Category Archives: kids

Lightbulb Moment

How many kids does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Depends. The oldest unscrews the old bulb in the lava lamp. The next runs to the basement and determines there are no more little bulbs to fit. Meanwhile, mommy realizes it’s too quiet and goes to find youngest. He is discovered stuffing legos into the empty socket. Everyone survives the night (somehow.)

Next day, three kids accompany mommy to the store. The youngest kicks off his boots while he sits in the front of the shopping cart. As mommy bends to retrieve them, the next youngest screams (yes screams) with passion “LIGHTBOUBS!” because he lives life exuberantly and expects the rest of Walmart wants to join him.

Mommy jerks her head up so quickly in surprise that she smashes it into the cart handle. Rubbing her head, she looks up to see the second youngest in the process of loading the cart with lightbulb boxes. So the second oldest and second youngest are sent to the end of the aisle to look at (unbreakable) plastic trash cans while Mommy replaces lightbulbs back on shelf and boots back on the youngest. Mommy hurriedly selects what she hopes is correct bulb (plus an extra for good measure) and survives checkout.

Once home, mommy realizes she left two bags back at the store (she won’t work up the gumption to return to collect them till the next day, but at least she noticed, so points for that). Youngest finds package of bulbs in bag that did make it home and opens it (they make toy packaging impossible for a child to open or assemble, but lightbulbs are disturbingly easy). One lightbulb breaks. Mommy cleans it up.

Second oldest takes remaining light bulb upstairs to install it, realizes someone has disturbed his Lego town, and goes on a rampage for revenge. Blood and carnage ensue. Mommy demands peace and serenity – or else. Eventually the dust settles, and the child returns to his room to finish screwing in the new lightbulb. It works.  Eureka.

 

So in this case, it took six children to change a lightbulb. But results may vary.

How many does it take at your house?

Bearing

Once upon a time, it was the worst day of my life.

On the eve of my son’s third birthday, his brain got infected. The outside world got in. It was only the tiniest little bit that found an entrance, just an itsy bitsy staphylococcus – an everyday kind of germ that we all keep around for company. But we can’t survive with it in our brain. So I found myself, somewhere around midnight after the unfortunate discovery, singing happy birthday to my son in a breaking voice as I laid his little trusting body on the operating table so doctors could get the infection out. It would be a long week before we could go home.

The next morning, when my brother came to visit, I asked if I could leave my infant son (who was along for the wild ride because he was nursing), and my newly-minted-three year old hidden under a maze of tubes and medicine, to run to the store to buy the birthday boy a toy tow truck. It was all he wanted. And I wanted clean underwear. I ran in and out. It was snowing lightly as I pulled away from the store. Another car came around the corner in the parking lot and slid into the driver’s side door of the car I had borrowed from my brother. The driver quickly parked and came over to be sure I wasn’t hurt. I blubbered my story of how it was my son’s birthday and he was in the hospital for emergency brain surgery and all he wanted was to blow out candles and he couldn’t because that’s illegal in the hospital. The man nodded sympathetically, then got in his car – and drove away before we could file a report and get insurance worked out.

 

That moment of betrayal, heaped on top of my exhaustion, stress, worry, and loneliness, ranks as one of the lowest points of my life.

 

It was bad.

 

But you know what happened in that moment? My son needed me. So I drove back to the hospital, crumpled on his sterile bed, and held him – and begged God for strength. And God gave it.

Not a lot. Too much would probably have made me capable of doing dangerous things, especially to the guy who drove away from the teary-eyed woman in the disheveled Subaru in the parking lot that cold January day three years ago.

But it was enough.

 

I felt so helpless. I couldn’t fix my son. I couldn’t even celebrate his birthday. I couldn’t even run to the store without someone’s property getting destroyed! I was insufficient.  I just couldn’t even.

But God.

In that moment, God came near. And I knew that the prayers of hundreds of friends were – at that very moment – storming the throne of heaven with our names. And He heard. And God came near.

 

I remember that moment, because today, a friend is going through the same valley of the shadow. She is watching her baby daughter struggle with insidious evil germs threatening her little brain. It is a horrible place to be for a mom. But thousands of other moms are live-streaming petitions to the throne of heaven on her behalf. And God is listening.

 

The first woman – the first mom on earth – was named Eve. Her name in Hebrew is Chavvah, or “life-giver.” It’s Zoe in Greek, meaning “preserver of life, life-spring”.

This woman, Eve, was the first woman to talk with God, the first to know Him.

She was first to revel in His creation, to enjoy His goodness.

And she was the first person on earth to sin.

She was the first to realize she no longer had the right to dwell with God.

She was first to miss Him.

Eve, created to be “life-giver” to all future generations, was the first to lose intimate fellowship with the Creator of life.

 

It was a horrible realization. She was not enough. She could not make it right.

 

But God.

In His love for Eve, in His desire for her to fulfill her purpose as life giver to all future generations – God made a way for her to be restored.

 

She was saved by His grace. (“By grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9). All moms since have the same chance.

 

We can be restored to a deep relationship with God by the Word of God dwelling with us. (“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” John 1:14).

 

And God has (often) used a big-eyed, naked toddler covered in my lipstick, sitting on my once-white bedspread (just hypothetically speaking) to reveal to me the very depths of my insufficiency. It ain’t pretty. (I mean my dark and frustrated heart. But also the bedsheets.)

 

My children have showed me, like nothing else, that I cannot survive without a direct line of communication with the life-Maker.

This past Wednesday, I spent the morning busy.

I woke, stretched, and found clothes for myself and three others. I started the laundry. I took a shower (and was only interrupted once). I wiped down the bathroom. I drank cold coffee and ate three strips of cold bacon. I fed kids. I (tried to) clean hard boiled egg yolk off the chair. I dressed children. I wiped noses (and other things.) I read and explained a Bible story. I broke up fights. I did fractions and adding and multiplication with four separate children while keeping the two youngest from (totally) dismantling the living room. I paid some bills. I took a child to the doctor. I made up a story to keep him occupied in the sterile office. I gave up my granola bar to feed the backseat driver. I gave up my water bottle. I bought several gallons of milk. I bought the still hungry caterpillar (aka the growing three-year-old child) a sandwich. I kept time shamelessly as he danced to the restaurant muzak. I got home to relieve grandma of duty. I changed more diapers. I cleaned the kitchen. I paid for piano lessons. I put the little two down for nap. I put the little two down for nap – again. I confiscated a video game. I pulled bread rolls out of the freezer for supper. I glanced at Facebook and saw a post that a friend’s baby had been admitted to the hospital for bacterial meningitis. And I stopped everything. And I prayed.

 

Because in all the business – the busy-ness – of motherhood, that direct line of communication has been more precious than any ability I possess.

As my friend’s baby girl lies in a sterile medical world surrounded by wires and lights and foreign smells, hurting and fragile and in desperate need of a miracle, it makes me pause. I have looked into my own child’s eyes, wide from pain and fear, as he sat small in a big white hospital bed, fighting sinister germs that attacked his own brain. I have turned away so he would not see tears fall.  I would love to wrap my children in bubble wrap so they would never know hurt or evil. But that’s not the answer (nor very practical.)

 

I have often wondered at the verse that states “She will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (I Timothy 2:15)

 

What meaneth this? Maybe that childbearing – from the first kicks of new life inside me, to the sting of distrust when a child lies to my face to cover a sin, to the leaning-down hug as they leave the house to strike out on their own – constantly reminds me of my need for a Savior. It certainly has for me.

Or maybe it means that “they” who continue in faith, love, and holiness – “they” are the community who holds up her arms when they are weak from mothering. They petition heaven on her behalf when she is too exhausted to lift up her head. They care for her children’s needs when she cannot. They continue – so that she will be preserved in this most important work of life giving.

So we pray.

As mom, I am first to realize I am unable to fix all my children’s problems.  I  am first to know I am not enough.

But I know Who is.

There is One Who can say “I AM.”

We mother on.

We mother – on our knees.

 

So Much No

We drove slowly up the tree-lined driveway.  The old farmhouse greeted us solemnly as we parked under old maples and stately pine.  a few stout tulips bloomed despite several years of neglect.  Ben spun wheelies with his chair on the cobblestones by the front door as the older boys scattered to explore the yard.  They came back with reports of tadpoles in the backyard pond.  The two year old handed me a fistful of giant dandelions – thriving in the abandoned garden bed.

I was bewitched.

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It was then our friend the realtor drove up and gave us the bad news.  Someone had already signed a contract.  The house wasn’t for sale – as of that exact moment.

It had felt like a dream too good to be true.  I guess it was.

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She still let us in to see the house.  It was empty, full only of peeling paint and unspoken memories.  The only furniture was an old piano in a back room.  Shiloh found it and tickled out a few off-key chords as the others raced through the echoey house with abandon that seemed appropriate to the setting.  I imagined a bookshelf here, a bunk bed there, bean bag chairs in a cozy corner, crayon pictures hung on the walls.  I realized it might finally be time to consider adoption because there were enough bedrooms to house a larger army – or even a pink bedroom!  I imagined my son’s wheelchair spinning smooth across the hardwood floors, a fire crackling in the old stone fireplace, the smell of cookies wafting from the welcoming kitchen.  I realized every stroller and bike and even huge family vehicles would fit in the ample three car garage.  I imagined snowy days seeing my oldest with a book, his lanky frame curled onto a window seat.  I saw homeschool supplies piled on a big plank table; a big soup pot simmering on the range.  I imagined parties in a house that could hold a crowd of boys – and their friends.  I could see Bible studies around the wood stove, music spilling from that room with the piano.  I envisioned a long rope swing hanging from high in the barn, a fire pit in the backyard for get togethers with marshmallow-sticky fingers.  It would have been a gathering place.  It could have been a home.

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But God said no.

He does that sometimes.  It hurts in the moment, the dream-shattering, like glass splintering into a thousand pieces.  Shards of what was hope get under your skin.  It stings to draw them out.  Maybe I shed a few tears.

I have been praying daily for a new house for a year.  Well, much longer really, but I committed to asking daily exactly one year ago – to the day – that I found that house for sale.  I thought that would magically mean it was the one.

God says to set landmarks (Jeremiah 31:21).  When we look back we realize how far He has taken us.  I was hoping this landmark meant the end of our house search.  Apparently He wants me to keep praying.  So I painstakingly glued the shards of hope back together and tried to place it safely where it belongs.  In Him.  Not in a house.  I love old houses.  But old houses crumble eventually.

Being a Christian sometimes gets reflected clearly in being a mom.  There are so many days filled with NO.

“No, you can’t have a cookie.”

“Don’t lick your brother.”

“You can’t go outside till you finish your math.”

“Don’t shoot the bird,” I said to the boy pointing a nerf gun at a friend’s pet parakeet last week.

“No dancing on the table.”

“Take off his underwear and get your own!”

“Do not run away from me in the parking lot!”

“No you can’t go outside without pants.”

“No, you can’t have a puppy.”

“No more tv time.”

“You should not eat the bug.”

“That is not chocolate.”

“Don’t eat applesauce with your toes.”

“Dandelions are not weapons.”

“Stop licking the bug spray.”

“Don’t hit him!”

“Don’t say that!”

“No.”

“No.”

“NO!”

A friend in the midst of single parenting her three young daughters said it once.  “There is so much NO.”  It stuck with me.  I feel like a mean mom some days.  I want to say YES to something.  Anything.  But they want so much that is wrong, so much that would hurt them or somebody else, so much that is detrimental or even dangerous.  And I have to say NO.  Again.

I realize I am often the same way with God.  I ask for so much that would be bad for me, then pout when God says NO.  I believe He has my best interests in His heart, I know He’s the one who sees the future, I realize He wants better for me than I can even comprehend.  But I don’t see it that way in the moment.  Not that I would ever be dumb enough to disagree with the Creator of the universe…

What worries me is the fact that sometimes God says YES when we should accept NO.  He did it when Israel wanted a king like the other nations (I Samuel 8:6-7).  He warned them it wasn’t good for them, He told them they were rejecting Him by asking for a human leader.  But He finally gave them a king because they asked for it.  They rejoiced in the moment, but ultimately it made them miserable – and led to their national ruin.

I fear that.  What if God said YES to my petulant whining for a big old farmhouse when I really need a smaller boring one?  I admit I’ve done it as a mother.  I’ve wrecked dinner with ice cream before.  I’ve let them overdose on Curious George or Man vs. Wild episodes when they should have been running off their God-ordained boy-sized energy outside.  I’ve let them stay up too late.  I’ve cleaned the bathroom when it was their turn.  Don’t go calling Child Protection on me.  We all bear the consequences of the overdose on sugar, the lack of sleep, the entitlement attitude, the pent up energy.  I know better, but sometimes I still allow it.  I’m lazy.  I’m human.  I’m selfish and don’t want to argue again.  I don’t like to say no.

While God doesn’t do wrong, I don’t think He likes to say no to His children either.  So sometimes He says yes to something He knows will hurt us.  Hopefully we come out the other side just a bit bruised, but also a bit wiser.  And more humble.

So I try to pray differently.  I ask for the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4).  But I ask not that He give me what I want – I ask that He put the right wants in my heart.  He loves to give.  He gave me the breath in my lungs, each beat of my heart, the food on my table, the sun to keep me warm, the precious quiet before the whirling dervishes wake up in the morning.  And I pout because He doesn’t give me the big house that would cost me far more than I know.  Because I can’t see that living there might cost me my marriage, or the soul of one of my children, or simply ridiculous expenses that would force me to choose paying for groceries or heating bills in the dead of winter.  I don’t know.  I can’t know.

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I admit my faith has been shaken in the last several years of life.  The Bible says ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will open.  And yet God has said no for five years as I’ve begged him to heal Ben’s legs or fix his brain.  He has said no repeatedly when I’ve asked Him to sell our house.  He said no when I asked that a friend’s child live through cancer.  He said no to fixing the dyslexia with which one son struggles.  No to so many big and little requests.  I wonder sometimes if God even hears me.

Jesus’ own best friends questioned it.  They hung out with God all the time, but even they asked Him, “Lord, just increase our faith.”  We must not be believing hard enough for You to hear us.  We must not be making enough faith.    He said something pivotal.  (Of course.  He’s Jesus.)  “Have faith as a mustard seed.”  Then you can tell a tree to go plant itself in the sea, and it would listen (Luke 17:6), or then you could tell a mountain to move, and it would obey (Matthew 17:20).

But mustard seeds are small, insignificant.  I think Jesus was telling them it isn’t a matter of amount.  I guess faith is more of a light switch.  It’s either off or on.  Either I trust Him – or I don’t.

My two year old does it all the time.  He takes a flying leap off the sofa and expects me to catch him.  He trusts me.  It’s not a matter of amount.  One cannot take a flying leap just a little.  If he trusts, he jumps.  If he doesn’t, he stays on the sofa.  There aren’t degrees of separation.  There aren’t levels of faith.  All that matters is what his faith is in.  Or rather, whom.

And for all the NOs I’ve said to him, even my two year old knows that I’ll say YES when I can.  It doesn’t stop him from asking for everything, all the time.  I mean constantly.  By the minute.  Without rest.  Always.  That’s why there is so much NO.  Even two year olds know there will be a YES sometimes.  So they keep asking till they get it.

So I’ll go glue some hope bits back together and keep an eye on the toddler who may jump at any minute.  And I’ll catch him.  Because that’s what I do.

But they’re still not getting a puppy.

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Cold Noodles

“I hate homeschooling.”  I told my husband in a text in mid-May.

I was very serious.

I had just shooed the toddler off the dining room table where he was dancing on the English papers.  The curtain was smeared with scrambled eggs.  Every. Single. Book. from the lowest bookshelf had been macerated into a pile on the floor.  We’d collectively agonized nearly three hours over math so all the other subjects backed up behind us.  I hadn’t managed to eat breakfast yet, but leftover eggs congealing in the pan didn’t look very appetizing.  I wished the maid hadn’t taken the day off (like she does every day).  The baby was hungry, the kids needed separating, the clean tissues needed restuffing back into the box.  It was raining outside and we still had errands to run.  It was a typical day, and no one was very happy about it.

You might think I’d have this down after having six children.  You might.  But this past year, I felt as lost as a toddler under a Wal Mart clothing rack, pressed in by so many little-sized t-shirts that it felt almost suffocating. There was so much to react to every day that being proactive about things like schoolwork often seemed like a pipe dream.  People commented, “How do you do it?” I simply shrugged.  I didn’t have a good answer.  I wished I knew how to do it too.

I had an infant, a crazy busy toddler, a preschooler in a wheelchair, and three elementary boys with fidgety ants in their pants when they sat still too long.  And we were all crammed in a small house where quiet study seemed an oxymoron.  I staggered out of bed many mornings, bleary eyed from lack of sleep with a nursing infant.  Sometimes I managed to get up for a few minutes of quiet to read and pray and simply think a complete thought before the morning madness pattered down the stairs.  Many other days I was shaken awake by the four year old’s ritual patting of my eyelids and singing the song of his people, “Mo-om, I neeed chocolate milk!”  Some days I wanted to agree with the condescending naysayers who looked at me and clucked their tongues.  “You must be busy!” they’d say as if they knew better than to tread in my shuffling footsteps.  I myself didn’t question if I had enough love for my kids.  But I did question if I had enough time to enact that love through an elementary education.

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helping

Granted, there are many great things about homeschooling.   I get lots of together time with my kids.  We can incorporate chores and life skills.  We catch teachable moments.  Younger ones benefit from trickle-down learning as the older ones do their lessons.  We can work around illnesses and vacations and doctor appointments.  I can cater to my kids’ individual learning styles – honing their strengths and gently stretching the muscles of their weaknesses.  I don’t have to pack lunches every night or scramble everyone out the door on bitter early mornings all winter.  We can foster healthy socialization in multiple peer groups beyond just physical age or ability.  I can protect them from bullying and peer pressure while they are still young and in need of a champion.  I get the singular joy of being the one to see the lightbulb turn on when they realize they’re able to read.  And of course, I obey the command of God who led me and my husband to train up our children in this way in the first place.

But.

But there’s a lot that the curriculum writers and Pinterest sites and positive statistics don’t reveal about homeschooling.  There are a lot of dark days in November and February when no one, least of all the teacher, want to do school, and the house is buried under months of snow and clutter and unfinished projects.  The toddler occasionally really does get neglected and does lots of pen and ink art on your white sheets.  The four year old hides pepperoni in the hole of the guitar.  Long division blurs the lines between logic and inhumane punishment.  The baby is colicky or teething and practices pterodactyl screeching though the morning lessons.  Everyone has a different learning style.  Mom has a headache for a straight month (that was the dreary month of April).  She gives up on science completely and also vows never to allow play dough or glitter to enter the house ever ever again.  She yells and feels guilty and lets them eat sugar when they really need a simple consequence and a carrot for a snack.  She cannot seem to teach spelling.  She feels like a complete and utter and lonely failure at this simple job of motherhood-marriage-homemaking-teacher-cook-chauffeur-planner-nurse-friend-plumber-seamstress-ultra marathoner-counselor-mortician-beautician-podiatrist-bug-killer which she is sure everyone else just does naturally.  She feeds her family cold leftover lasagna for supper because she’s in such a hurry for bedtime.  And she prays Dear God give me a bigger house because I will explode if we’re all on top of each other 24-7 for another year.  And she really thinks she might.

cold noodles
cold noodles

So it was with much prayer and a deep breath that I rolled out of bed on the first day of school this Fall.  I sat up – and killed a spider before my feet even hit the floor.  Great.  I hadn’t even said a word to the kids and already guts were everywhere.

“You’re sure you want me to do this?” I asked God for the thousand and eleventh time as I wiped spider legs off the baseboard.  “You remember me, the girl who hated math, who is anything but a leader, who has a baby and a crazy toddler, and who, I might add, knows some really great teachers – You’re positive that I’m the one most qualified for the job educating my precious offspring this year?”

And as He does, God gently pushed a verse into the fuzz of my morning brain.  “Follow Me, and I will make you…”

I know the context.  Jesus was talking to Peter in a heart-to-heart on the beach.  He had died and come to life again, but He wanted to hang out with His friends before He headed home for a while.  Peter had been shaken by his Friend’s death.  Peter had been so brave and strong, so outspoken, so sure of himself all his life. But he had crumbled like an October leaf when following Jesus turned out not to mean a valiant revolution ending in glory, but an unjust slide into humiliating  torture and shameful death.  When push came to shoving, Peter’s ego had fallen in the mud.  It was in this humble place, hearing Jesus’ invitation, that Peter had accepted the greatest job of his life.  It was the job he finally realized he was unqualified to do.  It was only Jesus’ call that qualified him to do it.

So I got up.  I fed my kids.  I read to them.  I cleaned chex mix off the floor and taught the four year old to hold his crayon right.  I practiced multiplication tables and phonics.  I showed them how to clean toilets and empty the dishwasher and pretend to let the 2 year old help.  I nursed the baby and studied earthworms with the four year old in the garden. And you know what?  I still yelled some.  I still felt frustrated and overwhelmed.  I still have trouble teaching spelling.  But maybe not so much.  Because He’s making me.  And that’s a process.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Neither are children.

Neither are teachers.

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The Decade

Ten years ago in July, I walked down the hall of the radiology department at the hospital where I’d gotten a job just a month before.  My friend walked with me to an open doorway.  A man sat in the low light next to a bulky ultrasound machine, paging though paperwork, but looked up with a smile as we appeared.  It was a quiet Friday afternoon, the weekend having already begun for most of the white-collar workers in the hospital.  My friend whispered a few words to the man in blue scrubs.  He looked at me, motioning toward the cot next to his machine.  “I just realized I need to test this new transducer before I use it on patients next week,” he grinned.  “Let’s see if it can find anything.”  I obediently lay down, pulling up the long hem of my own blue uniform.   He squirted warm gel around my bellybutton before placing the transducer on it.  And that was the moment my life changed.

I don’t know why it surprised me.  We’d been married four years already.  We weren’t doing anything to prevent it.  But when I saw the grainy black and white picture of that cherry-sized baby with a real honest beating heart, I caught my breath.  A month’s worth of emotions flooded me in those 60 seconds.  Awe, terror, pride, worry, exasperation, jubilation, nausea, and a dose of wonder spilled from my eyes.  This little thing was the biggest thing I’d ever done.  And I wasn’t very sure how I was supposed to do it from here.  Not at all.

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Taking a big bite out of life, nine years ago…

We bought our first house that Fall.  We bought baby books.

We got insurance.  We got a used crib.

We took childbirth classes.  We took pictures of my expanding frame.

We picked names.  We picked out little baby shoes and wipes warmers and fancy diaper bags that we didn’t yet know that we really wouldn’t need.

I learned to count contractions.  And I learned that none of that really matters when you finally hold your newborn in your arms for the first time.

Today, my firstborn is nine.  He’s sitting across from me on the sofa with too-big sunglasses on, intently creating a new language in florescent yellow highlighter.  When he gets to the end of the paper, he looks up to ask (again) if he can play a video game.  I refuse (again).  So he wanders out to the kitchen to get a banana, he says, but reappears with an orange popsicle.  Then he buries himself in the pages of The Hobbit, gangly legs draped over the sofa into the ever-present overflowing basket of laundry.  I steal his flip flops to run outside to check on his little brothers clustered around the sand box.  And I can tell you now, a decade to the day since I saw him first, I am still not very sure how I’m supposed to do it from here.  Not at all.

Now I wake up to bullets and land mines littering the floor.  Nerf bullets and legos – but it can still be disconcerting to have something whizz past your ear and something else jab your barefoot when you’re innocently making a double batch of lasagna.

Now my weight and hair color and what people think of me matters less.

Now much of my day is spent talking, moving, touching, and searching out margins of breathing space around the breathlessly full middle.

Now I try to explain fractions and long division and algebra, now I diagram sentences and try to make sense of the English language to 6 year olds even though it doesn’t, now I repeat the abc song for the upteenth time in 24 hours and listen to the latest mutilation of l-m-n-o-p by the preschooler.  Now I do things I never believed I’d have to after I passed 3rd grade myself.

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Learning to stand on their own feet

Now science is in the kitchen and history happens on car rides.  Now math is at the grocery store and reading happens at bedtime in footie pajamas.  Now I still stay up too late working on homework and research because I now know you’re never too old to learn something new.

Now I say “NO” at least every 2 minutes.

Now ice cubes and mud are fun and the world of bugs and rodents is full of wonder and cardboard and used cans offer hours of entertainment.

Now I know the unequivocally priceless laughter of a happy baby and the world-shaking moment when a child realizes he can read.

Now I am constantly challenged to be proactive rather than reactive to the many demands of my day.

Now I sit around home all day and eat Oreos and watch soap operas.  (Ok, no, I don’t.  Just throwing that in there for my husband.  Hehe.)

Now I think, and vote, and surf the internet not to change how the world is, but how I want it to be when my kids grow into it.

Now someone else always gets the last piece of pie and I get the leftover used bananas.  But now I hide the good chocolate and try to convince everyone else that kale is actually tasty.

Now I question authority more than I ever did as a teenager because what happens in the dark will be held accountable in the light at the ultimate end of the day.

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Now I try to meal plan, form chore charts, establish routines, list everything, and learn grace when it spontaneously combusts.  Every day.

Now people around me are smaller, but my car and laundry load are much bigger.

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Now I know the kind of love that would offer my own two feet if it could make someone else able to walk.  I don’t think I ever loved anyone that much 10 years ago.

Now I’m still not sure how I’m supposed to do it all from here.  We’re still squeezed into our first house, but the baby books are long gone as well as the used crib, the wipes warmers, and everything I learned in childbirth classes.  But it is still the biggest thing I’ve ever done.

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Funny, I never realized that ten years of my life would effect eternity.

They don’t seem so long after all.

Prodigal Vegetable

I’m not one to worry.  Oh wait, I’m a mom.  Maybe I do worry. Sometimes.  A little.  There are six young daredevils who are, most of the time, in my sole care.  If one complains of a headache I immediately consider the possibility he needs brain surgery again. Another is a toddler who defies gravity and usually loses.  I’m actually the queen of worriers.  I’m a worry warrior.  (Say that out loud a few times!)

I worry about my kids, my house, my husband, my stuff.  I worry my teeth are getting more crooked.  I worry I’m a bad mom.  I worry about my country.  I worry about mice getting into the chocolate chips.  I worry my vacuum is gonna die (I pray for it regularly.)  I worry about scarring the neighborhood with my children’s ghetto lawn ornaments (generally an assortment of nerf guns, various pieces of discarded clothing, and creative handmade squirrel traps.)  I’ve been practicing worry for years, and I’m getting good.

But I know better than to let it control me.  Of course I do.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have let two of my children go on a Spring expedition into the wilderness a few evenings ago.  Perhaps I knew it involved fording a small river because they asked me to pack extra clothes.  But perhaps they shouldn’t be tied to mama’s apron strings so tight they can’t occasionally get their feet wet.  Right?

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Probably every culture has some indigenous foods that anyone hungry enough for the adventure can get.  Come Spring around here, it’s fiddlehead season.  Fiddleheads are tightly curled Ostrich Fern fronds.  They grow along shady riverbanks locally.  For a few weeks every year, people – like my dad- go out and harvest them.  This year, Grampy invited my two oldest boys along to help. It was sort of a coming-of-age ritual that was expected to involve water in boots and playing host to a blackfly family reunion. But the result is usually a decent haul of fresh, free vegetables that are quite palatable (as far as vegetables go. Chocolate is, unfortunately, not indigenous, but the upside is that I find no reason to relegate chocolate to a single season for eating.)

So off they went and I stayed home.  Not worrying.  I made supper.  I fed the four kids still tied to my apron strings.  Still not worrying.  My husband came home.  I bathed each child, dodging water gun squirts from the toddler as I mopped up puddles and made sure they weren’t drowning (because that’s my job after all, to keep them safe.)  I added diapers and pajamas to wriggling little bodies as it started to get dark.  Finally, I sent my dad a text.  Not because I was worrying of course.  Just curious.  He didn’t answer.  I put the boys to bed and sat to feed the baby on the sofa that strategically faced the window.

Ok.  I was worried.

About the time I finally admitted it, a taxi drove up.  My dad climbed out.  I craned my neck to see.  One… Two boys climbed out.  Relief flooded me.  Apparently no one had been washed down the river getting their vegetables.  That would have been tragic on so many levels.  I didn’t know why Grampy’s truck hadn’t returned, but that seemed a small casualty by comparison.

They tumbled in, slightly muddy around the edges, and my oldest announced triumphantly, “That was awesome!” The other grinned in agreement. “And turns out I like popcorn!”

The story came out in breathless pieces.  Since they’d had to ford the river, my dad had decided to lock his wallet and cell phone in the car rather than get them soaked in his pocket.  He’d put the key in his pocket.  The pocket had a hole.  The key found it.  Not until they’d returned with their haul of fern heads did they realize they weren’t getting home that way.  So plan B.  Off they walked to find civilization.  A lady at the third house they found welcomed them in to use the phone.  (And fed the intrepid explorers some popcorn.)  Unfortunately they all have come to rely on preset contacts on our phones, so none of them – neither my dad nor either of my kids – correctly knew another phone number.  (We don’t even have a home phone hooked up at the moment and some phone numbers have changed recently.  Don’t judge.)  So they couldn’t call anyone they knew to come to the rescue.  Hence, the taxi ride.

My husband and dad went off to get an extra key and return to the river for the truck.  I checked the boys for ticks and commandeered their trekking clothes in exchange for pajamas.  They trundled off to bed.

I promised to teach them all the important family phone numbers the next morning.  Maybe they don’t need my apron strings anymore, but they do need an open phone line to mom.  The ties that really bind.  May they never forget it.

photo by Grampy
photo by Grampy

I went to bed suddenly much less worried about the vacuum, the yard décor, or the chocolate chips.  Funny how you can lose someone for a few hours, and when you find them again, suddenly nothing else seems so important.  So rejoice with me. They were lost, but now they’re found.  And my freezer is filling with vegetables.  Kill the fatted fiddlehead, let’s celebrate!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Pride

“Mom, I put deodorant on today.”  My eight year old announced when he came through the door on Friday afternoon.

“Oh, good, honey… What kind?” I asked, wondering if he’d grabbed my stick or my husband’s off the shelf that morning.

“The best smell in the world – beef jerky!” He announced proudly.  He watched my mouth open and close as no sound escaped, and continued brightly, “I chewed it and then rubbed it under my arms.  It’s irresistible!!”

I let my breath out through my teeth.  “Ahh… well, we’ll get you some real deodorant this week.  Then you won’t have to be so… irresistible.

It wasn’t till I walked away and digested his words that I wondered what he’d done with the jerky after using it for his creative purposes…

My list of parenting failures is extensive.  Not only did my oldest smell like garlicky rotten meat, but my toddler rubbed yogurt all over his shirt. My four year old in the wheelchair thinks it’s cute to answer every stranger’s genial hello with a growl.  My six year old is addicted to sugar.  My seven year old finished his dreaded handwriting assignment, then balled it up and tried to eat it in protest. The three month old can’t seem to unplug the painful blocked milk duct through nursing.  And I won’t even tell you I hid in the bathroom to surf Facebook and I realized mice had visited the pasta after I threw it in the boiling water and I forgot to pray and I threw a tantrum about my super small house.  I failed.  And that was just today.  I’m convinced all the pretty and perky moms around me must roll their perfectly made up eyes and gently steer their clean obedient children with white shoes in the opposite direction from this disheveled mom and her motley crew whining in mismatched puddle boots.

I feel like a victim.

Of course, there are some days when I have my ducks lined up in a cute row behind me.  Some days I remember to neither wear white nor black so the dirt smudges, pizza, kid snot and baby drool don’t show quite so well.  Some days a child will read a whole chapter book from his school list without it being assigned, or do a chore without prodding.  Some days they share something other than just germs.  Some days they just want to play with ice cubes rather than something expensive that requires mommy to use any glue or patience.  Some days I not only make a meal plan but follow it.  Some days they eat it too.  Some days I remember I have a husband.  Some days I brave Wal Mart with six kids and a wheelchair and win.  Some days nobody cries.  Not even me.

And I feel like a supermom.

But for my own sake and yours, don’t treat me like either. Both are pretty little lies. From the pit.

If you ever notice me acting like either option, please pull me out of the bathroom where I’m hiding. And take away the empty bag of chocolate.  Hand me a stiff drink of coffee and a Bible and remind me of the servant in Luke 17.  He worked all day in the fields.  When he came in, naturally, he was tired and hungry.  But it was still his duty to make sure his master was fed and attended to before he could rest himself.  This feels uncannily familiar.  I’d like to think this is unfair.  Wouldn’t he be justified to feel like a victim having to do so much every day? And shouldn’t he be rewarded if he did manage to work a long day and continue on through the evening?

No.  He is doing simply what is expected.  Neither more nor less.  The master knows his capabilities.  He furnishes his tools.  He assures the servant of a good meal and sufficient rest when the work is done.  He doesn’t feel sorry for him.  He doesn’t give him a medal for simply doing his daily work.  I don’t know why I’m saying he.   This is personal.

The comment I hear most often is from someone shaking their head murmuring, “You sure are busy!”  As if that’s the most piteous thing in the world.  Granted, I don’t have a lot of downtime.  I can’t tell you the last time I watched a movie or went aimlessly shopping or even found time to blog or shower without some little person popping shamelessly in asking for something.  I’m not a victim because of that.  I have been given great gifts and the responsibility that comes along with them. Throwing pity parties and allowing others to bring cake and allow me to wallow in it is gross.  Is it really so negative to have a full life?  That’s a lie.  From the pit.

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no looking through rose colored glasses here

But to feel like I am somehow capable of raising another six souls to be both smart and wise, both gentle and strong, both quick and careful, both pure and prepared, both confident enough to cook their own goose and yet willing to eat humble pie when justly served- who do I think I am?!?  This work is hard.  No matter how much I love these grubby little creatures that share my DNA, this job is beyond me. Maybe, just maybe, if I had a PhD in nutrition, kinesiology, medicine, teaching, engineering, homemaking, and child psychology – and my kids fit into preconceived boxes – maybe if I could function on an hour of sleep a day, maybe if I had a thousand years, and a maid, and chauffeur, individual tutors, the latest medical interventions, wings, eyes in the back of my head, a mansion, lightning reflexes, sage wisdom, understanding in rocket science, patience, and the ability to see the future- maybe then, I could do this motherhood thing pretty well. But I’m not God. I royally mess this gig up.  Daily.  To think I’m up to this is – say it with me – a lie.  From the pit.

No. I am what I am by the grace of God.  That deserves neither pity nor pride.  I am pushed to the limits, though I often find in the pushing that I go further than I would have taken myself.  That’s not a bad thing.

Beef jerky deodorant, on the other hand…

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Quarter For Your Thoughts

“The first impression of [Israel] was of the strangely small scale of everything. But before nightfall one came to realize that this is an intrinsic part- that God wants to show us nothing is great or small to Him who inhabited eternity in its dimensions of space as well as time. It is a pivot land – and pivots are apt to be small things in the eyes of those who do not understand their meaning.” – Lilias Trotter (From A Blossom in the Desert, page 203.)

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You’ve heard the phrase, “turn on a dime”? Well this time, I turned on a quarter.  Blame inflation.
It was a while in coming. The quarter, I mean. Actually, it was twelve days ago that my son lost it. No, I take that back; he knew where it was. He just couldn’t get it.
It was inside his body.
It stopped briefly in his throat, which took years off my life. (Don’t you hold your allowance in your mouth when you wrestle with your brothers?) But then it passed more calmly into his stomach. It took a leisurely stroll though his intestines. At some point in the last week, it exited the premises. I missed it.
Never has twenty five cents been so anticipated. (Except perhaps when one of my kids is expecting the tooth fairy’s inaugural visit.)
Since it made it successfully though the esophagus, I had decided it didn’t necessitate an Emergency Room visit (I try to save those for brain infections.) But, like any parent with wi-fi would have, I googled possible scenarios. Apparently my five year old isn’t the first to swallow a quarter and forget to chew it first.  Some people said it would pass harmlessly along its way. Unless it didn’t.
So we waited.

the Henry
the Henry

It’s not the first time a child has swallowed something undigestible (other than bubblegum, red dye #40, and good old fashioned dirt).  Ben swallowed my earring when he was ten months old.  But he was wearing a diaper, so checking for a diamond in the rough was a bit easier than with five year old Henry.  That was interesting.

I finally called the doctor.  He recommended an x-ray.  So I trooped all six kids over to the health center, pushing wheelchairs and double strollers across the parking lot against a biting winter wind.  Half a dozen hands smashed the automatic door opener buttons repeatedly until the security guard gently pushed his from inside.  We know how to make an entrance.  I had visions of Child Protection Services storming the double doors behind us and commandeering my children from the unfit mother who feeds her kids pocket change.  Thankfully, it was fairly quick.  We escaped before they arrived.

But driving home, I reflected on the scene.  Who could have thought this would be my life?  I remember being 18 and halfway around the world in college, slightly chubby from having just discovered Nutella, wondering what the future would hold.  The wife of one of the teachers prayed with me one evening.  Afterwards, she described a little rowboat tied up to a dock.  It pulled against the ropes that held it, but couldn’t leave with the outgoing tide.  Not yet.  I was nonplussed.  Was that my life?  I wondered what I had to do to get free from the ropes.  I was ready!  Why couldn’t I go?

For years, I realized, I had been waiting.  Waiting to attain, to grow up.  Waiting for the future.  But I didn’t need to wait anymore.  (Except for bedtime. Always.)  Like many women, I’d been raised with the expectation I would “do something” with my life.  Wife and mom might be some my hats, but not the only.  Why settle?  I could be woman of consequence. I could have a full, meaningful life.  I could effect many lives as a teacher, a journalist, a nurse, or a missionary.

But here I was looking for pocket change in the nether regions of my son’s gut.

Here I was driving a rusting Yukon brim full of car seats and a wheelchair with light-up wheels.

Here I was explaining fractions and proper nouns around the dining room table and trying not to cry over spilled cheerios and milk.

Here I was, wife and motherhood overflowing the twenty four hours of every single day.

And I realized as I left the x-ray building with my ducklings trailing behind, that here, right where I was, I was doing my life’s work.  My magnum opus in puddle boots.  This work, no matter how menial, tedious, and sticky, was my greatest accomplishment. Sure, I could do other things, but nothing of greater consequence or longer lasting effect.  I wasn’t waiting for the big purpose of my life.

I was living it.

In waiting for a quarter, I realized I didn’t need to wait anymore.  I was no longer tied to the dock.  My little ship had sailed.  (Actually, it was rowing across choppy waters breathlessly, but definitely going somewhere.)

I shouldn’t despise the days of small things.  Turns out they’re the pivotal days of my life.

Hope no one has to swallow anything bigger for me to learn the next lesson.  This could get expensive.

Letter to My Unborn Son

This was the first post I ever wrote on this blog, one and a half years ago.  But as I prepare for the impending birth of my next son, I still mean every word.

Dear Child,

I haven’t met you.  I don’t know you (though your roundhouse kicks to my ribs hint at strength and stubbornness ahead).  But I love you already and can’t wait to meet you next month.

I want the best for you.  Unfortunately, I am completely inadequate to be your mother.  Even if I pour my life into parenting you, I will fall short.  Already I do.  (Sorry about those doughnuts.  They gave us both a sugar crash later.)  Just ask your brothers in a few years, when they’re teenagers and you learn how to talk, they’ll tell you.  I will fail you.

I will get mad when isn’t your fault.

I will be too busy when you really just need me to listen.

I will be too lenient when you’re testing rules that should be safe and solid.

I will be too harsh when discipline isn’t the best teacher.

I will say no when I should say yes.

I will be a bad mom sometimes.  I’m sorry in advance.  Is this how Mary felt as she considered being Jesus’ mommy?  We’ve been entrusted with the impossible job of parenting perfectly.  No pressure.  It’s harder than you might think.

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For the record, sometimes you will think I’m being a bad mom when I’m actually trying to do what’s good for you.

I will say no when I shouldn’t say yes.  (More on that when you’re 2).

I will discipline you when you do wrong, belligerently disobey, or try to hurt someone.

I will set rules that must not be broken to protect your own safety and health.

I will teach you manners.

I will not give you candy before supper.

I will expect you to practice helping anyone who is smaller or weaker than you, and all girls, no matter how tough they are.

I will observe bedtime.

I will give you good food when you ask for junk, kick you outside to play when you want to watch too much t.v., and won’t move the car until you’re buckled.

Because even Mary had to set boundaries for Jesus when He was little.  Even Jesus couldn’t play in traffic.  Even Jesus had to take turns.  Even Jesus had to learn to read when he would rather have been in the sandbox.

Jesus didn’t come to earth because it was going to be easy.  He didn’t pick Mary for His mom because she was perfect, or beautiful, or rich.  He didn’t come to be comfortable.  Jesus didn’t come to earth to be happy.

He came to a hard world, a young, imperfect mother, and a very difficult, painful purpose.  It pleased God – His Dad – to put Him here.  His Dad loved Him more than I even love you (because He could).  So because I love you, I must expect the same for you.  I want more for you than just happiness.

It’s a little late for you to back out of this.  In fact, I’m expecting you to jump in head first.  Literally.  But don’t worry, even Jesus laughed sometimes.  In fact, I’m pretty sure He had an infectious giggle.  Even when He grew up, kids loved being around Him, so He must have been a pretty fun guy.

He had lots of brothers, just like you.

He enjoyed food, just like you will. (He spent lots of time eating with friends).

He had lots of energy, just like you. (He worked hard and walked everywhere).

He had an awe of nature, knowing that His Dad had made it to be enjoyed and used by Him as well as you.

He had the power to fill and to break His mom’s heart, just like you.

And He knew His mom loved him.  Just like you.

There are mountains to climb out here.  There are books to read.  There is chocolate; there is steak.  There are pretty girls (we’ll discuss them later…)  There is hard work, sweat, and pain.  But there is laughter, deep joy, and times of rest.  There are big trucks.  There is darkness.  There is hope.  There are hugs and cuddles.  There is lonliness.  There are puppies.  There is dirt.  There is ice cream.  There is so much to discover.

I cannot promise you happiness.  But I will try to teach you joy.

I cannot promise you painlessness.   But I will be there to kiss your booboos and stick on band aids.

I cannot promise you comfort.  But I will try to buffer the hurts when I know they are coming.

I cannot promise you immediate gratification.  But I will try to help you accept the waiting.

I cannot promise you sunshine and warmth.  But I will dance with you in the rain.

I cannot promise you won’t get dirty.  But I will give you bubble baths.

I cannot promise you won’t get sick.  But I will soothe your pain.

I cannot promise you won’t be afraid.  But I will chase monsters with you in the dark and hold your hand when you feel small.

I cannot promise you won’t fail.  You will make mistakes; you will try your hardest and still lose.  Sometimes.  But I will help you get up and try again.  And again.  And again.

I cannot promise I won’t fail you.  In fact, I guarantee I will.  But I will teach you about Jesus’ Dad – the One who put you here in the first place – and I guarantee He will never fail you.  I can’t wait to introduce you to Him.

I’m looking forward to joining you on the grand adventure, baby.  See you soon!

Love, Mom

They're waiting for you...
They’re waiting for you…

P.S.  That first step of life is a doozy.  For both of us.  You can start practicing now being a good sleeper for mama, ok?  Thanks.

Between the Lines

Maybe I sighed as I threw the sixth load of laundry in the wash that afternoon.  After a hardy round of stomach flu circulating through the young male population of my house, I was in sanitizing mode.  And maybe I was tired.  Maybe I was just a little bit done.  Except, I wasn’t done, of course.  Motherhood starts with the marathon of childbirth and doesn’t really let up.  At least, it hasn’t for me in the last nine years.  Oh, I have wonderful, memorable, spectacular days as a mother and I absolutely love this life I’m called to.  But that doesn’t negate the fact that strings of sleepless nights catching puke falling from various bunk beds can make basic daily functions close to impossible.  Like explaining algebra.  And describing cancer.  And remembering to eat.

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hide me

So where was I?  Oh, at that place called done.  The dishes were marinading in a sink soup full of swollen cheerios, hard boiled eggs, and orange juice from breakfast and pickles and ketchupy-chunks of leftover chicken nuggets from lunch.  The aroma was starting to pervade the kitchen and blend with the overflowing trash.  The dining room table was piled with the half-finished remnants of math and the toddler’s attempt to doodle on every page of my planner, then rip out said page and stuff it in his mouth until soggy.  Someone had spent an inordinate amount of effort to painstakingly cut the corners off of several sheets of construction paper.  They kept cutting corners until there was no paper left.  Just snipped-off corners.  Hundreds.  Under the table.

The living room was paved with library books.  Most still appeared intact.  I only saw a few loose pages.  It was hard to tell, though, since half of them were buried under the other five loads of laundry that were waiting to be folded when I got around to it.

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It was getting close to supper time, but I didn’t have any idea what to make.  Half the clan probably wouldn’t eat much anyway, since it wasn’t staying down.  The other half was fragile, just recovering appetites and digestive function.  Chicken soup would have been nice.  If someone else could have made it.  Personally, I was starving.  But I didn’t have the time or ingredients for a decent supper now, nor could I find the counter space or a chance to run to the store.  Daddy wouldn’t be home from work for hours still.  He would sleep all-too-briefly and return to work while it was still dark.  It wasn’t the time to dump the dirty laundry in his corner.  Not today.

That’s when I noticed.  It was quiet.  True, the toddler had just climbed up on the little table behind me while I was staring dejectedly at the counter, and was now munching happily on several apples. (He alternated bites between the three that had been left there.)  So he was accounted for.  But I had four other boys.  Why was it quiet?  Had I missed the rapture and everyone left without me?

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Heart rate rising, I peeked around the corner and almost missed the bodies.  They weren’t moving.  The oldest was on the sofa amidst a pile of blankets and sheets which awaited a semblance of folding.  His face was hidden behind a chapter book on the pilgrims.  Only the toe sticking out from his old sock twitched languidly.  The second and fourth lay sprawled together over a big book with about a viking village, picking out the scruffiest looking caricatures on each page to claim as their own character.  The third was engrossed in a kids’ book about the body that we had pulled out earlier when talking about how germs make us sick.  He was propped up in one of the laundry baskets, unconsciously twirling a lock of hair into a tight knot on the back of his head.  I stared from the doorway.  What manner of witchery was this?

But as I gazed over the quiet chaos, I smiled.  This wasn’t really an unusual scene.  True, it was odd for everyone to choose the same activity at the same time, but the mess was certainly normal.  The haphazard bodies were normal.  But even the little minds soaking in books were normal.  And that was the beautiful thing.  It was the end of a school day, nearly the end of a sick day, the end of a messy, tiring, overwhelming day.   I couldn’t wait for it to end.  But in my Martha-like busy-ness, I was about to miss the delicate sweetness of this moment.  The overwhelming chaos so bulky in my view almost barred me from missing the whole point.

My kids were together, safe, warm, resting, healing.  And learning at the same time.  Yes, the house was messy and smelled like old diapers and used chicken.  Yes, we were officially behind on spelling practice and science experiments.  Yes, my husband would have to come home to eat cold cereal (again.)  Yes, I would probably be woken several times in the night to catch more puke.  But this simple moment – finding my children together, choosing to read – vindicated so much of the craziness of my daily life.

It’s a little thing.  But it made a world of difference to me that afternoon.  There is actually young fruit showing on the vines.  The scene reminded me why I stay at home as a mom, even though money can be tight on one paycheck.  It reminded me why I homeschool, even though it’s so difficult to get everything done for every grade every day.  This is why I plod through days when my back is sore and my eyelids are propped open with caffeine and all I really want is to cry or take a looong nap.  There are days when I see no proof in the pudding because the pudding is all over the baby and the floor and probably my cell phone.  But those days, I still have to keep mothering – and teaching – and housemaking – and chauffeuring – and cooking – and hugging – and trusting that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be.  And every once in a great while, I’ll see evidence to support it.

So I took a deep breath and went back to the kitchen.  Because I guess I’m not quite done yet.

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