Summer Our Way

It's funny how at a certain point in time along the mothering journey, one just accepts the way they are and finds what works for them.  No comparisons, or panic, or feeling left behind or out of the loop.  It took me years to get there, and lots of experimentation and failure and acceptance of who I am and what works for my family.  I know right now there are lots of moms looking on Pinterest for elaborate job charts and summer bucket lists and what have you. (Ugh, that Pinterest-love/hate.)  To do or not to do summer camps/library clubs/nothing/tech turn-offs/family trips/play-dates/no play-dates etc.  So many choices we have to filter through!

We moms, as our children age, have to be fluid and flexible.  But we MUST be kind to ourselves-sometimes, even often, we must do what works to keep us calm and settled and not burned-out by July 15th.

1. Be aware of babies and toddlers schedules and do not feel guilty keeping those schedules.  Some babies and toddlers are very flexible and snap back easily from disruption, and others MUST have that nap every day at exactly this or that time.  Some toddlers (kids!) can withstand a late bedtime, some can't.  I have one child who wakes up at the crack of dawn every day, I swear he would if he went to bed even at 3 a.m.  He can't "catch up" on his sleep.  It's ok to plan days around this and keep a tight schedule even though it's summer.

2. Chores.  There are so many elaborate systems of allowances and chores.  Elaborate and overwhelming and maybe they work for some people, but try as I might, they did not for me.  They just created one more thing to keep track of, to remember, to argue about with kids.  I don't pay for anything but cutting the lawn, and every day I write on a piece of notebook paper a few simple jobs. My mom did this for all of us my whole childhood.  We woke up, ate breakfast, did jobs and then were free to run.  No stickers or rewards or financials.

3. Technology. It's easier for me to just turn it all off.  Yes, there can be a withdrawal from TV.  (The littler kids don't have other tech, the older kids are busy enough with work (this is the key to teens in the summer!).  I have put up reminders on the TV about not turning it on, or asking first.  Once they hear no enough, they give up, we just have to be strong and outlast.  That doesn't mean on a rainy day I just might say yes to a movie, or a favorite show or sporting event, that just means I've learned I don't want it used as a constant fall back to boredom or the way we start our day out.

4. Play dates with little ones were hard and unnecessary unless there are neighborhood-no-drive playing. This gets so much easier when they are older-before that siblings are enough.  Also playdates are supposed to make my life easier because the friend is really easy, respectful, resourceful and not hyper so I choose carefully.

I do know it's hard to keep little ones home and older ones busy.  This is where Lego projects or elaborate craft projects or books or some sort of "goal" or fun fall back activity comes in for us when those "but I'm so bored" comments start. (My kids and the neighbor kids built an entire dog house out of wood scraps last summer!)  It is worth it's weight in gold to invest in anything like this.

5. Food and laundry=priorities.  Food prep (simple meals) and a plan for dinner and a load or two of laundry every day.

6. Low expectations. No cute bucket lists for me.  I tried one year and it felt like another to-do list.  I refuse to be held accountable for anything we didn't do, which might just be nothing, who knows? But for me, it's so much better to throw a surprise in than feel like we all disappointed ourselves.

7. Routine.  Setting a lose routine for summer days help enormously.  Ours is up, breakfast, whatever school work I've assigned (which is another post and very simple things like a page of a Summer Bridge, or whatever we've decided together for the summer, and then jobs).  I try to plan week by week what is going on and where we need to be when, if we go anywhere.

7. Self care.  Summer is full throttle for me and long long days.  Some summers were full on survival mode for me and they were hard!  What would have helped?  A little exercise, a healthier eating plan, even hiring someone to clean or just feeling less guilty about take-out.  Creating some way to feel a little more control of days where schedules changed constantly especially with teens and I felt like I was caught in the storm instead of the EYE of the storm where everything swirled around me and I remained still.  I needed to set more boundaries all the way around. To do that, we have to have time to exercise or meditate, or sit by ourselves, or read, or get up really early to get a hard start and a plan-anything.  Even a teeny tiny bit helps.  It also helps to write this reminder and hang it inside my bathroom cabinet so I don't get so caught up that I forget the essentials.

And sometimes we just have to know and accept that we are in a hard stage and it will get better.
The recognition that mothering, especially a large family, or new baby, takes a lot of energy, and brain space,and can be stressful, is so important.  Taking non-swimmers to the pool is stressful-we are "on" 100% of the time. Going from 6 a.m.-11 p.m. (or later) is stressful.  Doing it yourself with no outside help is stressful. Going on a family vacation can be stressful. The goal is to make it as non-stressful as possible depending on OUR own stress meter, no one else's.

It is up to us to learn about ourselves and our children and set the way we want our days and weeks to look accordingly.

I say probably once a day "I love summer!", and I really mean it.  I am so grateful I get to be home and not in a yucky office,  I love what summer means to me-ice cream and pools, and books and green grass and easy meals and bike rides and more ice cream.  I have the fondest memories of my summers growing up and we seriously did "nothing" but play every day with neighbors, and ride bikes on our gravel road and swim wherever we could find a pool and drink from the faucet and eat tons of hotdogs and corn on the cob and read so many library books for three months straight.  It was the best ever.


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!


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


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!  


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, patiently, 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


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!