, trying out NaMoWriMo, learning to play the piano (again), and possibly getting myself healthy.

It's ok to laugh at my naive optimism.

And then Husband got this great job. Great because he loves it, and great because it comes with a paycheck every two weeks and benefits. He's been working freelance for the past few years, and it has its perks, but steady pay is not one of them. But it was far away, and with the dissertation deadline still looming we decided that in order to have any family time at all we would move closer to his office.

I don't love the new rental. But it suits our needs very well. More space, nice yard, so the fact that all my neat little organizational things from the old place didn't translate at all seems like a small price to pay. I'll figure out how to make it work.

I don't love the new school. We're in a small town, but it isn't really rural. Its a suburb. It shouldn't be asking too much that the school return phone calls or emails within a day. I get that I'm in love with a fast-paced city vibe, but it shouldn't be unusual that I'm asking you to DO YOUR JOB. And they have half-day kindergarten. I recognize that it isn't, but this one feels personal. Like whoever thought up half-day kindergarten hates me specifically and enjoys watching me suffer. My kindergartener doesn't love it either, she was in heaven in school all day. But she is adjusting better than I am.

But I can now walk to my sister's house. And I love it so much it makes up for all those things I don't love. I have free babysitting every other week! I have people to hang out with who like to play games like I do and who already know that my children can be bratty, so I don't have to try and disguise it! And my kids get to play with their cousins a lot! Its amazing. You should all have a sister as awesome as mine to live close to.

And the community center has cheap yoga classes that I feel good after. Another sister of mine invited me to run a half-marathon with her in April, and after looking up training schedules it sounded possible, so I decided to do that too. I even wrote my training schedule on the calendar in pen.

And then one day, during Christmas break I got sick. Just a virus - no big deal. But I didn't get better.....and I didn't get better.....and I didn't get better. One quick trip to the drug store and
TA-DA! Baby # 6, due in August.

It's funny (but not "haha funny") because I got rid of all the baby clothes in the move. And all the maternity clothes, and all the baby toys and various accouterments like bottles and sippy-cups. And also because of the very expensive, very painful, very tiny piece of hormone coated plastic I voluntarily had inserted into my uterus, which is supposed to prevent this sort of thing. No one can tell me where it ended up. The only thing they know for sure is that it isn't where it was supposed to be. Me and my amazing, disappearing, IUD! We should take this magic show on the road.

But, I won't be going anywhere for a while. My world has become very small (again). Bed, bathroom, sometimes I make it to the couch; and long, painful walks one block to the school to pick up the half-day Kindergartner. Where I sometimes throw up in the parking lot before heading home to lay on the floor while said kindergartener makes lunch for her sisters.

This is exciting news. And I will be delighted, when I'm done throwing up. For now I'm trying to remind myself that these things can't last forever. And also that I once felt in control of my life. So I can get there again.

I have also been feeling very blessed, very..... not-alone. I'm comforted by my faith that God can help me through anything. And though He doesn't directly cause all the events in our lives, He is ever ready to help us through them. And probably He thinks this is a little "haha funny".

P.S. That title is a quote from the TV show Firefly, which you should watch. It's meant to be about me, encouraging and all that. But it is also what I would write in the thought bubble over Husband's sperm, were I drawing a comic strip about the little sperm that could.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


I make my kids share. You can find all kinds of theories out there about why that is a bad thing or a good thing, but at our house it doesn't matter. We have five kids close in age in small space and we have no choice. We have to share. And of course, they don't always like it, but here are a few things we do that make things easier.

Vocabulary - There are a few things I say over and over and over again. Yes, it gets old. But its helpful to use the same language, especially when the kids are very young. It helps them make the association that taking a ball away from someone and taking a train are the same action and will have similar consequences. I use "take, trade and turns." As in, "Don't take" and "It is not nice to take, you can see if he wants to trade, or you can wait your turn." We started this when my second was barely a week old. Anytime my oldest was playing with something and his brother was in the room I would ask him to share. So he would set one of his trains on the baby blanket and play with the rest, and when he decided that he wanted that particular train back I would remind him that he couldn't just grab a toy that someone else had, he needed to trade him for something else. It was helpful that the baby couldn't focus more than 12 inches, let alone care which toy train was sitting near him; but it set up the pattern, and that was what we were going for.

Alternatives - Inevitably there are some specific toys that my kids don't want to share. Usually something new, like a birthday present. And that's fine. They shouldn't have to share everything. But it's hard for the other kids, too. Because new is cool and they want to see. So if they have something they don't want to share, they don't have to, but they don't get play with it in front of everyone else either. Thats just rude. So the toy gets put away, and they can play with it when they are alone or when they decide to share.

Rules - At our house if you put something down and walk away, you can't get mad if someone else picks it up and plays with it. You can ask for it back, but the other person doesn't have to give it to you. If you don't want anyone else to have it, you have to put it safely away in your bed. [Each kid has a bin or box at the foot of their beds for special toys and things]
You want to trade me the green train for the blue one?
I don't know.....

No one is ever allowed to grab something out of someone else's hands. Not even me. So even if one kid has taken a toy and needs to give it back, I don't physically touch the toy. I have been known to grab a toddler before she runs out of the room and hold her on my lap. Then I tell her she can't keep a toy that she took from someone's hand and she has to give it back. I will even guide her elbow to help her give back the toy, but she has to do it herself.

There are two important reasons to do it this way. One, is that I need my kids to get used to obeying my voice, not physical force. For safety reasons alone, they need to react to my voice. Also, it doesn't take too long before I can't physically force them anyway. Kids are strong little suckers and there is nothing more difficult than trying to wrestle a stolen toy away from an uncooperative toddler while 8 months pregnant at a play group while you are trying to make a good first impression. (Not that I know from experience with that one or anything.)

The second reason is that it keeps the kids from getting into physical fights when I'm not there. We've been doing this for so long now that only the two-year-old ever grabs toys from someone's hand, and the older ones never even try to grab it back. They scream, or tell her no, or come get me, but we don't have any out-and-out brawls over toys ever. [More on our "no hitting" policy to come]

Consequences - I set a timer if the kids need to take turns with something, but sometimes not even that works. On those occasions, the toys simply get taken away. I say, "If it isn't fun, you don't have to play with it. And we will find something else to do." And then nobody gets it. The top of the fridge is a great place to put toys into time out because the kids can still see them, but can't reach. I also put things in the top of my closet if it is going to be gone for a long time. Sometimes the kids are sent to different rooms to play by themselves. At this point, they don't usually see that as a punishment, and it isn't meant to be, just a way to make sure our home is more peaceful.

The majority of sibling rivalry centers around the sharing of stuff and space. And it is understandable that kids will fight sometimes, but they can be taught to share and coexist peacefully (most of the time).

Monday, December 29, 2014

Judgie McJudgerson

Here is a thing I've learned about myself over the past couple of months.

When I am feeling self-conscious about social settings it is usually because I am being judgmental of other people - either in that situation or elsewhere in my life. When I deliberately stop judging people it is easier to stop worrying about what they think about me. And suddenly I have confidence to talk to other people and enjoy getting to know them. For some reason those two things are inseparably connected for me. And it is very freeing to spend time with other people and simply enjoy being friends.

So that is something I've been practicing. It sounds simple and obvious, but it is making a difference for me.