A date

In a big family like ours one-on-one time with mom and dad can be tough to come by, so last week Alex and I took Henry out to dinner.  It was a wonderful and much-needed evening for all three of us.

I’ll be the first to admit that in this whirlwind of caring for little people – feeding the baby, packing lunches, doing laundry, driving from one practice to the next, making dinner – its easy to get caught up in all that I have to do and miss out on opportunities to slow down and check-in with each child.  When the boys were all little we tended to lump them into one big group.  And sometimes, basically out of survival we parented them as a herd.  Today, the younger children seem to urgently demand my time and attention, meanwhile our first-born is fighting to stretch his wings – separating himself from the herd – and needs our attention in new and more complex ways.

Of course I never handle this parenting thing as gracefully as I’d like.  Nor are the answers always obvious.  Even as their mother, I will never know exactly how my children are feeling or all the burdens they carry.  I’ll never know the responsibility Henry feels as the oldest brother of four.  Or understand what it’s like to have a brother with special needs.  Or how he manages to almost always meets everyone’s high expectations.

We’ve never set our to burden our eldest son.  His independent soul and strong will are characteristics we’re proud of.  So is the way that he seemingly handles everything with ease.  He’s so grown up.  “Thank goodness for Henry” we say, “isn’t he amazing?”  But as we all know even the lightest of expectations can begin to weigh you down.

What it all boils down to is this: I really, really, really want Henry to know without a doubt that we love him.  Not as the oldest brother, the big helper, the good friend, or the great student.  That we simply love him for who he is.  No matter what he’s feeling, or how he’s behaving.  Our love will remain constant.

Once again we are learning as we go.  We pray everyday for grace and forgiveness as parents and I don’t think this will ever stop.  We pray to find that sweet spot of encouragement and love and discipline.  And we pray that we will always be there for each of our children, to help ease their burdens and join in their celebrations.

My beautiful children. Right now.

More often, and at what always feels like the last-minute, I try to grab my camera to get some shots of the kiddos in action.  And always, always I’m so glad I did.  Looking back, my favorite photos are the spontaneous, in the moment shots.  But a good old-fashioned posed picture is just as precious.  I love pictures so much because they capture what sometimes words can’t express.  You can’t help but see the distinct personalities, feelings and features of each child.  And isn’t it amazing just how different each sibling is?  Together I’m certain that these four make up the sweetest little family I could have ever imagined.

Henry.  At eight he no longer sees himself as a little boy, but isn’t quite as grown-up as he’d like to be either.  He still finds so much comfort in the safe cocoon of our family but is just starting to spread his wings and establish an identity separate from us.  It is both heartbreaking and lovely.  He is so, so brave and I know that this school year has not been easy for him.  His days are a swirl of love, responsibility, the need to distance himself and the pull to protect his brother.  It is a lot to ask of one little boy.

Charlie.  This has been such a year of growth for Charlie.  His speech is taking off and if all else fails there is no doubt that Charlie could beat anyone in a game of charades.  He will pull out all the stops to make his opinion/wants/needs known.  He has also become so aware of his limitations.  His frustration is real but his tenacity is greater.  Those traits serve him well.  Little dude is also mastering scissors and getting pretty darn good with his colors.  Oh and he’s never met a sweet treat that he didn’t like.

William.  He is healthy, praise God.  He is all spunk and sweetness.  He is smart as a whip and stubborn as a mule.  And funny, he’s really funny.  He is my little buddy, afternoons are ours – eating lunch, doing chores, and puttering around the house together.  He’s obviously not the baby of the house anymore but in a way I think he will always be my baby.  I sort of wish I could freeze him in time right now.

And Caroline.  My daughter.  Daughter.  Someone spoke that word to me the other day and for some reason it just hit me.  We have a daughter.  Isn’t she lovely?  And she squeals!  High-pitched little girl squeals.  And she talks and smiles and coos.  She also knows how to wear a serious expression.  She is alert as can be and always on the look-out.  With three boys flying through the house who can blame her?  She is sweet and she is spicy.  She is opinionated yet laid back.  She just might be the most relaxed of all our children.  This is something I never would have said four months ago.  Go figure.

The more I write and ramble I realize that it’s difficult to separate my story from the story of my children, or at least the story of their childhood.  My hope is that through all of these photos and ramblings my children will one day look back and see how grateful I was for each one of them.  I hope they see a mom who loved them unconditionally, stumbled right alongside them, prayed over their mistakes, laughed often with them and did her best to hand her mountain of worries over to the Lord.  I hope they see a mom who was far from perfect, but loved them so much.

What a ride.

We learned a few things during our recent visit to Seattle:

1.  We would have been amazing parents if we’d only had two children.  We would have totally nailed it.  Of course I can say such a tongue in cheek comment from my little corner of the world where I actually have four children and run from fire to fire.  Maybe like most things, we’re doing better than we think.   But to spend a day with just William and Caroline was a real treat and a great reminder to schedule more one on one or two on two-time with our kiddos.

2.  After more blood work our delightful doctor confirmed that there is no indication that William has cancer or any other major blood disorder.  And while some of the pieces of the puzzle still don’t entirely make sense, what we do know is that William is healthy.  Whew.  Amen.  Alleluia.  Praise Jesus.

Of course I don’t mean to sound so casual about it all, but I honestly hadn’t even allowed myself to think such thoughts {though duh, we had an appointment at the Seattle Children’s Cancer and Blood disorder clinic} because quite honestly I might have officially lost it.

We’re still standing. Praise God He doesn’t give up on us.

It’s taken me a while, but I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that my children and all of the little details that make them who they are, aren’t going to necessarily fit the mold that I’d so {foolishly} dreamed and planned for them {me}.  I’m sometimes reluctant to admit that our Creator, the King of the Universe knows so much more than this suburban mother ever could imagine.  Of course He hasn’t missed a single detail when crafting their personalities, dividing cells and designing each fingerprint.

Smiley baby.

Someone was all smiles the other day so I dusted off the camera and snapped some photos of our sweet Caroline.

Sometimes she is so serious.

Her “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” stare.  She makes this face often.

Sometimes she just laughs and smiles when I walk into the room.  My heart melts every single time.

These early months with a new baby are nothing to joke about.

Here’s the truth of it, and probably a little more than you’d like to know about me.  I tend to go through some rough patches during that dreamy {ha} postpartum period.  It’s sooo fun.  Especially for Alex.  And my mom.  Add into the already hormonal mix a colicky baby and voila!  You have one fun mother.

During this particular postpartum ride I’ve felt especially vulnerable.  I simply couldn’t do it all by myself.  And so I had to rely on our amazing circle of family and friends to help shuttle kids to and from activities, bring over a meal, or take the boys for a playdate.  And sometimes at the end of the day instead of basking in the blessing of those helping our family, I felt guilty that I couldn’t pull it all together myself.

Writing this out probably makes me sound ridiculous.

So yes, it was an easy sell, this vulnerability.  And sometimes it all seems magnified because you have completely isolated yourself in your home because your baby cries all the time and you fear taking her anywhere.  {hypothetically of course.}  Which only then magnifies everything even more because you never get out and instead live in your own little bubble of worry and trials.  {again, purely hypothetical…}

And sometimes you just need a swift kick in the {stretchy} pants {and a good night sleep and a smiley baby and a date night} to remind yourself that this life is pretty darn good.

“…always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit.  You’d be amazed at how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two…”

source…oddly this quote struck a chord… ;)

Charlie

“Charlie’s fun to have in class, but sometimes it’s hard to understand him.”

“Why is it hard to understand him?”

“Because he’s speaks in Spanish.”

This conversation was relayed to me by the mom of one of Charlie’s classmates.

It made me laugh out loud and melted my heart.  He is so loved and understood by his classmates, even if communication is sometimes a struggle.

with his two beloved teachers.

School’s out and boy am I a mess of emotions.  I’m not typically a sentimental person but the end of the school year gets me every single time.

We have big school-related changes on the horizon {kindergarten!} and they all center around our favorite little tow-head, Charlie.  I’m in way over my head so I’ve been doing what I do best; research the heck out of all of the various options and opportunities available.  Then talk incessantly about it.  Worry.  Fret.  Pray.  Dutifully get my ducks in a row for every. single. option. possible.

Writing openly and honestly about Charlie has been a challenge.  Not for the obvious reasons, but because it seems like my words tumble out all backwards.  And as he gets older I’m beginning to walk a finer line of what to share and what is his to keep safe within our family.

This much I do know: Charlie is healthy, happy and thriving.  {Yay!}  We have {finally!} found a speech therapist who has helped Charlie to – get this – speak!  We have continued with weekly hippotherapy lessons.  And while I’m not honestly sure if I’ve seen any speech improvement related to riding, I have seen a little boy who is learning how to ride a horse, trust others, and bond with his pony.  And there is little doubt that this past school year has been a great time of growth for our little guy.

However, what I also see is a little boy who has become very aware of his limitations in comparison to his peers.  I see bonds forming between Henry and William that are different than with Charlie.  On the other hand I see that the overall bonds of brotherhood are stronger than any chromosome count and stand witness as they weave all three boys together in ways that only a mother could dream of.  But the subtle differences are there.  I see them.  The hardest part is that I’ve noticed that Charlie sees them too.

It’s oh so difficult to accept that things will always be harder for Charlie.  And yet I have no doubt that we could all learn a thing or two from our second-born.

I’m clearly in over my head in so many ways but it also feels like a good place to be.

Life can be confusing.  The same sweet little boy that I often worry and fret over is also the same little boy who has taught me the greatest life lessons.  And when it all seems a bit overwhelming – as it often is – all I need to do is pause and watch Charlie in action.  Almost immediately my heart is refreshed and I’m reassured that we can – we are – doing this all together.

Well-rounded.

Last Sunday Henry participated in his first piano recital.  I couldn’t have been more proud or nervous.  Henry told me that he was nervous too, but followed up explaining “but that’s totally normal to be nervous before a performance.”  Of course it is.

There were seven girls participating in the recital and Henry was the only boy.  I don’t think he even noticed.  I love that about him.  He was so proud to “play in the same church that great-grandma played the organ, {for 30+ years!}”

catching…

Only a week or two left and it will be time to wrap-up baseball season.  It probably sounds like bragging {and well, it is} but Henry is a pretty darn good baseball player.  As a 7 year-old for a majority of the season he’s been playing *up*, going against 8, 9 and even 10 year-olds.   And there is no doubt that he has held his own both at-bat and on the field.  He typically plays shortstop or third base, but has also given first base, pitching and catching a go.

He just loves it and I don’t think we could ask for more than that.

For the most part Alex and I are learning to take this whole parenting thing day-by-day.  A couple of weeks ago we were both frustrated and confused, wondering what we were doing wrong.  And then suddenly we’re back on track.  As much as I would love to take credit for all the amazing things my kiddos do, then I would also have to accept that I’ve helped to contribute to their negative traits too.  Yikes.

Sometimes I look way too far into the future and panic.  Are we doing enough?  Are we raising up our boys to become strong, independent individuals who will contribute positively back to society?  Who love the Lord, their family and friends?  Who value and respect themselves and others?  That can all sound so intimidating and impossible.  And yet when I step back and watch my boys in action, taking things day by day – Henry helping Charlie to buckle his seat-belt, three happy boys running around the house doing who-knows-what, holding little hands at the dinner table while saying grace and yes, *one-more kissandahug* – it’s heartbreakingly beautiful to see the amazing people they are and are growing up to be.

This and That

Nap time has officially given way to *quiet time*.  Yes, it’s slightly liberating because for the first time in eight years our afternoons are free.  We could go anywhere!  We could do anything!  Then four ‘o clock hits and since no napping also means no break in the day, we’re all sort of tired and cranky.  We’re still fine-tuning but adjusting well.

What I’m making for dinner at least once a week: Pasta with Brussel Sprouts and Bacon.  Andrea has such a knack for discovering and sharing great recipes.  I double the recipe for our crew and everyone {minus William} happily eats it.  {I crave it.}

In a moment of desperation I discovered Alex’s side of the closet the other day.  Not sure how he feels about that, but I’ve never received so many compliments about my *maternity wear* so I’ll certainly be shopping his side again.

Nesting, nesting and more nesting.  Bless their hearts, the boys are even getting in on the act.  Pretty sure they think wiping down the baseboards is a fun treat.  Amazing things can happen when each little one gets their own spray bottle.  As for the actual gathering and getting things ready for baby, it’s slow going.  I want everything done yesterday, but that would also require some major decision-making from me.  Which is impossible.  I simply don’t know what I want, but I do know I want it done.  Easy-peasy right?

I’m sort of obsessed with peonies.  And I’m also convinced that no, you can’t take too many pictures of them either.  If only peonies lasted year-round, but perhaps that’s what makes them all the more special.  They are such a treat to enjoy and share.

P.S. What do you think of our cows?  I think we should name them.  Alex’s thinks I’m crazy.  Suggestions?

My brain is nesting.

Lately I’ve been re-energized and refreshed as a mama.   This hardly means that our days are always smooth sailing or that I’m calm and patient all the time.  Let’s just clear that up right away.  It probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve stumbled across some great reads that have not only encouraged me, but given me some fresh perspective.  Or that I’m finally putting some things that I’ve long known about my children and myself as a mother into action:

We thrive on routine.  We need lots of margin.  However, life gets busy and some days our schedule is jam-packed.  I need to just get over this, and set a positive tone as we bounce from one activity to another because they always, always take their cues from me.  However, as the mama I also have the privilege of protecting our down-time.  Yes, it’s hard to say no to so many *good* activities but it’s necessary for our crew.  The best way to *fill-up* and show my kiddos love includes reading lots of stories, snuggles, time spent just listening and especially when I get down on the floor and play.  {Ugg.}  Remember to look directly into their eyes when speaking to them.  They notice.

I’m doing my best to savor each day with our three little ones, filling them up with an abundance of love and patience and just-being time before baby.  Maybe I could chalk it all up to pregnancy hormones, but whatever the reason it’s working for our family and I want to remember this.

It’s sort of like my brain is nesting and storing up nuggets of information and good reminders before this new little one comes.  My nightstand is overflowing with parenting books mixed in with all of the “how to have a baby books”  {which Alex teases me about…shouldn’t I be familiar with all that by now…?}  Ha.  I’m diligently making my way through each one, but here are a couple of faves:

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe

Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys

And here are a few encouraging blog posts on mothering that I’ve stumbled across lately:

Having babies in opposite world.  This article struck a chord with me.  I think you’ll see why.

From the post:

Opposite World says if you do have children, 1 or 2 is a nice number…and a family with  3 or 4 children is considered a large family.  And goodness, if you are pregnant with your fifth, you can expect the snide remarks like “you know what causes that, right?” or “Is this an oops?”  I mean why on earth would women want to have lots of babies?

But OH – this is not how God sees children.

Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from Him. ~ Psalm 127:3

Rachael Janokovic wrote a profound post over at Desiring God Ministries about motherhood – here’s an excerpt:

Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.

Christian mothers carry their children in hostile territory. When you are in public with them, you are standing with, and defending, the objects of cultural dislike. You are publicly testifying that you value what God values, and that you refuse to value what the world values. You stand with the defenseless and in front of the needy. You represent everything that our culture hates, because you represent laying down your life for another—and laying down your life for another represents the gospel.

If you are a pregnant woman, boldly declare your excitement for your baby bump!

When you are in the midst of bottles and binkies and spit up and tantrums and sleepless nights – do not let the enemy whisper in your ear – “this is too much.”  Lean on Jesus and thank God for giving you SO much!

When the world says, you are too young. Remember Mary was young.

When the world says, you are too old. Remember Sarah was old.

When the world says, you don’t know what you are doing. Remember Eve – who had no role models at all…she just walked with the King.

We must shut out the voices of Opposite World and listen to the maker of this world

—————-

And one more good read:

Sarah, writes about distracted Parenting.  Basically this…as parents we have become so easily distracted by those darn little iphones that we all carry around.  And while trying to keep up with *everything* and *everyone* via our phones we are not only missing out on the real life going on around us, but researchers have “observed a dimming of the child’s internal light, a lessening of the connection between parent and child” when parents are distracted by their phones, ipads, etc.

My family gives me a hard time for being the world’s worst phone call returner, or texter, but honestly this is why.  And yes, I’m guilty sometimes too, but when it comes down to it, I don’t want my kids to have a constant image of their mom always looking at a phone.  They are more important.  Period.  Plus, as another wise woman, has said, Life is not an Emergency.  No text or phone call needs to be responded to right this very minute.  Remember the good ol’ days when people left messages and patiently waited for a response?  Might be another lesson in there somewhere…