Now that the school year has begun in proper earnest, I’m starting to realize that having three preteens and three elementary aged kids is a whole lot different (at least when it comes to stomachs) than having a passel of toddlers. Sure, toddlers eat all day long, but at the end of the day the total amount of what was actually eaten is quite small. But preteen boys, sweet honey child. They can eat. And eat. And eat. Let’s have a moment of silence in honor of growing young men’s growling stomachs. And the way they can grow six inches in less than a month or two. Hum.
I lean heavily on the experience of mamas gone before, and here’s the magic number you’re looking for- protein + quick + handy. Muffins, protein bars, protein balls, no bake cookies. You want sweet but not overly sweet- just a touch. And certainly not much that could melt or otherwise muss up the hand that’s holding it, because teenage boys will suddenly notice dirt. Also a surprise from the formerly totally happy to live in a mud puddle set. I take a page out of Elise’s book, though I most often am going through this same routine in the evening after everyone is tucked in.
Here’s what I make on a weekly basis (or a daily basis, depending on growth spurts! HA):
Some version of granola (We really like this Pumpkin Spice Granola in the Fall)
No Bake Cookies (We make ours from GF oatmeal, and not quite so much sugar as is called for in most recipes)
What are your favorite go-to snacks?
Children have this strange way about them of seeming both ancient and brand new. It is strongest when they are tiny babes in arms, but they never really lose it; I can catch a child of mine deep in thought and he seem a thousand years old, and then he’ll turn and seem younger than his chronological age. It’ll always take your breath when it happens. The intensity of the responsibility of shepherding such a soul can take your breath too.
I find that we are entering into the first days of autumn quite weary, all of us. In some ways, this makes no sense. We’ve had a an exceedingly quiet summer with very few medical challenges. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense for us to show all the strain and weariness–we’ve finally been able to stand still, all of us. We are no longer being bombarded with one piece of bad news after another, no longer having a sibling disappear into the hospital for days on end, no longer scrambling. It is only now in the last month or two that we begin to realize just how intense the battle was.
The children are all grieving and healing in different ways in a way that drives me to my knees in prayer daily. I can live in my adult brain for a while and speak to myself about the challenges I am facing and help myself process through what I am seeing and feeling- and I forget that children don’t know how to do that unless we teach. It has been an intense learning curve, yet again. I am listening and I am sorry (for)… are daily said here. We are learning new paths. I think the saddest part of our American culture when it comes to grieving is that we force the punch line far too soon, and I am reminding myself of this when shepherding my children. There is no straight line to healing, and healing isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. Their pain is not trivial, either. It is very real. It may not match what an adult might consider painful, but that does not make it any less so. I find I have to consult with that ancient wise little girl in my own head often these days, have her remind me of what is to be a child.
I find myself contemplating what my native soil is now. The storms of the battle dreadfully uprooted so many things; it is disconcerting. If I feel off-kilter and struggling to find a new center, how much more so my children? One of the saddest things for me in regards to all that has happened is that due to the intense pressures we were under, I had no time to mark or grieve or process or transfer a child’s last passage from babyhood into toddlerhood, and another child’s passage from toddler to child. We didn’t have time. It’s gone now. I’ve felt the lack of it, and both children have too. These milestones and rituals are important; they help us fix our compass for the next stage of the journey.
I had barely stopped breastfeeding Ellianna by mere months when all her troubles began. She is our youngest and of course there is some unconscious spoiling we all do, but it is not helped by the fact that she is so small; in physical appearance (due to her illness) she looks about three and a half. She is a full head shorter than children of the same age. I find myself constantly having to remind myself that she is not a toddler- she is an incredibly whip smart kindergartner, and I should shepherd her as such. Josiah was barely beginning kindergarten when it all began, and he is now seven. I find myself contemplating how I might help both them and myself re-calibrate and mark this transition now, because I think it would be a healthy thing for us all. We won’t ever pass this way again, either as parents or as siblings, (unless we adopt or foster at some point, but that doesn’t seem in the cards for us at the moment), so how best to honor it? It is something to think on.
If there is anything my children’s grieving process is teaching me, the lessons I want to carry home to that little girl child tucked deep in my soul- I want to remember their resilience and their patience. Kids have this way of grieving loudly, openly, and in such a way that makes you think that they’ll break their hearts at it, and then half an hour later they will be joyfully laughing over some joke their brother told, just as loudly and openly. But kids don’t see a dichotomy there. They can be sad and happy and one does not preclude the other; it dwells and comingles equally within them. They are so much more resilient for it- they aren’t forcing their feelings, their grieving, their joys, into prescribed boxes- they just live it out. Josiah has taught me joyful patience. How many times has he undergone something physically painful, seemingly endless, and he waits quietly and joyfully? Always waving a hello to the nurses with a bright smile, always finding something to giggle over. There are certain things he cannot do, must watch his siblings do, he on the sidelines, and he doesn’t look after them longingly. He plops down and starts inventing worlds in the dirt with his cars. I am learning to plop down with him. He seems most ancient in those moments- he that has learned a lesson few adults can master.
This is the secret parents know. We are given the awesome responsibility of shepherding these souls for a time, but the greater reward is how much they will teach us, in return.
I’m sorry for slipping out right in the middle of a series. Josiah had some complications with his cecostomy tube that necessitated a late night emergency department visit Tuesday night and subsequent admission on Wednesday morning. Amazingly and gratefully the surgeons were able to get to him early in the day on Wednesday and fix things and we got to come home. It was certainly unexpected. I ended up being awake for over thirty hours due to our normal day on Tuesday plus the ER for 13 hours and so on. By the time I thought I’d get to curl up and rest at the hospital, they were releasing him. Needless to say, I don’t recommend it. It definitely sent our week spinning about!
I plan to draw the winner of the Restful Teaching series tomorrow, February 2nd. Every comment on any of the Wonder and Inquiry posts is an entry- I will also grant entries for shares on social media (please tag me so I can see it). You have until tomorrow to enter!
The series itself will not come to an end, but I will draw the winner. To be honest, I feel as if I’ve moved a bit fast and crammed a lot of information into a few posts which probably feels overwhelming. Coincidentally, I felt the same way leaving the workshop. It was a good way to make one’s brain hurt, so much to think about and consider and contemplate- but it is a tremendous lot to take in. It has taken me three months to even begin to “narrate” what I’ve learned! So, I’m going to apply the brakes a bit and have a post a week dedicated to the Wonder and Inquiry series and return to a more eclectic mix of posts so that there is time to digest and talk together. Above all, I’d love for it to be a conversation- what we’re all learning on this journey: what pitfalls we’re struggling with, what we’ve found to go well, our favorite resources. I’m not just standing on some box here, jabbering. (At least, I hope! 😉 )
I was thinking about this path we’ve chosen during the crazy pre-dawn hours in the ER. (It was so slammed. That pneumonia/cold virus hit very hard in our area and it was certainly reflected at the ER. So many little ones, struggling to breathe! The nurses and doctors were run near ragged.) We were pretty sure that Josiah was going to be admitted, so he stayed awake at first, even though it was creeping past his bedtime. I usually bring a small collection of things to entertain him, but he was interested in none of it- he wanted to do math homework, of all things.
Math!? I wondered at this at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. He is at an age that he understands exactly what is going on when we get to the ER, that there will be pain, and eventually (a loonnnng eventually, in most cases) they will fix the discomfort and pain and we’ll get out. But there is never really an answer one way or the other as to the timing of things. The only identifiable characteristic of these hospitalizations for him is their very uncertainty. And he’s also at an age that he is falling madly in love with math- with numbers- with the very language of it, the certitude that this and this is always that and if you do this the number always does that. When I saw it that way, his late night craving for math made sense- his way of controlling the uncontrollable. It made me think of the Apollo 13 movie and Jim Lovell’s wife saying to him that when he was on the far side of the moon [on a previous mission] she vacuumed the living room floor over and over until they made radio contact. The ways we find to cope.
Later on in the wee smas, they wanted a contrast dye x-ray of his port and tube. He had been asleep for awhile, angry and groggy. I hated waking him up. He began “coming to” as we were passing from the ER into the Radiology ward, which is decorated in an undersea theme. There are fish, dolphins, manta rays, coral, and a bunch of other things painted on every surface. The windows are even shaped like port holes. He looked about and asked me if I thought that Professor William Waterman Sherman would have seen creatures like this on his trip [across the Pacific before he crashed on Krakatoa.] The tech of course is giving us quite a funny look, a bit lost. I answer Josiah that I thought maybe he might have seen the bigger ones looking down from the balloon, but he wouldn’t have been able to see the smaller ones. At this, the tech is looking at us both with a positively quizzical look on her face.
I sheepishly explain to her that it’s from a book we’re reading together, called The Twenty One Balloons. “It’s a made up story about a guy….”- Josiah cuts in and starts telling her the story. He continues telling the story as more techs and a doctor file in, sucking them all into the story as they work. It completely distracted him from the not-so-fun stuff, and when he got a bit queasy from the dye process, he compared himself to the Professor, who at one point makes the mistake of breathing in yucky gases from the volcano while riding a balloon airy-go-round. [You’d have to read the book!] He had the whole room asking him what happened next, at which he gave his classic joyful grin and said, “I don’t know, mommy hasn’t read it to me yet!”
More than one tech remarked on his recall of the story, and one even said, “Now I have to go find that book! I want to find out what happened next!” They all asked me how he could remember such an involved story. I just shrugged my shoulders, because it’s not like I make a regular practice of having them narrate. We use narration within an Institute for Excellence in Writing framework, but I do not require them to narrate everything they read to me. I was impressed myself! He was remembering details I had already forgotten.
Later, after he had been released and we were headed home, I got stuck in traffic due to some boffin DOT workers. He said (with perfect comedic timing, I might add) “what fools these mortals be!” in his best dramatic voice. The line is from Act 3, Scene 2 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s comedies. We’ve been learning small sections using How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, and this particular line has sort of become a running joke in our family, each kid putting his own spin on how Puck might of said it. I’m including Ellianna’s below because it is just too cute! But it was just so funny! His sense of humor lightened the frustrating situation. I was on hour thirty one of no sleep at that point and it made me laugh so hard I cried.
For such a difficult time and a particularly long, wearying week, all these moments that happened with Josiah were such shots of encouragement to me. I’m so grateful we have this family well of stories and culture to share in the hard moments. This path of wonder leads to moments of joy. I can keep on keeping on when things get difficult if there are moments like this to be had, even in the most unlikeliest of places and hours! Second star to the right and straight on till Morning!
This is the seventh entry in the Wonder and Inquiry Series.
I think we think so often that when we’re absolutely running on empty we need to do something big. Head off to a monastery, a hotel, a family member’s house- leave all the cares behind, rest and recuperate and then have a fresh start. And seriously, if that’s within your resources to be able to do that, then by all means, do it! But I find it to be pretty rare that most of us can do something like that. We have to start with smaller steps to finding that wholeness.
It first starts with saying no. It means backing out of every obligation we have, good or bad. The bible study, the soccer team, the sunday school teaching. The boys scouts. The local home group. The part time job that may be paying some bills but is absolutely draining you dry physically and emotionally- it’s not worth it. Whatever it is, it all has to go for a while. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, especially the good stuff, the stuff we love. But it has to.
It means simplifying our lives as much as possible. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a support group around you that could bring you meals. Be honest with them about your needs and it just might happen. Go to the grocery store and load up on frozen meals or easily prepared meals (we’ll get to the food later). Pull out the disposable plates and utensils. If you’re potty training a kid, take a break (trust me on this!). You are sick (in heart) and you need to treat it as such. This is the time to pull out that movie the kids have really been wanting to watch- the electronic devices, anything that helps. And then, for at least a few days, do nothing but rest. If it means the kids have to go around in nothing but undies, do it.
Why is it that we are completely willing to acknowledge that our children don’t make good decisions when they are exhausted, tired, and hungry, and yet most of us adults spend most of our waking hours in that state? And then we expect that we’ll make rational decisions?
This is why I have learned to rest and re-fuel first before trying to make decisions or facing a transition. I also want to gently point out that this is not a one and done thing. Life doesn’t have one big transition and then it’s all downhill from there- far from it. There are peaks and valleys, surprises, joys, sorrows. We will find ourselves in this place of needing to re-evaluate from time to time.
I’ve noticed a few things that seem to fall by the wayside for me leading up to the “I can’t do this anymore!”. Any of these slipping out of the schedule should be automatic red flags to me, especially when I am too busy or too harried to pray. These are usually the first things I pick back up after the rest period. They are (in no particular order):
- prayer and attention to my spiritual life
- healthy food available
- creative endeavors (painting, scrapbooking, sewing, knitting, etc.)
- time to read good books
- time to spend with my family unharried
If there has been a constant state of depletion, this re-fueling period should be much longer. You simply cannot pour out if you are not being poured into, period. It doesn’t work.
Somewhat concurrent to this, I take stock of where things stand. Why was I to the breaking point? What needs were not getting met? Did I ignore the road-signs and if so, which ones and why? What can I do to ensure those fueling activities stay firmly in my days? Has something changed in the family dynamic that needs attending? Is a routine no longer working? Have we been spread too thin? Or do we need to re-allocate resources?
If you’ve taken the time to rest and re-fuel, those problem areas and needs will probably make themselves pretty clearly known when the fog of depletion has cleared. Maybe you realize that you don’t know how to practice good financial management, or kitchen management, or time management or you’re at an absolute loss as to how to feed your family healthfully and frugally (me, for many years!). Maybe you realize you need more time built into the schedule to pursue that learning. Maybe your family simply took on too much and need to be more judicious with what you say yes to. Instead of slipping into the same patterns and choices that led to these problem areas, take the time to research, explore, and learn new approaches. It is investment of time that will always return exponential dividends. It looks completely different for everyone, but the end result is the same- when we choose to listen to the signs, we can choose different, healthier paths, eventually finding a place of wholeness and peace- home. Refuge. We can make the choice not to run any longer.
It’s not easy, by any means. It doesn’t happen overnight. That girl in the picture was five years ago, and it’s been a long, painful journey to where I am today. I bear no illusions that I have “arrived”- though I am healthier and happier and more whole, I see this is as a life’s work, a life’s journey. We live in a broken world and we are broken people. So many fractures. A path that turns towards Home means we must dwell in healing and no longer lace up our running shoes.
I’ve received such lovely, encouraging notes from people while writing this series. I am so grateful that even one person has found help and hope from what I’ve written here- somehow that makes the pain and sorrow of it all more worth it, if it means that even one person might not have to endure some of the same pain and sorrow that I have. This series was a promise kept, and I am ever grateful that she would not let me out of it. I have found further healing in writing it all out, and seeing that there was reason and rhyme to many things I could not see straight at the time.
May the Lord keep you, make His face to shine upon you, and give you peace.
This is the final post in the series. Start the journey here.
Every once in awhile, you go to an incredible hotel. Maybe it’s an anniversary weekend, maybe it’s a girls night off. Any which way, you know what I’m talking about. The bed is absolutely amazing. Fluffy and yet firm, it enfolds you and cocoons you, the sheets and comforters so soft and so silky that as soon as you lay down in the bed, your muscles start to relax and you know you’re going to sleep so very well. The pillows are feather down, firm enough to read a book on and yet comfy enough that when you lay down, it feels like you’re sleeping on a cloud. The bathroom has the most amazing bath tub, which you’ve filled with water at just the right temperature in which to take a long bath. Maybe it’s even a jetted tub. Everything about this place is restorative. You have softly lit candles around the room. You know well the peaceful, whole feeling you have when you wake up in the morning, the sun gently streaming through the beautiful curtains (because everything about this hotel is beautiful with exquisite attention to detail). Breakfast is a feast for the eyes and the body, freshly cut fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice, fluffy beautiful eggs, toast, the whole nine yards. You feel as if you could conquer the world, or at least those half-dozen bookstores and antique shops downtown.
Hold on to that thought.
When’s the last time you felt that peaceful wholeness?
Is it a solid guess to say that it may have been years, maybe decades?
I hear you whisper softly. I’ve been pregnant and/or nursing for the last decade. My husband works third shift. Sleep? What is sleep? Peace!? Ha! Have you been near my house lately? I’ve got teenagers. I’ve can’t get my toddlers to stay in their beds. My house looks like a bomb went off. The laundry has been sitting in situ for so long that it has that weird smell because I’ve washed and forgotten to dry and washed it again and forgot to dry it and washed it again… my toddlers think it’s a game to throw food. My home is decorated in toddler snot and always has this weird diaper-y smell. I’m laughing at your hotel room idea because my house, my bedroom will never look like that.
And that whole feeling? I’m so sick and tired of being sick and tired. I get every little bug the kids bring home from the park. My doctor fusses at me at every yearly physical because everything is so off. I can’t seem to manage my [medical issue here].
And don’t even get me started on that food! Do you know the last time I had a real meal? Are you kidding me!?!?
I hear you.
Loud and clear.
Between 2007 and 2012, my husband and I were both hospitalized for complications with pneumonia seven times. Every stay was at least four days. The longest was almost two and a half weeks. We were exhausted. We had three children under three, then four under four, five under five, six under six. Cancer scares, severe illness, losing a child, losing a job, nearly losing our home and our cars…Everything. I understand what you’re going through because I’ve been there. There has been more than a few times that my husband and I have gone hungry so our children could eat. There was once a time I had to throw away an entire load of laundry because it got destroyed by mildew because I just couldn’t keep track of it. We were homeschooling through most of it. We both consistently worked odd jobs all throughout, which means there was no schedule to speak of- just when we’d find a workable rhythm something would change. We just tried to keep our heads above water. I absolutely understand.
When I think back to that exhausted tired mama who was running on empty, I just want to wrap her up in a hug, sit her down with a delicious cup of something hot, and then…tuck her into bed. I’d play with the children, read lots of stories, sing songs, go out and swing. And when my younger self woke up, this is what I’d gently say to her.
It doesn’t have to be this way. All this illness, the lack, the laundry, they are all signposts that something is not right here. Pay attention. Take a deep breath and slow down. Listen to what your life and your body are telling you.
I think, more importantly than even the symptoms you’re seeing, listen to your dreams- think about that beautiful hotel room experience, think about the places you’ve been and the situations you’ve experienced that helped you find that place of peacefulness and wholeness.
Then, start small. Take one thing off your plate, and then the next. And the next. Pull your husband in, your support system, and be honest. “I can’t do this anymore” is not a sign of defeat- it’s a sign of change. It’s always a sign that you need to re-evaluate. I’m going to talk about more practical ways to re-evaluate tomorrow, but I’d like you to consider a not so practical thing first.
Sometimes, what’s adding to our burden is something so tiny and so huge as beauty itself. Or more specifically, the lack of beauty. We need to keep on top of the kitchen or the laundry, but both rooms are dark, and ugly, or there isn’t enough counter space. You hate putting the laundry away because the closets are horrible messes, the drawers bursting. No one really wants to eat dinner together because the table is always strewn with papers and soccer cleats and three day old coffee cups.
It’s easy to respond to these roadblocks with two knee-jerk reactions: one is sort of this thought process ( ala the dark kitchen with no counter space) that the situation is hopeless and only a full scale renovation will fix the problems. Or two, you’re probably expecting me to say that it’s high time you cleaned those closets or cleared that table or cleaned that trouble-making space. And maybe that’s true, and cleaning will help, but I’d argue what you’re really missing is beauty.
Think back to that hotel for a minute. Yes, sure, the beds and linens and things are luxurious and expensive, but the real secret is a hotel’s attention to detail- and to beauty.
So again, start small. My kitchen is dark and awful and there is no counter space. It is so awkwardly laid out, and we’re renting. Going in there at first to create meals made me want to cry or pull my hair out. I don’t have a lot of money, ever, but this is what I’ve done to bring beauty into the space and make it work for me, help me to a settled, creative feeling when I enter it: I stapled twinkly LED Christmas lights back and forth underneath the cabinet above the sink (which was a dark hole), bringing both light and whimsy to the space (and without breaking my lease). I found temporary wall paper for $25, and wrapped it around that sink/counter area, giving it a gentle, pretty shot of butter yellow. Over the oven I pasted some of my favorite, inspiring cooking and floral photos from a magazine called Taproot. I found an inexpensive rolling cart that adds another foot and a half of counter space to the kitchen, which I move around as needed. There is a cheerful rug I found in clearance that sits in front of the sink. I think, all told, I may have spent about $80 or so dollars. Now, it’s not some magazine layout gorgeousness, and the real flow and layout problems haven’t been fixed- but I’ve made it work for me and I’ve brought beauty into the space- so that I want to spend time in there. I’ve paid attention to the details that I most need in a kitchen area to make things work for me.
I firmly believe that when you are at your worst- exhausted, sick, heart-sore- that is when you need beauty the most. And it’s not beauty with a huge price tag either. Healing looks like three dollar flowers from the grocery store, a line item that is always in my grocery budget. It’s buying myself that beautifully ripe gorgeous pear- just one- they are expensive- and sitting down to enjoy in the afternoon, treasuring the moment. It is choosing to take down all the ugly blinds and hanging inexpensive muslin and lace curtains in all the windows. (Outfitting our whole house, all three floors, cost me about thirty five dollars.)
What has fascinated me about this project six years in now is that my home has become my hotel. It is the place I am most at peace, and the beauty of it restores me. Slowly all the cheap and ugly stuff has disappeared, the stuff I always bemoaned- and now things are simple and beautiful- what I always wanted but swore I could never have or find- and it starts with one small, simple choice, and then another.
This post is eighth in the series. Begin the journey here.