A Lesson on Charity from my Kids

For quite some time now, I have been thinking about taking my kids to visit some elderly folks in a nursing home. I thought this would be a wonderful way to practice the works of mercy together and to nourish a spirit of charity and service.

However, each time I have considered doing this, I have fairly quickly talked myself out of it, because of thoughts about how my girls will think the home smells funny, or they won’t feel comfortable talking to the residents, or they’ll mumble and no one will be able to hear them. This has always quickly led to imaginings of myself, in such a situation, being forced to try to make small talk while shushing complaining kids, and the idea would just shrivel and die, right there. My little introverted self does not like small talk.

So, I have resisted doing this good deed. Repeatedly.

About two weeks ago, I got an email from coordinator of pastor ministry at our parish, asking for volunteers to take flowers and Easter gifts to elderly and home bound individuals in a local nursing home. I decided that this was my chance to just get over myself and do something with my kids to serve others, and I quickly replied to the email, before I could talk myself out of it.

I’m so, so glad I did.

When I told them that we were going to visit a nursing home to take gifts to some of the residents, they immediately began to cheer happily. I thought they might be nervous and/or reluctant. Instead they were excited and eager.

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Before we went to the nursing home, I talked to the girls about what to expect and coached them on how to behave. I warned them that the home might smell funny and told them not to complain, or pinch their noses, or otherwise draw attention to it. I reminded them to speak clearly and not too fast (one of my girls is a super speed talker!), and that some of the people might not hear very well so they might have to speak a bit loudly. They said, “Like we do with Grandpa?” Yes. They know the drill. We talked about things they might bring up in conversation. I was pretty sure that they would be tongue-tied, and all the conversation would be left to me.

When we go to the home, they were poised, polite, and articulate, and so kind and loving towards the people we met.

I was humbled by their unselfconsciousness and their easy manner with the residents we spoke to. They weren’t uncomfortable at all. They weren’t tongue-tied, or mumbling, or complaining in the slightest.

In fact, they wanted to keep meeting and giving to more people. On the first day we visited, we were only able to deliver the gifts we had brought to two of the four residents we were assigned. The other two did not answer our knocking. I was fully prepared to take the two gifts we had left back to the coordinator of the project, tell her we weren’t able to make contact, and be done with it.

The girls wanted to go back the next day and try again.

So we did. And we got a few extra names in case we still weren’t able to deliver the gifts to those on our list. We managed to deliver both of our remaining gifts and when the coordinator asked us if we wanted to make one more visit, my girls excitedly exclaimed that they did.

Five encounters. Six elderly people (we delivered one gift to a married couple). The smiles on the faces of the residents and the care that my girls showed toward them just warmed my heart.

The girls felt a special affinity for one elderly lady we met, and asked if we could go back and visit her again. I told them that we didn’t want to just keep going to someone’s home without being invited, but that we could write a letter to the lady, and maybe visit her again if she invites us. They have been talking about her daily since we met her last week, and they are so excited about the idea of potentially going back to see her again.

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^^ This was their excitement after we finished delivering the gifts ^^

I learned a lot about my kids (and myself) during this experience. A few of the high points:

Small talk isn’t quite as horrible as I make it out to be in my mind in anticipation of it. I’m not good at it, but I can manage, and when it’s in service to someone else who is lonely, I need to just get over myself.

Also, my kids are so much more capable, caring, and giving than I sometimes give them credit for. I know that they are these things, but sometimes I forget how mature they’re getting. And maybe I underestimate them. I certainly did in this situation.

The biggest take away from this experience was for me to remember not to put my own insecurities onto my kids. I’m self-conscious in situations where I need to make small talk with strangers. They are not. I’m nervous about cold calling at someone’s door, even if it is to deliver a gift to him or her. They are not.

They are confident. They are well-spoken. They are kind. They seem to have become even more of all of these qualities as a result of this experience.

I need to just get out of their way.

Surrender

Sometimes, I am awful. There are days when I yell at my kids. Days when I snap at them for small mistakes. Days when I even make them cry.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how horrifying I find this. How much I hate this about myself. How hard it is to even type these words.

I was never an angry person before having kids. I almost never yelled. Which makes it all the more puzzling and frustrating to me that I do it now.

I understand some of the triggers for this anger and ugly behavior. Sleep deprivation. Hunger. Being hurried. I have made some progress and improvement by trying to manage these triggers. Getting more sleep (sometimes, though this is really, really hard for me), eating well, making sure that we have plenty of time to get ready to go somewhere, etc.

But still, I fail.

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So. At the beginning of this year, I decided to really focus on this as an area of improvement for myself. I wanted to do the “word of the year” thing, with this as my focus. I was trying my best to come up with a word that I could try to think about each day, especially in tense times, that would remind me to chill out, slow down, and not be a jerk. I thought of a few words that seemed promising, but noting that really seemed to be just right.

One morning during prayer time in early January I was wondering about why in the world I get so angry with my sweet kiddos, when I was never a person to get super fired up about stuff before having kids. I was praying that God would help me to have some insight on this. Then, literally the next day, I got an email that gave me what I asked for.

Haley Stewart is one of my favorite Catholic bloggers. She writes Carrots for Michaelmas and she is just a lovely person. I signed up for her blog newsletter some time ago (you can sign up for it here, or on the right sidebar of her blog, and I highly recommend that you do). In January, I received her newsletter email with the title “What My Priest Taught Me at Confession This Week.” I got the chills as I read Haley’s words about discussing the very same question with her priest that I had just discussed with God the previous morning in prayer. Why do I lose it with my kids??

Her priest gave her the most amazing answer (it’s moments like these that you just know these men are filled with the Holy Spirit). He told her that she gets angry because she is afraid, and that her fear comes from a lack of control (which can be terrifying for us moms). The idea of anger being the external manifestation of fear immediately rang a bell in the part of my brain that stores all the info I used to use when I was working as a professional psychologist (it’s a bit rusty these days).

“Of course!” I thought, mentally smacking my forehead. I realized in a rush that I definitely try way too hard to control all the things. That I stress out about my kids behavior because of fears of what might happen if I don’t make sure they learn everything perfectly now.

My subconscious thoughts most likely go something like this, “If my kids don’t have good manners now, they will turn out to be slovenly, ill-mannered adults!!” or “If my kids are disrespectful or break a rule today, they might end up being rebellious or even criminal someday!!” or “If they forget or don’t do a good job on chores as kids, they might grow up to be lazy and unable to take care of themselves!!!”

I don’t necessarily think these things consciously, and when I type them out here, of course they sound ridiculous, but at the same time, they resonate with fears that I hold deep down. They strike a chord in my mama heart where I just want everything to go right now, so they will be okay later.

Anyway, that was my first big realization after reading what Haley’s priest told her. Then I read on to what he told her to DO about this.

Pray for surrender.

He told her to stop struggling in all the situations where she cannot control everything and just surrender that control to God.

I’m pretty sure my jaw must have hit the floor at this point. Because all that control-freakishness up there? That is a lack of faith. And it was like God was speaking directly to me, giving me an answer to a question I had just asked Him, through Haley’s priest, through Haley, straight to my inbox. Whoa.

I had my word for the year. Surrender.

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Then, I began doing what the priest told Haley to do, asking God to help me surrender control. At first I was just praying that I would let go of the need to be so in control of all the things in my life, the stuff my kids do, the possible outcomes twenty years down the road of all the little things my kids do today, etcetera, etcetera.

But that wasn’t all. God gave me another insight into just how far my surrender needs to go. I had to surrender control of my own anger too.

I realized that I have tried many, many times to make myself stop being angry and stop losing my temper with my kids. I’ve prayed for God to help me do things differently. This time, through the act of sitting silently in prayer and asking God what I should do about this (instead of pleading with Him to do what I thought I needed to do), He let me know that I needed to give up my anger completely to Him. He helped me to see that controlling my anger, or changing any sinful behavior, is not fully within my power to do by myself. I need Him.

So, instead of praying, “God, help me to stop getting mad,” I now pray something more like, “God, please take this anger from my heart, and fill it with Your love and mercy. I surrender all of my anger to You, for without Your grace, I can do nothing.” It may seem like a subtle change, but it was huge for me, and the benefits of this have been many.

All of this occurred before Lent began, and I decided that my main resolution for Lent this year would be to give up all yelling at my kids. I was amazed at how the change in my prayer and thinking was helping me with this. I have certainly not been perfect (just a few days ago, I snapped at Sis about something), but I feel much more peaceful in general and have experienced great improvement.

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Amazingly, my insights with this issue did not stop there.

About two weeks ago, I listened to a podcast of a conversation between Elizabeth Foss and Sarah Mackenzie that is part of the Repent and Restore program for Lent that Elizabeth offers. It was the first podcast from the program that I listened to, and I chose it because I really like Sarah Mackenzie. The podcast turned out to be the perfect complement to what I had already been learning and practicing through the idea of surrender.

First of all, in the podcast, Sarah and Elizabeth talked about the idea of surrendering to God’s will (it’s probably not a coincidence that I chose this particular podcast to listen to!). As part of this conversation, Sarah revealed that she needed to learn about letting go of her carefully laid plans and schedules for everything and realizing that, if these perfect plans get interrupted by something during her day, that she needs to understand that the interruption is where God wants her to be. And as such, she needs to remember to just be in the moment, surrender to what He is asking of her right then, and make the best of it, instead of getting all upset that things didn’t go the way she planned them to.

I absolutely love (and very much need) this perspective. The day after I listened to the podcast, I took all the kids to Mass by myself. As I struggled to keep Bubba in the pew as he squiggled in my arms or tried to crawl under the pew and up the steps to the altar (we were sitting in the front row), I was feeling distracted and frazzled and struggling to feel connected to the beauty of the Mass. Then out of the blue, the words from the podcast came back to me, and I realized that I could be so perfectly connected to God if I just realized that the beauty of that moment, of having my four beautiful kids in Mass to worship Him, of managing my 10-month-old who has been such a precious gift in my life, THAT was what I was supposed to be doing. That was what God wanted me to embrace, to accept, and to offer up to Him. So I did, and I had one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced in a Mass.

All because I let myself be where He wanted me instead of lamenting the fact that I was not having a calm, reverent, peaceful worship experience (which I’m not likely to have very often for the next few years!).

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All of this, everything I have written about today, has come about, I believe, as the fruits of spending time a bit differently in prayer most mornings. I have been trying to spend at least a little bit of time just being silent and trying to listen to what God wants for and from me. Though I don’t always get an answer immediately, I do always get an answer. And the benefits of asking and listening have been incredible.

I am excited for Holy Week. This is the most intense and beautiful week of the year. Every year I learn and grow so much during this final week of Lent. I’m leaning into it with eager anticipation tonight and prayers for even greater union with my God. And I’m looking forward to continuing these practices and reaping the benefits long after the Easter celebrations.

A Peek Inside Our Homeschool Day – 2017 Version

Last year, I wrote a post about a day in our homeschooling life. I just went back and reread it, and it was fun to look back on where we were a year ago. Things are a little different this year. Different curriculum, different daily system, a new baby, etc. So here’s the 2017 version of our homeschool day-in-the-life, containing what we did on a pretty typical Tuesday earlier this week.

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5:30 – My alarm goes off. I press snooze twice. One of my Lenten commitments is to begin getting up early again. I used to be a faithful 5:30-am-riser, until I got pregnant with Bubba, and I haven’t done well with this since. But Lent is a good time to begin or renew fruitful practices, so I’m back to getting up early.

6-ish – I’m downstairs getting coffee and I hear Bubba starting to stir. He’s just chattering a bit, so I let him stay in his crib, and I start my prayers.

6:15 – Bubba is getting loud and fussy, so I go up to get him. I finish my prayers while nursing him and then put him in his playpen so I can pray the rosary and do my Lenten journal.

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7:00 – By this time, Lass and Sis are up. I chat with them and play with Bubba for a bit.

7:45 – My husband has left for work and Miss is up now. I put Bubba in his high chair with some Cheerios and have the girls start to get themselves some cereal while I make strawberry smoothies for them and myself (from the Trim Healthy Mama cookbook). We all sit down to eat (drink) and I read Jan Brett’s “The Turnip” over breakfast. We are going on a field trip on Friday to a Jan Brett exhibit at a local museum, so I’m reading lots of her stuff this week.

8:20 – Breakfast is done. I start to clean up and get a phone call from a friend. We chat for a bit while the girls go upstairs to get ready for the day. Their morning routine is still the same as last year – get dressed, brush teeth, brush hair (or have me help them do hair), make bed, clean room.

8:45 – I’m off the phone and putting a French braid in Sis’s hair at her request.

9:00 – This is our goal start time for school. I put on our “get-thyself-to-the-schoolroom-pronto” song for the morning, which today is “I Wanna Dance in the Dark” (by Rhianna, I think??). We all dance around for the duration of the song, and land in the schoolroom by its end. Bubba goes into his jumper and we start with the beginning of our morning time routine which consists of singing the Doxology, selecting an old Christmas card from a big box of them we have received over the past several years, saying prayers, including an intention for the family or person the Christmas card is from, finishing with the Anima Christi (I love this prayer!), and then doing the Pledge of Allegiance. We do a super quick calendar time in which one of the girls comes to our calendar, says the date in full, leads her sisters in saying the date all together, and then another girl observes the weather for the day. Then we move to our memory work, which right now is John 3:16-18. This is a pretty standard start to our morning time every day.

9:10-ish – We move into the next part of our morning time, which can vary. Right now we’re using the Lenten Morning Time Plans from Pam Barnhill, with a few added items that we like to use as well. A brand new addition to morning time is Bedtime Math. I read an entry in the book and each of the girls answers a question (there are three levels of question which are pretty well matched to the levels of the girls’ learning). We quickly review the latin we are learning this week. I put on our Song School Latin CD (another new addition to the routine) and we sing and dance to help us memorize how to say “What is your name?” and “My name is…” in latin. We do our map work relating to the history chapter we listened to in the car on Monday.

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9:20 – Bubba is getting fussy and tired, so I have the girls go to their desks to begin their individual work while I take him upstairs to put him down for a nap. Interrupting morning time to put him down for a nap is pretty common, so they’re used to this.

9:30 – We are back at the table to continue with morning time. We read Proverbs 31 and talk about the virtue of orderliness, we listen to and try to sing along with the current hymn we’re working on “Lord, Who Through These Forty Days,” we read a fairy tale (The Princess and the Pea), and we do music appreciation. On Monday we read the poem “The Donkey” by G.K. Chesterton, and we’re studying Entry Into Jerusalem by Fra Angelico for picture study, so we also read some picture books with a donkey theme (“The Donkey of Gallipoli” and “Humphrey’s First Palm Sunday,” which is actually about a camel, but kind of fits with the theme anyway) and then read a chapter from our current read-aloud “Girl in a Cage.” The girls do narration for the chapter and then morning time is over for the day.

10:25 – The girls are back to their desks doing their individual work. Instead of the workbox system we used last year, I’m now using notebooks to indicate to them what they need to complete each day. Their work is still in the rolling carts with drawers labeled by subject, but they can do their assignments in whichever order they choose, and they just check them off as they go.

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In her notebook that day, Miss had a spelling test, a math test, and the conclusion of a report on Madagascar. She has been working through the beatitudes for her copywork, but Tuesday she was excited because I let her also choose a page out of a Draw Write Now book for drawing and additional copywork. She had to read through and talk with me about the sections in two of her religion books about the last supper and the institution of the Eucharist and the part of Mass when the consecration occurs (She knows all these things, but we are spending some time talking about it more in depth in preparation for her First Holy Communion in April). She also had piano practice, a lesson from First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind (FLL), and a chapter to read in her current assigned book (which she usually reads  at bedtime).

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Lass had a few pages of math in her Star Wars workbook, some work on her spelling list and a couple of handwriting exercises. She had piano practice, a lesson from FLL, and a reading lesson, which consisted of reading and discussing a story with me.

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Sis had two pages of math from a new Miquon math book, a page of handwriting and some practice on her handwriting slate, a few phonics pages, and some ABC practice in a new sticker book I got for her.

11:35 – Bubba wakes up while I’m doing Miss’s math test with her (Shiller math tests are administered by the teacher). I try to keep going to get through the test before getting him.

11:45 – We’re still working on the test, but the baby is getting mad, so I go get him and bring him down to nurse while I finish the math test with Miss.

11:55 – We’re finished with the math test. All the girls’ schoolwork is done except for Miss’s religion. We go and begin to make turnip pancakes for lunch (to go with our book from breakfast), and Miss and I read and discuss her religion pages while we grate turnips together.

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1:00 – We finally sit down to eat lunch.

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The turnip pancakes turned out great, except that they are far too salty. The girls and Bubba still eat some, so I’m feeling good about them having turnips for lunch. After they eat, I suggest to the girls that we should check the recipe again and see if we made a mistake of adding 2 Tbsp of salt instead of 2 tsp. I explain why this would be an easy mistake to make, but when we check, we find that we did read the recipe correctly, and it just called for too much salt. I discuss with them how it is possible to change a recipe if we make it and decide we don’t like something about it. Miss says next time we make these we should only add 1 Tbsp of salt.

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1:25 – The girls go outside to play. It is crazy windy here, and I’m fairly certain they are freezing, because they insisted on wearing their light jackets when I suggested their winter coats, but they seem to be having fun anyway. I start cleaning up the kitchen.

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2:05 – The kitchen is nearly clean, I have chicken in the oven for dinner, and I put Bubba down for his afternoon nap.

2:15 – The girls come inside. I send them to the basement to clean up their toys.

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I spend the next half hour or so kind of wandering about from task to task, getting distracted and having a hard time actually finishing anything. I’m cleaning the kitchen a bit more, getting distracted by our seeds on the counter and deciding to spray some water on them, cleaning a bit more, remembering that my vacuum isn’t working right and looking for the manual so I can figure out how to clean the filter, etc.

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I got a box with a few new books in it and I really, really want to sit down and start reading one of them, but I don’t.

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2:45 – This kitchen is finally clean. Bubba wakes up after taking a really crummy (short) nap. I bring him down and nurse him, which gives me a few minutes to read one of my books.

3:15- I go downstairs to exercise. My husband and I are working our way through the P90X3 workouts. I was never interested in going P90X because I do not care to spend an hour plus working out every day, but these workouts are only 30 minutes, and they’re mostly pretty fun so we’re enjoying them. The workout for Tuesday was my least favorite though (Agility X), so I have to really talk myself into doing it.

4:00 – My workout is done, the girls have had a snack, and I realize that I forgot to put tinfoil over the chicken that is slowly cooking in my oven. I figure it’s probably too late, but put some on it anyway. I take the girls downstairs for some gym time. We practice basketball skills (which is kind of comical if you know how much basketball “skill” I possess), and then we play dodgeball/pickle and line tag.

5:00 – We go back upstairs so I can finish making dinner.

5:30 – Dinner (the chicken turned out okay, in spite of my failure to cover it)

7:00-ish – Everyone has had a shower or bath, I’m getting Bubba ready for bed, we say family prayers.

7:45 – I’ve gotten the baby to bed and come down to have the girls head upstairs and get in bed. They have made lots of paper dolls and are melting down because Lass “lost” Jessie, who apparently is Miss’s favorite paper doll. There are many tears. I tell them I will find Jessie while they go upstair and finish getting ready for bed. I find the paper doll (of course) and take it upstairs to relieved/happy girls.

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8:10 – The girls are all tucked in and I come down to make myself a cup of coffee.

8:15 – I sit down with my coffee and one of the girls comes out and asks me to come up and snuggle with her.

8:25 – I again sit down with my coffee and my husband on the couch. We spend some time discussing and making a few purchases we have been putting off.

9:45 – Ben and I are done. He goes to bed. I get myself a snack and then go to bed too. I didn’t get my school prep done for the next day, but decide to finish it in the morning, and I’m pretty happy that I’ve managed to get myself into bed by a little after 10, which will make it a lot easier to get up at 5:30 the next day.

The End

Jamie of Simple Homeschool is doing a link up again this year, so if you’d like to see more “Day in the Life” posts from homeschoolers, go check it our here.

 

On Reading to My Baby

A couple of days ago, I had a moment of mom-panic. I realized in a rush, while looking at my son playing with the books I had placed in his playpen with him, that I had hardly read any books to him in his short life. He has books in his little area that he likes to chew on, but I had not sat down with him and actually cracked the cover to read said books to him.

I promptly pulled him onto my lap and read Where is Baby’s Bellybutton?Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and The Ear Book to him. Then I took him up to his room to grab some more books.

My son is almost nine months old. Yesterday I read Goodnight Moon to him for the first time.

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Yes. You read that right. I was kind of horrified to realize my neglect of such an important thing.

We read aloud a lot here. Really. A. Lot.

Every day, I am reading aloud books to the girls for school. I sometimes read books over breakfast and/or lunch. We listen to audiobooks in the car. We have a family read aloud we do a chapter from almost every night before bed (currently working our way through the Chronicles of Narnia).

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My dear little boy has heard many, many books read aloud. But until yesterday, I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t sitting down and reading just to him, the sweet board books that I read over, and over, and over to his sisters. They are all neatly lined up on his shelf in his bedroom. I hadn’t read any of them with him. My girls have read him a few, but not me.

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I was recently feeling a little guilty because of thinking that my youngest daughter might be getting cheated a bit on picture books, since most of our read alouds these days are chapter books. We do still read picture books, just maybe not quite as much as we did when they were all littler, and none were quite ready for books like Redwall or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

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So I’ve been trying to bring in some more picture books for her benefit.

But her baby brother, bless his little heart, has really been neglected as far as reading goes.

And of course, he wasn’t the only one missing out. When I picked up Goodnight Moon yesterday and sat down to rock him while reading it before his nap, I felt like I had come home to the sweetest, most comfortable place… That old book, as annoying as it sometimes got after the tenth time in one night, brings back so many precious memories. Of course, I can still recite it by heart. Of course I still have the same tempo and inflection to my voice that I used every time before. Of course he grabbed the pages and tried to eat them, and I still powered through to the end.

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“Goodnight noises everywhere.”

How many times have I read that? I had forgotten about the rip on the binding that makes the pages open funny on the “Goodnight Room” page. But I still knew every word and every illustration like the back of my hand. I think I could be eighty and still recite those favorite words.

And there are so many more favorite books that I haven’t read in years: I Love You Stinkyface. The Napping House. Dr. Seuss’s ABC.

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Reading to my babies was always one of my very favorite things to do. It still is.

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I have a lot of catching up to do.

Four (AKA Wow, It’s a Blog Post!)

I know I haven’t blogged in a really long time. I’m just popping in to give a quick update on life with four.

I am in such baby heaven these days.

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Baby number four is awesome.

My girls are much older now than the last time I had a little baby, and it is so much easier to have four kids seven and under than it was to have three girls under four. My girls can do so many things for themselves that they couldn’t do when last I cared for an infant. They get themselves dressed. They can get their own breakfasts and brush their own teeth. Miss does her own hair.

I heard once that once your oldest child gets to be about six or seven years old, life suddenly becomes much easier. My oldest two are six and seven, and this is so true.

All the girls do so much to help out and love taking care of their brother.

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Miss and Lass clean bathrooms and vacuum stairs. Sis wipes baseboards and scrubs toilets. They feed the dogs and clean their rooms and put their laundry away.

And even when they aren’t doing something to actively help me, they’re usually downstairs playing with each other and not needing me at all. Which is awesome and sad at the same time, I suppose, but more awesome most of the time.

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As for Baby Boy, he just does his thing. He’s a happy baby and doesn’t fuss about being along for the ride when we’re out and about taking his sisters to various activities in the afternoons. School can be a bit tricky, but he usually naps for a at least a little while when we do school in the mornings.

He’s very easygoing.

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And a major thing that I’ve noticed this time around is that I’m a lot more easygoing about him too.

I don’t get uptight if he’s going to miss his afternoon nap. He really doesn’t have a set afternoon nap, because we are typically away from home 2-3 afternoons per week at least. It’s just the way things are so we roll with it.

I don’t worry about how often he’s eating, or how long it’s been between his feedings, or if he’s on a good eating/sleeping schedule (he’s not).

I also don’t stress that he isn’t sleeping through the night. All of my girls were much better sleepers than he is. They all slept through the night pretty consistently by this point in their babyhoods. Baby Boy has slept through the night a grand total of one time.

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And you know what? I kind of don’t really even care. Of course I’m tired, after waking up 1-3 times per night for the past 4.5 months, but I’m not terribly bothered by it. Recently I said to my husband, “Meh. He’ll sleep through the night one of these days.” And he will. And I’m about as concerned about it as that sounds.

I’m so thankful to have another little baby to snuggle and love on, I’m just trying to soak it up and not wish it away. One day last week he fell asleep while I was nursing him on the couch. Twice in one day. He did it again today. And each time I just stayed right where I was and let him sleep. And I watched him and marveled at him. I do that a lot.

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Life with four is so good.

Three Girls and a Boy

We’re two months into this four-kid gig. It’s pretty wonderful and a little crazy. I had gotten kind of used to sleeping through the night, walking freely (sans baby carrier and diaper bag), not changing diapers, not even wiping butts anymore! But this little one makes all the sleep deprivation and everything else so, so worth it.

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His sisters dote on him, and that’s a big change. The last time I had a newborn, my oldest was three. It’s a bit easier this time around since the girls are independent in many ways and love to help with their brother.

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And speaking of the girls, apparently having a baby boy after three girls brings on lots of comments from strangers. Most are well-meaning and seem genuinely thrilled to see our little family. They seem to think it’s great fun that we had a boy after three girls, as if they’re truly happy that we get the joy of having children of both genders.

However, there are always the other comments too. “You finally got a boy!” and “Your husband must be sooo happy to have a boy!” and one man even said, “I had three girls. I didn’t have another because I was afraid it would be another girl.” I usually just smile and say something like, “Yes, we’re so blessed/my husband is happy to have four beautiful children.” And to that man? “We love having girls!” I mean, really? People say this stuff right in front of my daughters! I’d love to shake them (the weird strangers, not my girls) and say, “Please do not assume that all this time we’ve been pining for a boy. We were not trying for a boy. We are beyond thrilled with our son. He is awesome, but our girls are too!”

Bah. End rant.

Anyway.

Life with four kids is really cool.

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^^Sometimes I literally sit and hold him like this for over an hour, happily ignoring the overflowing laundry baskets around me and just basking in his snuggly baby-ness

We’re loving having a sweet baby around. This sweet baby.

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I think it was my mother in law who predicted that I might be able to more easily enjoy him and soak up this time with him since the girls are older. She was right. This time around, since I know that this is very likely the last time I’ll get to hold and snuggle and care for my own newborn, I’m trying to savor every bit.

He’s growing a changing so fast, and I’m trying to burn into my memory every little milestone and special moment. The way he snuggles up so perfectly on my shoulder. The way he smells. His first laugh during a bath on St. Anne’s feast day. All. of. it.

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We’re doing great here.

Three girls and a boy is perfect.

Thoughts on Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day…

I’m thinking of my Mom. A woman who sacrificed so much for me, and worked so hard to raise me well. I often made it very (very, very) difficult for her, and yet she loved me fiercely no matter what (even though I know I sometimes wasn’t very likable). She taught me so much of what I now know myself about being a mother. It’s true what they say about not really understanding your own mother in many ways until you have children of your own. I understand so much more (and man, I feel bad about being such a jerk in my adolescence and early adulthood!!). She is far away from me today and I miss her terribly, though I always keep her close in my heart.

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I’m thinking of myself as a mother. About how much I have changed over the past almost eight years, since learning that I was pregnant with Miss. About how motherhood has caused me to grow and stretch (in more ways than one). How this has sometimes been painful but has always been beautiful. I love so much more now. So much better, though far from perfectly. I know what it feels like to watch your own heart outside your body and to feel intense terror and pure joy about it at the same time.  I’m learning every day from these sweet little ones about joy, and sacrifice, and trying so, so hard to be better. And failing. And trying again.

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I’m thinking about all the amazing women who have taught me so much about how to be a good mom. Some of them have mothered me. Some of them have walked beside me through this journey. Some of them I know mostly from reading their words and interacting with them on this good old world wide web. They are members of my family, both near and far, friends, also near and far, kind women I’ve met at church, ladies who write great blogs, and others. We really aren’t meant to mother alone, and these women help me to feel lifted up in myriad ways.

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I’m also thinking about the women who struggle on Mother’s Day. Those who have lost children. Those who have lost babies before ever having a chance to see them or hold them. I think about those who are longing to have babies of their own but have been unable to conceive or have miscarried or are still waiting for the right person to come along to have babies with. I think of how painful it was to wait for this pregnancy and lose two babies over the past few years, and it breaks my heart to think of those who are still waiting, many of whom don’t have other children to hold while they wait. I always keep a special place in my prayers for these mamas, but especially today.

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To me, Mother’s Day really isn’t about cards and flowers. Heartfelt words of appreciation and love from my husband today nearly brought me to tears in a way Hallmark could never do. For me this is a day to reflect on this beautiful vocation, in my own life and in the amazing women I see all around me. It is a day to be so grateful for these women and for my precious children and for the blessing of this life.

Happy Mother’s Day.

My Girls

You probably think from the title that this post is going to be about these little cuties:

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But not this time.

Today, I want to write about my grown-up peeps. The ladies who have my back, make me laugh, and help me stay sane by just being available, whether in person, via text, phone, or even FB.

I’ve been really blessed lately to have the opportunity to spend some quality time with some of my “girls” recently. Here are some highlights:

In early February, I got to take a trip to Florida with two fabulous friends.

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Our equally fabulous husbands watched the kids (all 12 of them!). We got on a plane and flew to Naples for two and a half days (DAYS!) of amazing relaxation, laughter, food, and conversation. For good measure I made sure we started the trip off right with a pregnancy-related trip to the ER. This could be a whole post in and of itself (if I ever get around to writing it), so I won’t go into details here, but:

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We managed to have a pretty great time in spite of the awful ER (it was really bad) and the disruption to our plans. That’s Super Friend on the right. And though she and her family have appeared in other posts you haven’t been formally introduced yet to our other dear friend on the left, whom I’ll call “The Extrovert” for blog purposes (I’m the introvert, and Super Friend falls somewhere in between, so we make a great team and have lots of laughs about our personality differences). Yes, she was sitting on a portable hospital toilet. Good sports, these ladies. Look how great they were, after 5+ hours at the first ER, while waiting to get in at our second hospital of the day:

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(And BTW, everything is fine with Baby Boy and me).

The hospital trip didn’t stop us from having tons of other fun.

It did however prevent us from going to the beach in the afternoon, so after we had dinner we grabbed coffee and some macaroons (a first for me) and hit the beach at night.

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The next day we made up for lost time with a yummy breakfast, a fun meander around downtown Naples, a long walk on the beach, a lovely Mass, and delicious dinner.

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There’s just something about time away with great friends that really helps to recharge my soul. These ladies just get me. Even when it’s just for a few hours, it’s so, so important. But for two-and-a-half days!! I talked so much, and laughed so hard, and it. was. awesome.

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And as if that wast enough, last weekend, I traveled with my kids to spend some time with some of my family “girls,” my Mom, my Auntie, and my cousin. We were all together for my cousin’s baby shower (some boys were around too, whom I should give some love to as they were wonderful to see as well: my Dad, my Unka, and another cousin).

We stayed up way too late talking. We swapped baby and pregnancy and other stories and “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” over the cute stuff my cousin received for her baby girl.

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^^ My aunt and cousin included my kids in the shower, and they were enthralled ^^

And after my cousin’s shower was over, the other guests were gone, and most everything from the shower was cleaned up, they sat me down and surprised me with tons of gifts of mostly baby boy clothing (which we are sorely lacking). It was my own little surprise mini-shower, and it was so sweet it almost made me cry.

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I am humbled by how blessed I am to be surrounded by amazing women. My family, my friends, my tribe. There are more than the ladies mentioned here, some even whom I have never met in person, and I am so grateful for each and every one.

I hope I am modeling to my daughters how to be a part of a community. Our community consists of both wonderful men and women, of course, but there is something special about the bonds between women. Between mothers and sisters. I don’t have biological sisters, but I have my sister-friends, whom I think are just as great (we even share clothes, without the history of fighting over them). I hope that seeing these relationships that I have will help my (little) girls to build their own, and to nurture and cherish them.

Seven – A Lot of Photos on My Big Girl’s Day

Seven years ago today, this happened:

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My oldest girl made me a mama.

I get so sappy and nostalgic on my kids’ birthdays.

I can hardly believe she’s seven!

Just look how she’s grown.

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She’s racing through first grade.

She loves reading (Happy Potter at the moment) and singing and all kinds of crafts.

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She plays the piano and takes ballet lessons. She sings in the children’s choir at our church, and she’s in Little Flowers Girls’ Club. She loved soccer last year. She runs like the wind.

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She’s sweet and loving. She’s creative and loves to explore. She’s funny and quite goofy, but sometimes she’s very serious. She has a habit of twirling her hair. She likes to learn about things before getting too involved with them. She’s tough, but not a daredevil.

She loves her sisters and her friends and her dogs. She would spend all of her time outside if she could.

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She’s a great helper, and she can’t wait for her baby brother to be born.

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Seven. I don’t know how time has flown by so quickly. I have been poring over her baby photos and videos today and marveling at how she has changed and matured and grown.

I just tucked her into bed after a wonderful birthday party with all of her cousins, and I told her she has to stop growing. She thought that was hilarious, but I was only half joking. She’s such an amazing little girl, and my time with her here at home is feeling so fleeting today (I told you I get super sappy on my kids’ birthdays!).

I can’t believe how blessed I am to be her mama.

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Is the “Competitive Mom” a Thing?

We’re having some landscape work done at our new house, and the guys doing the work like to listen to a local radio station while they’re here doing their thing. The other day I was outside wiping my dogs’ muddy feet (for the 1437th time), and I happened to hear the DJs on the radio station commenting about what makes a “competitive mom.” The DJs were two men and a woman, and they seemed to be reading a list of things they had found somewhere about what supposedly makes someone a competitive mom.

I was a bit surprised to hear these radio personalities discussing this topic, and as I was listening to their conversation, I was thinking to myself what a ridiculous thing it was for them to be talking about. I’ve heard of the concept of a “competitive mom,” I suppose. More often I’ve heard disparaging remarks about “Pinterest moms” and “overachieving moms.” Whoever compiled the list these DJs were reading on air seemed to have combined all of these mom stereotypes into one to create this inventory of seemingly offensive things a mom can do to qualify her as “competitive.” Here are a few that I remember (paraphrased):

  1. Spend weeks making costumes for your kid’s school play
  2. Bake over-the-top baked goods for your child’s school bake sale
  3. Make sure your child always has the latest and greatest gadgets
  4. Arrive a half and hour early to save front row seats for your child’s performance in something

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There were a few more they mentioned, but these are the ones that stuck in my memory. For each one, the male DJs would read the offense, and the female DJ would scoff at it, as if it was a completely ridiculous thing, and basically say, “No way, I would never do that.” As if actually baking items for a bake sale instead of buying them from a bakery was a terrible thing for a mom to do.

I attempted to look up the list, and found what seems to be the same one (interestingly on a different radio station’s website). Here are a few more of the “offenses”:

  • Make fancy desserts for your kids to pass out on their birthday
  • Throw amazing parties for events such as Halloween, Easter, and Christmas
  • Make the most amazing and expensive party bags for favors
  • Enrolling their kids in extracurricular classes like music or computers

You can look at the rest of the list here if you’re interested.

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So, here’s what I think about this list, and other lists like it: they are utterly stupid.

Now, I’ll say that I can probably think of a few characteristics or behaviors that might lead me to think of someone as a competitive mom. Most moms have probably experienced interactions with or heard stories about the “one-up” mom or the pushy mom who insists you do things the same way she does or you’re wrong.

But honestly, ridiculing moms for going the extra mile for their kids is just a jerky thing to do. Maybe there are some moms who go overboard to try to compete with other moms, but I have never had the feeling that another mom was baking cupcakes or PTA-ing at me. Most of the time I think that moms do the things they do for their kids because they love them and they want to show them in ways that they might just to be especially talented in.

I happen to really enjoy throwing special birthday parties for my kids, complete with fun favor bags that go with the party’s theme.

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I also love sewing and/or otherwise crafting cute decorations for my kids’ bedrooms. It’s just my thing.

Once I baked really ugly pumpkin cupcakes for Miss’s kindergarten Halloween party. I’m a terrible baker, and I was so excited that I actually used real pumpkin in them, that I mentioned this to a few other moms.

Did they think I was bragging or trying to compete with them? I sure hope not, but maybe.

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I’d like to think that instead of rolling our eyes at or ridiculing moms for doing things we might not choose to do, we could just say instead, “Wow, that was such a cool party she threw for her kid, she must really like doing stuff like that,” Or “She has such a skill at baking, how cool that she shares it in that way to support her kids”?

I think it’s awesome for a mom to spend extra time doing something special for her little ones. And I’ll bet that 99 times out of 100, that mom is only thinking of the joy her efforts will bring to her kids, and not about anyone else at all.

The idea of the “competitive mom” is probably not a complete myth, but I do believe it is a highly overblown and misrepresented notion. What do you think?