The Thing About Homeschooling

I think a lot about the mass-homeschooling that is being plopped into people’s laps these days. Every year that we make the decision to do it again -homeschool these children of ours- we have time to think about our decision, arrange a space with learning stations, buy supplemental books, invest in industrial strength pencil sharpeners, and in general make a plan. I feel a pang of sympathy for the willy-nilly way this has come up for many parents. We have only been homeschooling for 12 years and there are many who have better perspective than I do, but I have learned a few things that might be helpful.

  • Acceptance. Being upset about the way this is cramping your style is only going to raise a stinky cloud over your household and it won’t be long until you see little mad stink clouds hovering around your children. Your husband will come home from work and walk right into the unpleasantness. Maybe it would be better to just accept it and enjoy clear skies in your spirit for the duration.
  • Camaraderie. Staying in fellowship with your children, to borrow a term from Rachel Jankovic, is more important than doing the books. You may be surprised at how strong your feelings of dislike can be for your own offspring when you rub up against them constantly. Homeschooling is uniquely sanctifying in that you literally cannot get away from your own sin in relationships. Deal with your own heart first, then work at the sandpapery issue that is scraping at your relationship.
  • Humor. You have to be able to laugh. Looking into your child’s face and taking genuine pleasure in who they are, sharing a joke, singing a silly song: all these are excellent ways to take moments of joy in the day.
  • Creativity. There is a special happiness aura around a child who is absorbed in making something. Be warned. It will be messy! If you find yourself saying “no” to every project that messes up the house in favor of endless online entertainment, you will make yourself and your child the loser in the long journey of life. Let them cook, let them cut paper and sprinkle glitter, let them plant seeds in egg cartons for the windowsill, let them sew and carve and crumble playdough onto the floor. Then kindly teach them how to clean up after themselves.
  • Flexibility. Having run a fairly tight ship in traditional school, I tried hard for this vibe in homeschool. I hate to break it to you, but this is at best an exercise in frustration. Home is not school. While lessons need to be completed, it is fine to have trampoline breaks between Math and Spelling. There is nothing wrong with sipping tea or nibbling on apple slices while diagraming sentences. One of the finest aspects of homeschool, in my opinion, is the way learning becomes part of life. It doesn’t have its separate compartment. If we get interested in how an earthworm hangs on so hard when a robin is pulling it out, we take a detour and google it. Sometimes it drives me nuts. Can we just stay on track here?
  • Staying the course. That is a thing, despite how strongly I believe in following trails of wonder. In the end, there needs to be an authority who says, “All right, you have an hour for this math lesson. I will help you if you have questions, but you need to be diligent or you will (lose privilege of dessert, screen time, calling friend, etc.) “
  • Reset. What if it all just hits the fan? If you have little children in the house as well as older students, there is a pretty high likelihood that all will not go smoothly. There are ways to reset the whole crew. Quiet time, an hour of space for each individual with their own books or toys, has been a personal favorite. Sometimes we take walks in the woods, or bike rides on back roads. Occasionally the child with the biggest ‘tude is asked to make tea and set the table nicely for everybody. My personal favorite is to read aloud. The idea is to take a drastically different direction for a while, pray about the issues, talk them over frankly with your children, ask each other for forgiveness, and move on.
  • Presence. You are the one. This has been placed into your jurisdiction and your faithfulness will make all the difference. Don’t be discouraged if it feels hard. It is hard. If you do what is in front of you every day with the assurance that this is how you glorify God today, you will do well. Perfection is not required. Faithfulness is.
  • Grace. You may be surprised at how wonderful it is to stay home with your loved ones. Maybe you will discover that the disconnect you were feeling with a child is fading. Hopefully you will see afresh the amazing people your children are, with all these gifts and abilities. And you have access to all the Grace you need, you know. Blessings to all you “accidental homeschoolers” today. 🙂

I’ll conclude with a couple of phone photos from the last few weeks. Rita said she was tired of sourdough, so I taught her how to make bread with a simple recipe from Grandma. IMG_20200309_133436156_HDR

Addy, pegging away. She is keeping a countdown of the math lessons. On her whiteboard she wrote, “40 lessins won’t stop me!”

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Last but not least, some tiny creature sculptures that the girls made. They range from thumbnail size to about 2 1/2 inches and they make me happy.  Maybe now we won’t be so tempted in the miniatures aisle at Hobby Lobby. 😉

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Cheers everybody!

Caring for a Special Needs Mama

As promised, this is part 2 of Naomi Hostetler’s articles on special needs. She gave me permission to edit, so I shortened some paragraphs and added a few from friends who chimed in on the conversation. I hope this informs and blesses. I know I have read articles like: “10 Things Well-Meaning People say to Grieving Parents” and felt stricken that I had said hurtful things without meaning to. Neither Naomi nor I want you to feel that way. This article is compiled from the insights of 8 different women who care for special needs children. Personalities vary, and people have different struggles. I think if you read through, you will see a common thread. Be there. Listen. Help in any way you can. 

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 Some mamas send their children off to school by giving them a hug and sending them down the lane. Others put them on the bus with medical equipment and medications. Some mamas take care of baby’s needs by doing a quick diaper change and giving him a bottle which he falls asleep holding. Some mamas do a bowel routine and feed through a feeding tube. Some watch their ten- month old pull himself up and take triumphant first steps. Some mamas watch their five and ten-year-old fight determinedly for that first step. Some let their five-year-old child run into the store beside them and some carry their child. Some say their children are “into everything” and some wish their children could be.

A common thread among SN Mamas is this: They do not view themselves as super women, even though to an onlooker the added responsibilities of numerous appointments and therapies look overwhelming. You may be surprised to hear that comments such as “How do you do it?’’ and “God only gives special children to special parents,” can serve to make them feel distanced and frustrated. They don’t feel like super-women any more than you do. God has called each of us to different journeys in life and in each path, He has placed different hardships. Each one is given the strength daily to face whatever our Hard Thing is, and few SN Mamas like to be distanced to that plateau of The Hardest Thing. They are doing what is best for their child at the moment. Just as you would.

One of the biggest gifts you will give a SN Mama is the gift of grace and acceptance. Don’t be offended when she turns down the invitation to a coffee break, birthday party, or girl’s day. Sometimes there isn’t enough mental and physical energy for everything, and something must go. It’s hard for her to chat lightly about recipes and dress patterns when there is a current decision weighing heavily on her mind or a surgical procedure she is steeling herself for. Keep inviting her, even when it seems she never shows up; she needs to know you didn’t forget her.

It is not especially helpful to pat her on the back at church and say, “You are doing so well,” then go your way without taking the time to actually hear how her real life is going. She does not want to be self-focused, so she will likely not tell you honestly unless you ask. Stay involved. Know enough about what happens to know how and when to offer help because even small things can be huge. When she is feeling overwhelmed, sometimes the best thing to say is, “I have two hours. What do you have for me to do?” Offer to babysit, hire a maid for her for a day, send freezer food, make her dish for carry-in during an intense week, or offer to do her laundry. Pray for her and tell her you are praying. Drop a coffee off or a vase of flowers and a hug. Many families spend a good deal of time on the road with appointments, etc. and a practical way to show you care is to bless them with gas money, restaurant gift cards, or cash.

In cases where it is possible, learn to give the needed care to a special needs child so that his Mama can confidently leave him with you and get away for a space. If you know her to be a social butterfly, plan a tea party or brunch with her and her friends and let her know all is cared for. If she is the quiet type who values personal space and time alone, give her a babysitting coupon and some cash and tell her you will be here for XX amount of time. On the other hand, be understanding if she refuses but don’t stop offering. 

Be conscious of special diets, weaker immune systems, etc. especially when inviting the family to your house. Be kind enough to let Mama know that you’ve had the flu bug lurking in your house, and that your four-year old is coughing. For some children, a cough is life threatening, especially if accompanied by a cold. Prevention is the cure for much of Mama’s weariness and she will be most grateful for your thoughtfulness. If there is a special diet that is needed or even appreciated, do your best to accommodate them and let her know what you plan so she doesn’t need to bring prepared food along for her child.

SN Mamas tend to feel disconnected from other ladies who have fewer stresses on their strength. One of the things that widens the gap is when ladies sit around and discuss complaints from their everyday lives that would seem like a dream for her. It will be hard for the SN Mama to understand why you are complaining about giving your child a round of antibiotics that will mess up his gut health when she has seen her newborn survive a nine- hour surgery that she knows saved his life. That surgery was followed by enough antibiotics to drown an elephant and she knows she owes her child’s life to the medical knowledge she was able to utilize for her child’s wellbeing. She will struggle to know how to respond when you bring your newborn home twenty-four hours after a natural delivery and complain about sleep schedules and family life being disrupted. She remembers nights in that hard hospital chair by her baby’s bedside, willing away the wires and tubes that kept her from cuddling and snuggling the newborn softness and longing for the comforts of home.

Occasionally a person of faith will say insensitive things like, “Have you ever prayed for your child to be healed?” That can actually sting, coming from fellow Christians, indicating that the SN family might have inferior faith. Of course they have prayed that their child would be healed! That’s the first thing they did, through their tears, down on their knees beside the precious baby who was just diagnosed with his condition. And they kept on praying until they had peace in accepting what God in His sovereign wisdom allowed, and trusted that God has a special plan for the life He designed. 

Along these same lines comes the unsolicited advice, the internet cures from people who have done a google search and now know more about your child’s condition than their doctor does. It is very painful if to get the feeling that your child is being researched,  toted about and displayed like a specimen. Probably it is best not even to use the term “normal” unless you are discussing the weather. If you overhear someone saying hurtful things, kindly clue them in. That will be less awkward than a snarky comment from the mother of the SN child, but they certainly have a collection of things they would often like to say. SN Mamas need your support much more than they need you to fix the “problem” with their child. 

“I know just what you mean.” This comment is likely one of the top three (the other two: “Is he normal? and “special children for special parents”) that should be used most sparingly with a SN Mama. If you have not walked their road, you actually do not understand all the emotions, energy, and stamina her life requires, and she knows it. However, this does not have to distance you! Listen gently without judgment. She does not fault you for not having experienced it, but please do not say “I know just what you mean” when you don’t. 

Be understanding of the fact that a special needs child has changed your friend’s life dramatically and may in turn change them. As in any relationship, keep communication honest and be willing to hear that your good intention may have hurt deeply. They need you now more than ever, but it is hard to always know how they need you so communicate about it honestly. Do not withdraw from their lives simply because you “don’t know what to say.” Learn to know the new person life has made them and be there! Maybe you will find her with a different set of friends whom she can identify with now because of her child and you find you cannot identify at all. Be accepting. She needs their support as she navigates this pathway, but she still needs you as well!

The journeys we are called to undertake and the “normal” that we embrace vary with each person on earth, yet they need not alienate us from one another. Let’s learn to love well together, shall we?

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Thank-you, Naomi, for taking time to research and share. 

Caring for the Special Needs Child

This article was compiled by Naomi Hostetler, a young lady who married a former second grade student of mine, which makes me rather old. I am very pleased that he found such a thoughtful wife. 🙂 Naomi loves and helps to care for a special nephew, and this subject has been on her mind a lot. I have added a few paragraphs from my own circle of brave acquaintances and I’ll tell you that I cried when I read their honest words. It is why they are all anonymous, so they can say it like it is.

Photo by alexandre saraiva carniato from Pexels

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The following is a result of five kind mamas who shared their time and thoughts with me as it pertains to caring for their special needs children. My only wish is to help advocate for these children among those whom it is sometimes hardest to speak honestly to on a delicate subject- the ones closest to us. Let’s learn together, shall we?       

There is many a disabled child who longs to keep up, to run to the swing set, to run up and down the steps, to master difficult mathematical concepts and to be accepted as one of the flow. Their sense of self-worth is often more fragile because of the differences in their lives from what they see in their peers, and it most crucial to do our part as families, friends, and teachers to help them realize their value as a creation of the Master Craftsman.

The SN Child is in fact, first a person. They have their own personalities, likes, and dislikes. A child’s disability does not define him, hence do not go about introducing them as “This is ________, the ONE with ______.” It is painful to be used as a showpiece, and one must be sensitive to the reality of making the child a celebrity because of his disability. Yes, this disability has changed their lives and yes it is part of who they are, but it does not need to define them. First, they are a person.

You will forestall much pain in the hearts of an SN Child and his parents if you think before you speak. “Is he normal?” Really? Who says what is normal? “At least he/she is cute!” And there is nothing else to offer? “He seems smart.” Seems? “How can you stand to watch him face this, (do her bowel routine, struggle through the therapy programs, etc.)?” How would you stand it? “Why does he need a wheelchair/walker, etc?” Every mama would protect her child from rude remarks, but when their child has an extra high mountain to face in the road of acceptance or dark times of physical pain, rude remarks tend to feel amplified. Just think about it. Would you like to hear it? Would your child like to hear it?

The most significant rule in caring for the SN Child is one we all know well- The Golden Rule. Put yourself in their shoes (or try as best you know). Children want to be friends, not freaks. Always assume competence when you are in the company of a disabled child, and leave the baby talk for that respective age group. It makes a conversation more comfortable to look someone in the eye when you speak to them, so don’t hesitate to get down on their level and then ask them age-level questions about what they’ve been doing. These children have lives other than their disability and they deserve the chance to talk about it! Personal questions that may be embarrassing to them such as questions about physical appearance, feeding tube, diapers, etc. are not okay. Here again, the Golden Rule covers so much. Would you be liked to be asked this question?  

There are many ways your children can play with handicapped children, and your effort in intentionally teaching your children about this will bless not only the child but also his mama. A child who relies on a wheelchair/walker for his independence can be made to feel as much a part of the social circle as the child who runs on two sturdy legs when there is a deliberate attempt to integrate them. It can be very small kindnesses, like guiding the slow paced one to where the crowd is going, at least stopping to say hi, or playing a game that the physically challenged can participate in, which might take some forethought. Often children run off with their friends and are scattered far and wide, but you can help your child to reach out to a SN child. Encourage them to not give up easily when the interaction feels awkward.

Maybe you are inviting a family with a disabled child for a meal. This child walks with a walker and finds the steps in your three-story house difficult to navigate. Have a little forethought, and he will feel much more welcome and much less like a nuisance. Put some toys that he/she will love on the main floor. If the child is old enough to appreciate the social interaction, have your children play indoor games for the evening instead of playing hide-and-seek outside after supper. Board games that can be played on a table which is an easy height for the child in the wheelchair, or games that can be played sitting in a circle. If the child is one who doesn’t care as much if he/she has other children playing with them but needs to be entertained, tell one of your teenage daughters to give mama a break after supper by showing them books and keeping them happy.

 The SN Child’s equipment to him is not a fun accessory. It is an absolute necessity. Anything with a handicap tag is very expensive and fooling around with something that is not yours to use is inconsiderate. Teach your child to play with the child in the wheelchair, but not with the wheelchair. Explain to them that this child’s wheelchair/walker is the same as his legs and would he like if someone played with his legs so that he couldn’t walk around? It isn’t kind or respectful. Don’t let your children push equipment around, even when not in use. To a child who depends on this for mobility, he is stranded without it. Many wheelchair/walker users tend to quickly feel vulnerable in a crowd. Don’t let your younger children push him around or “give him a ride” without consent because when other stronger children push them around it is very frightening. Please judge gently when the child in the wheelchair screams over being pushed about. It is likely not so much an attitude problem, as a feeling of lack of control and pure terror. Their equipment is personal space and is not a toy, and it only respectful kindness to acknowledge this.

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This article is not to scare anyone away from getting involved, but simply to inform us all of ways we can genuinely help carry burdens and share joys. Sometimes we are paralyzed for fear we will do or say the wrong thing. Genuine care expresses itself in love, and that is hard to misunderstand.

The next article is about caring for the special needs mother. I am sorry that some posts simply don’t show a comment option. I am not sure why, but I would really love to hear what you have to say. If you cannot find a reply option, feel free to contact me at dorcasp8 @ gmail.com. I will forward your thoughts to Naomi, so she can hear your response as well.

 

It’s not just a house I’m keeping here: a message for mothers

It has been a minute or two since I planned to post this, and then the holidays and a baby nephew in the hospital and a new year and trying to get our school back on track and looking at the books for the pottery biz and doing inventory, etc. I dictated this post when I was on a walk one day, and here I am at 3 AM, wide awake and trying to make sure I fix all the errors that talk-to-text is so prone to produce.

I remember the day a picture hit the media of a child’s body washing up on the seashore in Greece. I scrolled through the news with a knot of grief in my stomach. How can these things happen? What can I do about all this evil? This injustice?

My little girl came to me just then with the book she wanted me to read. She loved the Animally story that was filled with illustrations of animals and punny ways that I love her. “I love you cleverly like a fox. I love you powerfully like an ox.” My head struggled to wrap around the privilege of the little girl cocooned in her favorite blanket in my living room, compared to the too-wise faces of the refugee babies. But what can I do?

Recently we had a ladies’ discussion at church about reaching out beyond our world to those who are needy and some of the many, many ways to do this. Someone mentioned that Mennonite women tend to think that their ministry stops with their families. I’ve been mulling over this for a few weeks. What if one of the most powerful ways to change the world is actually our children?

What if I would have never read my child any more stories because life isn’t fair? What if I decided that the thing right in front of me, the grody bathroom, was not worth scrubbing anymore because there is much bigger work to be done in this world? What if I would have decided that pouring my energies into nourishing my children is not a big enough vocation and from now on they can eat lunchables so that I can spend my days fundraising online? Would there have been some fallout, maybe a bit of chaos in our home? Could this sort of neglect contribute to the endless cycle of soul-hunger in the world?

The goal in my mothering is not to raise entitled people who pitch fits when their perfect life is disturbed. The goal is to raise nourished souls, wholehearted people with a steady background of care and stability and mom being there with hot chocolate and everybody matters. The goal is to send these people into the wide world with a reservoir of fat in their souls, to give them resources as they spread the same love and kindness to everybody they meet. If I send my children out to live as adults with starved hearts because I resented the work they caused me, found a more worthy cause to work for (and I really didn’t even like them,) what have I accomplished?

The way to combat homelessness is not to all move out of our homes. The way to combat lovelessness is not to stop loving those who already have plenty of love. I do not believe that Paul is being a male chauvinist when he suggested that women who have families should keep their homes. I think Paul just saw God’s design as being a good design, like “This is how you bring glory to the world, you young ladies with a husband and children, and you older ladies need to show them how to do this. (And by the way, servants shouldn’t pilfer from their masters and young men should be self controlled and older men are called to be dignified,)” and all the rest of the stuff he was saying in Titus 2. All you have to do is look at the end of the chapter and you see the whole point of Paul’s instructions was not to cramp everybody’s style but to give them simple direction for living a good life that pleases God.

So if you find yourself bristling when someone brings up the keepers at home subject, dare to dig a little deeper into what it actually means. If God gave you a husband or if God gave you children, he gave you a big job worth pouring your life into. I’ve said before that if you’re bored in your work of raising a family, you haven’t leaned into it hard enough. Maybe you have been absorbing some feminist rubbish that is impoverishing your own soul. That may sound harsh, but I believe it.

Nobody can dispute that someone has to do the grunt work in this world and if it is true that everything becomes a mess when mama quits doing her work, isn’t it also true that there will be extra glory in the world when mama gives it everything she’s got?

If you are faithfully pouring your heart into raising a family, you shouldn’t bow to the pressure of feeling like you’re leading some second-class existence “as if God put you on a short tether to a tan sofa” like Rebecca Merkel says in her book Eve in Exile. (Go, read it.) Lift your chin up, offer your work to God and just be that career mom with all your heart. Think of the difference when all these little children swarm into the world with secure hearts and the love of Jesus and knowing how hard love works for others because they’ve watched you model it for years. “I love you bravely like an eagle. I love you freely like a seagull.” (Lynn Sutton, Animally again)

Go ahead, tell me what you think. Is it a struggle for you? How do you minister to the needs in the world around you?

Of Popsicles and Weeds

It’s glorious summertime, with the solstice past and the year waning. How is that for jerking around your feelings in the first line? The ebb and flow of life is mostly wonderful in June. With a house full of tweens and teens, someone is constantly checking the cupboards or the fridge. My oldest son goes to work and he and my husband both pack a lunch, although Gabe eats his at midnight and Alex has his at the regular time. I pack one lunch in the morning and one in the evening. When I don’t do it in a timely manner, Alex packs a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some chips and calls it enough. Gabe grabs a granola bar and some cheese and calls that enough. I make a point of staying ahead of them so that there is lettuce on the sandwich and nourishment in the snacks.

Meanwhile the garden is not quite producing what the little girls like to pack in their daily picnics. I let them pack whatever they want, provided it’s marginally healthy. (That means no, not popsicles,) and every time I want to make a salad, I hold my breath that the veggies are still there in the crisper drawers. I buy prodigious quantities of Ranch dressing which they pour into personal containers for dipping.  (I also buy saltines; those cheap ones for 98 cents a box are the preferred variety. As long as they have salt, the kids are happy.) I am excited to see the first peppers setting tiny fruits and the cucumbers are starting to put out blooms. This past week the girls have been grazing off the pea patch. Finally I told them they have to stop or we will never have enough for a meal. There are still a few strawberries ripening. The patch is old, so the berries were all small. I was thinking about how long it takes to cap such little fruits when I heard Rita gushing about how cute they are and how much fun it is to cap them. I did not disrupt their fun.

Last year with all the rain, most of Gabe’s raspberries gave up in a despairing shower of yellowing leaves. There is still one row that is producing berries this year, so I was walking along, deep in thought while I looked for them in the tangle of canes and weeds. I kept hearing a hissing, but couldn’t place it until I nearly stepped on a duck that is sitting on a huge nest full of eggs. She was flattened out in her effort to keep them all warm, and she meant business! I tiptoed away quickly. The girls informed me that there are two other expectant mother ducks in the field. It looks like the slugs and bugs had better beware this summer.

On the poultry side of things, there are a bunch of baby guineas sprouting feathers and attitudes in the barn. They were only 3 days old when we observed them fighting over food and running dizzily hither and yon. “Showing their true colors already,” Gregory observed sagely.

We’ve had a brilliant social life recently. Last week there was either an event involving our family, or we had visitors here at our house every day except one. It was a blast! I literally went for one day at a time. Actually, make that one meal at a time. One morning recently I went down to the laundry room to sort the hampers. Both my sons’ towels and entire wardrobe from the previous day were on the floor of their bathroom (which doubles as our laundry room) and there was one shirt in the hamper. It belonged to Gregory’s friend who had spent the day here. When I texted his mother that little story, she replied that when my son was at her house, he alone brought his mug to the kitchen after it was empty. I feel that an identity crisis would be in order: if they only do what they are supposed to do when mother isn’t there to remind them, what is a mother for? (I jest. I hope you know that. Recently I witnessed some incredible thick-headedness when a friend made tongue-in-cheek comments that left her back-peddling for dear life. It made me nervous!)

A few days ago the boys and their cousins were swimming in the pond and wishing the cousins didn’t have to use precious time to take showers before continuing their journey. One of my children said, “You’re plenty clean! You were just swimming!” He replied, “I must take a shower. Dad’s orders. But I only need 30 seconds for that, so let’s play until the very last minute.” I was not terribly surprised to find his swimming trunks and other sundries on the bathroom floor after they left, but he was as clean as 30 seconds under a stream of water could make him.

So many times, with teaching children line upon line, precept upon precept, you take the victories as they come. They really do wash their dirty hands. You can easily see that by the dirt smears on the hand towel. We have a rule around here about popsicles. If you don’t dispose of the wooden stick or the wrapper or the plastic tube, as the case may be, you don’t get a popsicle the next time. I have discovered a flaw in the rule. Short of forensic science, it is pretty difficult to isolate the trash-offender, especially if there have been non-family members around also eating popsicles.  It’s as if no one ever deliberately says, “Now I will toss this in the lawn so I can do other things.” So the rule is kind of useless unless I personally observe the offense. I amended it to “go pick up any trash in the lawn. If it is big enough to get hold of with your thumb and finger, it counts as trash. And no, it doesn’t matter if it was or wasn’t you.”

Addy whined a little today, “Why do I have to do dishes?” and my wise answer was, “Because you live here.” I noticed recently that the very thing that annoys me is often an indication of a great blessing. The refrigerator is needing repairs. Well, glory be, I don’t have to go to the spring house to keep the milk cold, although running downstairs to the egg fridge every time we need milk is probably the modern equivalent. And who has an egg fridge, anyway? People with so many extra eggs they can eat them every day and sell them too.

I have a few bits of advice for those who like to stay alert to potential problems.

  1. Never have a yard sale on a rainy day, even if you have it under a roof. People simply don’t believe the signs.
  2. Don’t throw things away. It may be exactly what the person who does stop at your yard sale was looking for, and they will feel so very happy about that. Also, the lace on the old curtain might be precisely what your daughter needs for edging on her colonial dress that she made out of an old sheet. See concluding picture below. (pattern bought at a yard sale.)
  3. Do throw away ratty stuffed animals. Nobody wants them. Sorry, Velveteen Rabbit.
  4. Don’t wear flip-flops to the doctor’s office if you expect to wait an hour in the refrigerated tomb that is an exam room. You will be so chilled by the time you actually see the doc that she might mistake you for a corpse and order a post-mortem.
  5. Don’t worry too much about preserving yourself. It’s not natural. I quote from The Last Battle: “Susan’s whole idea was to get to the silliest time of her life as quickly as she could and then to stay there as long as she could.” (Speaking of her absorption with lipstick and invitations.)
  6. {Edit} Weeds. I just looked at my title and remembered that I was going to mention that this is the weather where “weeds go mental,” in the words of a British gardener. Here is what you do: you pull them out, compost them, use what is nasty and messy for the benefit of all.

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Ten Ways to Lean in to your Mothering

Recently I made a statement that needs some qualification. I said that if you find staying home with your children to be boring, you haven’t leaned in hard enough. I believe this, but it sounds overly simplistic for someone who may be in the middle of the mundane daily-ness of life and unsure how to find joy with a flock of needy people who communicate in whines and drool all the time. It is a unique temptation to tally up all the sacrifices and hard things, like how many snaps I have done up in my lifetime, and how few hours of sleep I am getting. Ask me how I know that this mindset quickly and efficiently drains all the joy out of life and I will tell you that I have been there.

There is a Kingdom principle that says “Freely you have received, freely give….” Another one is “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” And then there is my favorite: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The call of God to mothers is intensely practical and spiritual all mixed together.

Of course, you can vigorously keep house and train children in right paths without really enjoying it, but what is the point? Wouldn’t you rather be all in, graceful and excited about your life-work instead of muttering in your spirit about what all you will do “once these kids grow up”? I remember the time when that hit me and I decided that I was going to stop trying to preserve my life and just dive in all the way to being a mother, sink or swim. It was a life-changing decision. Like anything else, I have been tested many times.

These are some practical ways I lean in to my work, ways I have observed other mothers  doing well without giving in to weariness, ways I have learned the hard way.

  1. Give your work to God every day. It might seem silly to pray, “I am giving you this drink, Jesus,” when you are serving your child orange juice in a sippy cup, but it is an effective way to change the way you think. “I am folding these clothes for your glory, Lord.” Eventually this attitude becomes second nature and you do not need the prompts so much.
  2. Bend down and look at your child. Really smile into his face and enjoy him. I am not talking so much about the adorable curls and dimply cheeks, delightful as they are to admire, as I am talking about noticing the person he is becoming. Watch the personality emerge. Share yourself by talking about life as though he is a real conversationalist. If you refrain from baby talk, you’ll have wonderfully stimulating conversations before you know it.
  3. Read up on your subject. When my husband was taking a course on child development during nursing school, he got me an audio course so I could follow along. Because it was what I was wading through at the time, it was fascinating stuff! Of course, these courses are written from a humanistic point of view and should be sieved through the Word of God, but it was so interesting to hear about what is happening in that two-year-old’s brain while she systematically explores every corner of her world.
  4. Write down the milestones. Take quick notes during the day so you can share with your husband what your children said or did that was so amusing that day. I look through pages of recorded conversations with my toddlers now and I know I would remember very few of them. Guess who else loves to read them? Yup, the children. Addy quotes stuff all the time that the boys said long before she was born. It all becomes part of the story tradition of a family.
  5. Keep a journal of prayers and visions for your children, even the despairing ones where you can’t see that they will ever learn. Some day you will look back at them and see that the child who was mean and grabbed toys has now learned to be generous. As the visions get bigger, you will need those reminders that it’s all a process of learning. This is going to take time, but you are in for the long haul.
  6. Learn to love great children’s literature. It is not boring to read “Make Way for Ducklings” every day once you notice how masterfully it is written and illustrated. I know it is claustrophobic to have a squash of bodies all around while you read out loud, but there is such joyfulness that springs out of sharing a hearty laugh around a story. When everything got chaotic, reading to the children for a while was one of the best resets in our day. (Naps worked great too!)
  7. Do things intentionally (that require extra effort) to delight your children. My sister told me she put whipped cream and sprinkles on her son’s pancakes one day just for fun, and he was terribly distressed by her effort because routine is a bigger deal to him than sprinkles. Obviously, you learn what is wonderful to your child by observing. Playing is always a good choice. To have Mom running around the yardplaying tag will elevate the game tremendously. If you find it trying to play Go Fish or Memory, it might become easier if you spend your energies marveling at how your child’s brain is working rather than mulling over how your own brain is floundering in boredom.
  8. Include your children in your work. My mom did this, so I had a great example, but I now know that many women do not like to let their children help them. It seems so much easier to hand the children a screen, then scurry around doing the work. Of course, there are times when they simply cannot help, but when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to not show them how to do things. If you give little children an hour of play while you do dishes and prep supper, you will likely have another hour of clean up looming in the rest of the house. What if they would have been drying dishes, chopping lettuce with a dull knife, learning to use a peeler on potatoes, etc. instead of clearing out the games closet? Maybe your kitchen time would be prolonged, but the children would have the sense of being welcome in your life, not to mention the sense of being useful.
  9. Stop rushing. If a recreational activity requires frantic tearing around to get out the door, (unless it is a soccer game in the backyard) you will feel frayed by the effort and the tone of your voice will tell on you. Did you ever notice how harried children can take longer to put on one sock than it should take to get dressed from top to toe? It’s like they are built in “Slow Down” signs along the path of life for grown-ups.
  10. Accept the fact that anything worth doing well is going to be hard. There are charming delights to parenting, the Instagram days. Then there are days when you really wouldn’t want anybody to step into your chaos and there were no funny stories to jot down for later. It all feels like a mess and it’s hard to get up and keep going. You’re tired and there is no end in sight. This is where you run to find Jesus in the chaos and you know that this is indeed what He has given you to do. As you lean in to it gladly, yoked with Him, you feel that somehow He is doing the carrying and your burden becomes light. It is a mystery that is hard to describe, but I have experienced it countless times.

I have a bonus one for you: Learn to laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with your children when they tell a funny story. Laugh when your son wears mismatched socks to church and laugh when the milk is all gone and you have to eat toast or dry cereal for breakfast. It’s well-known that a happy person doesn’t get bogged down in the details that could actually be big stuff if they stewed around in it for a long time. The more you practice being joyful about your everyday life, the more you will find you actually love it.

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The End Cap

I did not get a Christmas letter written this year, nor did I send cards, except to my mom and my grandma, so this is an attempt at a summary. Condensing a gift that is 365 days big is a difficult assignment. Thinking back over this year makes me think of elastic. The Year of Elastic? Not really the sound of wonder and music, or the kind of word one chooses for a theme for a year, but more the sound of stretching and rebounding, maybe sometimes even bungee jumping. I cannot even tell you how far down on my un-bucket list bungee jumping is, but there are other versions of plummeting and rising that give one’s innards a jolt. When all quiets down a bit, you know you might have had the courage to try this stunt when you were 20, but you probably wouldn’t have had the fortitude to stick it out and learn from it. And at 60 it might kill you, so this is the time!

For us this is the time to parent people who are finding themselves and spending a good bit of their own time beating around in the bushes beside the trail to see if there is a better trail and sometimes there is and you concede the point as graciously as you can. This is the age of also parenting people who still require a bit of training not to yell and hit when they are mad, or throw their cursive practice page into the trash can when they get frustrated. Then there is the teaching about doing random acts of kindness for someone who does not even deserve it and doing dishes when it isn’t your turn. This is also the age of vigilance to notice when the quiet people are being steamrolled and those who are less needy should be given a timely love pat on the back for work well done.

I have made a career of wifing/mothering ever since I got married and had my first baby. Granted, there were varying degrees of dedication, yet always it has been my conviction that this is my life-work because God gave me children. Let me tell you, there is a lot of scope for the imagination and plenty of use for any talent if you get over not being noticed all the time for your good work. There is just so much to keep track of and grow and learn, and anybody who thinks being a stay at home mom is boring has not leaned into it hard enough…ahem.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought in the toddler years, if I just felt sure I knew what I was doing? Well. Here I still am, thinking that would be nice. Still learning.

This year our last booster seat left the car and our first child turned 16. We are squarely in a season that is strange and fun and did I mention stretching? Everybody can buckle their own seat belts for the ride, but they don’t all want to go to the zoo with equal passion. Dad is driving the car, making sure the correct address is in the Google Maps so they can actually get to the zoo, navigating the traffic and the gas tank. Mom is up there in the passenger seat, passing out snacks and untangling arguments about whose water bottle the green one is, saying it’ll be fun! Just stop pestering each other and have fun… and thinking secretly that the zoo is always with her.

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Gabriel finished his bachelor’s degree in nursing this spring. He is still working in the Emergency Department in the trauma center in Altoona, although he also got his paramedic’s certification in case he ever decides to join a flight nursing team. He loves his work, but there are nights when the shift is so crammed with patients that he finds it hard to care about people anymore. One of the best stress relievers for him has been to start collecting antique woodworking tools, crafting workbenches, carving spoons, shaving curls of hardwood off planks in the methodical old ways with block planes. I have an impressive collection of wooden utensils in my kitchen, all carefully hollowed out of greenwood with spoon knives. We joke about buying stock in  Band-Aid and there have been a few suturing episodes, but the more the guys work with their sharp instruments, the less they cut themselves. Here’s a photo of his workshop in the barn loft, a happy place until the weather turns freezing.

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Aside from my usual homemaking stuff this year, I spent most of my spare hours with my hands in the clay. Slowly I have gotten to feel confident with making mugs and smaller pots on the wheel. I have endless ideas to try in the new year, but I think I will work at one new thing per month. My sister gave me a gorgeous planner where I can even write out what I want to learn each month. Shall it be teapots in February and plates in March? Hmm? It is wonderful to have my heated shed where I can work for a few hours, leave the mess, pick it up again the next day. For the duration of the winter, Gabriel has his antique tools in half of the shed, so our dream of working companionably in the same space has come true.

Over the Christmas hustle when I was trying to stock my Etsy shop, I would go outside after the girls’ bedtime story and work until Gabriel got home from work at midnight. One can only keep that up so long, though, and I am taking a goodly break. (For those who want to know: my Etsy shop is HomesteadHighlights because we all make stuff around here, so there will be listings that are not pottery related. I also have an Instagram page under (lame name alert, because I cannot pin down a name I love) deep8_ceramics where I chat about the process of learning to make pottery. I don’t know anything except what someone taught me, mostly from Youtube, but it’s fun to figure it out as I go.)

What I have not done much is read and write. I am going to have to figure out a way to juggle better. My soul shrivels when I don’t read, and I feel like I am dropping chunks of life when I don’t write. Maybe that planner… Every new year I feel hopeful about my abilities to be organized and start strong with one. I love the feel of chipping at my goals and checking off lists, then I start winging it again when life gets too busy to pick up a pen and jot a list. I have learned to keep my shopping list in GoogleKeep. It works great because I am less likely to forget my phone than my list. I can’t decide whether I should just embrace this idiosyncrasy or continue to fight it. Maybe I could develop a planner that spans January to June for people like me. It would be half the normal price and they would not have to feel guilty about the wasted blank pages at the end of the year.

This year I discovered the app Libby by Overdrive, which gives me access to library audiobooks. My favorites list of podcasts is growing as well. This is what I do to stimulate my mind while I do mug handles. Last January I deleted the Facebook app on my phone. I find that I do not miss anything except the sorts of things that everybody knows because they saw it on Facebook and I am totally clueless. It’s not really that bad. I have found plenty of things to fill those scrolling distracted minutes. Ask me how I control my Instagram habits? It takes carefulness, no matter what, to avoid falling into wormholes that have nothing to do with what God wants me to do right now.

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Alex is working on his last high school credits. With only 7 to go, he is hoping to graduate in the spring. This fall he spent a few weeks helping an uncle with a house renovation project in South Dakota. It was his first flight out of the nest for that long and we really missed him. He also did an Outdoor Emergency Course in preparation to do ski patrol with his dad. It was a fairly rigorous course, with quizzes or tests every weekend. I was amused to see how much more seriously he took those deadlines than the ones I give him for his lessons. Now that it’s time to study for a driver’s permit, he is out of ambition and taking his good old time. That’s all right by me, although I will be glad when he can drive himself to work. I keep being startled by this tall child of mine when I see him out of the corner of my eye. Most times this happens when I’m working in the kitchen and he sidles past the fridge to see if anything jumped in there since he last checked it a few minutes ago. It is a very handy thing to have such a strong young man hanging around when furniture needs to be moved, or feed bags have been hauled home from the store, or stacks of boxes need to go to the post office.

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Gregory has spent hours, days, doing research on forging methods and drooling over blacksmithing tools. The obsession lasted so long that Gabriel decided to build him a forge and buy hims some sacks of coal for his 14th birthday. He has been hammering out hooks and key rings from old porch railings. My favorite is a plant stake that looks just like a heron. His favorite is a knife he forged out of an old door hinge, then carved the handle and epoxied the two together. I hear him whistling to the tune of the hammer blows and tease him that he should start a business called Great Guns. Since Alex has a job, Gregory is our barn worker. He feeds the animals and takes care of the egg gathering/washing. It has done more to teach him focus than any other daily chore. A hungry creature doesn’t care how interesting your book is. It just wants to be fed. On time. And watered. Every day.

I try hard not to hover and be solicitous with these boy-men. I try to be suitably impressed by their accomplishments but not too gushy (aw, it’s not a big deal, Mom, nothing to it). I try not to get discouraged that they still mercilessly tease their sisters and I try to think instead about how they generously buy Pringles and candy corn to share with everybody.  I admit to bewilderment with what to do when the adult is right there around the corner, just about fully fledged, and yet the child is cavorting around in full sight. One thing I have been learning: one cannot hitch one’s wagon to the feelings and whimsies of one’s growing-up children. It just ain’t a good practice.

The girls are easier to understand. Olivia is domestic and reliable in the house. She is a peacemaker at her core, and usually asks if anyone else wants the last cookie before she takes it herself. When it’s clean-up time, it is easy for her little sisters to dawdle while she scurries around putting things away.  Occasionally I am happy to see spunk in her that won’t be taken advantage of. (See steamrolled reference above. Actually, if Gabe and I ever had a child who had no opinions, we would worry it was a foundling.) This year Olivia sewed about a dozen dolls with big ideas of selling them. Every time she has a fresh batch, she decides to give them away. The latest ones have hip-length yarn hair that can be styled, so she wants to keep them all. She struggles to keep them all decently clothed out of fabric scrap dresses.

Rita is sailing blithely through 3rd grade and I am so grateful that I waited until she was seven before she started first grade books. She is plenty smart, but not bookish at all. Her best learning comes from making stuff and observing closely what is around her. She knows the habits of individual chickens and how to make a village with acorn caps and some good ways to make soup when you feel like you might want a little something to eat. The day before Christmas I found her in the basement, stripping dried cattail fluff into a bag to stuff a pillow for our trip to Ohio. That’s Rita in a nutshell. Need a pillow? Make one. Why bother somebody else? Just use the stuff at hand. Any stuff. There is a slight conflict in that last philosophy that the discerning among you might understand.

Addy is now 7, and learning to come to terms with always being the little one. It doesn’t matter that it makes more sense for her to have the bottom dresser drawers. “It’s just because I am the shortest” and she is prepared to take offense at that. Her huge store of affection gets lavished on people and pets alike. She likes things to be fair and getting dibs on the top bunk has been her latest great happiness. Recently we were baking cookies together and I made an accidental flour mushroom that showered gently over the counter. Addy had an epiphany: “I get it from you, Mama! You make messes too!” I grinned at her and said, “Yes, you do get it from me! But we get a lot done in life, you and I.” We embraced our idiosyncrasy together and just had a good time with our cookies while I told her about my own days of scraped knees and skinned hands.

I suppose the year was fairly ordinary, but the days were full of struggle and triumph and occasional headers into mud, quite literally. Normally our area gets about 40 inches of precipitation a year and this year we had 60 inches by mid-December. It seems fitting that we had a downpour all day on this last scrap of 2018. If this keeps up, I’ll be looking toward Arizona.

Looking ahead, I know there is a lot of potential for character development and opportunities for repentance involved in daily interaction with needy humans. I don’t have any profound aspirations other than to start new every morning with coffee and those mercies that rebound daily and keep the strains of life from completely fraying me into a frazzled, useless mess. It’s a good life, after all.

How about you? Would you like another year like the one you just had, or are you grateful to move on to a fresh one?

 

 

How to Cope With More Than You Can Handle

6:17 AM. Seven years ago, right at this time, I was on the way to the hospital in the last stage of labor. The fibroid tumor alongside my chubby baby’s head was giving us problems with her position, so even though the baby wasn’t stressed, we headed to our back-up plan. (Insert my opinion here, because I know this: Home birth is amazing, but never try it without doctor backup and make sure you are close to a hospital.) It’s 20 minutes of my life I don’t ever want to do again, and I remember moaning about just wanting to die while my husband was driving. “Well, honey, that’s not an option,” he told me cheerfully. He had just finished the first semester of nursing school and as always, he was an amazingly supportive birth coach, keeping me focused on the moment. So, dying was out. I would just have to do this. Seventeen minutes after we were escorted to OB by an orderly who talked too much in the elevator, Addy came flying into the world. It was so sudden I laughed my relief out loud in the delivery room.

A few hours later, my parents brought the rest of the children to see their baby sister, proof for the chatty orderly that no, this was not our first baby. My oldest son was 8, the next one was 6, and the girls were 3 and 2. I look back at these photos and think that they were all babies.

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My burning question was simple. How? How am I going to do this? When we bring this baby home from the hospital and my husband goes back to work/school, how will I cope? I was reminded of these feelings recently when a friend with 5 small children asked me what one thing I would say to a mom in the daily, hourly, minutely role of raising small children. “I am living the life I used to fear,” she told me, and I knew exactly what she meant. The answer that came was simple.

You do this one day at a time, faithfully doing the next thing. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for successful mothering, because our lives are all different, but this is a formula that will grow and change you in your own heart toward your children. It will give you backbone and strength when you are so tired you are cross-eyed in a tunnel lined with milky sippy cups and poo-stained onesies. Are you ready for this?

This is the time when it is okay to die. This is the time to slay the whiny, “BUT what about ME?” and just pour it out for others. You know you won’t actually die, but selfishness and grandiose ambitions and pride of accomplishments will. Just chuck them out and allow yourself to settle into a very small, hardly noticed place of service. Nobody says, “Wow, did you see how neatly she wiped up those squished peas under the highchair? Isn’t she accomplished? And just look at how amazing she was with that baby wipe.” And yet in that moment with a rag on the floor you gave your life for another. You’ll get it back someday and the more freely you give it up now, the happier you will be.

Don’t be afraid of the narrowness. I think of it like water flowing through a hose. You aren’t a river, satiating the thirst of an entire county. You are responsible for that hopping, squirming row right there in front of you clamoring for a drink. Keep them hydrated. Just concentrate on that. This is not the season to crusade for world peace. Your contribution to the world is nurtured children and it is a huge contribution even while it kills you repeatedly, day after day.

I can’t say you will always feel your “high and holy calling.” It is intense and hot and sticky and there are all these clingers-on every time you do venture away from home territory. You will fight the urge to run to a place where nobody calls you “Mama.” There will be times you feel like you simply cannot get off the couch to deal with the children who are scrapping madly in their bedroom.

But you will be all in, freely investing your talents in this hidden place. You will be lavishly working to make life happy, saying “yes” when you dread the mess your consent will create, reading the same storybook 3 times a day, listening to endless rewinds of an alleged dream, thinking constantly about what to feed the people. You will be teaching your children how to say sorry, how to wash their hands and their dishes and their clothes, how to make life sweeter for others. Your books will languish, unread, and your prayers will be profound phrases like, “Help me, Jesus.”

You will repent and apologize when you fall, and then you will get up for another round, knowing that Grace is holding you and you are in a good place. You will find Joy in this spot, like looking through a cardboard tube at your life and when you block out all the peripherals you zero in on the loveliest vignettes in the middle of the chaos.

It is simple, but I didn’t say it is easy. “I’ll do hard things for love of you, Jesus,” I promised in my youth. Hear me. It was impossible for this impatient, goal-oriented, ambitious girl to settle into that narrow life and flourish. I wasn’t a nurturer by nature. I wanted to do big things, broad strokes that would change the world. Something had to give and it was me. I just didn’t know how hard it would be to live small, contained, in one little place, with just these same little people every day. I needed to learn the glory of small things, a little leaven, a grain of mustard seed. The dying was excruciating and it continues on. How can one person have so much selfishness?

I am currently in a season where I am able to zoom out, pick up dreams to pursue, walk in a wider place. My baby just cooked her own breakfast while I hovered anxiously in case the eggs spilled onto the stove. Wow, that happened fast, I think.

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If you feel stifled, smothered by neediness, afraid to let go of who you are, take it from me. Things become richer when you condense them, even souls.

A Good, Good Day

This day started in the best way I can imagine, with a child wanting to talk with us, coming to our bed and whispering a need, “I want to become a Christian.” How happy we were to leap out of the covers, get dressed, and pray with our second son as he gave his life to Jesus. Some things are too sacred to describe. It is awesome, how Jesus meets every sincere person who comes to Him, whether with impossibly complicated messes or with simple childhood faith.

I looked out the window and saw the leaden, dripping skies starting to lighten, and this day it did not affect my spirits at all.

We had our farm fresh eggs for breakfast. Rita decided to go on a hunger strike because eggs make her gag and the toast was too grainy. Addy said, “Eggs? Oh good. I thought you said oatmeal and I felt a shudder going up my spine.”

School got started early, because we had an afternoon of activity planned. Addy and I learned the letter “y”. She is the first child that I put through CLE’s K5 curriculum before beginning the Learning to Read series. It seems to have helped her to zip along with the harder concepts, but I guess I wouldn’t know how she would do without that K5 work, especially considering how determined she is to do everything the other children do. She has picked up on reading the fastest of all the children, but she still needs me to read her chapter books, of course. When she finishes her reading lesson, she settles with an audio book and her coloring pencils and book, usually in a private place where she doesn’t annoy the others. I cannot even estimate how often she has listened through The Boxcar Children.

When the middle girls were finished with Language lessons, I went down the steps to check on my seventh grader, grade math tests and quizzes from oh, probably 3 or 4 weeks up to now, and file the quantities of artwork the girls want to save. Whew! I shouldn’t ever let it pile up. My high schooler and I had a long discussion about our differing views in getting things done. He is largely self-directed this year, with a strong bent to procrastination. I am largely a scheduled teacher, with a strong bent to intolerance of skipped work. He is planning to get it done soon. I want it done last week. We work out this impasse one slow step at a time.

Lunch was late, after 3 different people reminded me that it was time to eat. We pulled out leftovers. I got the chicken soup, Alex ate sloppy joes, and the others finished the bean dip with chips. It was good to clear out the fridge before we headed to the grocery store.

Rita was in a stitching mood again today. Someone gave her patterns for beanie babies. She hand-sewed this little guy, then needed beans to stuff him. I gave her corn, which makes him a corny baby. She affectionately calls him Blobby. On his birth certificate, she listed his favorite activity as fetching. “What? Fetching curls?” Addy asked.

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That’s our red dent corn in the cookie sheet. When I got out the huge bag of shelled corn, it had a few holes, so I decided to roast some and get it ground instead of forgetting it.

Addy and I read a story, and had a short rest while Alex finished up his assignments. We pulled together all the library books, and surprisingly, they were all in the living room or on the designated library book shelf. I switched out some laundry loads quickly, then we loaded up and headed for the city.

Today’s haul was 15 books returned, 24 books checked out. We used my large 31 tote and I have to say, I love that thing. Our favorite grocery store is only a mile from the library. There is just one sad thing: no Ibotta rebates. Olivia wanted to push the cart for me, but the rest stayed in the Suburban with their books. I asked myself, “When did grocery shopping with the whole crew get so easy?” I used to get a splitting headache every time. It was just so taxing, keeping track of everybody. I do haul much bigger loads of groceries home these days! I remembered to get plenty of flour to feed my sourdough starter pet. Butter was cheap, and our favorite tortellinis were on sale, so we got piles of that too. Olivia got hungry for fruit pizza when she saw strawberries and kiwis, so we got some. I am guessing that the strawberries will rot before these rock hard kiwis are ready to eat. (Any tips on how to get them to ripen faster?) The back of the Suburban was pretty full when we loaded up, and Addy said, “WHAT TOOK SO LONG?”

I doled out nacho chips, and chocolate milk. Yes, total junk food. In the vehicle. I offered them some baby carrots, veggie straws, and banana chips, too. It was a nice gesture. No doubt my head needed to be examined, but nothing catastrophic happened, so I feel bolder about the next time. We also hit a drive-through for some fries for the girls and a chicken sandwich for the boy with the hollow leg when I realized it was going to get pretty late. Also, the next stop was a fabric store. Sometimes you take preemptive action by taking care of potentially hangry people first. Again the boys wanted to stay outside and read. The girls browsed the knick-knacks while I ordered fabric for the dresses for the choir. They only had enough for 2/3 of us ladies, so I will need to go back for more. It took so long that the boys came into the store. Gregory suddenly recalled a burning need for camouflage knit and Rita needed penny-sticks, one for each child, which she paid for herself. Olivia looked at all the pretty stuff and decided it was too expensive and that is why she always has more spending money than any of the others. Addy said, “Please, please, please, may I get pick-up sticks? May I get this dot-to-dot book? Please would you buy me this candy slime with a frog in it?” When I held firmly to a kind no, having warned her ahead of time that this was a fabric only, no knick-knacks trip, she wept large tears, but quietly. That was a huge victory for both of us.

It was dark and raining by the time we were done with our business in the store. I opened the back to put the fabric on top of the groceries, not knowing that someone had piled empty gallon jugs back there. Out they crashed, but only one broke into smithereens on the asphalt. The boys had a flashlight to help them pick up the pieces, and then we headed to the farm to pick up milk.

I should mention that we listened to a G.A. Henty audio dramatization about the Reign of Terror while we were on the road. Just as we drove into our lane, the two aristocrats and their noble protector were safely crossing the English channel. It was such a relief that they didn’t lose their heads after so many narrow escapes.

You know what is the hardest thing about hauling home groceries? Yeah, putting them away. It’s a silly thing, but often this is where it unravels for me. Some of the people drift off, having lost interest in the commonplace stowing of goods. There is always someone who wants to open packages prematurely. When we refill the flour and sugar canisters, powder puffs and granules dribble. The produce doesn’t quite all fit into the crisper drawers, ever. We are that blessed! I have tried and tried to figure out ways to streamline this process, including involving all the troops. It seems to be the sort of thing you just have to do, like going on a bear hunt. Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, have to go through it. I am so grateful for loaded pantry shelves again, and a refrigerator stuffed with all we need to eat healthfully and well. And I am glad it is all put away.

In the interest of keeping it real, this is my living room tonight.

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I decided to turn out the lights, put the girls to bed, and leave it for another day. Gabe is working all night, so I don’t have to worry about him tripping over rubble. There are  two baskets of laundry saved up for folding. Plenty of time for that tomorrow too.

I just brewed a cup of tea in a mug made by my talented friend Allison at White Hill Pottery. Often I look at this mug and aspire to achieving such graceful dimensions on my pieces. (Even just successfully attaching a handle would be okay with me.) It’s probably a few years down the road, but it sure is nice to drink tea and dream.

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That’s it. Quitting time. It was a wonderful day! How about yours?

Parenting and Pink Sugar Donuts

I observed a particularly awful sort of well-meaning parenting yesterday.

There in the aisles of the discount store where I was checking out the salad spinners and area rugs, I noticed a tiny, imperious child. Little Curly Top was ruling with a heavy hand over her parents, dictating where they could shop or not shop, picking up things they told her to leave alone, begging for snacks that duly got placed in the cart. She was such a beautiful child with such a stinky attitude. It was astonishing, the contrast. Suddenly she took off running to the far side of the store. “COME BACK,” Mom said, but Curly Top had other ideas. “I AM PUTTING YOUR SNACK BACK ON THE SHELF. SE-E-E? WE AREN’T BUYING THIS BECAUSE YOU AREN’T BEING GO-O-OD.” Dad hauled a kicking, crying child back to the cart and the shopping continued. She saw a breach in the wall and dashed off again. Meanwhile the snack had once more gotten into the cart. Mom sighed, exasperated, to Dad, “Go get her. Tell her we won’t buy her a snack if she isn’t good.”

At this point I couldn’t watch anymore. I felt so sorry for that child. The oddest thing is that this sort of circus is considered normal and totally acceptable in society, but a mother who is peacefully shopping with a crowd of happily obedient children around her is taking up too much space on the earth. Not only that, she is also seen as being suspect to all the ones who experience children to be cumbersome brats who will embarrass their parents with their desires loudly expressed at every occasion.
It’s the self esteem movement parents now attempting to be parents themselves, and finding their own training lacking somehow. I am the last one to cast judgement on someone who is having a rough time with a cranky toddler, but when I see them trying to wheedle a child into happiness instead of being in charge- you know, a firm little nonnegotiable nap or something equally corrective- then I am afraid I do cast a bit of judgement.

The thing about mothers is that their job is to nurture and take care of their people. However, we cannot let the world’s philosophy of “the chief end of man is to feel good” rule us here. Listen. You can do your job to the best of your abilities and with every dollar available and still never be able to keep your child happy all the time by trying to manipulate circumstances so they do not have anything but happy feelings. It’s a vicious, unending, impossible cycle. It is like being lashed through life by a tiny dictator with unstable emotions and a dubious worldview. “You want some juice? Sure, here is it with a nifty little straw? Oh, you don’t like that flavor? How thoughtless of Mommy to get apple instead of mango/strawberry. Wanna play trains now? What, that’s not a real Thomas? Don’t cry. Let’s go see what they have at ToysR Us. Have a donut on the way, honey.”

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Our role as a parent is not to make every moment of the day amazing. If you feel stuck in this cycle, you can actually let that expectation go. It’s not gonna happen. There are lots of sweet, happy instances in life, sure, but there are an equal amount of un-amazing kidney beans. In acceptance lies peace.

You might say, “But don’t you want your children to be happy?” Of course we love to have happy children! It is delightful to do things that make them shine with joy. Mine light up any time the chocolate gets passed around, but I would never feed them a steady diet of chocolate, even if chicken broth doesn’t bring out the sparklers. They don’t like to pick up toys and do dishes. Jobs like cleaning out the poo in the barn make them downright glum. We aren’t unreasonable; we give them milkshakes occasionally and they get more in allowance if they do a good job on it. The requirement is simple: push through and finish, or forfeit the pay. I say the same things my mom said to us, “Why shouldn’t you help with the work? You live here like everybody else. Now get busy.” Or even better is this one, “He who does not work should not eat.”

Our parenting goals should be bigger than happiness. What is the chief end of man? It’s about glorifying and enjoying God. That bliss comes from learning to live life unselfishly, and those lessons begin when we are still little tots without the ability to direct our own lives. A two year old cannot understand the deep doctrinal truths in verses like,

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it,” but they are extremely malleable and effortlessly pick up values as they go along. Guess what- They get their values from their parents.

In the late nineties, the self-esteem rhetoric exploded, but it took almost a generation to see the troubling patterns emerge. Even secular psychologists are calling it a bad parenting model now that the results are back. Many are sadly discovering that they were not handed any favors to face life when they were handed lollipops to make everything better, with Mom and Dad doing all the struggling. These people have a gut feeling that they were created for better things, but they really don’t have much sense of purpose in the world except to feel good. They were trained carefully along this track and told the whole time how amazing they are. The only problem is: they aren’t amazing. It is much easier to see when they are grown, totally unequipped for life.

I will tell you what is amazing. I personally am friends with many millennials who were raised by parents who didn’t buy all the nonsense. These young folks have embraced the mentality of the Kingdom of Heaven, that bit about living for others, it’s not all about me, etc. They are standing upright, fighting battles for others, starting businesses, teaching children in school, raising families, doing work that will not be paid in this life. They are the fruits of wise parenting and they are much too busy to obsess over whether they will get their pink sugar donut today. They know they can be happy without it.