Monthly Archives: October 2013

Testing, 1…2…3…

Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning;

Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.

It’s handy to be able to tell the weather by the horizon at dawn.  But I woke up to a pink sky on Wednesday morning.  “What does that mean?” I wondered.  Is pink half-warning?  Is there going to be a half-storm today?  Is this metaphorical?  Am I thinking too much before my first cup of coffee?

That was likely, so I remedied it, pouring a steaming mug and turning on auto pilot to get the morning going amidst the hubbub that is life with five boys under seven (and a husband.)  But it was an antsy kind of day, nonetheless.

I spent the day waiting impatiently for a neurosurgeon to call.  Don’t you just hate that kind of day, waiting for the neurosurgeon to call?  I do.  And it’s really not better when you don’t hear from him.  I’d been compiling a mental list of growth changes in my two year old, and I was more than a little anxious to run them by a professional for his opinion.

My two year old, Ben, is the one with Spina Bifida; the one whose nerves formed abnormally in his lower back before I even knew I was pregnant with him.  The lower ones that usually grow into the legs grew in a sort of bubble on his lower back instead.  And since his spinal cord didn’t really close at the bottom, it affects his whole spine, right up into his head.  Even the best doctors can’t fix nerves.  At best, they can protect what he does have.  So he had back surgery to close that bubble and head surgery to put a little tube in (called a shunt) that would divert excess fluid from putting pressure on his brain.  But since those back and brain surgeries following his birth, his medical story has been fairly quiet to date.  He can’t really feel his legs, but otherwise is a pretty normal two year old who just happens to have a walker and leg braces and a cute little wheelchair that can do a number on your shins if you’re not watching out.  I’d gotten used to our mostly-un-doctored life.  But sort of all at once, a handful of little niggling worries fit together to make me think emergency brain surgery was looming in his future.

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I managed to work myself into a bit of a tizzy  during the week worried something was wrong.  A restless concern ate at my natural calm, and I’m always naturally calm (ahem, insert sarcasm if you don’t know me by now.)  Of course I don’t want to rush my child into brain surgery, but neither do I want to wait if his brain is being damaged as I sit on my hands.  There are often clear, dramatic reasons for brain surgery, but it’s not always obvious, especially if it’s a gradual change.  His neurosurgeon once told me that he’d consider operating based on a mother’s intuition that something was wrong.

Ack.  No pressure, mother.  My intuition wants to tell me that every stranger is a bad guy, and that it’s a good idea to eat chocolate for breakfast.  I wouldn’t trust my intuition.  So I was on pins and needles throughout the week, wondering if I was doing him a disservice by not rushing to the emergency room to get checked out.

I’m rather dense, you see.  I tend to think I’m supposed to handle life.  I’ve got five boys under seven.  I homeschool.  I have a tight budget and a small house.  My husband is working under intense pressure at his job this year.  You might think I’d be better at realizing my insufficiency.  No.  It takes the mention of brain surgery for God to nudge my complacency out of the way.  But then, God has been known to use talking donkeys and man-swallowing whales to get the attention of someone He wants to talk to.  Brain surgery is small potatoes to the One who personally hard-wired every brain in history.

It wasn’t until Friday that I got a call from the neurosurgeon’s secretary.  She casually mentioned that the CT scan of Ben’s head showed negligible change in the amount of fluid; it was probably nothing, but if I really did want to see the doctor, she’d try to fit me in a couple weeks later.

It wasn’t what I wanted to hear.  I wanted answers.  I wanted to know that I had to either prep my own mommy heart for my son’s surgery or tell it not to bookmark every little symptom if it’s just his own natural way of growing.  But I got neither.  I’m in limbo between the storm and the sunshine.  There is no discerning what lies ahead.

The cell phone dangled limply in my hand after I hung up with the secretary.  The older boys were playing soldiers in the living room.  Ben pulled himself over to me on the kitchen linoleum.  I looked down at him.  An orange plastic gun barrel was pointed at my knee cap.  “Ka-chew!”  he exploded enthusiastically, the weapon jumping back in his chubby hands from the imaginary blast.  Then he looked up at me with a twinkle in his eye and quoted obediently, “Don’t shoot yo mudder!”

I scooped him up and dumped him affectionately in a pile of pillows that served as a bunker for the soldiers in their living room fortress.  “Think they can surgically remove some disobedience if they have to get in there?” I asked him, tapping his blonde head.  He ignored me and pointed his weapon at the invading hordes in the stairway.

How could I ever think I am in control anyway?  I wondered at my audacity.  God made these boys, designed them, right down to the placement of each nerve, and continues to keep their heart beating, their neurons firing, and their minds thinking.  I can’t see what’s going on in their little bodies.  This place of waiting is only Purgatory if I treat it that way.

Perhaps, instead, it is a place to rest.  Perhaps it is a time of preparation before the storm.  Perhaps it is simply a time to teach me to be quiet and learn to listen for the calming Voice that wants my attention.  Amidst the clamor in my head, I tend to ignore His whispers.  And I miss Him.  Oh, how I miss Him.

Ok, Lord, I’m listening.

The Chicken or the Egg

No, I’m not expecting another child again so soon; I wrote this post last year on my first blog.  But various parts of this tend to come up in conversation.  A lot.  It was true in the days of pregnancy; it’s even more poignant now that baby number 5 is a couple months old.  I thought I’d share it again.

This is where it was posted originally, back in January.  http://teenagemutantninjatoddlers.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-chicken-or-egg.html

The Chicken or the Egg

Yes.  I am pregnant.

It happens.

Regularly, it seems.

(Though actually I had nearly five months when I was neither pregnant nor nursing this time.  Previous record was about two months, and I had an early miscarriage in the middle of that.  But that’s another story…)

So we are excited.  I know I am very blessed.  I am also sick, hormonal, and exhausted.

And in the midst of all the congratulations, I sometimes get the (not unexpected, yet often subliminal) question, “Why?!?”

 

The fifth child elicits that type of reaction naturally in our modern American culture.  More so if they’re all six years old or less.  More so if mom is only 5 feet tall and tries to avoid wearing obvious “mom jeans.”  More so if folks know you only have a two bedroom house.  Much more so if you have a toddler in a wheelchair.

I’m fairly used to the reaction by now.  Sometimes I smile, a bit, and feel like I’m the bearer of a great secret.  Those folks who look at me with consternation, amazement, or pity, they simply must not know the worth I find in these treasures.

 

For the record, I am aware, childbearing and raising, especially in quantities, is hard.  It is expensive.  It is tiring, frustrating, thankless, often demeaning; sometimes it seems flat out impossible.  And that’s just before daylight hits.  The gentleman in the grocery store commenting “You sure are busy!” isn’t telling me something I didn’t know.  I’d like to answer, sometimes, “Oh, wow, I didn’t realize!  I am busy, aren’t I!  Thanks for pointing that out!”

 

But the question is understandable.

“Why?”

 

But part of the answer is simple chemistry.  My husband and I seem to just think baby, and they appear on an ultrasound.  We seem to be ridiculously fertile.  We are young and healthy.  We could try to shirk this, but we’re choosing to treat it as a blessing, the miracle of life.  Because the Bible says it is.  And there are plenty for whom childbearing isn’t such an easy option.  I must consider it the good hand of God, as Mary did, when the angel told her she was having baby Jesus.  She was young, unmarried, poor, and alone.  It would cost her reputation, it would cause her husband a great deal of difficulty (and patience before his marriage was consummated), require a frantic flight at midnight to another country, and ultimately break her heart as she watched her Child be murdered.  But at the news – she praised God.

Along with that, the method we use for birth control is – leaving God in control of birth.  No hormones.  No surgery.  And, dare I say it, no random chance.  At the risk of too much info, the plus side of having a “cycle,” is just that.  A cycle.  Fairly predictable.  As Ecclesiastes notes, “there is a time for everything…”  Much of the month, it is quite unlikely you will make a baby.  You can get fairly familiar with the times you could.  And if you hit that particular time, what’s the worst thing that will happen?  Oops.  The miracle of life.

 

Part of the answer is probably my pride.  When baby number four was born with Spina Bifida, it became obvious that, while he would have some difficulty with his lower body for the rest of his life, and probably surgery from time to time, he wasn’t going to require ’round the clock care particularly more than any child.  I didn’t want the simple fact that he can’t currently hike a mountain be the deciding factor to end our kid-having.  And I don’t want him to think that his disability somehow disables us from giving him a younger sibling.  He’s a regular kid; he just happens to not feel his feet or bladder.  Plus we’d probably spoil him if he remained the youngest.  He already gets away with crashing into people’s shins with his wheelchair more than he should…

 

The fastest way to get spaghetti to your tummy should mean bypassing the mouth and esophagus completely.  The logic of a two year old.

Also, well, we have four boys.  You can’t say yet that we’re not giving a girl a chance 🙂  But having a complete soccer team in the same genre would certainly be more convenient, cheaper with hand-me-downs, and I’m all for it – either way.

 

Finally, honestly, why will we have another baby?  Because I was once that person in the grocery store who looked at the tired mom with her snotty brood in mismatched puddle boots and thought, “Why?”

Two or maybe three children, spaced comfortably years apart, sounded like a practical, workable way to ensure progeny.

But.

But God had other plans than mine.  (He often does, I’ve found.)

 

The first baby sunk me.  I didn’t get what it would be like to go from working a full-time job, trying to finish my degree, and being a young, upwardly mobile couple, to being a stay-at-home mom budgeting on my husband’s income.  I was lonely.  The baby cried at odd hours, for no reasonable purpose that I could see.  As he didn’t come with a manual, I read all the books I could get my hands on, and they often offered conflicting advice.  Feed on demand; feed on strict schedule.  Wear your baby always; always put them down in their own crib.  Feed them cereal around 4 months; start them instead on finger foods when they’re closer to a year.  Before kids, I might have thought parenting was just another notch on the growing up belt.  I started to realize it wasn’t that easy.

Then baby number two surprised me with his unplanned (by me) existence.

If you asked me the age old question – which came first, the chicken or the egg?  I’d probably say the eggs.  When I saw each teeny little heart beating on grainy black and white screens, I cried.  Yes, I loved them and knew I was honored to be made a mommy.  But I turned into such a chicken at the thought of having a little one.  Then two little ones within a year and a half.  And then three within the next year and a half.

By the third baby, mamma chicken was starting to catch on.

 

These parenting shoes are big ones, Momma.  Won’t you put them on?

 

God’s plans are better.

He used us not just to make new life exist, but He used all that new life to renew my own.

But I had more to learn.

Baby number four arrived with the aid of the doctor’s scalpel.  He met the knife personally twice in his first two weeks of life, with his spine and his brain.

Chicken mommy was learning.

I am learning still that God loves to use these burpy, sticky creatures to refine mother herself.

 

I planned to go into nursing, acting as an angel of mercy for others during their brief stay in a hospital.

Instead, I am into nursing babies, acting as their very life sustenance during their year long stint as an infant.

I planned to space my children, so each would have at least a couple years of mom’s specific attention.

Instead, they came at year and a half intervals, so each had a close sibling to give them special companionship.

I planned to sleep, expecting to need the energy to pour into each day with zeal and excitement.

Instead, I spent many of the wee hours with a warm cuddly dependent life, learning to pour great zeal into prayer for energy to do what was truly essential to life and godliness each day.

I planned to invest and save healthy amounts for each child’s further education and interests.

Instead, in the moments when we didn’t know where the weekly grocery money would come from, I learned to invest in their daily life through the library, good friend groups, healthy food, prayer, discipline and cuddles, and trust that God would supply their needs even as He always had my own.

I planned to be sufficient for the job of parenting.

Instead, I was – I am – constantly humbled to realize what a weighty and precious work this is, raising each fragile life to know he is made in the image of his Creator.  I realize how insufficient I am.  But God loves to use the most unlikely of creatures to prove His own sufficiency.

He used a donkey once to speak to a man and save his life.

I guess He can use a chicken too.

 

A chicken with all day morning sickness.  May my soul magnify the Lord.  Bring it.

 

Ben and the Carrots of Many Colors

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” I hummed the  familiar jingle from Mister Rogers’ old t.v. introduction.

Outside, the rain and wind hurried colorful leaves to the ground.  The overcast morning caused several children to sleep in.  I took the brief extra moments to plan chores and cooking.  Rainy Autumn days just beg for soup to be simmering.

I dove into the day.  Make food, discipline boys, change diapers, homeschool, discipline, clean up, color, make food, change diapers, yell, laugh, whisper, do laundry, clean bathrooms, read books, homeschool, clean up, discipline, clean up, nap time, read books, discipline, clean up, make food, discipline, discipline, clean up… We made it to about 4 in the afternoon without too much catastrophe.  It was a good day, by all accounts.

But of course, the flip side of a rainy Monday is a lot of cooped up boys.  They would happily have gone outside to play in the mud, but I opted for the cleaner choice.  The t.v. babysat while I made the evening meal.  The baby fussed, the two year old followed me around the kitchen.  The older boys kicked each other on the sofa, unable to keep all their pent up energy in maintenance mode.

I threw leftovers into a pot for chicken soup.  We had so many variegated carrots the boys had picked from grandma’s garden that I threw more stock into another pot for ginger carrot soup.  It sounded ambitious.  In a negative way.  I hoped the many carrot colors wouldn’t make it turn out brown.  Dishes started to fill the sink.  The two year old helped me refill the k-cup collection stand so we’d have coffee available.  I stood up to peel carrots.  He emptied k-cups onto the floor while my back was turned.  The baby fussed again.  The others had started a sofa cushion jousting tournament.  A loud one.  It was all fun and games until someone poked someone else’s eye.  I went in to referee.  The noodles in the chicken soup overcooked.  The two year old pulled the folded laundry out of the basket and tipped the basket over his head.  “Woar,” he growled.  “I’m a wy-on.  Woar.”  The four year old took up the roaring lion’s challenge and poked a plastic sword through the laundry basket bars. “You’re dead.”  He announced without emotion.  All in a day’s work.  The lion screeched protest.  I heard snickering in the kitchen.  “Put the cover back on the salt shaker!”  I hollered to the six year old in the next room.

I sighed.  I had been at my sister-in-law’s house several days before.  She had a baby even younger than mine.  But her house didn’t smell like diapers.  There wasn’t a ninja turtle climbing any of her houseplants with nun chucks .  There probably weren’t used socks in her crayon drawer either.  And I’d never seen a lego tower on her bathroom sink.  I try, really I do.  But my house just seems so darn full, I can’t seem to ever get it calm and pretty.

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Welcome to my fridge

The carrot soup turned a burnished shade of brown.  “It’s a beautiful day for a neighbor… Would you be mine?”  Mister Rogers crooned in my head again.  The two year old clambered over to my feet and hugged my ankles.  “Up.  Mom.  Up.”  He demanded.  He’d been pretty cranky recently.  Was it just having a new baby in the house?  Or just being a two year old?  Or did it mean he needs brain surgery?  They’re all viable possibilities for him.  I picked him up; he helped me stir the pot.  “Smells good, Mom.”  He commented encouragingly.

I’ve got lots of neighbors, Mister Rogers.  I thought.  They leave plastic power rangers in my fridge.  Good thing they are cute. (My little neighbors.  Not the power rangers.)  I ran into the bathroom quickly to try to freshen up and smell less like sour milk before Daddy got home.  (Why is it that the baby can smell so tantalizing after nursing, while I smell like curdled cream?)  There was no toilet paper on the roll.  I saw why.  It was all in the toilet.  I ran to the other bathroom for the plunger.  After mopping up the floor, I remembered to wash my hands before hiking the baby over my shoulder and returning to the over-cooked noodle soup.  Daddy walked in the door.  Shoot, I had forgotten about trying to smell clean and look nice.  He kissed me anyway.  Minutes later, he was out the door again, guitar in hand.  I went back to single mom mode, hollering orders and splattering soup on my lap as I nursed the baby and shoveled in brownish carrot broth with the wrong hand.  “No weapons at the table!” I intoned automatically.  A milk cup spilled.  It dripped on me.  Oh well, I already smelled like an old dairy barn.  The four year old threw a few tissues on the puddle to sop it up and gleefully watched them disintegrate instead.

It often feels more like I’m taking an unguided safari though a war zone than parenting like they show it in the magazines.  As my husband drove up our quiet dead end street later, most of the homes were dark, a light here and there, a television screen blue behind curtains.  Our house, the one with the scooters parked haphazardly on the front lawn, was blazing with light.

Blazing with life.  I tried to imagine it without this particular family for a moment.  None of the infectious laughter of naturally cheerful children.  No wilted bouquet of the last dandelions of the season on the dining room table.  No little victories as a child practiced reading beside me.  None of the uniquely personal cuddles with my infant in the dreamy stillness of night.  None of the dancing music, the crayon pictures on the refrigerator, the laundry full of little jeans with hard-earned rips in the knees.  The wind buffeted the house.  It felt cozy inside with all my children around me, breathing sticky hot as we read bedtime books in a pile on the sofa.

This life, so full, so busy, so colorful it spilled over the lines, it seemed so unmanageable, uncontrollable, beyond my capabilities.  “I love being the matriarch of this little family, but is this how it’s supposed to look?!?” I wondered in frustration.  I sensed the big, warm hand of God on my shoulder.  Glancing down, I realized it was mostly regurgitated milk the baby had just shared with my shirt.  But the feeling of the sweet presence of God remained.  “Child,” I almost heard Him whisper, “I’m the the Potter; you are my workmanship, my work of art.  You think making pots out of mud is clean work?  And I am the Builder, building you a house.   Is good carpentry without sawdust?”

So my little plants are putting down colorful roots in the dirt.  I considered it later, after they were in bed and I was finally getting to the dishes.  Water swirled in the carrot soup pot.  I know the Bible refers to children as olive plants, but I translated it into New England vegetation.  Who wants monochromatic orange carrots when you can have a rainbow of roots?  Yes, it makes for brown soup…    Savory, full of health, the culmination of harvest from good dirt.  Thank you, God, for brown soup.

Colorful leaves
Colorful leaves