Times change

March 24, 2017

Recently I found this draft I wrote three years ago:

I was snuggled with my littlest, before bedtime, when I noticed something odd.  Her bedroom is–by far–the smallest bedroom in the house.  It’s also the most awkward to furnish, because in addition to being small (it’s something like 9’x10′), one wall holds three doors:  the door into the room and a double-door on the closet.  But as I sat and rocked the baby, I realized that her room felt spacious.  Maybe not as roomy as her sister’s (whose room is ridiculously large), but it felt open and clear.

That’s because, of course, she isn’t even a year old yet and doesn’t have any “stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong, that closet is quite full of clothes waiting to be grown into; almost the entire top shelf is devoted to 12-18 month clothing that she’s creeping towards daily.  She has “stuff.”  But wow…all her room has in it is a crib, a changing table (with baskets for the clothes she’s currently wearing), a rocking chair and a small side table.  That’s it.  It’s absolutely refreshing.

I wish my other kids–especially my son–would “get it.”  That even a room that tiny can feel large if it’s not crammed with stuff.  My oldest often complains about how small his room is, when in reality it’s not bad; it’s just full.  He’s also the poster-boy for posters; when we moved here we devoted one wall to all his artwork, arranged carefully all together.  Now he’s old enough to get the thumbtacks for himself and his room is becoming a fire hazard.  I keep trying to explain to him that his room isn’t small, it’s crowded.  I think it might have started sinking in when family began to ask him what he wanted for his birthday and he said he didn’t want any more Legos because he didn’t know where he would put them.  That’s a pretty big step for my little Lego fiend.

The problem is that everything is held in comparison to middle girl’s room, which is HUGE.  It’s the one at the veeeery end of the hall, over the garage, and it’s almost as big as the garage.  (The square footage of her bedroom is actually bigger than the master bedroom; it’s 12’x18′.)  Her space veers back and forth between completely trashed and amazingly clean; the older she gets the more into decorating she is and the more “fixy” she is about her space.  To her credit, her large room usually feels large because she’s kept it fairly picked up.

I’m sure that someday, as the baby gets older, she’ll probably want a room as big as her sister’s, too.  I’ll take the smaller space any day.  Especially one as clean and simple as the nursery is now.  In a few years, little one will start accumulating stuff and putting her own mark on everything, the way her siblings have.  I hope she learns to appreciate the beauty of less.

So here we are, three years later.  The room is actually much the same, though we moved in a chest-of-drawers to replace the outgrown changing table.  We also moved the side table out, and a small “crib” in, to hold her stuffed animals.  (I would say it was a doll bed, but it was actually built by my great-grandfather for my mother when she was born.)  The closet has even been cleared out, and all her “to grow into” clothing (now size 6 to 10, the best of the best from older sister) is hanging up instead of piled on the upper shelf.

The only part of her room that gets regularly out-of-hand is her bed, since she wants ALL her stuffed animals in bed with her.  Oh, and her library books.  And sometimes a box of Kleenex.  (You get the idea.)  Sometimes when I tuck her in at night I tease her about where she’s going to fit, and she will cheerfully inform me, “It’s okay, Mama!  There’s a spot right here!”  And sure enough, there’s just enough space for her little head to lay on her pillow.

My son has come a long way, too.  Apparently around age ten or eleven there’s a seismic shift in attitude about stuff, and things that once were overwhelmingly sentimental now just seem babyish.  (I’m seeing it happen with my eleven-year-old daughter now.)  His room looks consistently better, with the occasional “wow, I have too many books” issue.

Interesting what three years can do.

First-world problems

March 15, 2017

Our pantry is not my favorite thing about this house. I hold to the theory that pantries should not be deeper than they are wide.  Ours is definitely deeper than wide, which results in things disappearing back into the dark abyss fairly frequently.  I hit on the solution (and it is still, honestly, a good one) of using baskets as “drawers” for most items, and two nice wooden trays (inherited from my grandfather) as “pull-out shelves.”

This plan has worked really well….until we overloaded one of the trays with canned goods and broke the tiny plastic bracket holding up the shelf.  It really wasn’t a problem; I’d just use a tiny wooden dowel rod to replace the bracket and we’d be set.

Except the piece of plastic was still lodged in the hole. 

No problem….I’ll just move the shelf up a notch.

Except there was a piece of plastic broken off in that hole, as well.  

I’m not proud of how this story ends.  (At one point, my sweet husband asked if he could do anything to help, and I might have said, through clenched teeth,  “Yeah!  You can buy me a new house!”)  One thirty-minute real-life Tetris game later, the pantry was entirely rearranged and usable again.

Because we had so much food.

I still think about that.  We had so much food we broke the pantry.  How blessed are we?

Now we’ve just finished a washing machine meltdown.  I noticed back in January that it seemed to have the hiccups:  it would hit a point in the wash cycle where it would circle back and start all over again.  Once I caught it, I’d just turn the whole thing off and start it over on the drain/spin cycle and call it good.  Eventually I called a repairman, who came out and informed me it was working fine for him.  (Apparently the “let’s do a quick run through of the cycles” doesn’t trigger the problem.)  We bought a warranty to ensure that when it acted up again, everything would be covered.  The load I put in after the repairman left didn’t work.  Sigh.

Two days later (now that the warranty is actually activated….) I scheduled another repair, four days out.  When that repairman showed up, he had to order the part.  The actual repair is then scheduled for eight days later.  (Are you doing the math here?)

In the meantime, the washer went from quirky to dying.  The hiccups settled into an “I don’t do drain/spin” no matter how many times I put it through the cycle (though for awhile, the third time was the charm….).  The tub would empty, but I was hand-wringing clothes before I put them in the dryer, and I hung the exceptionally soggy items outside over the deck rails.  (One factoid they don’t mention about minimalism:  when you have fewer clothes, they HAVE TO BE WASHED, or you will RUN OUT OF CLOTHES.)

The grand finale to the washer story is best told in numbers:  one month, seven appointments, (six where someone actually showed up), two new computer boards, three “recalibrations,” and one–ONE!!–blessed replaced “shifter,” and all is well.  (Might that have been the problem the entire time?  We’ll never know.)

Yet again, how blessed are we?  I have a washing machine that I’ve been able to depend on painlessly since 2012.  I finally, finally have a working washer again and no longer have to think about laundry.

First-world problems.  I’ll deal.

 

Why I left Facebook

February 19, 2017

Last Thanksgiving I decided I was pulling the plug on Facebook for awhile.  The holidays were underway and I thought, for my own sanity’s sake, that I didn’t really want to see all the picture-perfect photos of everyone’s picture-perfect celebrations when there were still occasional days in our house where my child’s depression won, and everyone would fall apart, like a domino run, one after the other.  Obviously, the election played a part in my decision, too, but at the time my choice was less politically motivated and more out of self-care.  I had enough on my plate without having my nose rubbed in everyone else’s apparent happiness.  Our days were improving, and I wanted to enjoy that to the fullest, instead of getting pulled into the comparison trap.

I still logged in once each morning to clean up notifications and to check the “Your Memories on Facebook” page.  As a homeschooling mama, I belong to a ridiculous number of groups, who are always hosting a ridiculous number of events; I did feel the need to check in occasionally there.  And as someone who tends to use FB to chronicle the fairly mundane day-to-day life taking place under our roof, the memories were wonderful to look through and laugh at and sometimes share with the kids (and to remind myself that happiness wasn’t always this tenuous).

No news feed.  No sorting by most recent.  No so-and-so liked this or so-and-so shared this or random ads for….why would you think I’d want an ad for this?

Can I tell you something?  It’s been really pleasant.

Fast-forward to now, about three months later.  As I’m reading in Psalms, I come across verse 14 in Psalm 34:  “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”  I stopped to really consider those words, and it occurred to me that they summed up what had been happening over this past accumulation of weeks.

Depart from evil.  No, I’m not saying Facebook is evil.  But the feelings that get stirred up in me, from the political posts or the comments or the “shares” that haven’t been fact-checked; or the envy that crops up when I see someone else doing or getting something wonderful…..those feelings can be pretty ugly.  And I’ve been gradually leaving those behind.

Do good.  Guess what?  When you aren’t sitting and scrolling through your news feed constantly, you can get more done.  Add that to how much better I feel since I’ve left, and more of what is “getting done” is full of good.  (Please also note:  “getting done,” with a three-year-old in the house, sometimes looks like “playing kitty dollhouse.” That’s allowed.  I’m not talking about business productivity here.)

Seek peace and pursue it.  That’s exactly why I left in the first place.  Facebook did nothing to help my peace.  All it did, in various ways, was stir up stress and anxiousness in me.  It’s not in the business of creating peace; that’s not its job.  (Now, that’s an interesting question: what exactly is its job?)  Turning away from it has helped increase my peace dramatically, and allowed me to pursue things that contribute to peace even more.

Let’s be honest….now more than ever we are a people in need of peace.

 

 

I love our house.  God blessed us with a home that has met needs we didn’t even know we were going to have when we moved in.  It has been flexible enough to allow my husband to work from home, and still had space enough to welcome our third child.  Somehow its four walls managed to expand and allow two foster children to move in, and now it’s relaxed back down to contain a more comfortable three-kids-and-two-dogs family. But I admit to stalking houses not even a mile south of us.

Mere blocks away there are houses that back up onto a forested creek.  I’ve said, repeatedly, “I love our house….if I could only pick it up and set it down in the middle of the woods!”  (Which is, frankly, ridiculous.  Part of the appeal of this house when we bought it was the yard full of mature trees.)

But if you drive home “the back way” there are rows of homes surrounded by trees, with no real backyard neighbors but the creek.  A range of homes, too:  yes, there are a few cul-de-sacs of high-end pricey ones we could never afford, but there are also some really reasonable ones that we could.  If, by chance, we ever decided to move again.  And yes, I was frequently stalking those houses, thinking about moving.  (Because now that things have settled down, let’s stir things up, right?)

It turned out that our Sunday School class’s annual Super Bowl party was in one of those houses.  This couple was newer to our class, and when the address was sent out I almost burst out laughing:  we’re practically neighbors!  (Truly:  my husband and son walked home that night.)  I was going to get a little taste of what it might be like to live in one of Those Houses.  I wondered if I’d end up envious.  Or maybe if I’d end up with a lead on a potential home for sale?

Instead, I ended up with a near panic-attack.  A truly beautiful home, with a small, scenic backyard…that dropped off sharply into the creek.  My evening was mostly spent keeping tabs on the three-year-old:  Where’s the baby?*  Is she back outside?  I need to go check.  Wait. No.  She’s here.  Where is she now?  I think she’s downstairs.  Maybe I need to check?  There she is. Etc.

For three hours.

I joked with my husband later how glad I was that we had that experience.  I could just see us, led on by my glorious rustic imaginings of barefoot big kids playing in the woods and wading in the creek, moving into one of those homes, and then immediately being hit by the reality of a three-year-old who doesn’t swim.  Oh, my word….what have we done?

I hereby choose to shift my focus onto gratefulness:  for a home that I love, for a (relatively) large yard the kids and dogs enjoy, and for the fact that when my youngest wanders out back unattended I don’t think twice.

 

*Yes, we still refer to her as “the baby.”  I think it has to do with the age difference in the kids:  we have “the bigs” and we have “the baby.”  Please bear with me…surely at some point we’ll decide on a new nickname.

Bedtime

February 10, 2017

It started very innocently….a few comments here and there.  Eleven-year-old daughter wasn’t really a fan of her loft bed.

The immediate backpedaling always went: “But I love the desk space!”  She really did love the huge expanse of tabletop underneath.  It’s the bump-your-head-on-the-ceiling bed she didn’t care for.

We’d changed from her regular bed to the loft bed when she was sharing a room with her foster sister.  (There was a while, back in 2014, when I truly felt like there was no problem IKEA couldn’t solve.)  Her double bed–part of the furniture set that I inherited from my grandmother when I was a little girl–was much too large to fit in a room with yet another twin bed besides.  She has an exceptionally large bedroom, but not that large.  Eventually our fosters moved out and moved on, but the loft bed stayed.  Great storage. Great desk.  And, yeah, there was a bed up there, too.

A few weeks ago my daughter was sick.  She was up in the middle of the night vomiting, and once she hobbled back to her room I asked if she’d like me to just make her up a bed on the floor….because who wants to climb a ladder when you want to puke?  She’s always been the Queen of the Blankets, so we had enough to make her up a comfy “mattress,” with some left over to tuck her up.  She slept there the entire next day (poor kid) and then the next few nights.

And then the next few weeks.

And then today the fateful words:  “Mama, could we move my mattress to the floor?”

Deep breath.  “Would you consider selling your loft bed?”

“YES!”

I’m conflicted.  There’s a piece of me wanting to beat myself up for wasting money on the thing; because it feels like wasted money.  Why did we buy it if we’re just going to turn around and sell it, 2 1/2 years later?  But that bed was used–I would almost say necessary–for the time we had it.  When we had two girls in that room, it even gave them each their own desk….and a heck of a lot more floor space.  We couldn’t predict the future; we didn’t know that she wouldn’t be sharing a room indefinitely.  And now, it is no longer serving its purpose here:  it’s more of a problem than a solution.  It’s time to let go.

Wow, does she have her work cut out for her.  We won’t sell it until she’s figured out what to do with all her Stuff:  Books, stuffed animals, and Legos all made their home in that thing.  She’s upstairs right now, though, with a big box (which she requested, “for all the stuff I’m going to get rid of….”) and with her mattress moved to the floor (“Look!  Now I kind of have a window seat!”).  I wish her luck.  Now I have to go shop for mattresses.

(Quick update:  “You know, when I really go through my stuffed animals, I only have ten left!”  Now THAT’S progress.)

 

Rainy Mondays

April 19, 2016

These are my favorite mornings to be a homeschooling family.

No one wants to move very quickly anyway:  first off, it’s Monday, and secondly, it’s gray and dreary and drizzly……

And guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  We don’t have to Go.  We don’t have to Rush and Get Out the Door.  I can sit in the chair in our bedroom and snuggle the almost-not-two-year-old-anymore and spend a good long time reading.  (Mr. Putter.  Again.)  The older kids can stumble out of bed terribly close to the start of our school day and eat their breakfast, groggy, in their pajamas, while we begin our morning together.  Slowly.

 

Isn’t that part of pursuing “enough?”  Knowing when to be slow?

 

 

A belated Thanksgiving

December 15, 2013

I feel bad for my lack of Thanksgiving posts.  The entire month of November, when everyone on Facebook is posting all the things they’re thankful for, I stayed quiet.  Then I didn’t even blog Thanksgiving week at all; when I get busy, writing is the first thing to go (in spite of the fact that it helps me stay sane).  Topping things off, my latest post was a bit of a rant.  That’s what happens, though, when I dwell on something for such a ridiculously long time that it finally just bursts out that way.

But I am thankful.  I think, if I posted thirty days worth of “I’m thankful for…”, two things would stand out.  One is how thankful I am for really petty things.  That first cup of coffee in the morning?  Unbelievably thankful for it.  (I’ve noticed my thankfulness for that particular cup rises in direct proportion to how early I get up.)  A temperamental hot water heater means I’m thankful for a hot shower in the morning, as compared to the warm-ish ones we often get.  Lacking a garage for much of our married life means I still, ten years after getting one, think how grateful I am that I don’t have to scrape a windshield on a bitter morning.  A baby who leans toward thirty-minute naps means I’m beyond grateful when she sleeps for an hour and a half.  We had dinner with friends last Sunday after church, and managed to drive around to see some neighborhood Christmas lights last night, and most importantly, the baby TOOK A BOTTLE in the nursery at church this morning, all of which point to a turning point in babyhood:  the Ability to Have a Life again.  I’m incredibly thankful for that.

See?  Petty.

The other thing that would stand out is how repetitive my thanks would be.  Family, current and extended, would feature prominently and often.  I’m so grateful for growing up in a loving home, in a two-parent family that even now has two parents.  I’m thankful for my sweet husband, who puts up with my quirks (ahem….understatement) and loves me anyway; who is a great dad with all our kids, including the baby.  I’m really thankful for that; when he walks upstairs after work and I essentially throw the baby at him and say here….your turn, and he takes over with a smile.

I’m thankful for my oldest.  I’m thankful for the sense of humor he’s developing; people ooh and ahh over the toddler and preschool days (me included) and talk about paying attention and savoring every moment, and now I’m looking at this ten year old and thinking, they don’t tell you this is fun, too.  Having a kid with a real sense of humor–who not only gets your jokes, but can make you truly laugh, too–it’s amazing to watch what these little ones turn into.

I’m not thankful for his anxiety, but I’m thankful that those problems led us to homeschooling.  I’m thankful for watching him relax a little and enjoy life again.

I’m thankful for my oldest daughter, for her energy and enthusiasm and constant motion.  I’m thankful for the sheer joy she brings to her schooling, for the moments like when she learned about why trees change color in the fall and she looked at me with eyes shining and said, “It’s like the trees are keeping a secret all year!”  (Admittedly, the pendulum can swing quite extremely the other way, also….)

I’m thankful for her silliness; she was the one who taught her brother to laugh, all those years ago.

And I’m so thankful for the baby.  I’m thankful that she’s a happy baby, that she sleeps as well as she does, that she is usually so mellow….I’m thankful that I finally understand what it means to have an “easy baby.”  I’m grateful and beyond surprised at how much “the bigs” love this baby.  I knew my daughter would do well, her mothering instinct is strong; but watching my son fawn over her was so unexpected I still–seven and a half months in–whisper prayers of thankfulness when I see them together.

I will never forget the photographer taking pictures of my sister’s family with ours.  She very carefully kept trying to position the baby with my sister.  It made sense:  ten and eight year old together, two-ish little one (my niece) with the baby.  My sister briefly explained the situation and then, leaning in to the photographer, laughingly announced, “Surprise!!”  The photographer shook her head and did her hands in a motion that was half “Praise the Lord” and half “Raise the Roof”:  “No,” she stated firmly, “Blessings.  BLESSINGS.”

And she is right.  That baby has been the most unexpected blessing of all.

So, yes, I’m thankful.  And I’m happy for this thankfulness to carry through Christmas.

Good enough, Part 2

November 20, 2013

Older daughter:  Mommy, why are there smiley faces in the dust at the base of the computer?

Me:  Because your brother thought it would be funny to draw smiley faces in the dust at the base of the computer.

 

After my (thankfully internal) response to my daughter watching me just sit, I started to wonder: how much is enough when it comes to housework? It’s different, obviously, when you’re up and able-bodied and not wandering around in a slightly zombified state due to lack of sleep; the state of the house post-partum is absolutely allowed to be different than the state of the house with a reasonably well-rested mom. I’d spent months thinking about and writing about simplifying “stuff;” now I was forced to simplify–or at least prioritize–housework. And I had to really commit to something, instead of just pondering ideas in an abstract way. My final verdict:

If it’s vital to the smooth running of the household, it gets done. Dishes, laundry, meals: yes. The family needs to be clothed and fed; those few things are not optional. (Who did the cooking was absolutely negotiable….whether that be my husband, Planet Sub, or me. Usually in that order.)

If it didn’t involve those few things, it could go. The family would pitch in at some points, but we still often had copious amounts of dog fur all over the floors, and a fine coating of dust all over the furniture. (Except the dining room table…there was a fine coating of Legos all over the dining room table.)

The baby is now six months old, and I’m feeling much more human now. We had my daughter’s birthday party at the end of September, my son’s at the end of October, and we’ve even had people over a few times for fun. The house has improved greatly, now that I’m not coma-mama. But for that little bit of time, that was what I needed: just enough, to be good enough.

Good enough

October 27, 2013

I forgot how much you sit with a baby.  How often there’s really nothing you can do besides…sit, and hold a baby.  After about two months at home with a newborn, I found myself curled up in “my spot” on the sofa (again), holding a nursing baby (again).  This third little one is not too keen on naps; even then, she never seemed to sleep for very long.  For a few weeks, her late-afternoon nap ritual involved me nursing her to sleep and then holding her.  Transferring her to a crib guaranteed waking her up; holding her not only guaranteed sleep but, potentially, a real nap instead of the cat-naps she enjoyed so much.

So there I sat, holding a sleeping baby.  Just….sitting.  And holding a baby.  And in danced my older daughter, who came to a halt in front of me.

“Is the baby asleep?” she whispered.

Yes, I whispered back.

“And you’re just sitting there?” she whispered.

Yes, I whispered back.

She cocked her head to one side, surveying the scene.  I bit my tongue to hold back the dozens of excuses that were wanting to spill out of me; all the reasons I wasn’t doing all the things I should be doing besides sitting and holding a baby.

She straightened up tall.  “You’re a good mom,” she announced, and pranced back out of the room.

The floors that needed to be swept, the rugs to be vacuumed, the laundry to be put away, the dishes to be done, the schoolwork to be prepped, the papers to be graded…the list, in my head, was never-ending.  I suppose, though, that those things would be the definition of a “good housekeeper,” or a “good teacher.”  I didn’t have the time or the energy to be any of those things.  For those few months, being a mom was pretty much all I could do.

I’m thrilled she thought I was a good one.

How did I get here?

October 23, 2013

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
wife
And you may ask yourself-Well…How did I get here?

–Once in a Lifetime, The Talking Heads

This is the song that keeps getting stuck in my head lately, all prompted by a moment that hit last week.

It was late morning on a gorgeous fall day, where the weather is unbelievably perfect and the kids had (wisely) elected to do their reading outside. My son came bounding in and excitedly (yes, excitedly!) launched into his description of what was happening in the book he was reading.

And that was when I was struck, almost physically, with a growing awareness of the absurdity of the entire situation.

I am forty years old, standing in my kitchen, in a county I swore I’d never live in, wearing a baby, listening to my son talk about his reading while his sister reads outside, with homeschool work all over my kitchen counters, and my pharmacist husband working from home in the basement (not in any Walter White way, I swear).

Did I mention I was wearing a baby?

How did I get here?

What’s that quote? Man proposes, God disposes? I’m a planner. I had a plan. I had my life all pretty well mapped out: graduate, live on my own awhile, get married, have babies, adopt some kids, send them all to school and then turn into one of those moms who volunteer incessantly. All of this was to be completed by the time I was thirty. (I do realize my numbers don’t quite add up…I was never very good at math.)

What’s funny, though, is that I wouldn’t trade this. I love this. I love the kids home, I LOVE the hubby home, I (obviously) love the baby….so while I’m not really sure how I got here, it’s proof that I can trust the One who brought me.

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Forty years & five months