Halloween!

This holiday is just plain fun at our house. I really love themes, and usually I can get my act together and dress the whole family up in one theme. This year, the budget wasn’t going to work because we just did some home improvement projects, and I needed to be really low key for Halloween. I know there are cool homemade costumes you can do, but I’m not up for that yet! One rainy day when the kids were stir crazy, James took them out to find the parts for the perfect costumes. I shouldn’t have favorites… but I do. This year, Lana’s is my favorite! She is going as Wonder Woman. She really loves the cape, and she doesn’t walk- she RUNS everywhere. Sweet girl. My older kids are starting to really notice when their candy disappears. I don’t want them to ruin their teeth, have a lot of processed foods and sugar, and -well, um, I really like candy!! That’s what it boils down to. I just plain love chocolate. So, yes, I sneak some of their candy. I think kit-kats are my favorite, with Hershey’s white chocolate coming in a close second.

 

 

 

I wanted to share some of our favorite outfits! I don’t buy ghouls and goblins for our home décor and this really frustrates them. If they could put fake zombies on the roof, the headless horseman in the front yard, and witches with cauldrons on the porches, they would. Nope. I stick with fall stuff like mums, pumpkins, and pretty wreaths. I don’t “do” the undead. The costumes are the same way. I guess it’s the obsession with the forbidden fruit, but I won’t let them dress up as anything evil and bloodthirsty. Other kids may- that’s their choice, but we do goofy, wild, and imaginative instead. I get some complaints, because plenty of friends go a different direction with their costumes, but for the most part they don’t grumble too much. The siblings stick together for the first part of the evening and in our neighborhood, Halloween is insanely busy! The grown ups have bonfires, and grill out in the driveways. It looks like huge tailgating parties everywhere. Everyone is outside, talking and catching up. We have a lot of golf carts where we live (golf cart capital of the world, I think is the nickname!) and sidewalks so people from other places come here due to the safety and ease of walking around.

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This year, we met up with a lot of friends and while the grown-ups had a chance to visit and chat, I volunteered to be the mom that went door to door in the early evening. I followed the group of 15 or so kids all over the neighborhood. What a wonderful privilege, to be able to walk and keep up with candy-hungry young’uns! There were fireworks, pounds of candy, chase and tag in the dark, and so many more happy memories to file away.

 

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S’Mores the Hamster

Mom, can we get a pet? on repeat, for 1.5 years.

I got James a puppy as a surprise the day he went to take his Step II board exams in med school. We had been married for a year, and we owned a small townhome in Augusta, GA.  He was a small, black curly haired Schnoodle whom we named Gus. The first night we had him, we put him in a crate, determined to train him the right way from the beginning. He wimpered. We took him out. He wimpered some more. We propped his doggie bed up on pillows, on top of a chair, so he was even with our bed. Then, he kept wimpering…so we put him in our bed. And that was that.

james and gus

He slept with us, at our feet, every night until right before Aidan was born. I’m going to get choked up writing this. I wasn’t sure how he would react when we brought the baby home, but I was not prepared for his reaction! Gus sniffed baby Aidan, licked him, and then growled at anyone who came close. He NEVER growled, ever. Except when we brought a baby home. He met each one of our babies, and he loved them. He let them pull his hair, hold him, tickle his belly, chase him, play fetch, and feed him table scraps. He never bit or nipped- not once- in his whole life. He would however, bark at everything including his own shadow, the older he got. This drove me nuts.

After my mesh surgery and injury, I was on edge all of the time. I couldn’t stand loud noises or my sleep being interrupted. Since Gus barked a lot, he ended up being put in the laundry room to keep him quiet. It has a window, food and water, a bed and it’s right off the kitchen- so it wasn’t a punishment or anything. Still, he would keep his little nub of a tail down and act like he was being banished to Siberia.

In January 2017, I underwent a procedure that was supposed to be low risk, that had a 50/50 chance of working very well to relieve the nerve pain called pulsed radiofrequency treatment. I had a horrific reaction, and it ended up making me much, much worse temporarily. I couldn’t speak the pain was so bad. The few days afterwards are a blur- but I remember my dad coming in to my bedroom and saying that something was very wrong with Gus. Two days later he was dead. I was bedridden, and the kids were in shock.  James and dad dug his grave in the backyard on a cold, rainy afternoon. My mom was in town, and she came in to tell me that I HAD to find the strength to come outside. My daughter wouldn’t put the dead dog down, and she had his blood on her shirt. She was inconsolable. That is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. I got up and walked outside in the rain, and I took Gus out of Rose’s arms. I was on 100mcg patch of fentanyl, I don’t know how much Lyrica, 3-4 doses of oxycodone a day- and I still couldn’t focus through the pain. Nick was so little, and he said “why is there water coming out of my eyes?” Our oldest son blurted out “That’s not water! You are crying because you are sad!” I don’t think that Nick could process grief at his young age, but after Aidan said that, it hit him and he tore off running across the yard, sobbing. He hid in a giant bush and James had to crawl in the mud to retrieve him. That was a horrible day. The pain was unbearable and blocked out rational thought, grief, and I felt useless. I limped back inside, and curled in the fetal position on my bed while James and my parents took care of the children that afternoon.

I did not want another pet. At all. Ever. It’s amazing how resilient children are, and not long after that day, they started asking. I started saying “no” on a daily basis, for over a year. I had long told them that I did not have the energy to take care of 6 kids, work on my health, and take care of a dog. It wouldn’t be fair to a dog to bring them into our home unless we could promise to take care of them adequately. Finally, FINALLY they wore me down. Well, Rose did. My desire to NOT have a pet, was nothing compared to her love of all of God’s creatures. The child brings everything in here. Crickets, spiders, frogs- oh the tears!! I made her let a frog go at the soccer field. She wouldn’t speak to me the rest of the night!

I started doing my homework on low maintenance animals. They shot down my suggestion of a goldfish, lizard, or fiddler crab. They wanted a rodent of some sort. Ok, y’all, I have to admit- I have a fear/phobia of rodents. Like I freak out and scream. I cannot stand them. I kept researching, hoping the answer would present itself- and it did! I found the perfect pet!

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When Rose was at camp, we wrote her a letter and surprised her, telling her when she got back we would go to PetSmart and pick out a new pet! We decided on a dwarf hamster. They don’t get along with others so you can only own one, they don’t bite, they don’t smell, make noise, and they don’t eat much. Voila, the perfect pet. Oh, the unbridled joy when we brought that tiny animal home!! We named her S’Mores because of her coloring. She’s SUPER fast, and teeny, and we explained that if she ever got out of her cage, that was it- she’d be lost forever. She can run really fast and she’s the size of a small plum- so we wouldn’t be able to find her.

On the first day of public school this year, I drove Matthew to school. I told his teacher that the only thing I was nervous about was him riding the bus. She assured me that she would personally walk him to the right bus that afternoon. When I went to pick him up at the bus stop… he wasn’t there. Our neighbor went back on to the bus and searched- no Matthew. I had to jump in our van, leave my oldest child at home in charge of napping siblings and frantically drive around searching for Mattie. Turns out, his teacher had put him on the “correct” bus, the one that the school system told me was ours, but the letter was wrong- they had mixed up the numbers and sent him to the wrong place. We found Matthew, and he was totally calm of course. Very exciting first day!

When we returned home, my 5 year old came up to me, tears rolling down his face. He explained that he had been playing with S’mores when he was supposed to be resting, and she had gotten loose. I know he was scared of his siblings’ reaction, so he hid behind me. He was SO upset. All of the excitement about losing Matthew was forgotten, and the kids all started shouting at once. They weren’t angry at all with Nick, they were too worried that our pet was lost forever. They took off upstairs, calling her name (as if she would come running?). Frantic, and hysterical. They took their shoes off before they run upstairs to look- I guess to avoid the chance that they stepped on her? I tripped over the shoes, and fell pretty hard on my knee and elbow. Ouch.

After I limped up the stairs, I laid down on the floor, pretty sore. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her tiny, furry body. She came running right at me! Here’s where my fear of rodents hurt the most- I didn’t have the nerve to grab her! I froze- and she kept going. Oh, boy did the kids let me have it! Finally, Aidan trapped her and they got her back in her cage. They patted Nick on the back, letting him know there were no hard feelings. Truth be told, I think they liked the excitement. We are really careful with her all of the time, and I know the little ones learned their lesson that day about taking her out. She is adored by all of them, not a problem at all, and it’s another step back to real life for me!

 

The best day of his life

This past week, we celebrated my oldest son’s 11th birthday. Usually, the kids discuss their birthday for roughly 11.5 months leading up to it. The cake, the presents, the activities, etc. This is the very first time one of my kids (getting older? small tear!) hasn’t brought up their special day ahead of time. We asked Aidan what he wanted, and he said he couldn’t think of one thing. For the record, we don’t shower them with a lot of gifts. James and I get each child a special present for their birthday, and then siblings choose Dollar Tree treasures that they pick out (always the highlight of the day). For his birthday, I knew what he really wanted. He loves to play Fortnite. I am pretty anti-video game, and we have strict rules about screen time. Oh man, the look on his face was priceless! I asked “do you want to play Fortnite and eat junk food for your birthday?” You would have thought I offered him a million dollars. That was it.

me and a and cake

We cancelled school that day, and Aidan played with his siblings outside, and he got to play Fornite. He was pretty funny about lunch. He said he wanted paninis with *pesto*! He knew not everyone liked it, but he did, and it was what he REALLY wanted. It might be my favorite thing too, so I happily agreed. Aidan had football practice that evening, and he asked if I would make cookies for his teammates. Awww- yes, I will. I’m honored he still wants me around. Rose and I made funfetti cookies from Pinterest that turned out really well actually- ha, a Pinterest win!

Matthew had his last baseball game that night too, and Aidan was going to miss it. He was disappointed about that. Aidan’s first love is baseball, and he’s been coaching Matthew since he could walk. He figured out early on that Rose wouldn’t take orders from him, but sweet Matthew was always up for a game and he didn’t mind constant instruction. It was a gorgeous day, and the boys spent a good deal of time in the backyard. Aidan worked with Matthew on his pitching, hitting, throwing and fielding. It was a full two hour “practice!” Matthew’s team hadn’t won a game yet this season. James had to work one of his long days with double shifts, and we had a complicated evening of running around dropping off kids where they needed to be at the right time.

When I arrived at Matthew’s game, I gave him a wave and a smile. He said somewhat dejectedly “I’m not pitching tonight.” He’s only 6 years old, and he plays on an 8 and under team. He really is excellent for his age, but I understood that they couldn’t start him as pitcher for every game. I tried to cheer him up by saying “hey, maybe you will be the relief pitcher?” I watched his game for a while, and the other team pulled ahead. Matthew struck out at the plate, and tried to hide the tears in his eyes. He is the sweetest child in the world, and it is pretty hard for my mama’s heart to watch him get upset. When James arrived after his LONG day, I took off to go to Aidan’s practice. I told Matthew I loved him, and good luck, I’d see him at home later.

After Aidan’s practice, the boys happily gobbled the cookies. I had two other kids with me, and we called James from the car to find out how Matthew’s game turned out. They don’t play past an hour and twenty minutes. James didn’t pick up the phone, so we tried mom. To our complete surprise, they were still playing 2 hours later! It was the bottom of the last inning, and Matthew was pitching- relief pitcher just like I thought. His team was ahead by one run! They had to hold the other team. Matthew had struck out one batter, and caught a pop fly for the second out. One more out and they would win, their first and only game of the season. He had made the two outs by himself.

Aidan was so funny. He had my mom on speaker phone- “MOM!! PULL THE CAR OVER!!!!” I did pull over, because I was too excited to drive. We listened as my mom announced each pitch that Matthew threw. “I CAN’T TAKE THIS!!! CAN I HANG UP??” Aidan asked multiple times. He couldn’t stand the anticipation and the pressure that was on Matthew’s shoulders. When mom announced the last strike, third out- never have I EVER been that elated! HAHA. We were screaming and whooping in the car, and we all pictured little Mattie on the mound throwing his glove in the air with glee.

Aidan was cheering so loudly, I couldn’t drive the car for 5 minutes. Screaming, fist pumping with the other brothers- it was a wild sight. Matthew won his last game, on Aidan’s birthday! When we got home, the brother’s embraced for a while. I met James’s eyes over their heads- THIS is why I endured 9 months of hyperemesis multiple times, I told him. This is why I missed out on girls’ nights, vacations, date nights, and decent food to be sick as a dog with each pregnancy. THIS, right here. Oh, the love that night! Aidan said it was the best day of his life. It was a sweet, simple day filled with love and family time. But, it was a perfect day to us.

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The joyful reunion after Aidan got home from practice and Matthew returned from his game.

When you lose the battle, and it’s ok

I’m going to share something pretty personal here: James and I have had *one* real argument our entire marriage. We’ve had this argument about 11 million times, but it has been the same one, over and over. We disagree on things, but there’s one thing that has been such a sore spot for us over and over. I have this perception that I have to be the mean parent, and he gets to be the fun parent. I’m the rule enforcer, and he’s the one who gives in to their demands and lets things slide. I always feel like one of us has to hold the center, so it must be me. I can’t give an inch, because then, who would keep order?

This perception in my mind of our roles in the home has led to battles, real, raw emotional battles over the years.  The hurt starts with me, not because of anything that James purposely did.  I’m sure when I’m old and gray I’ll be able to offer calm wisdom to young parents about how I learned from my mistakes, doing this! For now, I’m sorta/kinda still in the middle of it, and trying to figure out how to compromise without both of us feeling frustrated.

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Right after we got engaged, when we were 12. Just kidding:)

I am no doubt the stricter parent. Does that make me a “better” parent? Ah, confession. I’ll admit, in my more selfish, angry moments I thought that it did. I know I’m wrong. This line of thinking has gotten me nowhere except angrier, self-righteous and spinning my wheels. Not a great combination. James loves our children fiercely, and has very different ideas about what’s perfectly normal and acceptable. I don’t think that anyone needs to share every argument they have with their spouse on the internet, but I thought that perhaps other parents might find some common ground? One parent thinks they are the strict one, and carries some resentment that the other parent is the “fun” one?

One very recent and vivid example of our disagreement has to do with technology. We will always have to navigate the changing world of discipline and privileges as the kids get older. I am stuck in the 1980s- I didn’t do that as a kid, and I’m fine! I didn’t miss out! See?! I can’t stand video games. Cannot stand them. Cartoon people jump around and you get points, and there are different levels…blah blah blah. I have seen people totally engrossed, obsessed, sitting in front of a tv all day on a weekend in college, with no social skills because they just play video games all day. That’s my perception of what it looks like when people play.

There is a very popular video game trending right now called Fortnite. You’ve probably heard of it. I was fine with not having it at all in our home. James downloaded it for our oldest son to try, and that opened a new can of worms. I can beat my head against the wall and rehash the same arguments over and over again about why I don’t like video games, but James can silence me with one sentence “I played them occasionally and I turned out fine.” He turned out better than “fine”- he happens to be my hero. I think he hung the moon. I can’t argue with that statement. It’s true. He’s a hardworking physician, a very hands-on loving father, a patient husband who was my rock during the hardest times of my life, and a man of faith.

I realized that I want peace in the valley, I want to show James how much I admire him, and after a lot of prayer, I knew I needed to take a long, hard look at my pride. I have a pretty rigid view of what’s right and wrong, and more than anything in my life, marriage has softened my edges. I hope that it has made me a better person- I think so. My personal opinion of video games hasn’t changed, but how we treat them in our home did. The boys play Fornite sometimes and the world hasn’t stopped turning. It’s not winning and losing a battle. There shouldn’t be “winning” in a loving home, because that means that someone gets defeated. I just used that analogy in the title of this piece, to represent my personal battle. I battle my pride all of the time- pride over asking for help, pride over teaching the kids “enough”, and pride over being the perfect parent. Gah- it makes it glaringly obvious how much my arguments are about PRIDE, when I write it down and read it.

We have days, times, limits, etc. on screen time. We are in a unique position because of James’s job, where we have multiple computers in the home. One of them was not being used, and was a very nice desktop. We installed it in his office, so that when the boys are online they are next to James- literally. I don’t feel like I am in a position to share every rule we make about screens, because what works for us is probably not right for someone else. Plus, each one of my children is treated differently. That kind of irks them! I get the question “why is he allowed to do __?”

I hope that when I look back on my life, I can say that I learned from my mistakes. The fact that I’ve had the same argument for 11 years, clearly shows that I have room to grow! As much as James and I are alike in many ways, and we love each other, we communicate very differently. My biggest stumbling block is my pride, when it comes to being a good human being and a person of faith. These compromises as a parent and a spouse might get me to Heaven one day- breaking down my innate tendency to always think that *my* way is “right.” By working on my communication with James over every-day disagreements like Fornite, I hope I’m a better listener and friend to everyone else! I read once that marriage is like putting two rough rocks in a bag. Over time, they bang against each other and become smooth. I like that. It’s not easy, and sometimes there are tears of frustration, but my rough edges are being refined and honed, by love.

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Dancing at Piper’s wedding, after 14 years of marriage.

Meal time + a Recipe

I know that meal time can be a challenge for families- nowadays, so many people have food allergies and intolerances, as well as the usual picky eating that is common to children. We are incredibly blessed to not have to struggle with food allergies in our home. As for picky eating- I’d say I “lucked out” in that department as well, but it really isn’t luck, it’s our approach as parents to food.

My first child loved food so much, it was actually a hindrance to our lives. I tried to take him to story time at the library once- only once! Another mom opened a cheese snack for her child, across the room from us. That was it. He saw it and started yelling. No one could eat in his presence unless he had food as well. Restaurants? Oh dear- awful. Any time a waiter walked by with food for someone else, he took it personally. Needless to say, we didn’t go to restaurants for a couple of years. Aidan ate anything- still does.

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Right after he ate a LOT of blue icing at a bday party, 2011

Second child came along, and low and behold- was very similar! She wasn’t picky, and we would serve her a wide variety of foods. I made their baby food, and we introduced different spices and textures when they were teeny. I know that this isn’t really common- to have two “good” eaters, who will try Thai food, sushi, veggies, etc. and not complain. My third child wasn’t quite as voracious an eater as the other two! He actually turned down some dishes but for the most part, he wasn’t overly picky.

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Pic of baby #2, bless her heart, those cheeks! She wasn’t hungry, EVER.

During my health struggles, I was bedridden and I couldn’t cook a meal for over a year. I don’t think I made a meal for almost 18 months. Wow. We were the recipients of so much love and charity- it was hard to accept, but it was completely necessary. In hindsight, I can see how much this helped our family in ways I didn’t realize at the time. Food isn’t just something yummy or social, it’s necessary for life itself. I think most people in first world countries, who don’t know what true HUNGER is, take it for granted, just a little bit. We have the privilege of being picky and choosing what we feel like eating. What an incredible thing. I’d have to guess, that a majority of the world’s population doesn’t have the luxury of being very picky. They know what real hunger feels like, and they view food as a precious commodity necessary for life.

As a family, we learned that you don’t have to love every food put in front of you, but you do need to be grateful for it. People from our church, homeschool community, friends, neighbors, and family all took the time, money and effort to help provide for us. What an amazing blessing- THAT is what I want my kids to remember at the dinner table. The full plate in front of them is a blessing. I am not going to get in a fight at the table about them not wanting to eat a certain vegetable on any given day. Fine, not a big deal. I am not advocating this philosophy for everyone, and I know that some children can’t stand certain textures or flavors. Maybe the parents fix two or three different meals to appease people. I will never judge how anyone else chooses to make things run smoothly in their home- I’m not in your shoes!

Here, we don’t fix two meals. There’s one thing that’s served for everyone. Sometimes, everyone likes it, but usually, they don’t! There are some common dishes that I really don’t like- I won’t mention them, because they are served all of the time by my friends! I will smile, say “thank you” and really mean it, and then I will take a bite. I don’t feel like arguing over food with my family on a daily basis here. Gratitude is a huge part of the meal- are we really grateful for what is in front of us? Do we realize what a blessing it is, to know where our next meal is coming from?

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Eli helping in the kitchen. This kid will leave a biscuit behind, and just eat the meat! Doesn’t take after his mom, who loves carbs:)

I can’t force my kids to like certain foods, and I don’t try. I don’t need for them to like everything! I hope and pray that they are thankful for food, and that we are all mindful of how much disparity there is in the world. Be grateful, say the blessing and mean it, and if you don’t like a certain food- that’s ok! It’s really not worth arguing over.

I have a few recipes that everyone loves, that I will share. It’s rare to find something that EVERYONE will like, equally. Our all-time favorite is called “sludge.” I’m not joking! It looks like sludge, I mean, it really is the ugliest meal ever. However, once you get past that, it tastes amazing!

Oh- one little thing: I am not the greatest person at following a recipe exactly. I’m more the “a dash of this” and “handful of that,” pour liquid in until it “looks ok.” I’ll write down exact quantities, but feel free to alter things!

  • Sludge- aka Sausage and Lentil Slow Cooker Supper
    Two pounds of fresh sausage (like Jimmy Dean, in a roll)
    1 cup brown rice
    1 cup lentils
    Italian spices
    6-ish cups of beef broth
    1 ½ cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
    White wine optional- splash, for taste

Brown the sausage and drain the grease. Put the sausage in the slow cooker. Pour the lentils and rice in. I start with 4 cups of broth. Add the Italian seasoning. Turn the cooker on “low heat” for 8 hours. I check back in a couple of hours and add more liquid as needed. About 30 minutes before you want to eat, add the cheese and stir. If there’s too much liquid at the end, leave the top off of the slow cooker. Not enough, add more! Stir occasionally.

You can serve with bread, salad, raw veggies, fruit- whatever you like. It’s a one-pot/bowl meal, and clean up is easy. It looks like brown goo when it’s done, but it smells amazing! Enjoy😊

My Middle Child

I have had 6 pregnancies and 6 children. This one was the easiest- well, the only easy one and it was a foreshadowing of things to come. My third child, Matthew came into the world on my parent’s wedding anniversary, a couple of days before Thanksgiving. It was cold, and we lived in the Philadelphia area. I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning, my first one back home with him, and experiencing a feeling of such complete happiness and joy, I’m not sure I could ever top that!  Matthew is our third child and second boy, and he has broken the mold. His personality, temperament, and attitude are unique and special, only to him. He has traits that I wish I had, and I hope to be more like him when I grow up!

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First day of school this year, I was able to drive and take him by myself (a big deal for me!) 2018, 1st grade

He was my smallest baby at 6 lb 14 oz, and he was born the earliest as well, at 37 weeks. As a baby, he never cried. He would make a noise when he was hungry or tired, but he didn’t fuss. I didn’t know that was possible! He sat rear-facing in his car seat for three giant road trips, two down the east coast, and one halfway across the country. He didn’t cry once. When he cried for three days, after we moved to Detroit for a year, I actually called the hospital! Ha- I’m sure they thought I was crazy for calling to see if we could come in because he was yelling. Before we loaded the car to go, I noticed a rash had popped up on his hands. He had hand-foot-and-mouth disease- and that was the only time he really fussed as a baby!

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Aidan and Rose holding him, his first day home.

In a house full of loud personalities, he’s the quiet one. He’s not shy, he’s just not loud. He doesn’t demand attention- ever. He taught himself to ride a bike on his first try, and he swam across the pool by himself, without anyone teaching him. He can play with a pinecone or a paper cup for hours and be completely entertained. If I could describe his personality in one word, it would be “content.” I think that a lot of adults have to strive for contentment. Being at peace in one’s surroundings isn’t a natural tendency- at least, in my 37 years of observation. Matthew is totally at peace, wherever he is. He’s not always hoping for the next best thing, asking about what’s for dinner at the breakfast table (like every other person in this house!) or coveting every toy that other children have around him.
On Mother’s Day this year, they made me cards and we had a lovely day. That evening at dinner, I thanked the children for a wonderful Mother’s Day and he looked shocked. “TODAY is Mother’s Day?!” It hadn’t registered all day! Another time, he asked when my husband was getting home from work- James was sitting next to him at the dinner table! He has a wonderful ability to block out noise and distractions and totally focus on something. I will call his name for 10 minutes, not hear a peep, and find out that he is 3 feet from me, under some pillows, concentrating on a bug crawling.
Matthew gets along with everyone. He was in kindergarten this year, and during one of his class parties, his teacher told me that he was very smart- he liked to call out the answer to all of her questions. I was pretty shocked, embarrassing for me, because I didn’t realize he could read. He never brought me books, or read out loud like the other children. When I read to him, he sits quietly. He knew the words all along, he just didn’t mention that to me.
My oldest son, Aidan, is a sports nut and he forced Matthew to be his baseball/dodgeball/golf/tennis/football/soccer/any-ball game buddy. Matthew did t-ball for the first time last year since he had learned to love it from playing so much at home. His team lost like 35-0, and after the game he came up to me and asked sweetly if they had won. He truly didn’t care either way- he just loved the game itself. He isn’t competitive in the sense that he likes to “beat” other people in anything. He really enjoys playing games, sports, tag, etc. but just for the sake of the game, for fun. He is a good sport about losing, which is something that we didn’t have to teach him- it just came naturally. See, again, he has traits that I envy! His contentment with life is so beautiful to me.

matt u ice craem
On a date with mom and dad, before school started. This 40lb kid ate the entire $10 milkshake! He didn’t get my metabolism.

I love predicting where I think the kids will end up in 20 years. James and I talk about that, and I joke around with the kids as well. Matthew- my prediction is that he will either be like Matthew McConaughy’s character in Dazed and Confused “all right, all right, all right”, or he will be a hermit/monk who takes a vow of silence and lives in a cave with no earthly possessions, and he’s the happiest person that we know. Either way, his laid back nature will continue and he will always be every sibling’s best friend. I wish I could write down every Matthew story that I know, and preserve them forever. He’s hilarious, gentle, non-conforming, peaceful, his laughter sounds like bells ringing, and his faith runs deep. His name means “gift from God” and it is perfect for him. Thank you sweet Matthew, for being so resilient when I was lacking as a mother, and for being so forgiving. You are a gem my dear.

Introductions are in order

My amazing daughter Rose deserves her own post and introduction. I picked her name way before I was even married- and I have a twenty-five year old diary entry to prove it! It was the most beautiful name I could think of for a little girl. Her first name is Carolyn, after my grandmother. I had the honor of meeting all of my grandparents, but being close with only one of them. My other grandparents passed away when I was a little child, but my paternal grandmother, Carolyn, was a big part of my life. Carolyn Rose was the name, before she even existed:)

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My first-born child, Aidan, was a tough kiddo. He broke any mold I thought kids should fit in to. I felt inadequate and anxious as a mother, and I remember thinking, “oh my gosh, I don’t want him to be an only child, but I am terrible at this parenting thing!”  From the moment I found out that I was pregnant with Rose, I started praying that she would be different from Aidan. I pleaded, Lord, I can handle challenges, but can they please be different ones?? Ha. He delivered in spectacular fashion.

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Right before the pregnancy, I was working out and I pulled my back out. I never fully recovered and I didn’t want to take muscle relaxers or any medication that could affect the baby- so I lived with back pain for 9 months, in addition to unending morning sickness. By the end, I was so tired from not sleeping, I was too tired to eat. When I delivered her, I was the thinnest I had been in years (not a good thing!). She was an easy labor and delivery- opposite of my first. She came out, eating her hands. Literally. She was hungry from the first moment I met her! It was hilarious to us that night.

She was the polar opposite of her brother in every way. We used to joke and call her “Gilly” like from Saturday Night Live, the character that was so accident prone. Rose had a way of attracting extreme danger and not thinking anything of it. She would casually bring me steak knives and scissors, in case I needed them, while reading a book. She was devoid of all fear. When she learned to crawl she would go head first down the stairs over and over again- she never had a fear of heights or ledges. I always said “if the entire world went right, she would go left.” Rose was always unique- she picked her own clothes, and went through a phase when she wouldn’t leave the house without a cardigan and a necklace, at 2 years old. Who is this kid? Jackie O? She has always been SO sweet-natured, and patient. She is my opposite in so many ways. Where I try to create order and structure, she thrives in any situation- any. No boundaries? That’s ok. When we went to Disney World, I was afraid she would wander off with a stranger- she’s that friendly.

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There are two times that come to mind in particular, when Rose met new people. Once, she met a man who was physically deformed. I warned her ahead of time not to stare or ask him a lot of questions. My warnings were completely unnecessary. She walked right up to him, hugged him, and chatted him up like he was her oldest friend, never once breaking eye contact. His body was very broken, and different from anything she had ever seen, but she only saw his eyes, and his smile. The other time, she was going to meet an elderly woman with severe tremors and speech problems. Again, I gave the heads up- no staring. Rose ran to the woman and jumped on her lap! She wrapped her arms around her neck and asked a million questions. My other kids were present for both of these encounters, and they were polite, but they showed a little trepidation and uncertainty at how to handle themselves. Not my girl.

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When my health took a very sudden turn, we had to come up with a new plan for the kids for school this year. It was decided that Rose would start at the local public school, which is well liked and highly spoken of. I can honestly say, I was not nervous at all for her. I was more concerned that her teacher wouldn’t be able to contain her exuberance, outgoing personality, and her joie de vivre.  Rose would thrive anywhere, anytime. When her baby sister came home from the hospital, she was colicky for months. Rose would walk up to me and take her and say “I’ve got this!” in her mature, 6 year old way:) She would rock Lana, pace with her, and shush her for an hour or more, so I could collect my wits. I call her Saint Rose for her patience around here.

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Rose has so many qualities that I wish I had- fearlessness being one of them! She has a photographic memory- it’s unreal. It took us a while to realize that. She couldn’t hold still while we read to her- ever. Later, I realized she was an auditory learner, and she could recite, verbatim, exactly what I had read while she had been bouncing off of the walls.  She does a youth ministry group called Awana, and when she was in kindergarten, she finished memorizing all of the Bible verses in her book. They gave her extra verses, to finish out the year. By the end, she had an entire page, single spaced, to memorize. She was upset and so was I. That is a LOT of pressure to put on a kindergartener! I went in to speak with her leader and point out that I considered it unreasonable to give someone her age that much to memorize. She said that other children had done it, and I asked if any of them were Rose’s age. They were not. Rose went home, looked at that paper for a little while and then said the whole Scripture passage, perfectly, from memory.

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Her love of animals is what makes her tick. She wants to rescue all of them, from frogs that unfortunately fall into the filter at the pool, to worms in the backyard. Her favorite, by far, are dogs. She has memorized textbooks of breeds and knows EVERY trait of every dog I can name. She knows every dog in our neighborhood, their temperment, who they belong to, and their personality. Rose loves all of God’s creatures and is thisclose to becoming a vegetarian. I think her love of bacon is the last hold out! If this continues, her brothers predicted she will be the crazy cat lady with 52 cats and dogs, who feeds every stray animal in her neighborhood. Our dog, Gus, who we had since right after James and I got married, died last year. She took it the hardest and has been begging for a new puppy ever since. It’s just not the right time for us now, but that doesn’t slow her down- she still checks with me, daily.

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Sweet Rose is a night owl, who is my only child who will sleep in! Bless you for that. When she talks, it’s a mile a minute and she is very persuasive when she puts her mind to it. She sees things in shades of gray, she is definitely not as rigid as I am. Thank goodness for that! She has taught me more as a mother than I have taught her, I think. I see my own weaknesses and my tendency to want everything MY way. She sees the world differently than I do, and takes after my husband more. What a treasure you are my dear. She challenges me every day, and I am SO glad that we survived your toddlerhood- Gilly!

Child Most Likely To: Jump out of an airplane, join PETA, know everyone’s name on her college campus.

Hindsight is 20/20, or pretty close

Around here, we have a bit of a Star Wars obsession. It happened by accident. All of my kids had seen bits and pieces of the original trilogy, but it wasn’t until Eli the Wildman, my 3 year old, saw it, that a love was born. He was two and a half at the time. He saw Star Wars, A New Hope IV, and he LOVED it. His favorite character is Darth Vader, everyone else is just a distraction. Star Wars and its role in our daily lives deserves its own post! The rest of the children have seen the movies now, because of Eli. I was sitting with them one day recently, and they asked in their sweet childish wonder, “Momma, is the Dark Side stronger than the good side? Is it stronger than the light?” I think I stole the answer from Yoda, when I answered, “No, but it’s easier to follow.” Oh, how that simple statement affected me. I thought back, to a year ago, when I felt a pull to the “Dark Side.” Seems a little silly to make the analogy to Star Wars, but it makes sense, in a weird way!

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This time last year, I was in Michigan. I had confirmed nerve damage, and constant, burning pain in addition to decreased motor function of that nerve. A doctor in Royal Oak, Michigan was world-renowned for his use of neuromodulators in patients with chronic pelvic pain. Long story- very long story, but I ended up choosing to see him and try a new model of device. It did not have a box to be implanted, like every other neuromod on the market. After the mesh debacle, the idea of having a foreign object in my body, and having surgeons tunnel to attach leads to my spine, gave me a panic attack- literally. The new device did not involve tunneling and the leads were the size of a spaghetti noodle. The “box”, or controller, would be worn outside of my body on a belt, and the whole thing was wireless. It took James and I three days to drive up there, because I couldn’t ride in the car for too long without a lot of pain. I laid the seat back flat, and had ice packs covering me. I was on fentanyl, lyrica or gabapentin, and other meds to control the unceasing agony. I do not use that word lightly. It was agony.

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This was one last hug, before I left for the long trip.
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In the driveway, before we left.

James flew back home after my initial surgery to have the small leads placed, and my mom and Aunt Janet flew up to stay with me during the trial period. What should have been a few days, turned into a month. It coincided with Lent. We used the time the best we could, and read our daily offices out of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, read the Bible, said Hail Mary’s and I also read about the lives of saints. I have a diary from this time, and photos as well. It is so painful to remember- I could write for hours. Every day, I awoke, hoping that the device would work- I would be able to see SOME difference in the pain level. Instead, the pain was unchanged, and actually increased at times. I called the doctor and the device rep often to check in. I was completely honest in my review of the symptoms, but they kept telling me “it takes time to work.” I was determined to tough it out, certain that if I was brave enough and persevered, I would be rewarded in the end. Just give it time, Amy- again and again and again.

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Mom and Janet, during our daily reading time.

I was away from my children for a month. I missed my baby girl crawling, babbling little words, I missed ballgames, tears, laughing, dinners, hugs… I lived in a bubble, in our airbnb’s for a month. It cost a small fortune, and each day brought renewed hope, and then frustration at the end of it. We prayed for hours each day. Hours. I begged the Lord for guidance, not just healing, but wisdom to know what path to take. When you have a neuromodulator implanted, it is a trial period to begin with. Then, you have to decide if you want the final device- if you have seen at least 50% improvement. I knew I was one of the first people to receive it, what I did not know, was that I was the THIRD person, and the second woman… and that it hadn’t worked for the first woman. Wish that detail had been mentioned. All of my hope was riding on this working. I had already tried numerous treatments, and they all failed.

Through the haze of very heavy medication and pain, I was trying to discern the “why” in all of it. What was the reason for all of this? If I prayed enough, said the right things, would that equal the desired result? Was this suffering all for a lesson I needed to learn, and when I “got it”, the suffering would end? Guys, my head was foggy, fuzzy, and I had not had a “good” day, in 8 months. I was grasping for answers and a plan and for everything to make sense. I missed my children and husband for a month, but it was all going to be worth it because I grew in my faith, and came home healed. That was my plan. Every day, I sunk further and further down in mood because none of that was happening. I had more questions after praying so much, not fewer. The pain muddled any clear thoughts I had.

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Our former priest brought me communion during my stay.

The morning came for me to decide whether or not to get the final device. My mom and my aunt drove me to the hospital. I remember being in so much pain, I was curled in the fetal position on the floor of the waiting room- in a haze. The doctor called me back, and asked if I wanted to get the final device. He said, again, it just takes time. I blamed myself for being impatient- maybe it was my fault, I hadn’t waited long enough to see progress. I didn’t want the entire month to have been a waste of time and money, so I said, “yes.” The doctor, who I really liked (despite a difficult trial) suggested EMG testing on the nerve while I was under anesthesia. The pudendal nerve has sensory as well as motor function. He knew that the sensory part was stimulated at a certain level (Hertz, etc. on the device), but they hadn’t checked the motor part of the nerve. I had been running the device between 10-14 per the doctor’s instructions, for three weeks. When I woke up, he entered the room and explained that the EMG tests showed I should never have run the device over a level 1! I had overstimulated the nerve for weeks, and caused more pain. Just like I described, multiple times. The final lead was placed directly on the nerve, and I was assured that if I ran the device on the correct level, I would see pain relief. It was practically certain. Phew! I was so relieved- still in a haze of pain, but with renewed hope. My perseverance had paid off!

My mom and my aunt flew home, and James flew up. He drove me back down to GA, this time in only two days. When he arrived, I was afraid to tell him that I didn’t feel any relief yet, like I had been promised. Actually, I felt worse, again. The car ride home was tense because I was trying to act like I was better, but I could barely put a sentence together. James figured out that I was hiding a tremendous amount of pain, and to say that he was disappointed, is a vast understatement. I can’t imagine what went through his mind. He hadn’t seen the wife he knew and loved for way more than a month- I had become a different person. We had held out so much hope that the “old” me would return. He was noticeably angry and upset. Our drive into town coincided with the Wednesday of Holy Week. My children had created a 40 foot banner for my return! I thought I would be driving up to the house, triumphant, just in time for Easter. My own, personal, renewal and triumph. I had pictured this moment a thousand times. I hobbled out of the car, and gritted my teeth through hugs and some tears. The rest of that day is a blur. I was asked a hundred times how much better are you? Is it working? When can you do ___?

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My wonderful extended family, holding down the fort!

I awoke the next morning, Maundy Thursday, and called my doctor in Michigan. I told him not to count my experience as a success. It wasn’t working AT ALL, I had followed every instruction, perfectly, done everything they asked, and patience did not pay off. I was in more pain, and I had wasted a month of my life for nothing. He was alarmed and asked me to go get an x-ray, asap. Why? What’s the point now, I thought? James took me to an outpatient center that morning. By that evening we had the results- the lead the surgeon had placed on my nerve had migrated, immediately after the surgery. There’s only a 6% chance of that happening… so a 94% of success. I was in the 6%. I went to bed that night, feeling somewhat vindicated, but mostly hopeless. I awoke the morning of Good Friday 2017, feeling different than I ever have in my entire life.

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Wednesday of Holy Week 2017, right after I got out of the car.

The irony and importance of the date was not lost on me at all. In fact, I think that added to the pain. I had expected to return home- having beaten my circumstances, just in time for Easter. A rebirth! A new beginning, a new hope. Instead, I was more broken than ever. The morning of Good Friday, I felt pain the likes of which I have had never known before or since. It was a void in my soul. Physical pain, I knew well, but this new sensation was foreign to me. It was as if a limb had been amputated. I lost God- in my mind I had. I tried to speak to Him, and the words wouldn’t form in my mouth. I couldn’t feel God, at all. I can’t describe this adequately. I do not think that you need to physically “feel” connected to the Lord- like all warm and fuzzy all of the time. I knew that. But that day, I felt like I had lost my best friend, he had died and I would never see him again. I felt abandoned- an emptiness that was SO painful, it was actually worse than the physical agony. I had read that Mother Teresa also felt that way, for years. An absence. She pushed onward in her faith, but she described an absence of the Holy Spirit- or the perception of one, in her life. I was numb. James was numb. Exhausted. We had done everything “right” and nothing had gone according to plan.

If I had to pinpoint rock bottom, Good Friday 2017 would be it. There were many physically painful times, but that day, I felt pain in my soul. I literally had no idea what to do, how to go on living. Without God, what was the point? Oh, that day, that one day. I will never forget feeling so alone, while being surrounded by people who loved me. It would have been so easy to give in, to dwell in the darkness and wallow in self-pity at that point. The darkness was pulling me, I felt it. “Give up, He doesn’t care about you” was the voice I heard that day. I wanted to curse the Lord- full honesty here. I prayed and begged and went through SO much pain, for nothing??! I limped through Good Friday, and woke the next day, still lost. Easter morning, I woke up, and at first, I went through the motions. I forced a smile at breakfast, I tried to listen at church. There was still that nagging voice in my head, telling me to give up. I still felt a void- that’s the only way I can think of to describe it- a hole inside of me. Easter day, I started to push back- it was so hard. You would think, for a lifetime churchgoer, I could just pick myself back up and move on. I had wonderful support and love, but darkness is very tempting. It pulled HARD.

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Easter morning 2017

I had to make a choice- do I fight back? or give in? Slowly, not overnight, I found my voice again. I told God that I didn’t understand, but that I couldn’t bear to live without Him. Life without faith was worse than any physical pain I could endure. I needed God in my life. So, day by day, I trudged along limping honestly, literally and figuratively.  Some lessons in life are REALLY hard to learn- for me, trying to make sense of things is my hubris. I think if I can be logical and come up with a reason, then suffering will make sense. Ok- I admit right now, I have been so wrong. I will never, ever understand all suffering, maybe any at all. Follow that line of thinking to its conclusion- do the right things, say the right things, and you get the desired result? So, what, all of those people who continue to suffer, just didn’t have the right answers? No, of course not. This world doesn’t make sense to me, and I don’t think it is supposed to. It’s only on the other side- in the world of eternity where God exists, no past, present or future- he is everywhere, that pieces of a puzzle will fall into place.

In hindsight, I have the luxury of having my mind back! No haze of medications cloud my thoughts right now. I can appreciate the experience that I had during Lent 2017 in a fresh light. I spent so much time with my mother and my godmother, my Aunt Janet. I heard plenty of stories that I had never heard before about their lives. We prayed together, daily and I even had visitors! We had lived in that area of Michigan for James’s fellowship for one year. Dear, sweet women who I only knew briefly, all came to see me and encourage me. My family from Savannah took turns coming up to help my dad and James take care of 6 little children. I have no idea how clean my house was or what they ate, but you know what? The earth kept turning without me here, telling everyone to eat their vegetables and wear appropriate shoes. I witnessed love on such a scale, I am humbled and almost embarassed because I feel like an inadequate recipient. People from our church cooked meals for us, for a YEAR. I have one friend who brought us food every Tuesday for OVER A YEAR. It was, and is hard for me, to be on the receiving end of charity. None of us will ever be worthy on our own merit, of God’s mercy; accepting and truly needing SO much help during a difficult time taught me humility that otherwise, I don’t know that I would have ever possessed.

Last year, what was supposed to be my triumpant return, was the exact opposite. I arrived home more broken down and feeling a pull on my soul to give up my faith. Talk about kicking someone when they are down. It was the single darkest time of my life, Good Friday. Not by my own strength, but by God’s mercy, did he pull harder towards the light. I made a choice, to step out when I couldn’t see 6 inches in front of my face it was so dark. Choosing faith, and living in the light can be harder in times of great trial, but that’s when it’s the most important. Take that Darth Vader!

The epilogue to this story is that I had to go back to Michigan, lying flat in the car, surrounded by ice packs. I had yet another surgery, and woke up only to find out that the doctor took 10 tries to place the lead perfectly. (I have 10 scars to prove it) I had complications, and had to be admitted, after 9 hours in the PACU. My room wasn’t private, and my roomate had C. dif. I’m not kidding. Everyone wore hazmat suits but me. They gave her a bucket to go to the bathroom in, if she couldn’t make it to the toilet. The room smelled of excrement, and I was hooked to the bed with catheters and i.v. lines. I lay there in the dark, in more pain, crying, thinking “ok, seriously, the next time I say ‘things can’t get any worse’ someone just slap me!”. I eventually made it home, and the device never worked. After all of that effort, I never saw any relief. Because of what happened in my case, they now do EMG testing on both sensory and motor functions of the nerve while people are under anesthesia, and they place the lead in a different place to reduce the risk of migration. So, if stimwave works for anyone out there, you’re welcome! I got to be the guinea pig. Oh well!

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Around here, we have decorated the house with heart streamers, artwork brought home from preschool, and homemade cards from the past couple of weeks.   This time last year, I was in a haze, bedridden, and barely functioning. This year, I am in a better place, but I am by no means “supermom.” There are no elaborate meal plans, homemade valentines for each classmate, rhyming hand-painted cards, etc. For Lent, I had the best of intentions. I wanted to make a Lenten calendar for the family, with cut out crosses or symbols for each day to mark our progress through this church season. I would have loved to have special Christian books for each child, to guide them in an age appropriate way. We have a tree, with ornaments that correspond to Bible verses, that lead up to Easter. It’s in the basement somewhere.

Comparison is the thief of joy, and unfortunately I let it steal my joy from time to time. It’s easy to look around at other families and think that they “do” more than I do. I can look back at my own life and compare where I am now, to where I was then. I had the energy to cook more, and buy the supplies for elaborate crafts for each season/holiday.  This year, I managed to get each child’s class some valentine’s from Oriental Trading Company. I got the sale items, and not the $8/child soft friends holding various flavors of chocolate! For Lent, I do not have anything special around the house- no calendar, special new books, or great plans to obtain either item.

This year, we celebrated Valentine’s Day a day early, on Shrove Tuesday. I wanted to start Lent on Ash Wednesday, and it wasn’t a stretch to tell the kids we were going to do something special a day early. They ended up eating pancakes for two meals that day! They got little trickets from James and me. The biggest hits were bracelets from The Mermaid Pillow Company. It wouldn’t be a holiday here without something from Star Wars! The three middle boys got little lightsabers, and Eli the Wildman got a Darth Vader hat.  As far as cards go, we save some money there and buy them in bulk. I got a 6-pack of identical generic cards, and James and I wrote each child a letter. Valentine’s Day for us, is a chance to celebrate as a family, have a little chocolate, talk about our love for each other and our heavenly father’s love for us.

 

I put more pressure on myself to make Lent an “event.” Gosh, I realize how stupid that sounds as I write it! What if I don’t teach the kids ENOUGH? What if they don’t grow up to appreciate the meaning of Lent, and it’s MY fault? Shouldn’t I have visual props around the house, intellectual reading material, and schedule of holy happenings for the next 6 weeks, that we can attend and check off of a list? Won’t that make me a better mother? I feel better than I did last year, so I should be DOING more to show everyone else what is inside my heart.

When I really dig deep, and look at these sentiments, I realize I haven’t learned as much as I should have this past year and a half! Did I not learn that a person’s worth isn’t defined by how much they accomplish in a day? As a wife and mother, my worth does not lie in what I make for dinner, what kind of Valentine’s I buy, or what I do/make/create for Lent for our home. It is so easy to get sucked back in to my old way of looking at the world and my life. It’s easy to compare myself with other people, who have never walked a mile, or even a few steps, in my shoes. Shoes that are more often than not, slippers, because I am home most of the time. I’m still not strong enough physically to run a lot of errands, go exploring the outdoors, or even drive a lot of carpools. Why am I so hard on myself? Why, before Lent even started, did I feel like I wasn’t doing it right?

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What did we do for Valentine’s Day? There wasn’t a fancy date for my husband and I, there were homemade pancakes. He made them for the whole family, while I laid on the couch, ice packs on my feet. We hugged and loved on the kids, turned off the tv (Olympics and news!) and played charades. We sat around the dinner table in the evening and talked about almsgiving, praying, and fasting. It wasn’t a memorable oration by any stretch. It was interrupted about 72 times by someone asking for water, a napkin, or more syrup. I hope, James and I got the point across, that Lent should be a time to open your heart to God. Open your heart and soul and let God in even more. What does that look like? I think it’s different for everyone. For small children, visual and tactile examples of sacrifice are helpful. We have two jars. Both start out empty. One, we put any money that we find, or they earn, inside. That is our “almsgiving” for the kids. The other, has a small basket full of beans next to it. For every extra good deed or sacrifice we make, we get to put a bean in the jar. I got that idea from another mom, here!

At the end of Lent, the unremarkable brown beans are switched for bright, colorful jelly beans on Easter morning! Our kids get to eat them- which might be the only part they actually remember? The point is supposed to be- your sacrifices, and kind deeds matter. We want to emulate Jesus, and on the day that he rose, they get to see the fruits of their labor turn in to something beautiful and edible!

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Valentine’s Day and Lent coincided this year. How fitting. Love. The most perfect example the world has ever known was Jesus, and that he gave his life for us. He gave His life, so that we would know just how loved we are by a heavenly father.  This Lent, my goal is to redirect my heart away from what I think I should be focusing on. I want to open my soul, my ears, and listen. That requires me to get out of the way, and let God do His work. It isn’t a 6-week diet, it isn’t a 6-week house purge and cleaning, although there’s nothing wrong with eating healthier and cleaning out clutter. God wants my soul and my heart. Much easier said than done. Clearly, the lessons he taught me were forgotten pretty quickly, when I started comparing myself to others and what I thought I should be doing.

My life is supposed to look like Amy- and no one else. In order to open up my heart more, one of my goals is to put away distractions- to recognize them for what they are, and put them away. I want to live in the moment more, be present. We started the season with attending church, all eight of us, and my parents met us at church. I brought a zero gravity chair, and sat in the back, because that’s the only way I can “sit” through a service.  Ashes and Holy Eucharist are an uplifting experience for the whole family. I vowed to listen more, notice. I am going to be reading more books, and I ordered a Lenten study guide from Blessed is She. I love Lent- I look forward to it every year. It’s the chance to start fresh, and punch the reset button! One other thing that helps me be present, is to give up shopping. We buy food, the essentials, but I do my best to stop shopping, completely, until Easter. It’s amazing how many little things I buy, that I think I “need”, but I could do without. What is essential to life? What am I filling my life with, that is because I saw someone else have it, I saw an ad for it, I thought it looked interesting? Yesterday, I thought, oh, I want to buy Aidan something that he doesn’t have, that other children have. It isn’t expensive. I paused and realized what I was doing. The need to consume, buy, fill our lives with clutter. Deep breath! I stopped myself. It’s harder than I think! Every year:)

I am so blessed. That doesn’t mean lucky, it doesn’t mean my life is easy. Even the difficult, painful days are a blessing. Why? I can think of a few reasons. Pain makes me hold still. Reflect. Stop trying to accomplish physical tasks, release my idea of a perfect house/homeschool/wardrobe/menu plan, etc. The difficult days make me clear my mind and just focus on being in the present moment. I pray more! I think of others, and their needs and I pray for them. See? See how a “bad” day can be used as a blessing? I repeat, that does not equal pleasant or necessarily enjoyable! A blessing is something that someone needs, that they might not even realize! But God does.

So, it’s time for me to get out of the way, clear my mind, and my heart, and let God do the work. He’s so much better at it than I am anyway.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

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Summer 2014

My plan was to just jump right in and lament my stress over science fair season! However, I can understand how some parents might not be able to relate at all, because their children have different goals than mine do, when it comes to these things. An introduction is in order! I have to put this stress over the science fair into context- it isn’t just science, or projects, it’s BOTH with this particular child.  He is my oldest, the most like me in personality, and I think he hung the moon (not because he’s like me, just because he’s that special!).

aidan 1 His 10th birthday, 2017

The name “Aidan” means “fiery one,” after St. Aidan. He was a cool guy- read about him if you get the chance!  I’m sure anyone could write for hours and hours about someone or thing that they love. Same with me. I’m not even sure how to par this down! Each family has unique dynamics, and in our large family, his personality affects how the younger ones fall into place. Aidan is, I would say, an “alpha” male or personality. He’s a natural leader (he’s been accused of being bossy by his younger counterparts), Type A (like me), and a bright kid. He started kindergarten when he was 4, and he walked to school everyday- usually without one of his parents- as part of a “walking schoolbus” in our neighborhood. We lived in Michigan that year for James’s fellowship, so our little guy was walking in snow for at least 6 months out of that year!

Like me, he sees the world in black and white, not shades of gray. There is a right way, and a wrong. There are definitely pro’s and cons to this personality trait! We are horrible liars- he couldn’t tell a fib if his life depended on it.  It also makes us rigid in how we like to do things, such as cleaning a certain way, bedtimes, meals, rules, etc. He is like me, times ten. As an adult, marriage has softened my edges and refined my character a great deal. I had to learn how to compromise more, and that there are two ways of doing things! My way isn’t always right:) Aidan, bless him, has an unwavering moral compass, and a tendency to be hard on people who are not in line with him, like his siblings! I think that having a large family is WONDERFUL for us. The sibling nearest in age to him, Rose, could not be more different. She doesn’t kowtow to his demands, she stands her ground like Wonder Woman, and isn’t intimidated by his skills, book-smarts, or sharp wit. It is SO good for him, to have her as his “foil” in our home. God put these special human beings in one place, so that we could all learn from each other, benefit and love one another. Someone’s weakness is another one’s strength. We talk openly about how each person has unique gifts, and that we can’t compare ourselves to others.

Wrestling as babies, Rose cheering him on in his first youth triathlon 2017

For instance, I have never, ever seen anyone with a memory like Rose. She can hear or read something once and recite it perfectly. I don’t know the exact criteria for a photographic memory, but she has got to be close. It’s astounding. Aidan and Rose both attend a children’s ministry group called Awana on Wednesday evenings. They are supposed to memorize Bible verses. Rose can memorize hers in under 5 minutes. Aidan is like a normal person, and has to practice for a while. This irks him to no end! He is very, very, very, did I say VERY competitive?? Everything, his whole life, has been a competition. Brushing teeth, I mean, who can compete when they brush their teeth?? Apparently he can. He does his the “right” way. When he was teeny tiny, his first word was “ball” and a love was born. As a plump, Buddha-esque baby of 8 months, he would sit on the floor and throw a softball to me, over and over again. If I got up to take a break, he would YELL his little blond head off, until I returned and we started again. Always with his left hand. I’m a lefty too:)

   Holding the ball from his first out-of-the-park homerun! Visiting Turner Field, 1995 Braves World Series Trophy

He loved to play baseball in the yard with James from the time he could walk. He would have make-shift bases made out of moss. I’m not kidding- he would slide into second base, which was a giant tree with gnarly roots, and tear up his leg!  Aidan would stand up, with cuts and blood, tears streaming down his little face. “I’m SAFE!!” I would explain EVERY TIME that daddy was NOT going to tag him out, he didn’t have to slide! I didn’t matter what I said…he was not taking any chances. There was no way he was going to lose to dad!  We laugh about that all of the time now. He thinks it’s the funniest thing ever.

aidan 3

Palm Sunday, 2014 I think, playing the role of Jesus

His intense personality spread to other areas of life. He is known and has always been known for his love of food. I know, plenty of kids love treats and are “good eaters.” He’s in a category by himself. When he was little, as my first child, I had all of these goals of things I wanted to do with him to be a “perfect” mom. I took him to story time at the library- like he would actually listen at 13 months. I remember, some kid opened up a cheese stick, and it was all over. He screamed at the top of his lungs because someone else was having a snack. We couldn’t go anywhere for almost three years, where other people were eating.  Restaurants were off limits, because every time a waiter walked by with food for someone else, he hit the roof. Again, he thinks these stories are just HILARIOUS now. He would eat anything- and I mean anything. His physique was, shall we say, sturdy?  Then, around 6 years old, his eating did not slow down at all, but the chunk turned to muscle. Why can’t that be a trait from me?? Why?! How does that happen??

   First summer on swim team, he won Coach’s Award for his age group! 2017

He has six-pack abs, rounded biceps, legs that look like a sprinter. I do NOT have any of those qualities. Darn shame it is, I tell ya. He still loves baseball more than the air he breaths. Everything about the game- the smell of fresh cut grass, warm-ups, the sound of a bat cracking when it makes contact in the sweet spot, pitching a perfect strike, and of course, sliding!! We always watch the World Series together. In 2016, for his October birthday, I got the two of us seats right behind home plate, when the Braves were playing the Tigers- last game at Turner Field. I couldn’t go, because of the pain from my August surgery. That was right before I ended up being transferred to Emory for the full work up and mesh removal. My heart broke that I missed that with him. He still got to go though!

He is so responsible, and helpful around here. Every morning, when I am too sore to get up quickly, he hears the baby making noises in her crib, and he gets her for me. He will bring a warm bottle in for me, and help me get her changed. He helps his little siblings get dressed when they can’t find the button holes:), and he loves learning how to cook. Every since he was little, I thought he was cut out for the military. He thrives on structure and rules, and he appreciates boundaries. His sense of fairness rivals a Supreme Court justice anyday. His competitive streak does not come from me though- the blue eyes, dimples, dominant left hand, rigid take on right and wrong- that’s all me. I wish the six-pack abs were, but alas, those are definitely not mine either! My husband loves sports, but the killer instinct to win everything- that is all his own. Aidan was born with the desire to win every race, hit every ball out of the park, and WIN at the science fair.

science

His first science fair, he did the project all by himself, 3rd grade

Now, on to the topic of the day- his science fair project! He’s very math and science oriented, like daddy. He loves math and breezes through. I worked hard in math, and did well, but it was not a breeze for me! He comes to me a week or so ago and asks, seriously, “Mama, can I split an atom for my science project?” Absentmindedly, I replied, “No hun, that’s kind of dangerous.” “But I’ll do it in the kitchen!” I have NO idea why that would make it safer? I firmly explained why we could NOT split any atoms, anywhere in the house. A few days later…”Mama, could we get a sample of polio from a lab, infect an animal, and observe it?” “Oh my gosh, NOOO!!” Not to be completely deterred, “Ok, what about an insect then?”

I had to get to the bottom of why he was coming up with these outlandish topics. Why couldn’t we just watch a sandwich get moldy? Build a potato battery or something like that?! I asked, but I should have known without asking, “Mom, I have never WON the science fair! I can’t do just ANYTHING, it has to be AMAZING!!” Ok, no pressure or anything. Daddy and I had a family meeting and came up with some ideas that didn’t involve killing a lot of people, and I think we finally settled on a topic today!! Oh thank goodness. The stress of trying to pick a topic was unpleasant. Aidan gets so into things- he doesn’t do anything 50%, he only knows 100%- which is wonderful, but when mom is running on an empty tank, and dad has successfully fought off the flu and been sleeping for a week straight, we are just plain tired!

I’ll have to post some pictures of the finished topic. I love that kid. We can finish each other’s sentences, read each other’s thoughts. I love my children equally, but not the same. Each one of them is SO different. I would have thought that they would take after each other, share some traits. Nope. God gave us 6 individuals who could have been from different planets. I absolutely love that. It made each pregnancy that much more exciting- seeing how different and special each new life would be. Aidan, you are my fiery one. Never lose your fire! Never lose your sense of justice, and your love for all things good and pure and righteous. God has big plans for you buddy!