Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Andrew turned 11!  We bought him a Kindle Paperwhite, after doing an enormous amount of research, and compromise in my head, since I love love love books and hate hate hate screens.  But honestly, this kid is an insatiable reader and I have a hard time keeping up with his trips to the library (and the batteries for his headlamps/flashlights he uses at night!:)  He was thrilled.
It seems like yesterday he was playing with Thomas the Train-one of my favorite photos of him!

And this little girl is two!  We bought her a little scooter (that I just gave her today because in the busyness of the weekend I forget it was hidden up in my closet) and just a few more things, like puzzles, and play food and a coloring book and crayons.  She loved being sung to, and opening her presents.  

Birthdays make me so sentimental (but having three in two weeks also keeps me so busy I don't let that run away from me.)  All I keep thinking about is how lucky I am to be a mom to these kids.  How lucky I am to hold them as infants, and wonder what they will be like as they grow, and then over course of many years, see that personality emerge.  It's wonderfully rewarding, each one of them with such different characteristics, each one learning about life and about themselves and their capabilities and gifts at different paces.  I can't imagine bigger work, a different life, anything close to as fulfilling as what I've done for the last 20 years.  

Happy Birthday Janey and Andrew!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back To School

Four down, one to go, and the last one is all mine, all day, and we are going to have some fun.  Fun meaning: quiet walks, books, cleaning, laundry, organization, meal making, and routine, routine, routine.  Because Janey and I both need it!

(Isaac graced us with his presence early in the morning.)

I remember when he Isaac looked like this, the year after we moved in to our house, with Abbey and Matt, who are now a freshman and senior:

 And off Andrew and Patrick go:

She'll cry next year, right now she is just confused-"where did those kids go?"

I have four different schools this year, four different start dates.  Highschoolers first.  Abbey has saved up so many electives she told me, "Mom don't ever ask me if I have my homework finished OK?  I don't have any!"  I am happy for her, she has worked hard the last three years.  She is taking a piano class, teaching herself to play.  Matt is playing soccer and loving it and working hard and loves high school.

That's enough for now-I have to make good use of nap time and put this house back together after all the wear and tear of summer days.

P.S. Thank you for all your birthday gift ideas for Janey!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Birthday Gift Ideas Needed!

Janey's second birthday is coming up and I'm in desperate need of a few great toddler girl gift ideas...I'm used to buying Lego and cars and Nerf guns and guys.  She has enough of those to play with.  Right now Janey has a little kitchen and a stroller she loves, and Abbey's old Bitty Baby and crib.  If you have had a little daughter this age, what is her favorite most played with toy? 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Still Alive and Catching Up

Beautiful summer clouds.

Oh, I wish that was me.  A nap sounds good.

Boys fighting summer boredom.

We had a chance to escape the construction and get away with friends to Bethany Beach.  We shared a big house and had so much fun.  The week flew by.  The kids had a great time in the waves, and I ate way way too much ice cream and caramel corn.

Thanks to Abbey I have some photos, because I didn't touch my camera once...and it must have felt neglected because it promptly broke as soon as I unpacked the darn thing-I'm without a camera for a week or two until I find a replacement.

The big boys came also, but I have no photos of either Isaac or Matt. :(

We are almost there addition-wise.  ALMOST there.  (Two months late, and why oh why can't we (meaning they) just finish already???)  I'm frustrated and can't wait for it to be over so I can wash my hands of all the stress (I will never ever do this again, mark my word, I know I said that last time we renovated this kitchen but this time I mean it I really really do) and just enjoy the extra space.  Here's a few pics of the kitchen:
I chose a marble look-a-like quartz for the island, and that's a great big pantry to the right.  A cookie sheet drawer is going above the double oven, not in place yet (which was my idea to save someone else from their measuring mistake, thank you very much.)  The roll of cork is going on side of fridge panel, and I have about 20 back to school papers waiting to stick on it. 

For now, I am trying to balance back to school prep and planning with enjoying these last beautiful days of summer vacation.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ordinary Days

I know, I know, she looks so old! It's the piggies that do it.

After a swim meet.  We've had a lame swim team season because two meets were 'stormed' out.

Our evening bike rides, my favorite part of summer:

Some good quick blog posts I've read this year and loved:

1. If I Could Only Offer One Piece of Advice To Young Moms by Melanie Jean Juneau.   So simple, so true.

2. A Letter To My Boys by Renee Robinson.  A thousand times, YES.

3. Bucket List by Katrina Kenison  "The question rose up hot and fierce as a reprimand in my chest: “Had I loved my life enough?”

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ordinary Days

A box from new shutters.  Bought me a few hours of occupied boys.

Isaac and Abbey keeping track of gas since they share a car.  So many arguments about whose turn it is to put gas in the car, who drove more, etc... and we came up with this gem. (I'm saying "gem" sarcastically, because honestly, it has squelched the constant arguing, and why didn't we think of this sooner-like years sooner?)  I know one day I might (might!) laugh about all these little teenager things that sometimes make my head feel like it's going to explode, but for now just the thought of that possibility (not the head exploding, the laughing one day) makes it all seem more manageable.  I don't think that sentence makes sense, but maybe you know what I mean.

My mom and dad and grandkids.


My squishy baby niece.  Squishy babies are the best.

Matt took this pictures.  This branch seems to be the universal lounge chair for all squirrels.

Matt took this one also.

Janey is getting so big.  And lately, fussy.  I know it's because of all the changes.  The addition is still being worked on, almost finished.  I've said it before, but boy I can not WAIT till there are no workers in my house, and I know she feels the same way.  I have a reprieve for a few days, and then we wait on cabinet doors and then they'll be another burst of activities.  I just want my family to myself, and I want my life back to normal.  I also want to snap my fingers and have every room exactly the way I want it to be (furniture, pictures on the wall, window treatments).  But I'm burned out, and Janey's burned out, (if we never go to Lowe's again we will be the happiest ladies on earth), and I want to enjoy this summer.  Gosh, I think I used to like this sort of thing one day long ago, and now I don't.  There are much more important things than all this house stuff, but at the same time, I want to get it all right for me, and right for our family, and right enough that I never have to think about it all again for the rest of my life. :)  I got out my "house notebook" and went room by room, writing down the things that need to be finished, and then assigned general timelines.  I pushed all non-essentials back to winter 2015, and somehow just writing that list (as usual) made me feel more settled inside.

Years ago when the older kids were school aged, or darn, just a few years ago, I remember summer dragging, and being excited about school beginning.  Now I feel like it flies by, so busy and so quickly.  It's not like I pack our days full, I don't at all, but just the coordination of six kids is busy and add the teenagers work schedules, and a mandatory sports camp here or there, college visits (we've done none of those yet!) and a beach vacation and it seems like the day is over before it began.  And school starts earlier every year it seems! (Why does everything have to change?  What's wrong with a nice long summer vacation?  What's wrong with starting school in kindergarten?  What's wrong with learning cursive, and not having to read till first grade?  Or two recesses?  Or sports practice after school for an hour instead of three hours over dinner time?:) I know that once school starts, it seems I hardly get to see the kids, in school all day, and they are all one year older.  It makes me feel awful.  Am I enjoying this time with them?  Am I present?  I won't ever get this summer back, I know that.

"After all,' Anne said to Marilla once, "I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string."
Anne of Avonlea
Lucy Maud Montogomery

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jenny's Story

Twenty-four years ago this month, I happily told my husband that we were going to be parents. Heidi’s surprise entrance into the world at less than two pounds made me a mother two months earlier than I had planned—during finals of my final semester of college.

Once I walked across that stage to receive my diploma, I didn’t look back.

You see, as a teenager, I told everyone that I would be a lawyer one day. Or a psychologist. Or a teacher. I never told anyone that I’d be a mother. Yeah, I thought I’d be a mom, but I always assumed that my mothering would somehow fall into the cracks left from a busy career in the public eye, where I would change the world.

Never did I ever think that my whole world would revolve around six brown-haired, brown-eyed, beautiful children, one angel baby watching over us—and one blondie with blue eyes thrown in as a bonus at the end.
Never did I ever imagine how incredible my life as their mother would be—how they would teach me and change me.

One by one, these little people entered my life, and one by one, I learned how to mother them, mold them, and love them. I decided that it would be my life’s mission to stay home with them as only I could.

It’s so easy to lose focus and perspective while you’re deep in the trenches of full-time mothering. There’s the first diaper blowout and the first projectile vomiting. There’s endless hours nursing babies and repeated readings of Are You My Mother? There’s worry over classroom placement and schoolyard bullies and broken hearts. There’s t-ball and soccer and piano and church and chores and ____________________. Dirty faces and dirty clothes.  Forgotten lunches and endangered species projects. Spelling words and “naughty” words. Sleepless nights with feverish bodies snuggled close and sleepless nights with hormonal bodies late for curfew.
You worry that your kid is disliked, or that you’re too fat or that you don’t even know who you are anymore. You worry that you’re not reading to them enough or you’re not helping with homework enough (or am I helping too much?). You worry that they missed that assignment at school or that they lost that classroom election. You worry that you yelled at them today, that they didn’t practice the piano today, and that you didn’t bathe them before bed.

This list is all-too real, isn’t it?

I have a secret to tell you.

As important as all of these things are each day, failing at one or more of them does not make you a failure as a mother.

Magazines, mothers-in-law, and well-meaning friends will tell you that you should do things a certain way to be a good mother. I read the magazines. I listened to all the advice, but in the end, I learned a valuable lesson. I followed my heart. I made mistakes (some small, some really big that I wish I could go back and change), and in that process, I learned what was right for me and my children. No one has ever mothered my children, and no one can do it better than I can, mistakes and all.
I learned that it was better to hold the sobbing child than try to fix the grievance. I learned that I should leave a sink full of dirty dishes until the assigned child came home from play, instead if doing them myself. I learned that making our house a home wasn’t all about the latest paint colors and latest design trends. I learned that calls from the principal aren’t necessarily the end of the world. I learned that teaching hard work is invaluable, even in today’s society. I learned that my relationship with my child is crucial when they struggle in school.  I learned that, as painful as it is to admit it, mothers set the tone for the home, and my attitude toward church attendance, school work, friendships, and failures weighed more heavily on my children’s perceptions than anyone else’s ever could.

Day by day and year by year, I learned how to mother. I learned when to push and when to step back. I learned when to be Mama Bear and when to fade into the background.

It wasn’t all rainbows and picnics. I made some huge mistakes—times where I cried myself to sleep with regret. At those times, I knew I had ruined my children forever. How could they ever rebound from my mistakes? Despite all of that, I’ve learned that mothering isn’t about the guilt and the mistakes. It’s about growth—measured not on a doorframe in the hallway, but in the training and experiences that mold character over months and years and decades. It’s about home—creating a place where they always feel safe and loved and accepted, no matter what is going on in the world just outside your door.

I have another secret to tell you.

Mothers aren’t raising children. A child, at the moment it arrives, creates a mother. And mothers?

Mothers are raising adults.

There is this dirty secret no one tells you as you leave the hospital with your first little bundle of delicious-smelling baby in your arms: Kids grow up and become adults. And they leave home.

No matter how many times you read Love You Forever, you can never be fully prepared for the day that your firstborn (and one day, your lastborn) packs up their stuff and all of your shared memories and after a quick hug, heads out that door to adulthood—laden with the thrill of independence and not a backward glance at your tearstained face and aching heart.

As much as it hurts and as much as you cry and as much as you long for just one more football game or one more concert or one more bike ride, you know that this is the day you’ve labored eighteen or so years to reach.

My second son graduated from high school in May, and my two oldest children are married now, raising families of their own. It doesn’t get easier to see them fly, but I consider my title as their mother my most precious. I wouldn’t trade a single day at home for any six-figure salary or published book or corner office.

The most important, precious, priceless gift a mother gives her children is the selfless sacrifice—day in and day out—of her energy and her time, creating her greatest masterpieces. Now that I’m starting the next phase of mothering, I glimpse in my adult children lessons I taught my adult children when they were young. I see them struggling with the same issues, and I’m proud of the adults they’ve become. There is inexplicable delight in watching your beloved children transform into parents. Now I get to learn how to parent in-laws and spoil grandchildren, and the gift that I gave is coming full circle in the next generation of our family, and it is joyous and wonderful all over again.

For the first time in twenty-four years, I will find myself alone during the school day when school resumes in August. My baby will be in kindergarten, and I still can’t wrap my brain around the idea that  . . . I’m done with that first phase of motherhood. I’ve gone back to school to get my master’s degree in education, and although I don’t know exactly where this will take me, I’m excited to find out.

The most valuable advice I could give young moms is this—don’t waste energy wishing for these days to be over, or wishing you were somewhere else doing something “more.” As demanding as your days are, they won’t last forever. Stop and smell their handpicked flowers. Stop and see that puppy in the pet store. Stop and push that swing. Stop and read and snuggle and pray and kiss and hug. You’ll be glad you did.

As I look back along that long road through the trenches of motherhood, I know I made the right decision to stay home with them. I know that I couldn’t have been happier doing anything else, and I would do it again. And again. And again. The most profound truth I learned along the way is this: I didn’t give up myself for them. I became my true self through loving and mothering them.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake Face

We were lucky to hear a beautiful green house out in the country that sells the best strawberries.  It made me question why I was staying in town and doing all the work of adding on-acres of fields, beautiful big barns, rolling hills (which is rare where we live) and just quiet.  I know the downside is I'd be spending hours in the car driving to this, that and the other.  It doesn't help that when I'm at home there are air compressors going off every day.  I have to remind myself that it's all worth it. One day soon, I'll have my ordinary days back.

Everyone keeps telling me how old Janey works.  I only have two more months before I'll have a two year old.  She is so sweet (and hates all the noise of construction also).  She loves her scooter-that's all she wants to do-ride up and down the sidewalk on her scooter.

It was the weekend of graduation parties-we have two more next week also.  This week three little girls (one niece) who used to play at my house, play Polly Pockets, and dress up and American Girl dolls, are leaving for college.  How can that be?  Time moves too quickly.  I almost feel like Abbey should be going with them-but with that September birthday, she is a year behind.  I know she's ready-I know she feels ready, I know she wants to be more independent and out of high school and on her own (as much as college is "on your own", and make her own rules to follow, not have parents telling her what time to be home etc...to have some choices in classes and see the future closer without another year of high school. Someone asked us if we think she has had "senioritis" and I laughed and said, "Yes, all year, but she was a junior!"   We need to plan a few more college visits this fall I think that will help to get her excited.  I have found that as excited as new seniors are to go to college, they are in denial about how quickly these decisions need to be made, and aren't great about sitting down and doing the paperwork portion of the work-maybe that's just teenage procrastination but boy do those deadlines creep up quickly.

On another note-
I have met some great "worker guys" with neat stories.  I have studied and made some enlightening (and not surprising) observations.  Here are a few:
-Those over the age of 60 (give or take) have a noticeably different work ethic.  They work harder, and longer, and show up when they are supposed to, and do what they say they are going to do.
-Those who grew up with big families, and out on farms, also have a strong work ethic.  Maybe it's the chipping in, not a lot of money, high expectations at an early age to work.
-I've met two father/son teams and these were my favorite.  When there is a family stake in the business, there is a reputation to uphold-fair and honest and hardworking for sure.

One man was from a big Catholic family, grew up on a farm, grandfather was an immigrant who came to American with literally nothing-when he died he had money hidden everywhere in his house and lived so simply that everyone felt sorry for him (he didn't trust banks-Depression era).  When this man's mother went to the hospital to have her first, her sister was in labor also-they had their babies together, but his mom lost her baby-he was stillborn.  The couples shared a car-she rode home next to her sister-baby in arms-empty-handed.  She told her husband tearfully, "I'm going to have ten more babies."  And she did-in 16 years!

Another (one of seven) was very hard of hearing.  He told me that they didn't find out he had a hearing problem till he graduated high school...somehow he made it through...he always sat at the front of the class. He planned on joining the Marines to put himself through college, but they wouldn't take him and that's the first time he had a hearing test and was told he had some major hearing loss.  He was crushed-and tried every military branch but was rejected each time.  Instead he went into the wood floor business with his Dad and has made a living that way ever since. His dad (almost eighty) came to help him.  He was so sweet-but oh boy, so stooped over.  Both worked two jobs to support their families.

Well, Janey's up from her nap.
Summer thunderstorm in progress, one of my favorite things.  What is it with the smell of rain in summer?  Love it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Denise's Story

All I ever wanted was to be a wife and a mother. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wanted a million other things too, but this far and away led the list. It was so much a part of who I was, even at a young age, that a dear friend actually gave me a subscription to Brides Magazine for my sixteenth birthday (true story). Let me tell you that seeing that magazine in my dorm room (yes, I continued the subscription until the day I was married) scared quite a few young men along the way!  And let’s not even mention the notebook of every changing baby names that I kept for years!

I grew up as the youngest of three, and when I was eight years old, my mom started an in-home day care business called Dot’s Tots. Without realizing it then, Dot’s Tots definitely helped shape my hopes and dreams.  I would get home from school every day, and my mom was there to talk with me and to hear about my day, but there were lots of little people there as well. I always had a baby to hold or a toddler to play with. I watched these children grow up in my home. As I got older, I got more involved with the children. These were the kids I’d babysit for on the weekend, and during the summer I would serve as lifeguard by the pool, and even started the famous “Dot’s Tots Summer Olympics.” Babies were in my blood. Trust me, there were days I would have loved to come home to an empty house or a house with just my mom in it, but most days I loved walking through the door to see all of those little faces.

I don’t remember thinking about whether or not I’d be a stay at home mom when I was young. My picture definitely had a husband and kids in it, but I was raised to believe that I could do or be anything that I wanted in life. Neither of my parents went to college, and I was the only one in my family to finish. My parents truly made me feel like anything I strived for was possible. I guess I believed I could “have it all” even though I didn’t really know what that looked like, or even meant.
Fast forward to a few years after college… I married Michael, my college sweetheart. This was, far and away, the best decision of my entire life.  I moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania and began a career in Pharmaceutical Sales. I loved it and I was very good at it. I was at the top of my class in sales school, and won the Fast Start Award my first year out. I had aspirations of working in sales training, but hadn’t quite figured out how that would work since my company’s home office was in Kansas City, and Michael’s career and our whole life was on the east coast. I remember briefly feeling like it wasn’t fair that his career (much more established than mine at that point) took priority. Shouldn’t I get the chance to go to Kansas City and see what I could do?  Boy, I really didn’t worry about this for long. Instead, I got the baby bug.

Michael and I bought our first home at Christmastime, about a year and half after we were married. I remember wanting to get pregnant so badly around that time. I think Michael would have preferred to wait a bit longer, save a bit more money, etc. We had many teary (on my part) conversations that involved him saying that we weren’t in a position for me to be home full-time, and my swearing that I had no problem going back to work full-time if we could just have a baby (I thought I meant it). I was pregnant by June.

I loved being pregnant. I loved everything about it. I couldn’t wait until I could wear maternity clothes, and in hindsight, I really jumped the gun on that one. But I wanted EVERYONE to know I was pregnant. My career flourished. My sales territory was the amazing neighborhoods in and around South Philly, a predominantly Italian area of Philadelphia. Here I was, this young woman with a very Italian last name and clearly not a drop of Italian blood in her. I had established great relationships in my doctors’ offices, but the pregnancy took things to a whole new level. I spent months being turned around to decide if my nose had spread more than my backside, and sat still while having my wedding ring spun on a string over my giant belly – all this to decide if I was having a boy or a girl…South Philly style. The prevailing wisdom said girl…and they were right.

Five days after my due date, in the early morning hours, my beautiful Katie arrived – and I was never, ever the same. In those very first moments I knew with a certainty unlike anything I had ever experienced before, that my life’s work had just begun. I was a mom.

But remember those teary promises about going back to work full-time if I could just have a baby? …well, it had to happen. The mortgage loomed. Twelve weeks later, I returned to work. And so began a whole new series of teary conversations about how and when I could stop working. We got so lucky, because I know this isn’t the case for so many families. Six months after I returned to work, I was able to transition to a two day per week schedule in my sales job.

This two day per week schedule continued for the next few years, and worked out well for us. I still wanted to be home full-time, and we were getting close. We welcomed Cole, our beautiful boy, two years later, and in the fall of 1999, we embarked on the adventure of a lifetime and moved our family to Denmark. 

The three years we spent as guests in this beautiful country, were three of the best years of my life. We welcomed Abbey seven months after arriving, and I settled in so fantastically to my role as full-time stay at home mom.  Being home to kiss every boo-boo, snuggling up to watch The Lion King for the billionth time, seeing the wonder on those beautiful little faces as they discovered new things – I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.
I’ve been blessed over the years to have several part-time jobs that fell in my lap just at the right time, but that left just as gracefully when they were no longer needed. Some were short-term projects with old colleagues involving really exciting stuff that let me feel useful and smart in a different way when maybe I was doubting myself or my value (Wow! That was a whopper of a run-on sentence!). Others let me make a difference in the lives of children when my three were happy and busy at school, yet let me be home before the first feet stepped off the school bus at the end of the day. I know I’ve been very lucky -- lucky to be at home all of these years, lucky to have a husband that bent over backwards to make it possible and mostly lucky to have chosen the absolute right dad for my kids, and most amazing husband for me.
As I’m writing my story, I realize that I want you all to know every detail, but unless you have nothing else to do today but read this (ha, you’re most likely moms, which means you have a million other things to do today), all I really need to share is that I loved it. I loved all of it. Not every minute of every day of course, because it’s really, really hard work some times. But in true Denise form, my rose-colored glasses are firmly in place while I write this, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
To help fill my need for grown-up interaction and activity and to be as involved with my kids as possible, I was homeroom mom more times than I can count, I attended every Halloween, Holiday and End of the Year party that I could, went on the field trips, etc. As the kids grew and I had more available time, I took on bigger roles in their schools. I ran the book fair for several years, then switched gears and handled all of the tickets for the amazing high school theatre program.  My latest endeavor is handling all of the refreshments for the middle school musical. I love being able to use my time and talents to support my kids in the things they love and also support their amazing teachers and schools. 
I laugh when I think about my eventual return to the work force, and how I’ll use my communication skills to convince my future employer that my volunteer jobs and mom skills garnered over the last twenty years make me a valuable employee. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, but for now I’m going to savor every minute of my last few years at home.
My baby turned 14 yesterday, and this fall I will have two kids in college. I kiss fewer boo-boos these days, but I’m still lucky enough to snuggle up for a movie (or an episode of Say Yes to the Dress – our guilty pleasure).  Some days I feel like my role is simply that of chief cook and housekeeper. But just when I’m feeling like I’m not as needed as I used to be, someone needs to talk, or vent, or work through a problem, and I’m there to listen, or give advice (gingerly), or just give them a hug.
I struggle with my new place in the world.  I sometimes question who I’ll be or what I’ll do when they are all off being their amazing selves and making their own mark on the world. But really, I do know who I’ll be. I’ll be their mom, forever and always, and I can’t think of anything better I could have done.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ordinary Days on Monday Morning

(A rare moment when every kid is in one room at the same time!)

Just a quick post because I have 15 minutes till I have to take Patrick to the doctor's office for what I think might be swimmer's ear.  That poor kid is tough and never complains about a thing, but is definitely under the weather.

I am counting the days till the addition is finished, but still trying to enjoy summer before it gets away which it always seems to.   I'm reminding myself that I am going to do the most basic things to make this house live-able and all the fun decorating stuff will have to wait till later when kids go back to school and I have the brain to process and ponder and make good choices.  The cleaning-I can't wait to get my hands on every wall and baseboard and closet-it just seems pointless right now when they are sanding drywall.  Cough, cough.

I found this quote by Rachel Jancovic and I love it:
The whole essay is here and wonderful.

Live the gospel in the things that no one sees. 
Sacrifice for your children in places that only they will know about. 
Put their value ahead of yours. 
Grow them up in the clean air of gospel living. 
Your testimony to the gospel in the little details of your life is more valuable to them than you can imagine. 
If you tell them the gospel, but live to yourself, they will never believe it. 
Give your life for theirs every day, joyfully. 
Lay down pettiness. 
Lay down fussiness. 
Lay down resentment about the dishes, about the laundry, about how no one knows how hard you work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kelly's Story

It’s Tuesday morning, and Ainsley rolls out of bed with both eyes crusted shut and a voice that is a cross between an eighty-five-year-old life-long smoker and Kim Carnes singing Betty Davis Eyes. Gravelly, throaty, Darth Vaderesque.

Clearly she’s encountered some pesky virus.

Here’s a confession I’ve made many times: I’m happy when my kids get sick. Not happy for their suffering, of course, but inwardly glad because I know that I’ll simply stop.

Some other Mommy-blogger once coined the term Hard Stops. Hard Stops are those moments sprinkled throughout our day or week that lead us to declare a halt to the frenzy of demands that assail mothers – the laundry, the unsigned permission slip, the missing soccer cleat, the prescription that needs to be picked up, the next meal.

Hard Stops help us set aside what seems urgent to focus on what’s far more important.

In my house that means being fully present to my children, being with them rather than doing things for them, setting aside my To Do List to simply be. When I have a sick child, I stop. That child gets one hundred percent of me. Or maybe 90%. But significantly more, I’m sad to say, than on an ordinary day. We may pick up pizza. We may eat frozen waffles. Housework and cooking, blogging and bill paying  – these get shuttled to the margins, and my sick child comes front and center.

Hard Stop.

Sometimes Hard Stops are not quite so hard as a fever, as colorful as a rash, as dramatic as a sudden bout of vomiting. That still, small voice called mother’s intuition tells me that all is not well with my twelve-year-old.  I notice that my typically amenable five-year-old seems to be nothing but obstreperous. These symptoms call for a Hard Stop but the call comes as a whisper, a Holy Spirit-nudge. I take the tween out for a milk-shake or invite the five-year-old to the library with no one else in tow.

Kind of a Soft Hard Stop.

A Hard Stop may involve Mom.  One recent seven day period began with a weekend visit to Disney World and then moved on  to a science fair  project, packing Daddy off for two weeks in Alaska, making sandwiches for the bereavement committee at church, supervising an in depth geometry project, multiple doctor’s appointments. And at the end of it, I collapsed.

Hard Stop.
Hard, Hard Stop.

We need to take care of the person who is taking care of everyone else.

What does any of this have to do with being a stay at home Mom? Being home with my children helps me to listen to these Hard Stops. Life with four children is intense.  I am an intense person. Gosh, how there are times I wish I could wiggle my nose and be a different version of me – more mellow, more go-with-the-flow, chilled, ya know?

That calm version of me might turn up yet, might just blow in with an East wind like Mary Poppins. But until the day that epochal transformation occurs, it would behoove me to build margins into my life, to erect boundaries that help me put first things first, to add space and time into my life so that I can better hear and heed the voice that says:

Slow Down
Let It Go
Cuddle on the Couch
Build the Fort
Read the Story
Oohhh and Aahhh over that Lego creation
Listen to the Twelve-Year-Old

My decision to stay home helps --  it helps quite a lot.
So this morning I looked at my red-eyed cherub and gave her four options: painting, reading, having a little tea party, playing doll house with Mama. And we sat down with our water colors and got to work.

Seventeen years ago, I looked down at the second blue line that told me I was a mother.  At the time, I was working two jobs – I was a high school English teacher and a weekend warrior with the US Army. I loved both jobs but knew I’d leave them when Tim arrived. My husband, thankfully, has always seen the value of having Mom at home.

Truthfully, I’ve viewed this as more of a privilege than a sacrifice. I’ve cried with close friend s as they’ve prepared to send tiny babies to daycare when they would have gladly stayed home had that been an option.

“You’re going to work,” I told one friend, “so that your son can go to the doctor.”

Her husband was self-employed with no insurance, so my friend had found a job with benefits. It was no small sacrifice.

Certainly many people view full-time homemaking as a waste of an education, but, good gravy, I was once a logistics manager for Procter and Gamble and, believe me, the demands of that job don’t compare to the challenges of ordering the lives and living space of six people. Especially now, having a preschooler and a teenager and two others in between, this life I lead demands all my energy, all my creativity, all my organizational skills , more patience than I possess – in short, it takes virtue, brawn, and brains.

On my bad days – and I have plenty of them – I am grateful that I married relatively late (at 32) and became a mother well past the average age (at 33). I went into this SAHM gig with plenty of real world experience. I had held a variety of jobs and had travelled widely before turning in my power suit, my grade book, my Army fatigues for a life of babies and car pools, Legos and play dates. While some mothers might indulge in wistful thoughts about the working world, might think the grass is greener on the other side, I’ve seen the grass and, though it’s different, it’s not necessarily greener. The clothes are nicer, the pay is better, but it comes with its own set of stresses that I know only too well.

When a mother discerns how best to live out her vocation, here is a pearl of wisdom I have found most helpful: Know thyself. I have friends who beautifully balance motherhood and outside employment. As for me, I think of the words of Jesus: You cannot serve two masters. As an intense, competitive person, were I to invest in a career right now, it would be at the expense of my family. I’m afraid I’d leave them all in the dust. Home is the best place for me for now, and I am so very grateful that it’s a viable option for our family.

No one expresses the value of motherhood more eloquently than G.K. Chesterton who once wrote:

How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. 

Being everything to these small someone?.
It is gigantic indeed.

Kelly blogs here.