Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Almost Here

We've been counting down the days till school is over-at least I have two boys that have been counting and one that will probably be a little sad to leave, if he would ever admit that.  We have a fun summer planned-I think I have found the right balance of short morning camps a few weeks for the boys, and lots of down time where they can swim and play and hang out.  Hopefully lots of hard work for the older ones. It won't be a perfect balance I'm sure, it never is, but hopefully after this many years of parenting I have a better chance of finding that happy medium. Some years with babies it's better to do nothing, other years it works to find those activities to wear them out and get them up and at it in the morning.

Andrew ran and won class president.  It is interesting how some kids just have the guts and desire to do these things and others do not. So far there has been a little pattern in our family. He was so nervous the day he had to give his speech-he said the nervous feeling was 1000 worse than the play and he felt sick all day and couldn't eat lunch.  

Of course (I'm saying that because it seems like these types of kids work this way?) he didn't have his speech written, typed or practiced till an hour after bedtime the night before.  (I bite my tongue because procrastination makes me so stressed!) I had already fallen asleep putting Janey to bed and I woke up in the middle of the night with that feeling of forgetting something-I realized I felt this awful guilt for not working on it with him or listening to him speak.  What if when I woke up he hadn't finished it or it wasn't ok?  I know everyone else was either tired or busy (exam week, Jeff working a bunch) so he was on his own (and in line for computer time to boot) that night.

That morning, I saw the draft on the table and read it and just had a good laugh. It was perfect, 100% him all the way through.  Once again I am reminded of one of the benefits of having a big family, minus the guilt we moms always feel when it doesn't seem like there is enough of us to go around-there is really a rare chance that I get to helicopter parent or smother anyone.  It's a big lesson in DIY for the kids.  

Here's the second half of a rough draft-it's a boy-version of Summer Wheatley's Napoleon Dynamite speech-Flaming Hot Cheetos vs. Bonne Bell dispenser?  Maybe that's why I adore it.

I waited with trepidation at the end of the day-he had instructions to borrow a cell phone as he was riding with friends around town right after school-and PLEASE let me know if he had won or not.  I had butterflies that hour before and then was so happy for him.  And I let everyone in the family know, and then I thought about the kids running for student council that didn't win and felt a pain in my heart.  

This is what I have found with the kids growing up-we moms all feel each other's pain-the pain we feel when our children face an obstacle or a set-back.  I've had enough of them-from dating break-ups (the worse both ways), to not making anything (team, etc) for years, to the big game loss, etc.  We are all in this together.  As many joys as there are in the younger years, after jr high we moms really ride an emotionally rocky road sometimes.  I always say, "I've already been through this once when I was growing up myself, why do I have to go through it all over again?"  Six times!  There is so much joy in the moment and then letting go and saying little prayers during the hard stuff.  We feel their joy and their pain as moms.  I want them all to be ok.

Soccer is finishing up-a rainy season with way too many make-up games at the end while the sun is setting, but ready to be finished for sure.

My grocery buddy.  I was thinking of how when I had babies, I'd try to go as long as possible between jaunts to the store (never made it much more than a week) and now I find myself going 2-3 times a week-I have more time and no baby in a car seat and more big kids eating lots of food.  I can plan 1/2 week out at a time and it's easier for my brain to do that now.

Abbey is studying abroad for 6 weeks and I'm so happy for her-she worked hard for this and is having the time of her life.  Another lesson in DIY-I have NO idea how to pack for these things and we laughed because Isaac is no help as he shoved a bunch of things in a back pack the night before he left for his trip last year.  She figured it out herself and then had to readjust when we completely forgot about the weight of the suitcase (thankfully early that morning and not at the airport and only because Jeff had said, "this is way too heavy!" and pulled out the scale.) My advice was to bring comfortable shoes and a lot of black and white clothing so it all matches. That's all I had to give her.  She started in NYC (which she loved) and then headed to Athens (which she loved) and then to Paris (which she was on the fence about for the first couple days and then said she loved) and now Berlin, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Madrid.  

Mostly we get photos of food with "It's awesome here!"
 I have to admit it all looks good enough to travel many miles for.

Isaac is turning 23 this Friday!   
I can't help thinking about how long ago that seems (I was just 25 and had been married 9 months) and how wonderful and life-changing that first baby is-and really really hard too.  When people ask me how I do "it" as I've had each baby, I always say each baby is hard in his or her own way-each one brings a life change for me (and the whole family!)-a metamorphism of some type that I needed but didn't know it then.  A huge learning experience. 

And those changes happen over time and the hard part of them is we don't know where we will end up-we don't know where God wants us to be at the end but we always know what the end feels like.  Like a giant ah-ha moment, getting the answers to a big test, a feeling of contentment and acceptance-huge acceptance of a new normal-from our bodies, to our homes, to our relationships, to our emotional health, just really a shedding of skin and a blossoming into something new and changed and more mature and well...just better.  

And that happens again and again and again through life.  I remember saying to my mom once (it was during the teen years as that is a huge period of growth and acceptance for us moms I think as well as kids) that I wanted all this change to be over and just be at peace and stop learning lessons.  And she said, "Honey that never stops!  You will keep growing and changing and learning till you are dead."  Some of it gets easier, really it does, and then something new will present itself on our horizons-a new life lesson-and there we go again. And not fighting that change, and finding peace through prayer and trust in God-I think that's called grace maybe.  

But what do I know.

But that first one-that love never felt before, wonderful, but heavy.  The weight of that new love is what changes us I think, if we fully accept it as the responsibility it is.  I think some of the messages new moms have been receiving lately, which has changed from a couple decades ago, have been to not feel that weight-to go on and keep "self" as forefront. And also that you need to buy really expensive stuff as baby accessories-or is the baby an accessory to the stuff?  I don't know-but plenty of moms have had babies with a few dollars to their name (me for one).  I have the fondest memories of those "poor" days and my days at home alone with this little guy while I learned how to be a mom-scared to death, and totally in love and finding my way.

My Memorial Day baby-what comes to mind off the top of my head:
-an extremely painful drug free posterior birth that was worth every second
-a tiny but lovely little duplex with huge trees in a quiet neighborhood
-how uncomfortable and nervous I was with anyone holding him and how I couldn't sleep without him next to me
-my MIL bringing me a huge basket of every kind of fruit which was heaven to me
-my mother coming for a weekend in between teaching and how I felt pure panic when she left 
-using change from Jeff's change jar he had since high school because we were that broke
 -strapping him into the front carrier and going for walk after walk
-how hot it was that summer 
-the scale tipping at 24 pounds at six months old, purely on breast milk alone
-because I fed him every two hours around the clock for months and months
-being really really tired
-how everyone commented on how happy and content he was and how much he smiled at them
-how we never ever cried or fussed
-how Jeff was the most helpful husband and a father who was equally infatuated with our baby

Happy Birthday Isaac!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Encouragement For The Week

We don't really need to be pushed around by the press of life;we just think we do. 
Somehow we have given value to being overly committed. 
In most cases, we have freedom and capacity to choose. 
Cultural pressures are real;make no mistake about that. 
But who wants the culture to run their lives? 
Each set of parents is charged with responsibility for their children. 
They must choose goals they consider valuable and then make private decisions to implement them. 
Life of full of good choices between good, better and best. 
Gladys Hunt
Honey For A Child's Heart

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Three Good Books

I'm not usually one that likes book that hop from present to past, but I did like this one.  It's the story of a slave and her attempt to escape, and attorney who is struggling with her relationship with her father.  It's an easy read but very well written.

I really really liked this book. It's another one of my string of "struggling out of an intense childhood" books-a memoir.   A family split up in as many ways as possible-father leaving, grandparents (really step-grandmother raising her), mother unable to be in her life, and many siblings that had been put up for adoption as infants.  It is heart-wrenching but what is always amazing to me is how these children who grow up neglected, hungry, sometimes abused, really rarely know no different-and how that usually ends up helping them survive, but also comes back to haunt them when they discover it wasn't all ok.  And almost always, they want their family-they want it to work, to find a way to not be torn from what they know.  It's so much to think about.

I loved this book-another memoir.  Cea is raised by a "hippy" teen mother and grandparents that are honestly, just crazy.  The drugs, the free love (there are parts of what she witnesses as a child that are very graphic-just a warning), and the most extreme lifestyle (living in a teepee in the middle of nowhere for most of her childhood), and she survives this from an infant until she can make an escape as a young teen.  Finding her way and sometimes failing as an adult-it all caught up with her eventually emotionally-and her way back to understanding and forgiveness and making sense out of it all-it's an incredible story.  And a very well written, very truth-telling raw, book. I couldn't put it down.  I will really never forget this story. 

Thank you again for all your book suggestions last "book post".  I have a list a mile long that makes me very happy!  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Encouragement For The Week

We think of life stretching on endlessly before us and it tires us.
But life does not come to us that way.
It comes one day at a time.
It is a blessed secret, this of living by the day.
Anyone can carry his burden however heavy, till nightfall.
We can live sweetly, patienlty, till the sun goes down.
And this is all that life ever means to us.
Do today's duties, and tomorrow will take care of itself.

-Aunt Maria, Indiana, January 1933

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Catching Up

It's been a little too busy for me the past two months, so I am just catching up and finally really, really enjoying slower days.  I also have a renewed commitment to make no commitments to anything but my family and home life after making a few this spring that I realized would make life busier than usual.  I guess every 5 years or so I need that reminder of why I say no-because I have enough to do right here.

I love this quote so much:

"It is ok to be happy with a simple life."

But it takes dedication to lead a simple life today-really perseverance and focus, and tons of discretion especially as mothers.  It also takes the generous use of the word 'no'.  And it takes seeking out of like-minded friends, who also enjoy the simple life-walks, strolls to the park with littles ones, good books, shared enthusiasm for family dinners, new recipes, and most of contentment in our role as home makers, mothers, and wives.  

Enough said about that.  Here are some of our highlights of the past weeks (months?).

Lent was over and this boy was so happy-and I was so proud of both Andrew and Patrick who gave us ice cream and pop respectively.  I bought some rootbeer for Patrick to enjoy a nice big glass on Easter day and Andrew had a huge bowl of his favorite ice cream. 

Easter eggs!  That book in the back called Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake is hilarious and one of Janey's favorites.

Easter morning!  So exciting!  We woke the older kids up bright and early and had a big breakfast and went to Mass, where Andrew served...

...and then out to Grandma's for the Easter Egg hunt.  We had beautiful summer-like weather which is quite unusual.

Janey wants to play restaurant for lunch every day-she knocks at the "door" (in the family room) and I seat her and tell her the options and then give her a bill.  

Andrew was Rooster in our little school's annual play.  He did such a great job-so funny and really enjoyed every minute of it.

Annie's voice was incredible.  Really, it was as good as any professional Annie I've ever heard.  She was absolutely the star of the show.  I heard through the grapevine that she never took voice lessons and her parents didn't even know she could sing like that.  What a nice surprise they must have had opening night.  Listening to her gave us all chills.

Matt turned 18!  Janey was just a little excited for him. :)  One more year left of high school-we did a quick college visit to Isaac's alma mater and it went well-can't believe we are doing this all over again. He's had such a great junior year with the best teachers and really loves school.  High school flies by for sure.

It is a tradition in our school for 7th and 8th graders to go through a week called Teens High On Life where they listen to inspirational speakers and learn how to be healthy and make smart choices. It ends with a 5K that they all trained for all spring.  I love this idea and this race and watching all the kids work hard and support each other.  We had terrible weather this year but they still ran in the rain and wind.

All race I was fielding texts from Matt and Isaac who were at school and work, asking how he was doing, if he was ok (did he puke? did he cry, why does he look like he's crying in the picture-no he didn't!).  They've all ran this race and tried their hardest.  I can't help reminiscing about Andrew running cross country as a little guy and how difficult it was for him to make his legs go fast...really he just didn't get that coordination.  Nor did he understand the concept of the race, since it took about till the season was over before he started asking why everyone was always in front of him.  It is true though-the guys and girls who have to try harder sometimes develop an awesome grit and determination and don't fear the hard things in life or taking a chance on new things.  This is Andrew for sure.  
We are so proud of him!

Next big event:
Patrick made his First Holy Communion which is just one of my favorite events to celebrate (and I only have one more boo hoo!). He was so so nervous, he cried a couple times that day, which is extremely unusual of him.  Once the ceremony started I could tell he finally relaxed and within minutes of joining us in the pew was whispering to me how uncomfortable ties are and how hot he was in all these layers.  This is a kid who lives in t-shirts and shorts so I had to laugh and say, "Well now you know how Dad feels every day."

We all love him so much.  

We came home and had a great family celebration.

And for the most part that was the last big to-do in our house this spring and I breathed a sigh of relief and looked at my calendar that had white space the rest of the month and cleaned my house and caught up on laundry and went to the park.  
Happy Spring!


Happy Mother's Day to you all! 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Thinking, Playing, Reading

I loved this article that Melissa linked to on her site.  I have been thinking a bunch about college and college prep lately now that I have had one graduate, one finishing her second year and one starting the college visit/application/testing process.

I realize that a lot of what we parents worry about and think has to happen before college, and what is going to happen during college isn't really reality.  There are checklists of course of things that the kids need for dorms, and things they must be able to do (laundry) but in the grand scheme of life, these are inconsequential.  For instance, my oldest didn't know how to do laundry when we started college-I'm not sure Abbey did either-but I knew they could figure that out on their own by asking someone, or reading the actual dials.  People make such a big deal out of the things that don't matter, I guess, is my point.  So talking to people, being confident enough and friendly enough to say, "Hey can you help me with this", or just smart enough to figure things out on their own is helpful.  And it is different today than when we were in college, because mom was not a quick text away.  So that is enough learning opportunity-as parents we need to be able to balance ourselves when it comes to promoting independence with back-up support-that's so important.

I will say this for sure-college is about growth, huge growth, when it comes to learning about their peers and living with others.  It's about learning to manage time, and learning how to make good personal decisions.  I've talked a lot with different parents and what they've heard from their college kids.  Things are definitely scarier in terms of bad decision that kids can make.  I can use this is one example-when I went to college I saw people smoking marijuana one time, and the only alcohol that was present was wine coolers, and cheap beer.  Yes, damage could be done with that type of alcohol, but how much damage?  As much damage as straight vodka?  From what I have heard, hard liquor and marijuana and other drugs aren't as scarce as they were back in my time.  I've heard and read many stories about alcohol poisoning, something I never heard about when I was in college. Recently a beautiful girl was found dead at a campus in my state from alcohol poisoning-a freshman with a wonderful future ahead of her.  And the next weekend at her campus dozens of kids were in the ER for alcohol poisoning-I don't think this is rare anymore on weekends across our country.  (This is a whole other subject-when I was in college we were all poor enough to make our $ stretch like crazy just for meals-so if anyone was buying alcohol it was cheap-where are these kids getting the funds to buy all this? Parents.)

These are the things that we parents need to talk about more than anything-'not being an idiot' is what I call this talk.  Knowing how to still have fun and not drink or if you choose to do so (and if you are under 21 you are breaking the law)-well, don't be an idiot. The consequences of lower inhibitions from alcohol etc. is all on topic.  I find the way so far that has worked best is using real life examples, and discussing these-why would someone do this or that, the pain that was caused to others from this choice, the consequences of the action and how that affected that person's life forever, and just treating your own brain and body with respect.

On the chance that I am scaring someone, it does seem to me that one thing that has changed-peer pressure isn't too much of a thing anymore.  That it's not "cool" to pressure peers to do things or make them feel like the odd one out.  This is a good change, isn't it?  Because I definitely felt that in high school and college.  Maybe that also has to do with the friends kids keep.

The personal growth in college can be huge-but it ebbs and flows for sure.  Sometimes I have thought-Alleluia! and other times I have felt like one step up, two steps back in terms of management skills, and independence.  For example, I found that my kids became worse at some things-here they had to be more independent at making their own meals at different times so if they needed a lunch or breakfast and I was busy or driving someone somewhere they fixed their own.  In college, assuming they are living in a dorm, they now visit a cafeteria with a ton of different options all made and waiting (and paid) for them at any time of day.

There is a good argument too, that the concept of college life-this age group of kids living together in dorms etc., is an absolutely crazy invention-or what it has turned into-the culture of college- vs what "college" really was, is crazy.  And I could agree with that also.  These are still kids without full brain development.  And college is really about learning stuff.  That has nothing to do with sports, Greek life, dorms and parties.

These are just my thoughts-I am NO expert, maybe by the time Patrick gets through college I will be more confident in what I know about college prep and maturation during this time.  I think by then I will have hit every college-my oldest's experience at a small private school has been different in ways from my daughter's experience at a huge state university.  And knowing our children, what their strengths and stressors are-and having those good conversations with them-that is most important.

I think if I had read that list that I linked to I would have panicked in some ways-are they ready, do they have this all mastered? I think we have to realize that mastering all these skills continues into the college years.  There is much learned from experience and trial and error and mistakes and confidence is gained from this-just like the way we are still learning about life now.

On to fun things:

Janey is so cute right now with her imagination-I spy often and hear her playing mommy or school or shop lady or waitress.

She loves envelopes and stationary and little pads of paper.  This is so easy to buy cheap at the grocery store.  She has a wallet and a few purses.  (I have to find her a waitress pad!)

She is really really into playing with her borrowed Fisher Price doll house (thank you Aunt Julie!). Everyday she has it all spread out and every girl and boy and mom and dad named and they go on adventures every day.  Hours and hours.

I bought her this book after reading some reviews on a home school site and we love it.  It has a little duck hidden on every page-we have had a few other books like this over the years (this one is geared toward younger kids) and my kids have always just loved finding the hidden item. There are also so many opportunities to count the apples or the chicks etc.  We read it at least once a day.

Patrick and I are still working on Big Red.  That boy and his dogs.

Andrew is reading this book and really liking it.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Ordinary Days-Sunshine and Books on the Beach

We were lucky enough to take off for a sort of last-minute vacation to Hilton Head-we haven't visited in about 9 or 10 years and I missed that place!  We stayed in the condo complex we have stayed in the last few times, Shorewood, because it's on the beach, close to the little shops and the pool is heated. I love Hilton Head because we can ride bikes on the beach when the tide is out and we took some long long long bike rides.  We had gorgeous weather, sunshine every day and it was just perfect.  PLUS we had only four kids in our minivan, leaving the older two behind (work and school) and there was SO much room.  Which resulted in very little complaining, and no one punching each other or left on the side of the road (well, we've never had that, not that I haven't been tempted.)

This is the first vacation in 22 years that I've been able to read books on the beach or at the pool.  I've dreamt of this moment!  And I read five to make up for those two decades.  I brought two, one of which I was halfway finished, and then Andrew let me borrow his Kindle because I was desperate, which I am forever grateful.  I am also forever grateful to Jeff who played with the kids every single minute and went to the grocery store and made every meal.  Janey was a pool girl this vacation and she floated and played for hours upon hours in the pool while I sat by the side and read and the boys played at the beach.  It was SO nice.  As much as I loved seeing all the beautiful pregnant moms and sweet little babies and toddlers, I must say I enjoyed immensely having a little less intense time at the beach.  

Sand burials.

The boys went fishing a few days and saw quite a few alligators and came home with wild tales of stolen fish and scary moments.

Greg Russell, a Hilton Head tradition.  (That is not him up there, he hasn't arrived yet in this pic.) Janey finally got up the nerve to sit on stage and listen to him play his guitar and sing funny songs, and a few songs in she was clapping along and having a great time.

Junk food galore, another tradition.  I'm on a massive detox.  Jeff loves Publix and thankfully there was one a few miles away.  I can't even tell you how many loaves of White Mountain bread we went through but it was more white bread than any family should eat in a single week.  And we've also discovered Publix generic ice cream and I am thankful we do not have a Publix up north here or I'd be in big trouble.

Janey brought down her own romance novel found in the condo and read it to us.  The story sounded a lot like Mary Poppins.

BOOKS!!!  Thank you for all your book recommends last post-I can't wait to start on my list.

This is a short, sweet, uplifting read perfect for the beach.  I ADORED Mrs. Brown, everything about her-her small town ways and regimented life and her unrelenting kindness.  

This was a great, LONG, but great book about a farmer who takes in two wayward girls and whose life is changed forever by it.  The prose is beautiful, Amanda Coplin is one of those gifted writers who conveys emotion in a beautiful way.

I didn't read this, Andrew (13) did and LOVED IT.  He told me this was the first time that he couldn't wait to read a book, instead of find something else to do, (and he is a great reader!) and that he now loves non-fiction-something he didn't think he would like.  (I get frustrated with all the sci-fi and fantasy for boys this age so I was thrilled to hear this.)

I loved this book-it's a WWII love story between a girl and a boy who were raised as siblings, one of them  Jewish, one Catholic.  There was a lot of factual information worked into the book that I didn't know-how many Catholics sheltered Jews in their homes and in convents.  I couldn't put this one down.

This was such a good book.  A Scotland girl finds herself living with a family on a farm during the Dust Bowl, hired as a school teacher-she falls in love and a family is torn apart.

Back to routine, and lunches and soccer practice and an incredibly busy April...and lots of rain. But it was so nice to get away and recharge and remember what sun feels like.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ordinary Days-March Madness and More Books

Ugh there is something about snow in March that can't be anything but annoying. It's a test of will and patience and endurance is what it is.  But a no-school snow day was a nice little reward at the same time.

Jeff surprised the two boys who could go with a DC trip to the Big Ten tournament. And what a tournament it was!  I am so so happy for my uncle.  I really feel he deserves this just on the basis of what a good person he is, and what a leader he is to those college guys and how darn humble he is and how hard he works too.  I'm so happy also, for Andrew and Patrick who will never forget witnessing in person this win.  They all stayed with Joe my brother and Karen his wife who were perfect hosts.

I don't know how many time I print out these brackets every year, but it feels like a lot. (I don't know what that money on the table has to do with it but there must be some sort of illegal betting going down.)

Jeff took Abbey on a ski trip. This is his mocking selfie pose, just as attractive as it is on everyone.

Janey and I found this little purse at a resale shop, almost brand new and she know has another bag to add to her bag lady collection.  She is such a sweetheart, such a good easy little girl.  I love my days with her.

I've been doing some really really heavy reading lately.   They were difficult reads-not because of the style of writing-I read them within days, but because of the content.  Etched in Sand is about a women who survived a terrible childhood and escaped to leave a successful life-bearing scars of course.  

An invisible thread is about a woman with a successful career in NYC, who one day walked by a boy panhandling, but turned around to connect with him, an action that would change both their lives immensely.  Another story of child abuse and neglect and a light on the other side.

It was interesting to read the last three books together-Hillbilly Elegy and these two.  They are all similar in the sense that they describe difficult childhood situations and a way out.  Children's Services-always feared, even within circumstances of starvation and physical abuse (the one case of sexual abuse was actually a foster situation), drug abuse at the core of all three stories, either just one little action (varying widely in terms of personal investment in all three stories) of a person 'outside' who cared enough making a huge difference in these kid's lives.  It all works up to some sort of luck/fate/education intertwined with a strong spirit at the helm-who survives and who doesn't.  It is all heartbreaking and terribly frustrating and shouldn't ever happen.  Drug addiction does terrible terrible things to families for generations and generations.  It is truly the devil's magic elixir it seems-it destroys a person and then shreds their children apart. 

I really think it's important, as hard as it is, to read and listen to first-person accounts of human experience.  I have been thinking lately (and I'm sure I am guilty of it also) of how today so often one can easily spout off about solutions and causes to social problem but what do we really know if it until we really hear the human experiences.  That's listening more than talking.  That's real life experience more than statistics and theories. It has NOTHING to do with politics thank the Lord, we need no more of that today.

"I do not agree with the big way of doing things.  To us, what matters is an individual. To get to love a person, we must come in close contact with him. If we wait till we get numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers, and we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person. "  Mother Teresa

I welcome any book suggestions!  Have you read anything great lately?