Thursday, June 30, 2011

Driver's Ed and the Homeschooling Parent

With homeschooling,
you get an opportunity to teach your children
almost everything......

...from potty training.... reading...... multiplication tables, Latin,
and how to change a sparkplug.
(Apparently, how to take a serious picture is not on the list.)

after many hours dedicated to teaching him
how to drive a car,
Nicholas Joel Johnson
passed his driver's license test
with vibrant, flying colors.
That makes two kids down and seven more to go.
Heaven help us.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A good news update!

I've got quite a bit of happy family news.  I've been waiting until I heard back on a few things before posting, so I could put it all in one place.  I hope you'll rejoice and be thankful with us!

First, our Samuel (age 6) does NOT have diabetes.  Several weeks ago, he had a couple of episodes where his blood sugar was high (as in, over 200.)  He was pale, weepy, weak, shaky - Jeff thought he was coming down with something and on a whim, I grabbed the glucometer and took his blood sugar reading.  (I had one around from an earlier bout with gestational diabetes.)  His reading was high, and he had three more episodes that were similar (although not quite so high) in a week's time.  His doctor wanted to see him.  She tested ketones, then sent him to the lab for some bloodwork that shows if there is damage to the pancreas.  There was also a second test run (and I do not even know what it was called) but it shows very specifically that he does NOT have diabetes even at a very early stage.  She suspects that there was indeed a virus that his body was fighting and that it caused a spike in his blood sugar.

Second, Sammy got glasses this week.  I think he looks so cute in them.  If you don't know us in real life, Sam is a tiny squirt.  He's almost seven - and only weighs 42 lbs.  He now looks very scholarly (while he hangs upside down from the swingset.)  :)

(Yeah, I know.  You want to wipe the corners of his mouth.  Me too.  It's a mom-thing.)
I wish he wasn't so camera shy.

Second - and I've not said much about this online, because we've been waiting for it all to unfold, but Jeff has been hired on full-time at his new place of employment!  Yay!!!  He left his job as a social worker/family counselor/mentor for a private social services agency (they did a lot of family self referrals and preventative work) back in April.  The hours were long, he was pretty burned out, and the pay was....well....while we were very very grateful there was simply no where to go with the company.

Jeff's done a lot of different types of work over the years of our marriage.  He's been a youth pastor, an associate pastor, a regular pastor.  He's been a carpet layer and worked in Purchasing.  He's done social work and fixed up houses.  He has his bachelor's in Social Sciences and Bible, and work toward a Master's in Business.  

He now works organizing a warehouse and keeping parts at the ready for a large company.  He loves it!  He gets variety and gets to keep things neat and tidy (so unlike at home!!!)  I told him that I want his job!  I find it hard to believe that a person can put something away in the right place and it ACTUALLY STAYS WHERE YOU PUT IT!  He also gets to drive the backhoe and forklift, so thinks that's pretty cool.  :)

He's been considered a temp since April at this new job, but starting Monday, he's a full and regular employee.  He still has long days - he's gone 12 hours at a time - but it's a good job and it's a foot in the door with a good company.  He's tired, but there's a light in his eyes and he still has energy when he comes home from work.  (Tonight he fixed a clogged pipe and fixed the vacuum and folded laundry and tucked the little ones into bed...that's pretty normal, too, I'd say.)  I'm so thankful for a good job for him - we've been praying for something like this for four years.  

There's a neat amazing back story as to how this job came about and the timing behind it.  God's hand was involved, it's pretty clear. 

Third, our son Nick (age 16) has been going through quite a bit of testing as well.  We've ruled out a lot of things - but maybe, finally, are zeroing in on a clue.  Specific adrenal testing has shown some signs of over-production of cortisone - potential Cushing's disease.  He has an appointment with an endocrinologist.  The bad news?  He can't get in to see her until January 25th.  That's frustrating - but at least we have a beginning - and when you've got a kid who is struggling and you don't know what is wrong, a beginning is a very good thing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Looking back - the year that was: Staph infection/sepsis/hospitalizations (Part 4)

(Part 1 is here, part 2 , part 3.)

The surgery was several hours long.  I don't even remember how long, really.  I know that I struggled to hold myself together.  I felt sick to my stomach but also knew that if I didn't eat something I'd collapse.  It was such a difficult place to be in - not caring the least about what happened to myself but knowing that I had to preserve my health for both the baby and the children who were at home.  I couldn't afford to become weakened - I had no idea what was in store or how long this might last.

My brother-in-law, Gene, called.  I had walked outside to a garden area to get some fresh air; saw the helicopter pad where Sammy had been flown in 5 months earlier.  It was the first time I let myself fall apart.  The memories were so horrible - holding my bloody 5 year old with things oozing from his head, sending him off alone for the LifeFlight, racing to the hospital and thinking of him strapped so small on the body board without his mama....and now, Jeff.   I stood beside the helipad, looking at it, and I broke down when Gene asked how Jeff was doing.  I had to tell him that I did not know, but that what he had was bad, bad, bad.  That people died from this.  I felt horrible for being so hopeless - I was supposed to be hopeful and hold everything together for everyone.  I felt so much responsibility - for the kids, for the baby, for my parents (who would take care of them?), for our families, for our friends.  We, Jeff and I, we were supposed to be strong for everyone else.  And without Jeff to be strong with me - I felt so empty and so alone.  It was so good to talk with Gene, though.  He and Jeff sound so much alike on the phone.  He was a comfort to me.

After several hours the surgeon came out and we met in a small conference room.  A doo-rag held the sweat back from his eyes,  there was blood smeared across his scrubs.  My husband's, I presumed.

"I did my best," he said.  "He was septic.  That means the infection was not only in his hip bone, but is also in his blood stream.  I took his hip joint completely apart, cleaned it out really well.  The infection had eaten into the bone.  Any longer, and it would have totally destroyed the joint.  I scraped that off, rinsed it so clean you could eat off of it," and here he chuckled and said, "but I don't advise it..." adjusted his glasses, cleared his throat, and continued, "he is a very very sick boy."  "I don't know what will happen.  I hope that I saved his hip.  I "think" he will be okay.  Once I was done, I put everything back together again and inserted a strand of 17 antibiotic-emitting cement beads.  They'll sit right under his hip bone, and they'll need to stay in for two months.  Then we'll have to take them out.  I don't know if we got all of the infection, but we sure tried.  Your husband has so much antibiotic directly applied inside his body, that if he were to ingest it, it would kill him.  He is on the strongest medicine we have.  Since I don't know what this infection is, I had to hit it with a wide range from our arsenal.  Your husband is very strong, though, and young.  Those two things are in his favor."

"Doctor," I ventured, wanting to ask, knowing reality and wanting his sincere assessment.  Most people had been dancing around the seriousness of what was going on, trying to spare me.  Up until now, medical personnel had walked around with grim faces but no one would talk straight with me.   "I know that this can kill people.  I've got a friend who was widowed by this very type of thing...."

I didn't even get to finish my sentence, because he was nodding.  "Yes.  It does.  I HATE this.  This is the ONE THING I have nightmares about.  I hate this stinking bacteria.  It's my passion to clean it out, to wipe it out."  He shook his head some more sweat dropped to the floor.

I took his hand and put all of the sincerity I could find into my "thank you."  "I appreciate your wisdom and skill and that you did your best for us."

He looked into my eyes and nodded and said again, "I'm a perfectionist.  I did my very best.  Take care of yourself and that baby."  Every time we met after that, he always asked about the baby - how long til it was born, how I was doing.  I was touched by that.  I hope that we touched his life, too, and those of other people we came into contact with.  God doesn't waste anything, you know?

I did not see Jeff for several more hours.  He never comes out of surgery well.  They have to use so much medication to get his muscles to relax enough "take him apart," that it takes him a long time to wake up and he can't keep anything down for several days.

But finally, he was settled in a room.  I was so happy to see him, thrilled to be able to do small things for him:  change his pillowcase, get another blanket.  He was alive!  I called the kids and since it was late, they told me to just go ahead and spend the night, that it would be okay, so I did.

I'm never any good when Jeff is down.  I can't read, can't stand to watch television, can't even pick up anything to knit or sew.  It all seems pointless when he's not "there."

Jeff had a few tough days as the antibiotics began to do their work.  He was quarantined - gloves, gowns and masks were required to enter his room.  (Which made me wonder...since we didn't know where this came from, was this same bacteria lurking in our home?  A panicked mother's mind can go in any direction.  What about on his razor?  In the shower?  All of my children were at home.  What if one of the boys grabbed his razor in a hurry and used it?  Could that spread it?  No one had any answers for me, either.  They deal in the "here and now," not in the theoretical.  I cleaned  everything when I was home, but goodness, the questions scared me while I sat at the hospital.)

Jeff followed an ebb and flow of high fevers and chills, high blood pressure readings and nausea for several days.  I raced home when I felt I could leave him and made meals for the kids, coordinated their schedules, did laundry (the 2 year old was potty training herself....) wrote notes, made phone calls, etc.  So many people were waiting for updates, but every free minute I was home I needed to be giving attention to my children.  So many of them were still little - they needed mama too.  They weren't used to me being gone so much.  I felt like I was trying to be so many things to so many people and failing in just about every way possible.  I just did the best I could and hoped that people would understand!

The third day following surgery Jeff began to improve.  Although he still had fever, his vital signs began to stabalize.  He was able to walk (!) and sit up in bed.  He was very weak, and we didn't know if the infection was eradicated from his hip joint, but progress was being made on the bacteria in his bloodstream.

We announced our pregnancy to the world on facebook.  I was a bit fearful of what people would say, of the reactions we would receive.  Would they say, "How irresponsible."  "Here you are, in a crisis, and you are having yet another child?"  "Boy, you guys don't know how to PLAN, do you?"  "Shouldn't you have stopped a few kids ago?"

But on the other hand, I knew that this little person was wanted desperately by us, loved already by his family, and that although our journey was different from many of our friends, we had listened and had followed God's plan for US - it was tough to explain, really, but we have listened to our Lord for each child - and He has confirmed that each child was meant to be and in His plan for us.  We don't try to tell other people what God's plan is for their lives - but we knew this was His for ours, no matter how it looked from the outside looking in.

Mostly, our baby news was well-received.  People rejoiced with us, even as they shook their heads in wonder (some at our faith, some at what they perceived to be our stupidity.)  We heard a bit of incredulity, but mostly, the noise was just glad.

To add to the craziness of that time, I learned that I had not one, but two(!) rh problems with my pregnancy:  I was iso-immunized at some point in a previous pregnancy with the antigens anti-E and anti-C.  This, too, was difficult news to bear.  It almost seemed unreal, crazy even.  It was like we just took the news and threw it on the heap of our troubles, Beverly Hillbilly jalopy style.  It was all too big to really deal with.  It meant that I would need to see a Fetal/Maternal specialist every two weeks, have an ultrasound every two weeks, and have my blood drawn every alternating week.  (Because, apparently, I did not have enough going on.)  The risk was that my white blood cells might begin seeing the baby as an "invader" and begin attacking the baby's red blood cells, which in turn would make the baby anemic.  As long as the condition is monitored, there is a good opportunity for a good outcome.  Worst case scenario could have been death for the baby.  Mid-case scenario meant a blood transfusion in utero, and best case scenario meant that nothing would happen and the baby would be fine.  (In the long run, you all know that the baby was absolutely fine.  Not a single bit of trouble...just a whole lot of doctor's visits and blood draws, and me needing to be gone from home more.  Our big kids were so fabulous.  They paid a price and we have spent the last year re-building so many things - BUT - they were incredible.)

Jeff continued to improve.  We were so, so grateful.  A central line was inserted in his arm and threaded to rest right in front of his heart, where it could emit antibiotics on a steady basis.  A nurse trained us how to administer the medication on our own.  We were so happy when we were ready to leave the hospital.  I wasn't sure that I could get him home all by myself in our little car, but I did and we made it.

Being home, all of us together, was so sweet.  I still felt numb, still did not know what we were going to do to manage for the three months Jeff would be out of work, still did not know if the infection was gone from his hip joint - but he was alive (!) and we were home! 

And that was Round One.  Next time, I'll tell you about Round Two and how God began to provide for us.  Although the difficulties did not go away - our friends and family began to show up, and God began to shower His love on us in some very tangible ways.  Oh my, how He DID provide and the lessons we have learned.  Stay tuned...

*one final thought that I want to communicate although this really is already too long....

I feel that we who are Christians need to be sure that we give credit where credit is due.  Yes, our God heals - but he uses the skilled hands of people who have dedicated decades of their lives to study, practice and application.  I have wondered how it makes the doctor/specialist/surgeon feel when they put themselves through medical school, residency, and the hard slog of all that entails, to pour themselves out over their patient, to give of their best to save a life, only to hear the family exclaim, "God healed our loved one!"  Does that make the unbelieving surgeon more inclined to believe, or does that make him, perhaps, resentful?  I've wondered, too, at those who believe that God sends horrible diseases or viruses.  What does that say to the physician who has devoted his or her life to the eradication or treatment of these illnesses, who has seen the ravages of disease on the human body?  Does that make God seem terrible to them?  I think it could...

I believe that God does, indeed, heal.  And I believe that sometimes He does that spontaneously, because He certainly CAN DO THAT!  But I also believe that He wants PEOPLE to interact with PEOPLE, and that so very often He uses the skills and talents, intellect and dedication of doctors and other devoted medical care workers to save and/or improve our lives.  After this last year, I've come to the place where I'm very sure to thank the doctor, the nurse, the lab worker for their care of me and my family, for their involvement in our lives.  I pray that we live the Gospel in front of them, that they are blessed for the work they do, that they are blessed because of us.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A blessed mess

There's no better Daddy in the world for this 
gloriously blessed mess.
Jeff's boys, left to right:
Ben (5), Nick (16), Gabe (8 months),
Josiah (9), Sam (6) and Jake (18)

and Jeff and his girls:
Emily (15), Mariam (3) and Julia (12).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Planting seeds of Jesus-Life

They moved last week.

I think they broke up.  She took the baby and went to Iowa to live with her grandma.  I'm not sure where he ended up.

The baby's birthday is tomorrow.  He turns one.

Six months ago they moved into the garage behind our house and across the alley.  We were told that it had been remodeled into an apartment, but had our doubts.  There are no windows in the garage and the storm door often hung listlessly open.

I rarely saw them in cold weather, did not know how to help those we could not connect with.  We picked up their trash that the crows scattered throughout the winter.  We complained a little amongst ourselves, but knew that really, we were doing what Jesus would want us to do.  We anguished over their condition, but it is a delicate thing to force yourselves on people who don't seem to want you in their lives.  They wouldn't even look up so that I could wave across our alley.  The wrong type of help might seem condescending, it might just make things worse and blight a relationship before it has a chance to begin.  I didn't know how to do this.  Was I to pretend we didn't know their home was a garage with a cement floor and a double wide roll up car door when my heart was broken for them?  How to say hello?  How to love?  A pack of diapers at the door?  A pot of soup?  We prayed to be wise....

As the snow melted and warm weather came, they began to emerge.

Their fights were loud, verbally foul and obvious to the neighborhood.  They were young, had no coping skills, did not know how to get along.

I finally flagged them down one spring day as they took a walk and asked their names and smiled over their little one in the stroller.  We compared our babies' first teeth.

Their little pug, chained outside, championed his stash of tennis balls and chew toys.  I took her a left-over sack of puppy chow from our dog "that was no longer."  No smile.  No thanks.  No problem.  I did not mind, I just didn't know what to do.

I gave her a ride home from the grocery store in the rain. I was surprised that she accepted my offer, but thankful.  I learned that her baby was beginning to crawl and she knew that soon he would be walking.  "I can't believe how fast he has grown."    She directed me home:  "I live in the....garage."

"I know."  And that was all.  I told her she could come to me if she ever needed anything.  She guardedly smiled at me for the first time, ever.

Then suddenly, it was over.   No more chances to be involved, it seemed.  This was it?  How could that be? 

I saw the loaded pickup truck in the evening; went over and asked where they were going.   She told me that her grandma was taking her things, but that she and the baby were catching a bus at 3:15 a.m.  I told her I was sorry and wished her well.  I didn't see the dad, anywhere.

It was late when I got the kids to bed.  My husband was on night shift, and I am not as efficient as he is.  It was a hot night and I was tired.  Around 11:15 I remembered that she was leaving and I did not know what I should do.  I'd prayed for months that God would open the doors of communication.  There was never anything big, just bits and pieces - a name here, a tooth there, a rare smile at the end.

I opened my back door and peeked out.  There was a light still on at the garage, and at the big house beyond as well.  (I never did figure out the relationship.  A relative, maybe?)  Was there maybe still something we were supposed to do?

What about a gift for the baby?  His birthday was coming up.  Did I have anything?  I scrambled around, looking.  I came up with nothing.

I went to our sweltering upstairs, walked past the three little boys all sweaty and sprawled, and knocked on my big boys' door.  They were still up, finishing a movie on the laptop.

I quickly told them what I was thinking.  "Do you have any money?"  They instantly jumped on board.  "YES!  We've been wanting to help, wanting to reach out, praying for something but didn't know what."

And we had discussed before, and prayed.  "At least they are trying to do the right thing, the best they know how at this point in their lives.  They are trying to be together, trying to raise their baby, even though it can't be easy to live as they do.  They made a mistake, had a baby too young, too soon, got things out of order - but they chose life for their child!"    They didn't romanticize, they saw the reality of poverty and welfare and heard the loud fights between the young couple, pried their garbage out of snow and ice to put it back in the can ....but still, gave them credit for trying to do the best for their child.  The couple was young and poor, but they loved that baby so fiercely.  He was always well cared for, clean and healthy.  They were good parents. 

The boys both fished in their back pockets, pulled out their wallets, and by scrounging and dipping into savings they came up with $40.  It was money that was hard earned for teenaged boys, made by mowing yards and shelving books.  There wasn't a split-second of hesitation.  Forty dollars wouldn't go too far, but maybe some diapers and something to eat on the bus.  She couldn't have much...

I ran back downstairs, wrote a quick note:

"This is for the baby's birthday.  We wish you the best.  God cares about you.  We will be praying for you.  Call us if you ever need to talk to someone," followed by a phone number and "Love."

I walked into the Southern Indiana air, made humid by our river geography.  My feet pricked lightly and I tiptoed barefoot over the gravel.  I knocked on the garage door.  No one.  I pushed the door open and peeked inside.  No one.  I circled around the block, looking for signs of life within the big house, feet wet from the grass.  I hoped no one called the cops.  I felt silly, but safe.  One of my neighbors is a friend and also a cop.

I pushed the garage door open once more, placed the envelope "name up" by the diaper bag where she couldn't miss it, pulled the door shut, then came home and went to bed.

The boys asked me about it the next morning.

"We planted a seed, guys.  Someone else will water.  Just remember to pray for them."

That was last week.  Today, I remembered a little boy turning one.  I don't know his circumstances now, nor those of his mama or his daddy.  I don't know if he slept on the bus or if he gave his mama a hard time.  But I prayed for them all today.

God gave us a chance to see Him, to experience His heart,   It was a holy moment, where He touched our hearts and we were able to hear Him and do the Word.*

It was humbling, but it was holy.  Humbling because He allowed us to be a part and holy, because He was in it.

The next time someone reaches toward them with God's love, it will sound familiar.  God's voice will sound more and more like home and life and safety.  I am confident that God, who has started the good work, will continue to call to them and will complete what He has begun.  (Philippians 1:6)

I see the shed they called home every time I open my back door.  There's no way to forget.  Our prayers will go with them.

*James 1:22 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Guerilla gardening: Zero cost, minimum care

This gardening post is about my less-than-traditional gardening experiments this year.  I've been interested in gardening methods that 1) save time, 2) take up little space and 3) are basically free to implement.  I do admit that my methods won't win any Lawn or Garden Beauty awards, but fortunately I have a portion of my yard which is enclosed by an old wooden fence.  I am able to keep my experimental ugly gardening private from my neighbors.  :)

I like to try new things and new methods every year.  Gardening is somewhat indigenous and systemic.  I mean, weeds can grow anywhere, right?  Gardening is also a learning process, though.  The best advice I can give someone is to not get discouraged, to just try again.  There really *is* a style and a method for everyone.  Sometimes, you just have to learn what works for you and your climate (zone) and what needs to be planted when.  The biggest mistakes that people make is planting early crops too late and late crops too early or planting their veggies in the wrong location all together.  They think they or their soil has failed them when really, it's usually just a matter of the wrong plants being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  :)  If you have made this mistake (like I have many times,) don't give up.  Just make a note of it and try something different the following year (or maybe even later in the same year.)

One thing that frustrates me with Garden Planning Books or Websites is that they make it seem too hard or too expensive to garden.  Raised beds don't actually have to be made out of specific lumber, ya know?  You don't have to have a specific soil mix, either.  Over time, you can build your own super soil by maintaining a compost pile.  Yes, it takes a year or so, but if you're in it for the long haul it is worth it.  There is something deeply satisfying about building up your soil year after year, about experiencing better yields over time simply by throwing your vegetable scraps and lawn scraps on a pile and turning it once in awhile.  I love building something from nothing and becoming tuned into the rhythms of the seasons.  I feel like it makes me a more stable person, invested in longevity and sticking with something to see the end result.

I'll say it again....the pictures below are not really pretty gardening.  I LIKE luscious looking garden pictures, but the point I'm playing around with this year are alternative gardening methods.  There are many people around the world who could benefit from growing at least a portion of their own healthy food - and they don't have the money to invest in *any* gardening supplies.  They need to use whatever they can scavenge or what they already have on hand.  Can you grow butternut squash in a box?  Why yes, you can!  You can also grow potatoes in a box...well, let me show you some of what I've got growing in my back yard:

This vine (and his siblings) are growing on my compost pile.  I keep two compost piles - it's nice to be able to flip compost back and forth to keep the mixture at the right level of moisture, decomposition, etc.  This year, I had some cantaloupe pop up in the top of one pile.  It's nestled in amongst the shredded paper, dried grass clippings, etc.  Since I've got two piles, I'm able to leave this one alone and let this plant and others like it go wild in a very fertile environment.  No boxes, no special mix, no....nothing.

Here's my butternut squash.  This picture was taken last week, but as of today there are about 6 vines about 4 inches tall.  It's just what it looks like.  A box, filled from my compost pile.  A box can be moved around to hit the best patch of sunlight, until I figure out where it seems to do best.  And then, as the vines grow and spill over the edge, the box will decompose and it won't even be visible.  Will six butternut vines really help me feed my family?  Yes....I could get up to 30 or more gourds from these, if past experience is a guide.  I'll keep them in my cellar and use them throughout the fall and winter.  If this method does well, I will plant more next year.

Rats.  I had a picture of my potatoes growing in a tall box - but the picture is turned sideways and I don't have time to convert it...

Instead, here is another batch of potatoes that I have growing in a pile, surrounded by bricks.  These potatoes were from a bag that started to get "leggy" this spring.  Rather than throw them out, I planted them.  Often the potatoes from the grocery store are sprayed with growth inhibitor, but these evidently were not.  I started with a tiny hill of compost, then put the potatoes (cut into pieces) all over the top.  I did not space them - they are kind of crowded and jumbled.  I took the least care that I could, because I wanted to prove that anyone can grow anything cheaply, if the conditions are right.

I covered the potatoes, then as they grew green leaves I kept covering them, higher and higher.  I surrounded the area with bricks (that were already here...) to contain it a bit - but you can use a box, a stack of tires, a wooden frame, a barrel, anything really, as long as it has drain holes.  I'm still covering the new growth every few days with a bit of straw, compost and dirt, and I will do so until they flower.  I'll let the stalks die completely down, and then I can begin harvesting some potatoes.

Trying new things is one thing that keeps gardening fun for me - I hope you've enjoyed it too and have learned something along with me.  Life is all about learning and growing and adapting and starting all over again based upon what you learned previously.  Don't be afraid to try new and unorthodox things.

Keep on learning, and keep on growing.  :)

This post is linked in with Connie's Gardening series

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Gabriel - 8 months

I love him and his puppy dog eyes.

He loves water, and bubbles
and me...
and his daddy and all of "his kids."

Gabe's 8th month:  Sitting up on his own, picking up food, expanding his food repertoire.
He still hates all fruit except bananas....really digs carrots.  He wants to eat, but doesn't actually like most items that he tries.  He "tried" juice in a bottle - but really, I don't usually give a baby juice, and he didn't care for it anyway.  (I was really just trying to give him something new and interesting to keep him occupied in church.  It was novel and worked once - but he's asked me to never give him that stuff again.)

I can already tell that he has no plans to remain a baby.  He wants to be like everybody else.
Peer pressure, I guess.
He'll be off and crawling soon, and then there will be no containing him.
Gabe's first year sure has been sweet.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Coming and going

Teeth don't know if they're coming or going around this house.
The tooth fairy* needs a rolodex to keep it all straight.
Jake, age 18, had his wisdom teeth out this morning.
(Yes, I still remember his first tooth and how proud I was of him and it when it first popped thru when he was 3 months old.)

Sam (age 6) just lost two dentists involved.  It's fun to watch as kids grow up, but I always feel a little sad because I remember those first cute tiny teeth so well, and how relieved "the baby" and I were when they first popped thru.  Then they go and work so hard to get them to come out.  Go and break a mother's heart, why don't ya, kid?

And this li'l hummer?  Yeah.  Gabe's in the process of cutting three teeth - all at the same time.  He was quite crabby while waiting for his older brother to come out from under anesthesia.

*We talk about the "tooth fairy," but no one has ever believed in "her."  I recently asked Sam if the tooth fairy had shown up.  He said, "Yah, if you mean a toof faiwee dat wooks wike Dad and dat puts a dowwar under my piwwow...Yah.  Da toof faiwee came."  

It's so hard to talk without any front teeth.

A fly's eye view

A good friend of mine recently told me that she wished she could be a fly on the wall" of our home for a day.   I assured her that it was generally messy.  She replied that she loved reality shows, so she thought she'd still like to see what a day was like around our place.  I thought I'd grant that wish, at least verbally. Kelli, my friend - this is for you.  Enjoy!  (The flower picture is to distract you from the gritty earthiness of the post.)

Jeff has been out of the pastorate for almost four years now, but he still fills the pulpit now and then for various local churches with ailing or vacationing pastors.  Today, he was scheduled to preach at a little General Baptist church in the rolling hills of rural Illinois.  The attendance runs between 10 and 20 people.  Today, it was 11.  Since my parents were with us, we more than doubled attendance.

I may be out of my pastor's wife groove, but I still remember the basics.  The main thing is to get everything ready the night before.  I did so.

  • Ironing?  Check.  Shirts and dresses all ironed and hung on the back of the laundryroom door.
  • Shoes and tidy little stacks of small boys clothing, ready to be donned?  Check.
  • Diaper bag - filled with interesting toys, dipes, wipes and a bottle of juice to keep baby quiet?  Check.
  • Toddler cups of water chilling in the fridge, ready to grab?  Check.
  • Extra clothing for the youngest five stowed in the van (for the rare but semi-anticipated accident?) Yes.
  • Medicine box (kept in the van) with band-aids, benedryl and everything else a family might need? Yep.
  • Purse? Yes - and it was stocked with three types of tylenol, too:  Infant/junior/adult.
  • Bag with paper/pens/crayons?  Check.  (I'm  no stoic.  I let my little ones color in church.  Busy hands let my little boys listen better, I think.)
  • Dessert made to take to my mama's house after church?  Double, double check on that.
  • Pack N Play so baby can take a nap?  Check - also remembered waterproof pad, sheet, blanket.
As you can see, I was all prepared before bed.  The night was troubled, however.  The baby is cutting THREE TEETH simultaneously, and the three year old magically appeared in our bed around 1 a.m., crying BECAUSE THERE WAS A HAIR on her pillow.  I was too sleepy to shoo either one back to their beds, so Jeff and I slept on opposite slivers of our regular sized mattress.  Around four a.m., I think I demanded that HAIR OR NO HAIR ON THE PILLOW, the three year old HAD TO GO, which woke up the baby....who decided that he needed to nurse....and before I knew it the alarm was going off.

Morning went well...considering that I could not focus my eyes until my second cup of coffee.  Seriously.  Could.  Not. Focus.  We have one shower amongst the eleven of us - and it is stained blue because the girls spent the previous day tie-dying.  We have to keep the shower train running smoothly.  If we do it right, everyone gets 10 to 15 minutes before we break down the door.

There were a just a few glitches as we prepared to leave, such as the 5 and  6 year old boys deciding to ditch mom's sandal choices and to replace them with their new tie-dyed socks and dress shoes and Mariam's loss of her sandals (that hoarding thing again, no doubt.)  I hunted for a pair of church socks for the girl and finally found a pink non-athletic pair that were way too small.  I stretched them tight and tugged them on her feet, only to find that her "princess" (church) shoes were also too small.  She encouraged me - "C'mon, Mama.  You can do it.  You've got to do it."  I squeezed a little more - she didn't fuss.  I figured she'd have them off and lost in the van before we made it to church, anyway.

I searched and found a two piece dress (a must for a nursing mom.)  The last time I wore a regular dress I had to half undress to nurse the baby in the bathroom and then when he was finished I tried to zip myself back together and the zipper got stuck.  And there I was - ladies needing to get in - but me, holding my baby and trying to unstick my own zipper.  So, yeah....I've learned.  Function before fashion, nourishment before narcissism.

I've stopped laying out clothes for the big kids - but am rethinking that after today.  Emily went through 4 clothing changes and several shoe deliberations at the last minute.  (I asked her reasoning:  Too dark, too layered, too hot, too clunky, too sparkly, too dressy, just right.)  Julia's slip was too long, so I did what any enterprising mother would do and told Emily to cut the lace off of the bottom of the garment for her sister.  Nick couldn't find the right t-shirt to go under his cotton button up, and was desperately simultaneously shaving, brushing his teeth,  and trying to get his hair to lay just right while the rest of us were headed out of the door.

For the record, the nine year old did just fine.  Nothing to report, there.  (Just giving praise where praise is due.)

I grabbed the water bottles and a last cup of coffee and we loaded up the 15 passenger van.  The kids are really great at either buckling up themselves or helping a sibling.  Sometimes, we can even "get 'er done" without someone screaming.

We pulled out of our driveway, and Jeff cranked on the air conditioning.  It was supposed to be 94 degrees.  It was warm already and a storm appeared to be blowing in.

The switch on our air conditioner appeared to NOT BE WORKING.  Of course.  Daddy in a suit coat and tie, a thirty minute drive ahead of us, and no air.

I made myself think of people in remote countries who have to walk for hours to get to church.  I even squeaked out a "thank you for this hardship, Jesus.  It helps me appreciate this opportunity to worship you."  Obviously the morning was still young and I was optimistic....but it's so true.  Why do I assume that getting to church has to be easy for me when it's not for so many people?  The perspective helped, even though my head was about to explode from the pressure created by the storm front.

I ran through my mental list outloud to Jeff as we drove.  I checked off and told him everything that I had packed and done and had on hand.  I realized that I did not have my Bible.  I spent a few minutes trying to convince him that Jesus was okay with that, and that surely Jesus would accept my three levels of tylenol and my Orange Delight jello salad as a sign of my devotion.  I even tried to pull in some correlation to the deliquency of Cain's sacrifice, seeing as his problem probably was that he didn't offer up Orange Delight jello salad.

My husband just smirked, stuck his hand in the console drawer, and pulled out an extra Bible for me.  We are a good team.

After much bumping and jostling over gravel roads, we arrived at the little white country church.  Jeff parked, we disembarked.  ("Disembarked" is the nice way to say it.  "Piled out" is more accurate.)  I helped the little boys out.  They stood and surveyed, eyes wide and mouths hanging open.  They saw that the church sat smack dab in the middle of a cemetery.  (Lots of old churches in the United States have a cemetery.)  Ben, age 5, said with awe in his voice:  "Woah.  Lots of people have died here."  Sammy, his sidekick, said, "Yeah....maybe THOUSANDS."  (I thought the same thing.)

We approached the church doors, and I realized that somewhere along the ride Ben and Sam had changed shirts.  This was problematic, because now Ben was wearing a horrid set of mismatched plaid.  Sam was all in blue, but it did not match.  I hurried them back to the van to change.   I think they were worried they were going to get in trouble, because Sam hastily held up his hand as I pulled his shirt over his head.  "For the WECOWD," said he with the missing front teeth, "Emiwee told us to switch our shirts awound."  (????)  Alas, it was twue true, but she was teasing and they believed her and pulled the switcheroo in the backseat on the way to church.

I held the baby throughout the service.  He drooled and occasionally smelled funny.  I could tell he was getting ready to leave me a pretty big diaper...would it be during the service?  Maybe during a really quiet moment when people were searching thru their hymnbooks for the next song?  Maybe when Daddy paused for dramatic effect?  Look.  I'm a practiced mom.  I'm a realist.  I know that no diaper is leak proof, not really.  It's a helpless feeling, trying to gauge *when* that diaper will happen and how bad the effects will be.  And the only bathroom....all the way up front, in front of everyone....with a couple of preschoolers trailing behind, exclaiming...loudly....Trust me.  When a mother prays for peace, it means something altogether different.

Sometimes a prayer for peace means a plea for inaction.

Whether God granted my prayer or not, I can't say....but the diaper never happened.  The day went well.  We completely filled the last two pews in the tiny church.  The children were sufficiently well-behaved. No one threw spitwads, vomited, or lost bladder control.  (Now, you may laugh....but if you are a pastor's wife and mother to a large crew, these are some fairly common and sometimes realized fears.)   No one (else) lost their shoes, nor anything else that I can tell, not even a tooth.  We managed to hold it together until we buckled ourselves back up in the van and pulled out to head to Grandma and Grandpa's house for Sunday dinner.

And that is what a half a day looks like at our house.

The rest of the day was a little nuts too:

  • The neighbor had to regretfully inform us that their dog accidentally killed our kitten.
  • One of our cars is not working.  
  • Tomorrow morning, Jake will have his wisdom teeth removed.
  • and this will NOT believe!  I was sitting here tonight, typing this post, and I saw something kitten-sized run from our laundry-room, thru the hallway, into the room where I am sitting, and crawl under our chair.  My brain said "kitten," until it did a double take and said, "but we no longer have a kitten."  I went and woke Jeff and he came out and we armed ourselves with brooms and pulled aside the armchair to find a small opossum!!!  WHAT?!?  I even took video with one hand while I pushed it out the door with the other.  How did that get in our house?  Are there more???  Can I sleep tonight?  Life is never dull.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I reached in my hospital-issued diaper bag the other day while I was driving, searching for a toy for the baby.  

My hand brushed against something it did not recognize....something wiry, gritty.......nasty.

I pulled my hand out.

Curiosity compelled me, and I stuck my hand back in.  I felt it again.

What on earth?

I gave a shiver, closed my fingers around it, and drew it out of the bag.

And almost missed my turn.

For a minute I was creeped out.

Then, I remembered that my three year old daughter is a hoarder.

Sounds like a reality tv show to me:  Preschool Hoarders and Those Who Love Them.

Or maybe, "What's in YOUR Diaper Bag Today?"

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On Parenting

Parenting is not 
about rigid ideology.

It's not about being right,
nor a wonderful example at all times
nor a paragon of virtue.

It's not about constructing the perfect home life 
nor even the carefully constructed educational environment.
(I've tried to do both.)
There is no guaranteed method for the efficient mass production of saints. 
Parenting is very messy.
(And I don't mean the red food coloring.)

It's not for perfect people.
You're going to mess up.
Everyone does.

means you will fail your children,
Honesty demands that you admit it, 
to them.

It's a hard thing,
asking people to follow you 
and to do as you say,
when you are well aware of your weaknesses as well as your strengths.

Sometimes, being a parent means
you will have to say
"Be like me," and at other times,
"Don't be like me."
You'll have to listen close to your Creator to know which one
is the right one for the situation!
It's an awesome, fearsome thing
that He given us to do.
There are times I think,
"Does He really think I can do this?"

Parenting is about being in it for the long haul.
It's all about sticking with the mess,
and loving through the mess.
It's blood, mud, sweat,and tears
"I will always love you," 
"I'm sorry,"
"Will you forgive me?"
and "Let's start all over again."

And for this one? It's all about the Popsicles.