Category Archives: The Kids

A crazy-busy season has passed, and a regular-busy season is here!

I truly still love writing.  I’ve just been insanely busy.  My load right now is somewhat lighter, which allows me the luxury of reflecting, here in my neglected blog.  (Note:  I have no idea why the sizes of fonts change throughout this post.  Rather than taking the time to figure it out, I’m leaving it.  Sorry-not-sorry.)  Edited to add a few more things about Fiala, and to note that you may click on each picture to enlarge it, if you care to.

  • obscuredMy oldest son, Ethan, did receive the scholarship he was hoping for, to attend Arizona State University.  I am part of a couple different groups where homeschooling parents support each other, especially where prep-for-college is concerned.  I’m struck again and again how, as a homeschooling mom of a senior, it seems like the college admissions process is WAY more about how prepared and organized **I** have been as my child’s mother/teacher, and much less about how well-educated my son is.  I’m happy to report that, even though I have discovered, in retrospect, that there are a hundred things I could have done better or differently, what Ethan and I did, together, was exactly right for what he needed.  I’m feeling the mercy of God on that one, because truly, I’m not kidding about those “hundred things”.  Ethan turns 18 this month.  He isn’t altogether eager to transition to adulthood;  it’s challenging for all of us, to be frank.  I have told him, “We’ve never parented an adult before, please bear with us.”  We’re all learning.  It’s funny, because I have often urged him to DO HIS OWN RESEARCH AND MAKE HIS OWN DECISIONS, because, even though I’m complimented by the fact that he still likes the things I choose for him — it makes me feel like I really know him — it’s healthier for him to be at least a little more independent than where he’s comfortable.  So, in light of this, I turned over to him the plans for his birthday party.  And, whaddya know?  He has planned it for a day when I’m going to be out of town.  Not purposefully;  that’s just the date that works best with his friends, who are hosting.  However, it’s kind of good news/bad news, “You took charge?  GREAT!  But you left me out of it completely??  Sad face.”  LOL!
  • Grant is the second face from the right.

    Grant is the second face from the right.

    Grant is my son who will be 16 later this summer.  I don’t think I’ve blogged about this, but what I’m going to write about here, about Grant, is kind of a big deal to me.  Grant is the opposite of Ethan;  he has known for YEARS where he’d like his future to be, what he’d like to do, where he’d like to go to university…  He really can’t wait to get on with his adult life.  A big part of that includes his plans to attend the United States Air Force Academy.  To be completely honest, up until nine months ago or so, I kind of blew that off.  It’s hard to get into the USAFA.  Really hard.  It’s even harder for homeschoolers.  And, they don’t just look at academics; they look at the whole person.  I had decided, in my own mind, that the chances of Grant getting into the AFA were incredibly slim.  However, early last fall, I started to feel convicted.  I remember having dreams while in high school, and feeling like no one wanted to help me achieve them.  I remember what it felt like to be blown off.  So, I started checking things out, what I could do to help Grant gain ground on his goals.  I decided that I didn’t want to be an impediment to his hopes;  I wanted to assist him in every way possible.  So, I signed him up for the Future Falcons at the USAFA website — which is kind of a Big Deal, as it is super-official;  you need the child’s Social Security number, even!  I downloaded the 21-page “Instructions to Precandidates” pdf and we mapped out his sophomore to senior years of high school accordingly.  And, I looked into getting Grant involved in an Air Force-related program.  I first thought of Junior ROTC…  But, then, I heard about Civil Air Patrol Cadets from some other homeschooling moms.  Long story short, Grant has only been in CAP Cadets for a little over six months, but he is excelling.  He’s actually at a week-long semi-boot-camp experience called “Encampment” at Fort Huachuca as I type this.  Grant still has a long way to go, and many smaller goals to achieve before we can even apply to the Academy.  But, all of us feel pretty good about his chances, which is 180° from where we were, about a year ago.  In this coming school year, Grant’s junior year, he will be taking two classes at KEYS — a two-day homeschool co-op — and the rest at home.  Grant will be taking Honors Chemistry and College Lit and Composition.  Frankly, these are two teaching-intensive classes, and I was looking to outsource the most mom-dependent classes for Grant.  Additionally, we’re looking at having Grant take all of his classes for his senior year at a local community college, and we wanted to ease his transition.  Other than American History, Grant won’t need much from me in the coming school year;  his other subjects — French, Economics, Algebra II, and a couple of others, won’t need a lot of input from me.  I’m totally OK with that.

  • Wes and Jeanie

    Wes and Jeanie

    My son Wesley will be in 9th grade in the fall, which hardly seems possible.  He’s the youngest of our three sons, and it is a challenge for me to not think of him as “little”.  He has had a massive growth spurt this past year, and his voice has dramatically deepened.  Whether I’m ready or not, Wesley is no longer little.  He is an excellent big brother to our toddler, Jeanie.  He’s in the teen youth group at church.  It just feels odd to me, still.  Through much thought and research and prayer, we have decided to try Wesley at an “brick and mortar” school for this coming fall.  None of our kids have ever gone to a “real” school before.  But…  I have long felt that I just don’t quite speak Wesley’s educational language.  He hasn’t suffered under my instruction, and testing shows he is on course or ahead for his grade level.  However, I don’t feel like I’m best-suited to maximize his potential, since his potential is in areas where I’m not strong.  There is a charter school (publicly funded, privately run) less than a mile from us;  I have checked them out before, and I like their literature-based, liberal arts approach.  It’s a small school:  this coming year, they’ll very likely have less than 150 students, only 9th – 11th graders.  Most kids bring their own lunches (which seems trivial, but with Wesley’s celiac disease, dairy allergy, and peanut allergy, I didn’t want him to feel like he’s the odd man out, bringing his own lunch every day).  And then, a good friend of ours took a job as the English teacher there.  This man is everything you’d hope for in a teacher:  brilliant, kind, patient, thoughtful, a good leader….  I do believe he’d be an excellent teacher for Wesley for English, which has long been Wes’ poorest subject.  The daughter of that teacher, as well as another friend of Wesley’s, will also be attending the school.  My husband Martin and I have discussed, toured the school together, talked on the phone with the principal, e-mailed back and forth with staff, read every click on the school’s website, and PRAYED.  However, neither of us have felt any strong inclination or direction from God.  We both feel like He’s saying, “All right.  It’s up to you.  You can give it a shot.”  I’d feel a thousand times better if I had heard something more specific than that.  But…  It’ll do, for now.  This next week, I’ll be enrolling Wes.

  • Artsy, funky, fun, LOUD Audrey

    Artsy, funky, fun, LOUD Audrey

    This past year was our busiest ever, for school.  With Ethan as a senior, Grant as a sophomore, and Wes in 8th grade, there were far too many days when Audrey (who just finished 3rd grade) and Fiala (who just finished 1st) would just do seat work — phonics, math, journal, and a couple of other subjects where they can work largely independently, with little help from me.  In other words:  the bare minimum.  I have no doubt that the girls’ educational skills are up to par, or perhaps beyond their typical peers.  However, I want a richer, more robust school experience for them.  With Ethan at college, Grant working mostly-independently, and Wesley enrolled in a charter school, I’m VERY MUCH looking forward to a hands-on school year for the two “big” girls:  art projects, science experiments, field trips, actually READING THE READ-ALOUDS in our curriculum!  It should be a wonderful year.  As stated in the caption of the pic at left, Audrey — who turned nine years old a couple of months ago — is artsy, funky, fun, and LOUD.  All the boys did Rosetta Stone French this year, and Audrey joined in, as well.  I am tickled to hear her lovely little French accent.  It’s charming.  Fiala, who is six years old, is loving, thoughtful, intense, unique, and can be petulant and impulsive.  She loves swimming, loves playing dress up and changing her clothes in general — her clean, folded laundry stack is ALWAYS taller than anyone else’s.  She loves waking up earlier than any of the other children and coming into my bed to “snug” with me.  It doesn’t usually happen like that, but it’s a good day for Fi when it does.  All in all, she is a delight of a child, my little green-eyes-freckle-nose, as I often call her.  If Fiala was in a public school, she would have been in Kindergarten this last year, as she has a late-fall birthday.  That seems crazy to me, as she was well-ready for first grade work.

  • Fiala, me, Jean

    Fiala, me, Jean

    Jean will be two years old next week, which also seems crazy.  I tell her that if it wasn’t for her screeching in restaurants and playing with her poop, she’d be a perfect child.  Seriously:  up until now, my sixth child, I have had NO children interested in their poop.  Jean, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to understand what “gross” means.  So, when she takes a nap, I have to put this ONE outfit on her, every time — it’s a BabyGap long-legged, button-up, one-piece, short-sleeved cotton romper.  It’s the only thing that doesn’t allow access to her diaper area.  Actually, “Pull-Up area”, as she is nearly completely potty-trained.  We went from cloth diapers to early potty training in December, and I rejoiced, but it has taken her A Very Long Time to be serious about it.  She just isn’t serious.  She is a joyous little bundle of… everything.  She’s still chubby and overall large for her age.  She has a passion for Bubble Guppies, swimming, and dancing.  She is bossy.  Charmingly bossy.  “Hum!” she will demand, which is Jeanie-speak for, “Come!”  She will pull on your hand and do everything she can to make you comply.  Or, “Hi!  Hi!” she will insist, patting the seat next to her.  For unknown reasons, “Hi!  Hi!” means, “You sit HERE, NOW!”  Or, “Tiss!!” meaing, “Kiss!”  Then, “O’er side!!”  Meaning, “I want a kiss on the other cheek, as well!”  We all adore Jean.

  •   This past spring just about did me in.  I always felt like families who couldn’t eat dinner together were doing something wrong.  Well, guess what?  We became that family in 2015.  Sunday nights, Martin often has events at church to attend.  Monday nights, I take Grant to CAP Cadets and usually sit in a nearby coffee shop, grading papers for the 2.5 hrs of CAP.  Tuesday nights, Martin led worship at a weekly small group.  I was leading worship just on Wednesday nights, until a group got too big and needed to multiply, but didn’t have a worship leader.  I agreed — just for the spring — to lead worship in that group, as well.  So, from the end of February to the beginning of June, I was gone both Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Additionally, I started hosting a CSA/farm share again for a local organic farmer, every Wednesday.  I had kind of taken an six-month hiatus, but started up again in April.  And, Ethan works three nights a week at Sprouts.  Martin has a fairly long commute, and often isn’t home until 6:00 or so…  It became like passing the baton, and the 30 minutes we’d have together before one of us needed to head back out the door was usually not at the dinner table.  When you have a family of eight, dinner is loud and usually fun, but it really isn’t the place for Martin and I to connect.  I’d have dinner made, but we usually didn’t sit down together.  Homeschooling, church, CAP Cadets, three weekly small groups, the CSA, Martin’s commute, Ethan’s work…  Lordy, I was stretched.  But, small groups take a break for the summer and school is DONE, so my load is infinitely lighter.  I feel much freer!!
  • My other big things for the spring are:  my garden — which is a scaled-down version of my original vision.  I have one 8′ x 12′ bed in, and it’s growing wonderfully.  I’m working daily (or nearly so) to put in a walk around the bed, and hope to have a second bed ready for mid-August planting.  It is so hot here (yesterday hit 115°!!!!) that there is little that will grow in the heat of mid-summer.  The bed that is growing, I planted in late April.  I can’t really sow anything else until there is hope for cooler temperatures.  I have sunflowers, two kinds of melon, Armenian cucumbers, okra, two kinds of heat-tolerant green beans, summer squash, and a winter squash growing, plus a variety of flowers.  I also have way too many volunteer tomato plants, whose seed came from my compost, I suppose.  I have transplanted as many as possible, replanting and giving away about 20 tomato plants.  There are still far too many tomato plants growing in the garden — growing too closely with the other plants.  It’s not really the right time to grow tomatoes here — ideally, I would have had them in by January or February.  But, I can’t bear to yank them.  We’ll see what happens.  My garden gives me joy, exercise, and a sense of fulfillment.  It keeps me sane.  To me, gardening really is a kind of therapy.0618151352Of course, all of this is barely scratching the surface.  There is much more happening in our home…  An upcoming camping trip, me traveling to the Portland area for a girlfriends’ weekend, sewing projects, lots of canning, Bible studies, small and large challenges and triumphs, a continuing home remodel, birthdays — including my own, baseball, me going low-carb again to lose weight, books to read, and more.  But, I will call it a day and go swimming with my kids.Blessings to you and yours.

The plan of God

I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I think this might be the plan of God.

I have a reset button.

chub-chubWhen one of my teens (I have three, now!) is causing me grief — it does happen, to tears…

When my eight year old is crying that she didn’t get enough chocolate chips, and I’m thinking, “You have WAY more chocolate chips than you had a few minutes ago when you had NONE.  Get a grip!”…

When the the five year old is crying that she didn’t get all her spelling words right, and is inconsolable, even when I tell her that she spells amazingly and is doing better at spelling than any five year old I know…

When the tasks before me for the week seem impossible, and stress is at my doorstep, even on a Monday morning…

When I just can’t seem to learn the things that God has for me to learn, even when the things He wants me to learn are “simple” things like how to be at peace and trust Him…

I go upstairs for a few minutes before Jean’s nap time.  I nurse her and snuggle her chubby self;  she is a very satisfying baby.  I dig my face gently into her chest and belly and she howls with delighted giggles.  Her face lights up and she loves me completely.  The oxytocin is flowing, and peace returns to my heart, however briefly.

I am certain that this is God’s plan.  He has provided a bit of calm in my everyday thunderstorm.  He who created the ends of the universe even provided for a mama’s endocrine system.  Perhaps that sounds weird, but knowing how intricately I’m created, and how even “just” hormones work for my benefit is a balm to my battered emotions and sleep-deprived strength.  I feel cared-for by my almighty God, that He would create such a plan to reset my soul.

And, I’m just happy to be the mother to a chubby 15-month-old named Jean Marjorie Joy.

—————

On a semi-related, please do read this wonderfully-written piece on extended breastfeeding by a mom I knew when she was just a girl.  It is honest and lovely and real.  Even if you think you have zero interest in the topic, you’d be blessed, I think, to read it.

Making yogurt, making a garden, and raising a son into the workplace

  • Eurocuisine YM80 — I also purchased an expansion tray and a set of eight more glass jars, but Amazon sent TWO expansion trays and no extra glass jars. Humph.

    I bought a yogurt maker and I must say, the first batch??  NOT a success.  There are lots of conflicting instructions out there for making yogurt.  Next time, I will SCALD the raw milk (not boil it, per the instructions I followed), use already-made plain yogurt as a starter (not acidophilus caps that so many places said you could use), and keep better track of the temperature.  I’ll also just make plain, rather than the honey-sweetened blueberry yogurt I attempted.  The results separated into yogurty curds and whey.  The flavor was good, but the texture was horrible.  We half-froze ours to make it palatable, and that worked all right.  But the next go-round needs to be much more successful!!

  • My oldest son now has a job:  He’s a bagger at Sprouts, a local, natural grocer.  It was really the only job he wanted, and though it took a few months of trying, he got the job!  The day he was hired, he had to read 100+ pages of various employee handbooks (which he truly read, because he is thorough, like his father).  I also took him to open a checking account, which had about 20 pages of various information and things to sign.  As we were leaving the bank, his brow was furrowed, and I could tell he was on information overload.  “So, Ethan, now that you have a job and a checking account, do you feel like an adult?” I asked.  He replied, “Well, if adults regularly feel confused, then, yes, I feel like an adult.”  Ha!  Welcome to adulthood, my son.  We are having him tithe 10%, save 50%, and the rest is his for spending and short-term savings.  He looked at his first paycheck, which was for just one week, and proclaimed that the paper he was holding amounted to more than he had made doing odd jobs in the entire previous year.  I had really wanted him to get a job for his own benefit — for learning how to be responsible with money; for learning how to be part of a team within a work environment; and to just take a step up in transition to adulthood…  But, unexpectedly, I feel very blessed.  He’s not a fully grown adult, but it blesses me, knowing that my husband and I have raised a young man who is an asset to a good company, and to the workforce in general.  It feels very right.
  • IMG_20140516_110157_393 - Copy

    I know. It doesn’t look all that exciting. And you can’t really tell the scope of the project from this pic. But I have gotten to know this little cart and a pair of shovels very well in the last week.

    Last Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, and today, I have worked HARD in my yard for 2-3+ hours daily. I am trying to transform a section about 21′ x 42′ into my real, true garden. It’s difficult to explain to people unfamiliar with caliche JUST HOW ROCK-HARD our “soil” is. Technically, it’s not soil; it’s dirt. The Bermuda grass — the only kind that will grow in the desert’s heat and lack of water — needs to be removed, so I rented a sod-cutter last Thursday.  Man-oh-man, that was SO punishing. So difficult.  I put it at the deepest setting — 2½” — to dig up as much of the Bermuda as possible.  Now, I am digging and toting the cut dirt/sod to other areas of our yard, making berms around trees. I’m only about 1/3 done with it being cleared. And here, it has mostly been in the mid-90°s. So, add “hot and sweaty” to physically challenging.  I am keeping my eyes on the prize of having a productive, inviting, rewarding garden, some months from now.  Once I finish clearing the area, I still need to soak the dirt, Rototill it, rake out as many Bermuda grass roots as possible, then cover the area with clear plastic to solarize — and thus kill — it.  All of that is BEFORE I get to plant anything.  I also need to put up a fence with a footer, not just to keep out the dogs, but to keep the Bermuda grass from creeping back in.  I’m collecting interesting garden fence ideas on Pinterest.

  • I was going to post about our new dog (a third Staffordshire Bull Terrier)… And about me going low-carb almost-Paleo again.  But my baby Jean is waking!  So, here are a couple more pics:
    Baby Jean giving a hug and a sloppy kiss to Fiala.  I absolutely love the fact that baby Jean grabs both sides of someone's face and smashes her chubby, drooly mouth onto the kiss-recipient.

    Baby Jean giving a hug and a sloppy kiss to Fiala. I absolutely love the fact that baby Jean grabs both sides of someone’s face and smashes her chubby, drooly mouth onto the kiss-recipient.

    This is me, in an absolutely horrid shirt of my husband's (he's never worn it;  it was a gift).  It has long sleeves to protect my sunburn from a couple of days ago when I thought, "Oh, I won't be working THAT long," and worked for two hours with no sunblock.  Anyway, this is how you get yardwork done with a baby:  Work as much as you can while she naps.  Then, have your kids take 30 minute play/watch sessions, punctuated by 15 minute sessions of baby with Mama.  It works.  :)

    This is me, in an absolutely horrid shirt of my husband’s (he’s never worn it; it was a gift). It has long sleeves to protect my sunburn from a couple of days ago when I thought, “Oh, I won’t be working THAT long,” and worked for two hours with no sunblock. Anyway, this is how you get yardwork done with a baby: Work as much as you can while she naps. Then, have your kids take 30 minute play/watch sessions, punctuated by 15 minute sessions of baby with Mama. It works. :)

Why this mom of six is hardly blogging.

When I started blogging nearly eight years ago, I “only” had three children.  Along the way, it has always been possible to squeeze out a number of blogs per month, often 3-4 per week!  But, starting with baby Jean’s birth in June, these have been been my slowest months ever.  Here’s why:

  1. Time and priorities.  I love writing.  But, I also love reading.  I love keeping up with my friends and family on Facebook.  I have other responsibilities, besides homeschooling my children and running my home — I still lead worship weekly at a homegroup, and I essentially have a part-time job as a host and coordinator for a CSA (weekly, local farm-share).  I just can’t do everything, sadly.  Most days, just doing school, laundry, and making meals about taps me out.  I could drop any one of these things and have time for blogging, but I don’t want to.  So… it’s just a busy season that precludes blogging.  I have very often started drafts and by the time I finish, they’re just no longer relevant or pressing.  So, slowly nibbling away at drafts doesn’t seem to work for me, either.
  2. The current culture of blogging.  When I started blogging, most people hadn’t even heard the term “blog”.  I wrote with the abandon of one who was pretty certain that no one was reading.  In many ways, I was flippant and too-disclosing.  I wasn’t careful at all.  I could just dash off some thoughts without considering possible repercussion.  I’ve become wiser over the years, and have realized that people ARE reading, and therefore, I need to measure my words.  In addition, if I want to make a statement about health, science, Scripture, pretty much anything, the only responsible way to do that is to provide supporting links, which is the blogging form of end notes.  However, gathering and inserting appropriate links is time-consuming.  And THEN, you add Pinterest.  If someone wants to post something on Pinterest, you really need a picture.  So, I either hunt for a pic online with no copyright protection OR I hunt for a pic to upload and insert from my own.  Both of those add snippets of time to an already labor-intensive process.
  3. My mind is blank.  JUST KIDDING.  Actually, there are more things than ever that I want to share…  Inside my brain, my blog is crazy-active!!

Here, though, are a few small things happening around here:

  • We are still slowly remodeling our home and redecorating.  Both my husband and I are frugal, and our tastes overlap, but aren’t identical.  That’s why the process is slow:  if ONE of us didn’t care, we could get things done a lot faster.  But, we both care.   Here’s a shot (not a great one) of our living room.  It’s a mix of new and vintage/Craigslist purchases.  Living Room
  • We finally had to buy our first new piece of baby equipment.  Virtually everything on Jean’s body and which she uses here in our home is a hand-me-down, a gift, or purchased second-hand.  Oh, wait!  I did purchase a jogging stroller for about 1/4 the price of a new one, at a true outlet — a store that handles all the returns and overstock from Costco, Home Depot, and Rite-Aid.  It was new in the box…  So, I guess that counts as a new purchase.  So, purchase #2:  a highchair.  I can’t wait until it arrives;  baby Jean is six months and eating (limited) table food, but up until now, she has just been perched on my lap.  That is becoming increasingly messy.  I searched on Craigslist for the last month, looking for a chair that had some sort of modern appeal (to at least partially fit in with our updated decor), was well-reviewed, wasn’t too bulky, that both my husband and I like, and wasn’t too expensive.  I struck out.  So, this highchair is being shipped, as I type this.   
  • Just last week, I finished my favorite book of the last… year or so.  I have a few current authors that I follow;  I read everything they write.  Those tend to be dependable authors;  I like their craft of storytelling.  However, they’re not necessarily books that, upon closing, I reflect, “That was so very worthwhile.  I am enriched by having read that.”  Not that they’re trash;  they’re just entertainment, and not necessarily profound.  The book I recently finished?  Profound.  I had read quite a few (nonfiction) essays by Wendell Berry, as well as a number of his poems.  But, I hadn’t read any of his fiction.  Following the families in a community in rural Kentucky?  Sounded campy, à la Mitford (which I’ve never read, so, yes, I’m passing judgement based upon incomplete information).  But, my oldest son, a junior, read Fidelity as part of his homeschool curriculum.  When he finished, he handed it to me.  “That was one of the best books I’ve ever read.  I think you’d like it.”  Which made me love him all the more…  And he was right;  I did like it.  I plan on reading more in the series, after I get through the next two books on my list (Leaving Everything Most Loved — I like Jacqueline Winspear’s storytelling.  However, as her works progress, each book seems more like “Zen Buddhist with an agenda, who is telling a mystery story on the side.”  It’s rather annoying.  I’m a Christian and I don’t even like it when CHRISTIAN authors try to proselytize via fiction.  I like it even less when the author’s beliefs don’t parallel mine.  And, An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch.  I found Charles Finch, whose stories are set in Victorian England, when I had exhausted the surprisingly large genre of literary mystery serials set in WWI-era England.)
  • And…  This little sweetie.  How I adore her.  She is perfect, except she doesn’t like to sleep.  Really, she doesn’t like to sleep at all.  You can try your suggestions, but I’ve probably tried them all, short of letting her cry long enough to give up and feel abandoned.  She is a darling baby, an absolute delight to our whole family.  Everyone is smitten, still.  She is beautiful and chubby, cheerful and funny, and loves to snuggle.  So, so perfect.  Except the sleep thing.  I’m tired.   baby Jean, in arms

Trendsetter and other good news

Fiala was the flowergirl in the wedding of some dear friends in November. I made her dress.

My days aren’t always wonderful.  But, today has been smashing and I don’t want to forget it.

First, our mourning has been turned into dancing.  Earlier this week, we discovered that the awful scraping sound emanating from my Land Barge’s engine was its last, dying gasp.  It needed a new engine — to the tune of $3,500 or so.  This morning, someone called to tell us that, essentially, he is going to pay for it.  This “someone” is returning a favor for house plans that my husband designed for him.  I must confess that I have groused somewhat about what I feel is people taking advantage of my husband’s generosity with his home-designing skills, which he frequently does for free, or very nearly so, on the side*.  It seems to me that folks don’t comprehend the time, effort, skill, and flat-out genius that goes behind their remodel, or whatever.  I have strongly suggested that he charge what he’s worth.  He refuses.  I pout and feel self-righteous about at least internally defending my husband.  However, I will never breathe a word of complaint again.  Even enters my mind I will remind myself that GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL and HE WILL ALWAYS TAKE CARE OF US and no kindness is wasted in God’s economy.  I will give all future unkindly thoughts** a kick to the curb and not let them enter into the dwelling place of my ponderings.  Seriously.  My mind is changed FOREVER.  My paradigm is permanently shifted.

Secondly, something over the last week or so, of which we didn’t hear until today:

  1. Last week at our dentist’s office, as always, my five year old daughter Fiala was unfailingly kind and encouraging. She told the dental assistant, Shawn, that she looked beautiful, and gave her a hug and a kiss.
  2. Shawn went home, and when asked about her day by her elementary-school-aged son, she said that a little girl made her day, describing the incident with Fi… They talked about the name “Fiala”.
  3. The son’s teacher is pregnant with a little girl and (bravely!) told the students that she would let one of them name the baby. She set up a suggestion box in the back. Shawn’s son wrote down “Fiala”.
  4. The teacher announced yesterday (I think) that her new baby would be named Fiala.
  5. Buh-bam! Darling girl is a trend-setter, spreading her sweet spunkiness and genuine affection, getting babies named after her.

1486886_10202004272002507_167237079_n———–

*He is also paid to design houses in his full-time job.  :)
**At least on this topic.  ;)

“Here I stand…”***

IMG_20130901_125558_381

My husband Martin holds baby Jean to the sky. We’re at Saddle View Point, on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

My husband and I are nearing 19 years of marriage.  I have been reflecting on our history recently.

That is partly because my own parents divorced after they had “celebrated” their own 19th anniversary, and I have had to say, “SHUT UP!!” to the enemy keep my thoughts captive regarding this particular milestone, and have been purposefully dwelling on the successes of our time together as a family.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.
Psalm 137:3-5 (NLT)*

It’s a pretty common understanding in the Christian culture that children are a blessing.

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My family: 12-year-old Wesley, 7yo Audrey, 14yo Grant, myself holding baby Jean, almost-five-year-old Fiala, Martin, and 16yo Ethan.

Confession:  For a long, long time, I did not feel that blessing.  I felt overwhelmed, not up to the massive task appointed to me.  I saw my every flaw replicated and magnified in my children.  I felt like I was endlessly disciplining, when I really didn’t WANT to discipline;  I wanted to snuggle on the couch and have everyone love each other, and everyone respect each other, everyone defend each other, everyone exuding kindness and loyalty…

I don’t feel overwhelmed anymore, and though I do see my flaws in my children, I am less horrified these days.  Instead, I see that as the provision of God to accent my need for His holiness and his character, in both myself and my children;  it shows me what I need to work on.  However, I still feel, oftentimes, like that last sentence in the paragraph above.  There is not enough kindness and love in our home.  There is not enough of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  There is not enough of His peace.  His patience is frequently far from manifest in the lives and hearts of every member of our family.

HOWEVER.

I am still starting to get a picture, a revelation, of how much BLESSING I live in.

It is dawning on me from a number of different horizons.

To wit:

  • A mother came up to me after worship on Sunday and told me how she had seen my 14 year old son, Grant, enter right into exuberant worship and praise — nothing rote — and he urged a friend to do the same.
  • I am meeting more women — it’s my age, I guess — who do not have the family they envisioned for themselves, earlier in their lives.  They don’t have as many children, or none at all, or they don’t have a healthy marriage, or none at all…  It’s not that my marriage is flawless, but I do have a good marriage.  And I have six children, which feels… complete for the first time in my motherhood.  It doesn’t feel as if anyone is missing.  I am realizing how easily what I presently have could have never been.
  • I do long for more loyalty and kindness in particular between my children;  every time a child throws a sibling under the bus, so to speak, by tattling, my stomach hurts and my heart aches.  But, there IS a lot of love present in our home.  I am trying to treasure all these things in my heart — to remember the loving, tender moments.
  • People whose perspectives and opinions I trust are increasingly encouraging me, pointing out the good fruit in our home.  A maternal uncle visited this past weekend.  He left a note for my husband and I to read.  Part of it said, “You have accepted the challenge of raising a Christian family at a time in history when our culture, society, and even our government fights you.  Good job.  Keep going.  You are being watched by people you don’t even know, and they do so with a yen for what you have.”**
  • At my step dad’s memorial service last Saturday, many people came up to me to congratulate me on the good behavior of my children, and extended their blessings to our family.
  • Baby Jean seems to have brought a new level of tenderness in our family — especially in my two other girls.  My pastor’s wife keeps noting it to me.  It has opened my eyes to the reality of the Father God blessing our family, specifically through this chubby, sweet-smiling three-month-old infant.
  • Just in general…  People keep encouraging me, especially about my motherhood and my children.  I should keep notes and read on a day when I’m discouraged.  :)

I’ve always kept with the notion that those who compare themselves among themselves are not wise.  Therefore, I often take lightly the compliments of others, regarding my children.  I see the best in my children, but I also see the worst, and I can’t help but often think, “If you only knew...” when someone says something flattering about one of my children.

But, I’ve decided this:  It would be more repugnant to live in the blessing and not realize it.  I think my perfectionist self rather disqualifies my motherhood, disqualifies my children, even, from receiving compliments and blessings.  This makes me sad.  I want to believe it!  I should believe it!  I want to embrace a life of blessing.  I want to ENJOY being blessed!  I think it would score one for the enemy if I really did live a blessed life, but didn’t have the revelation of it.  What a waste that would be!

I’m feeling an increased longing for more of God’s presence in our home.  In short, I’m longing for His blessing, His hand on our lives and in our hearts.  I’ve always wanted this… but it seems like God is bringing me to a place of urgency in prayer and in seeking Him for this, and I have, a number of times in the last month or so, been brought to tears with HOW MUCH I LONG FOR this, long for Him.

So, that’s my new goal:  To enjoy the Father’s blessing, which, indeed, includes my precious children, and to look for and acknowledge His blessing.  I am a blessed woman, indeed, to have six children and a loving husband.  Perfection is a long, long, long, long ways off.  But I am still very blessed, and I want to have an increasing revelation of that, and live in its peace.

———–

*For the curious, our family is not “quiverfull“.
** I was telling my pastor about how I was basking in this blessing from my uncle, and then, I looked over and saw my seven-year-old daughter, Audrey, CHEWING on the note.  CHEWING IT.  She explained, “I’m pretending to be a puppy!”  My pastor said with a laugh, “And then reality set in!”
***There is an old worship song by John Barnett called “In the Blessing.”  Its words are:  “Here I stand/In the blessing of the Father’s love/Washed in blood/Sweet forgiveness for a life undone… Knowing that Your love is all I need/To get by/Knowing that Your hand is over me/All my life/My Father, I love you…”  I couldn’t find a recording of this song — which has often brought me to tears — to add to this post.

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Lovely Audrey holds baby Jean, who doesn’t look too pleased here. But, really, Jean *ADORES* her siblings.

An odd testament to love

My stepdad, Joe, passed away last Thursday.

It was a shock.

I visited him with Audrey and Fiala the night previous, as we’d gotten word that he had taken a turn for the worse.  He was mostly out of it, on pain meds, but we had some now-memorable exchanges… One was me asking him if he wanted music in his room — he LOVED music — and he did.  I made a mental plan to follow up on that the next day.  A sick man should have music.  He taught my children all sorts of silly songs over the years — he and my mom started dating when my 16 year-old was an infant;  they were married days after he turned one — and I asked him if he might have a silly song for my girls.  He replied, “Not at the moment.”  When the girls and I were about to leave, I told him I needed to go back home to nurse baby Jean.  “Do you remember baby Jean?” I asked, not sure how connected he was with what I was saying.  “Oh, yes!” he said, and his face lit up.  The girls and I prayed for him, I told him that I loved him, and he said he loved me, too, and we left.

We got back home, and I told my husband, “He looks bad, but he doesn’t look like he’s on death’s door.”

I was wrong.

He died early the next morning.

Perhaps this seems odd, but I think his passing might be a testament to how much he loved my mother, and that makes me feel a little bit better.

It had been a hard, hard year with Joe.  Well, hard ten months.  My mother passed on October 18, 2012, and for the month or so following, things were good with Joe, although he was terribly — understandably — heartbroken.

And then things deteriorated.

Much of the deterioration revolved around my mom’s will and the way estate law works in Arizona.

The short version is that he didn’t think that myself or my three siblings should inherit anything from my mother.  He genuinely felt entitled to everything she owned and saved, and felt that we weren’t taking care of him by signing our inheritances over to him.

My sibs and I couldn’t agree to his desires.  My mom appropriated some things to her children…  The bulk of the estate went to Joe.  There was much that estate law would allow us to keep, or claim — property which wasn’t exactly specified in the will — which we didn’t.  We siblings were trying our best to err on the side of generosity, to keep all fighting to an absolute minimum, to find common ground…  We simply were not successful, and Joe remained upset at us.  Angry, really.  He was angry with us.

So.

It had been a very, very hard time, a difficult year.

—————–

I had long said that Joe was the most involved grandparent that my children had.

And, it was true for 15 years.

And then, not true for 10 months.

There were a few, encouraging steps forward… and those would invariably be followed by some giant sliding backward.

I’m not angry at Joe.  The issue of inheritance was a very difficult thing that was only resolved about a month ago.  But, even when estate matters were resolved, things were still not good, relationship-wise, with Joe.  While he was in the hospital, my brother-in-law suggested to Joe, “Can we call a truce?  And then, when you’re feeling better, you can be angry again.”  Joe thought that was hilarious — my brother-in-law is quite witty, and I think it was the perfect thing to say.  And, Joe agreed, at least in spirit…

While my family was on vacation earlier this month, Joe — who had for months been complaining of an ‘upset stomach’ — was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  And, less than two weeks after his diagnosis, he was gone.

I wrote to some friends:

Everyone handles grief so differently. As I’m typing this, I’m thinking, “He just could NOT move on,” and that fits with something else I was going to say: he has always tended towards bitterness and suspicion and hoarding… and we didn’t realize how much my mom kept that in check. In so many ways, she must have compelled him to move on, to get past “it”, whatever “it” was. And with her gone, there was no one who could speak that into him, and he just spiraled out of control. I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but it seems like a testament to how much he loved my mom, how much influence she had in his life, what a difference she made in his outlook and approach to life… it makes me feel better. And even with his cancer diagnosis. I think he just might have given up. I think if she had been alive, he would have fought.

When my mom was hospitalized, my siblings and I frequently discussed how much my mom loved Joe, but how foreign to us were his ways of expressing love to her.  I found myself rather desperately hoping that my mom was loved as deeply as she…  well, I hate the word “deserve”…  Needed?  Should have had?  I’m not sure of the right word there.  I just wanted her to be loved by her husband.  That was really, really, really important to me.  And there were times when I found myself wondering.

Yet, this last week, I have been, indeed, struck with just how much he much have loved her… She made his life worth living.  She compelled him to go on.  She called out in him the things that were noble, and helped the ignoble to be manageable, far less noticeable.

I’m a mishmash of thoughts and emotions.

Such regret that relationship wasn’t restored by the time of Joe’s passing.

So sad…  Sad for my children.  Sad for Joe.  Sad for myself.

But, strangely comforted about my mother, whose absence is a deepening hole in my life.

I’m comforted that he loved her.

Mom and Joe

Returning to… well, not “normal”.

The babymoon filled with tortilla chips* and ice cream** is over.

I won’t say that we’ve returned to “normal”, though that is what I was initially thinking…  “Wow!  We’re approaching normal!”  There is no “normal”.  And, upon further reflection, it was like thinking, “Hey, baby!  You’ve upset our family’s routine!  You rascal!  How could you do that??  You’ve DISTURBED things!!”  And, truly, I don’t think that.

But on the other hand, I have been working to re-establish a new flow to our family.

I wrote this to a friend yesterday, who probably instantly regretted asking me how I was doing:

But, just to be real, yesterday SUCKED. It was the worst mothering day in a solid year, if not more. Frankly, Jean cries a lot. That isn’t bad, theoretically. I was telling my kids that Ethan cried a lot, and he turned out just fine. Some babies are just… needier than others, and I am happy to provide that extra comfort, extra soothing, more careful… care. But, OTOH, it means a lot of time in my room with the door shut, nursing (not that I always nurse behind closed doors), soothing, trying to help Jean sleep… and then my children are like Lord of the Flies out there, unattended, giving into sin nature, selfishness, unkindness, sneakiness, bullying… Ugh. I kind of flipped out yesterday. For a valuable 45 min of time when Jean was napping, I sat the five down and we went over Colossians 3:12-17. We talked. I lectured. We prayed. But did things improve? No. I had to spank***. I called Martin. And today hasn’t been much better…. But, I’m trying. Played Bethel YouTube worship videos for four hours straight in the main living area of our home, both to worship and sing, and to just invite the Holy Spirit in our day. And I have nipped everything in the bud, as much as possible.

There would be days like these in the past and I would think that I have totally failed as a mother. The good news is that I feel like it’s a temporary failure from which we all need to recover. I need to pull the reins in on my kids after letting things coast, slide, for too long. And they need to be loving and to obey.

So, see?  There’s no normal.

But, this morning represented a step in the right direction:  For the first time in Jean’s six weeks and two days of life, I made myself a “real” breakfast.  Granted, I absolutely gulped it down, so as to eat it hot, in case Jean awoke.  But, it was:  Three eggs, tomato slices, avocado slices, a cup of raw milk, and coffee.  YUM.  The first week of Jean’s life, I ate like a queen, because my hubby fixed my breakfast, and delivered it to me in bed.  The time since then has been altogether spotty:  A hastily eaten bowl of cereal (and I don’t even eat cereal!), a protein bar, a hastily-eaten pear, occasionally asking one of my boys to fix me eggs…  Or, more likely, me looking at the clock at 11:00 a.m. and thinking, “Crap.  I haven’t eaten anything yet today.”

Speaking of food…  While I absolutely, 100% agree with the thought that post-partum mothers should not give in to an appearance-centered culture that pressures us, “How are you going to lose that baby weight???”****  I also know that I’m carrying 12 extra pounds from the pregnancy — not much, I know! — and

  1. It’s crazy how much even just 12 pounds can make your clothes NOT fit.  Even tee shirts.
  2. I know that most of that wouldn’t be there had I not daily indulged in food I shouldn’t be eating in the first place:  like the aforementioned tortilla chips, ice cream, and cereal.
  3. I just feel better when I’m trim, when I don’t to have to select clothes that hides one sloshy part or another.*****

So, unless I want to purchase a whole new wardrobe — which WOULD be nice, but

  1. Where would the money come from to do that?
  2. More importantly, where would the TIME come to do that??

I need to lose at least some of that weight.

Hence, the subtraction of the carb-laden foods, and the triumphant reemergence of healthier food…

So worth it...  the tears, the "disruption", the extra weight...  So amazingly worth it.

So worth it… the tears, the “disruption”, the extra weight… So amazingly worth it.

———

*Organic, from Costco.  I love those chips!!

**Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra.  It was a lot easier to resist when I had to purchase it for $5/pint from the grocery store or wait for a coupon.  In the last year, pre-baby, I probably indulged twice.  But, since we discovered that the regular price at Walmart is $2.88/pint, and I got my hubby hooked on that particular flavor, it’s been MUCH harder to resist.  “Babe!” he grins, coming in the door with a bag from Walmart, “I got you some ice cream!”  Hahaha!!

***I probably just lost a good 10% of my readers right there.  “SHE SPANKS???” Um, yes.  On occasion.  I can’t remember the last time I had spanked anyone, prior to Tuesday;  a couple of months, at least.  It’s not my go-to discipline;  it’s my last-resort discipline.

****And if you haven’t read Sarah Bessey’s fabulous post on the Duchess of Cambridge’s post-partum hospital appearance, you should.  Absolutely, you should.

*****And we’re not talking “skinny” here.  I’m at 150 lbs now, and my goal is 140.  Pre-baby, it was 138 lbs.

More birth pics of Baby Jean… correcting my memory

My friend Stephanie was at the birth of Jean Marjorie Joy, born on June 25.  She had her camera, and I knew she took a few pics.  But I didn’t know just how many until today, Jean’s six-week “birth day.”  Right after the birth, Steph went on vacation and was then busy with a number of other things.  She gave me a flash drive with her pics on it, a week and a half ago.  I don’t know why it took me so long to view the pictures…  Mixed emotions, I guess.  However, when I did, I cried good tears…  Collectively, they tell a tale of love, and of a day that shouldn’t be forgotten.  There are a whole bunch of pictures immediately post-birth, for a space of about sixteen minutes that I somehow forgot:  I just somehow absolutely didn’t recall those minutes, at all.  But, seeing the pictures, it all came back to me, even how it felt, to have baby Jean up on my swollen belly, only a minute post-birth.  “Oh… yes… I do remember that!  I remember it now!”  (You can read the original birth story, here.)

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My dear husband, Martin.

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He’s so attentive to me.

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Wouldn’t YOU love a man who held your face like that?? I would.

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Martin, and sweet Fiala, too. I look pretty relaxed in this picture, but believe me, I felt like I was dying.

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My brown-eyed girl, Audrey.

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I <3 him.

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This was three minutes before Jean emerged. Note Fi’s hands over her ears!! And she’s watching the action quite closely!! I thought the girls left the room well before Jean was born, but I guess they were slow-motion minutes… Fi hung in there a good long time.

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I ripped my hair elastic out. Or someone did it for me. LAST push.

Like my friend Daja, who had her baby boy, Tegshee Walker, only a couple of weeks ago, there are some awesome crowning and baby emerging photos… But I can’t publish those.

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I can’t really show you the picture where Martin caught baby Jean, either. But this pic was taken only one minute after her birth. He must have handed her right off to me. Until I saw this picture, I absolutely did not remember this moment.

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Again, one minute post-birth. I remember now, feeling vast relief, feeling extremely shaky, not quite believing that this was my baby, but at the same time KNOWING she was, indeed, my dear baby.

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Alicia’s blonde head on the left, my midwife Pam on the right. Me in wonder.

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They were rubbing her down, helping her to pink up. I had previously remembered people doing that, but the bizarre thing was that I hadn’t remembered that baby Jean was IN MY ARMS when they were doing that.

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The best Daddy in the world. He loves her so.

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Only three minutes post-birth.

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I love her.

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First kiss as a family of eight. :)

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Jean has Martin’s brow.

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Audrey decides to come back in.

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Martin’s hand over mine, on our baby’s chubby, fuzzy back. And MARTIN is the one who put her little hat on. Again, while she was in my arms. But I hadn’t remembered that.

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Miss Squishy, 23 minutes post-birth.

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Daddy, Mommy, baby, love.

The birth of Baby Jean Marjorie Joy

I had hoped that with a bit of distance and reflection, the story of Jean Marjorie Joy’s birth would make a little more sense to me.  However, she will be four weeks tomorrow, and much of it feels as cloudy now as it did on June 25th, the day she was born.

For this birth, my sixth, and first home birth, I felt oddly disconnected, emotionally.

I think it started from…  well, I had about eight days of pre-labor, prodromal labor.  Eight solid days where contractions NEVER fully let up.  Never.  On about four or five occasions, they would increase in strength and frequency, until they were quite intense and about three minutes apart, and this would continue for 6, 8, 12 hours.

Normally, when one has contractions that are more than a minute long, three minutes apart, for a number of hours, one is in labor!  Actual labor!!  So, I would alert my husband, who invariably came home from work (or just didn’t depart for work).  I’d call or text my midwife.  I’d get other things prepared, including myself, emotionally and with focus, for me to have a baby.

And then… the contractions would disappear.

Or, they would almost disappear.  They would slow back down to once every 20 minutes or so.

So, over the course of a week, I became emotionally engaged, multiple times, with the idea of having a baby…  And I would prepare, mentally and logistically, to have a baby.

And then, the baby wouldn’t come.

I admit:  I cried.  I became discouraged more than once.

It’s difficult to explain…  But after about the fourth time of this happening, it felt like The Baby Who Cried Wolf.  And I stopped believing.

I didn’t stop believing that I would have a baby;  I knew I actually would, eventually.

But, when the contractions would ramp up again, I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah… whatever.”

That sounds awful, but it’s true.

….

I had visions of one of those births that just progress beautifully, undisturbed, where the midwife never checks my cervix, and I just listen to my body and tune into my baby, and birth a baby in peace and joy.

That didn’t quite happen.

Well, it didn’t happen at all.

After the first two days of contractions, on June 18, I caved and asked to come in to see my midwife and for her to check my cervix — the first vaginal exam of my entire pregnancy.  I was only 38 weeks, 5 days, but I had had two of my babies earlier than that;  it wasn’t inconceivable (ha!) that I was in labor.

She did, and I was dilated to 2 cm and about 75% effaced.

In a mom who has given birth previously, that really doesn’t mean ANYTHING.  As my midwife had told me (and as I already knew), “I have had multip moms dilate to four and stay there for weeks.”

But, I just wanted to know if these contractions were progressing anything or not.  The answer:  Kind of.  Not really.

On that first check, we also discovered that baby was engaged in my pelvis, but her head was tilted just slightly, and my cervix was still very posterior.  Good news, bad news, bad news.

Not “bad news” as in dangerous — just “bad news” in that it meant that the birth likely wasn’t imminent.  Babies can be birthed in a wide variety of imperfect positions, but I did know that the mama’s body will likely keep contracting to try to reposition the baby as long as possible.  And I knew that my cervix needed to travel forward — anterior — before the baby could be born.

But… even with all of that, since this was my sixth baby, the midwife reminded me that even just a few really hard contractions could reposition her, bring my cervix forward, and cause me to dilate, all within a literal matter of minutes.

So, it was like I wasn’t in labor, but I was.

The 20th of June came:  My 40th birthday.  I went to see the midwife again, as I had continued to contract.  I had an “official” appointment with her the next day, but as I had been contracting still, I asked to come in early.  But… no dice.  Nothing had significantly changed from two days previous, though I was dilated to three, instead of two centimeters.  Everything else was the same.

At that point, I decided that I was going to stop going in to see the midwife until I was 100% certain I was in labor — and then she would come see me.

That was a Thursday.  I continued to have “bouts” of strong contractions, close together, for multiple hours.

Monday was the worst, though.

By Monday the 24th, my uterus was officially sore, and I could feel like it was tired.

That was worrisome, because I didn’t want to go into real labor with a sore, tired uterus.  That was actually my biggest concern about contracting so much:  I needed a “fresh” uterus.  It’s a muscle.  I mean, imagine running 10 miles for eight consecutive days before you ran a marathon.  You just wouldn’t do that, even if you could.  When it comes to the real thing, you want muscles that are refreshed and ready, not ones that have been drained of their strength.

I contracted for 12 solid hours on Monday, from about 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

My husband, so dear, had come home from work around midday.  He set up his Kindle in our bedroom, hooked up to speakers, with my favorite worship songs playing on YouTube.  He was attentive to me, taking care of our children, checking in on me…  It was just right, actually.

When the contractions — yet again — petered out after the children were in bed for the night, I sobbed.  I was so discouraged.  My husband reassured me that the baby would actually come, and that he was not impatient with me.  His words were soothing to me, but I couldn’t explain how it was such an emotional investment to think that I was in labor, and then find out that I wasn’t.

I came downstairs…  We watched some TV.  It felt like the baby flipped completely in the womb.  I thought, “That’s either really good — she’s positioning herself correctly, finally — or that’s really bad — she’s turned breech or something like that.”  I got down on the floor to palpate my belly, to see if I could tell where she was.  I couldn’t.  I could feel, though, something against my cervix.  It felt like little fingers, wiggling around.  “It feels like she’s trying to push her way out with her hand!” I exclaimed.

I thought for certain that such a feeling was a… sensation, not the actual truth.

Eventually, we went to bed, with me feeling… well, not quite as discouraged as I had, earlier in the day, but resigned…  As in, “Whatever.”  Ambivalent.

Around 12:30, I woke up, contracting pretty hard.  That wasn’t new.  The contractions I’d been having for more than a week were often hard enough to wake me from a deep sleep;  and I’m a hard sleeper.  However, it felt like I had wet the bed.

“That’s weird,” I thought.

It wasn’t enough liquid to be my water breaking, yet I don’t normally wet the bed!  So, it just seemed weird to me.

I cleaned up and went back to bed.

I woke again at 1:30 with the same situation:  A pad full of water and contracting.

I knew that when the membranes break, often they can do so by “leaking”, instead of popping.  But, it didn’t smell like amniotic fluid.  However…  At 1:30, I had some bloody show.  I knew that this meant that I was dilating — a good sign, indeed! — but that the mucous plug, once lost, can be re-formed, and just because I was dilating did not necessarily mean I was in “real” labor.

I continued to wake up every hour with the same “symptoms” — one strong contraction followed by lesser contractions, anywhere from 3-8 minutes apart;  just enough liquid (I was still completely unsure if it was amniotic fluid, or if I was peeing) to fill a pad;  and some bloody show.

2:30…

3:30…

4:30…

The contractions didn’t seem any more significant than the ones I’d been having for the previous eight days.  They didn’t feel any stronger, they weren’t any closer together…  In fact, I was having times where they’d stretch to 10-12 minutes apart, then increase in frequency:  sporadic, but consistent.

But, by 4:30, I had the most bloody show yet and some loose stools, and I had decided that the liquid was surely amniotic fluid, not urine.

That may be TMI for some (and if it is, you’d best stop reading now), but for me, I knew that loose stools is a very positive sign of labor.   They’re caused by the presence of prostaglandins — hormones that are present during labor and that cause the cervix to soften and thin — efface.  It has happened with all my babies, historically 3-12 hours before the baby is born.

So, at 4:38, I told my hubby, Martin, who had been sleepily aware of my restless night, that I was pretty sure this was real labor.

I decided to give it another hour, though, before alerting anyone, just to be sure.

For about 20 minutes, the contractions were sporadic:  3 minutes, 7 minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes apart.  Then, right at 5:00 a.m. on the 25th of June, the contractions started to intensify and they picked up to every 2-3 minutes apart and stayed there.  I stopped timing them and told my husband, “Timing them is becoming distracting.  They’re real.  I would be shocked if we didn’t have a baby some time today, probably sooner than later.”

I called my midwife at 5:30 a.m. and went to take a shower.

Before showering, I sent a text to my friend Stephanie, who was coming as friend/doula.  My husband is 46 and has known Stephanie since they were in junior high together.  She has the PERFECT presence for a woman in labor:  comforting, firm, determined, kind, gentle…  She just knows what to do and what to say, with no error, ever.  She is also a calming presence for my husband, who trusts her completely.  (Martin lived with Stephanie and her husband and their son for two years, prior to our marriage.)

I found out about an hour and a half later that while I had composed the text to Stephanie, I hadn’t actually sent it, which explained why she wasn’t there.  Just before 7:00 a.m., I asked Martin to call Stephanie.  He got her voicemail.  I was worried.

Back to 5:30-ish:  Pam (the midwife) said that she would be to my home in 20-30 minutes.  When I got out of the shower, she was there, in less-than 20 minutes.

At 5:53, she checked me.  I was dilated to a “stretchy” 5 cm;  she could easily stretch me to 8 cm.  My cervix was still quite posterior.

She had previously told me that she could manually pull the cervix forward, which would hasten labor, but that it would “hurt like hell”.  I didn’t envision her ever doing this to me because I like to let labor progress naturally;  I don’t want anything to speed it.

But, at this point, knowing that I was contracting every 2-3 minutes, knowing that I was well-dilated, but that my cervix was still too far back… I consented.

It didn’t actually hurt.  It was uncomfortable.

At that point, it was about 6:00 a.m.  Pam and the assistant midwife (Alicia) made themselves scarce.  They disappeared downstairs.  At some point, they came back upstairs and prepped some things in the room:  hanging bags for trash and laundry, setting up a birthing stool over a new shower curtain tarp, setting out piles of chux pads and other supplies.  I was only vaguely aware of this.

Some time close to 7:00, Stephanie arrived.  She had gotten Martin’s voice mail.

Laura also arrived, perhaps a little earlier than Stephanie.  Laura, a friend of mine, has been a long-time doula, now studying to be a midwife;  mine would be her first “official” birth as a student.

Even after Stephanie was there, I was concerned that everyone was there much too early.  The contractions weren’t terribly difficult and I had visions of everyone sitting around twiddling their thumbs and the baby being born 24 hrs later.

I don’t like putting people out.  I really don’t.  It makes me anxious, people sitting around, waiting on me.  It’s the ultimate rudeness, in my perspective:  Knowing that people are waiting on you, and you taking your sweet time…  I kept thinking about how maybe Martin should be at work; Pam and Alicia having to reschedule clients’ appointments — or worse, missing another birth because they were at my not-real birth; Stephanie should be at home with her family, or at her daughter’s volleyball tournament…  At one point, I asked the midwives and everyone else, “You bored yet?”  They seemed surprised, and Alicia mentioned how my 7yo, Audrey, was keeping everyone entertained, downstairs, with her quips and antics.  That wasn’t quite what I meant.  I guess I asked that because I was worried about it being way too early, and here I was, keeping everyone waiting.  I also started to question the wisdom of not really having anyone to watch the children.  As my oldest child is 16, everyone is pretty well self-sustaining:  They know what to do, what not to do, they can get breakfast and lunch for themselves, etc.  I knew our home would be filled with adults, in case of some emergency…  But, now, hearing about Audrey keeping everyone “entertained”, I worried.

In my previous births (all in the hospital, four with naturally-minded OBs, one with a Certified Nurse Midwife, all medication-free), one reason I never insisted on a home birth was because of the above:  I could envision myself worrying about everyone else, worrying about what the children were doing.

So, I labored, mostly focused on the labor itself, but about 5% of my mind wondering about the children, the midwives, Stephanie, my husband…

Speaking of the children, the boys (ages 16, almost-14, and 11) would just check in with the midwives, asking about how mom was doing.  Ethan (the oldest) didn’t come upstairs at all.  Grant and Wes came up once, before everything got intense.  Audrey came in and out frequently.  Fiala, my 4yo, stayed with me, or at least in the room, for a good portion of labor.

Fi and Martin with me.

Fi and Martin with me.

That’s actually just what I thought it would be like, with the children.  I was a little concerned about Audrey being too self-focused if she was in the room, but she wasn’t at all.  She wasn’t as attentive as Fiala, but she wasn’t as mindless as I was afraid she’d be.

Steph supporting me.

Steph supporting me.

For much of my labor, it was just as above:  Me standing in the bathroom, supporting myself on the sink.  I like to feel grounded, my body supported.

Also, notice my tense shoulders and arms?  Later, Pam (and everyone else) kept telling me to relax them.  That made me a little upset.  I couldn’t insist that, even though my shoulders were tense, the rest of my body was relaxed.  I wasn’t fighting the contractions, even though my shoulders were tensed.

This picture kind of freaked me out.  A) I look… old.  B) I look like my mom.

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And I look, to me, like my mom looked when she was ill, when she was in pain.  I suppose that makes sense:  I was in pain.  But, it was… sad and startling, seeing this picture.

Around 8:45, I was in the bathroom again, against the sink.  Stephanie and Martin were just outside the open door, talking.  The midwives weren’t in the room;  I found out later that they were camped in the (very small) hall, just outside our closed bedroom door.

Around 8:45, that’s when it switched for me.  It switched from, “This may take a really long time… these contractions aren’t really difficult… I wonder if I’ll have a baby by noon?  Five p.m.?  When??” to, “Holy cow, I’m going to have a baby, and sooner, rather than later.”  I stopped worrying about everyone else;  I didn’t have enough mental energy to, anyway.

I stood leaning against the doorjamb of the bathroom, laboring hard.  It took a few minutes, I think, for Martin and Stephanie to notice that something had switched…  I couldn’t tell them, though.  All I could think was that I wanted to lie down and that the carpet next to the bed looked good.  I think I kind of motioned in that direction and finally made it there, with effort.

At this point in labor… It’s funny, because everyone started to be very concerned about my comfort and well-being, and kept asking me questions.  I couldn’t answer, and I didn’t want them to ask me questions, but I couldn’t say that.  I couldn’t talk.  I just wanted to lie down.  It seemed like that would make the pain of the contractions — which had very suddenly become very intense and strong — lessen.

So, I stretched out on my right side, on the carpet on the floor next to the bed.

Almost immediately, I thought, “This was a very bad idea.”

My contractions absolutely gripped my body.  It was so painful.

I thought, “Either this is the world’s worst laboring position for me, or I am in transition.”

It’s odd, because in births #2-5, I knew exactly when transition hit.  There was no question in my mind.  But for this one, I just didn’t know.

It seems like, for the whole birth, almost everything solid… wasn’t.  Everything reliable, wasn’t.

Not that my people weren’t reliable.  Everyone who was there was wonderful.

But, prior to this birth, I can’t tell you how solid I felt about birth, how confident, how expectant.

But for baby Jean’s birth…  No, I didn’t feel like that at all.  The whole thing seemed fraught with questions and a lack of confidence.

I still don’t know why that was.  I keep waiting for some revelation, some insight, which is why I haven’t written this down until now.

I still have no deep insight about why this was.  Why did God see a need to put me in a place of insecurity?  I don’t know.

But, I can say that, for me feeling insecure, this was the best place, with the best people, to be.

I don’t think in “what ifs”.

A number of people, who have either been at the birth, or who heard about it, have questioned with wide eyes, “What if you had been in the hospital with that?”

And I don’t know.  I don’t think about that, at all.  I wasn’t at the hospital…  I was in my bedroom, with my husband and some incredibly skilled, caring women.

So, there I was on the floor, and I kept thinking, “I have to get off the floor.”  But I couldn’t move.  The contractions were right on top of each other, and each one made me freeze and melt simultaneously.  I couldn’t speak or move or think, other than in the back of my mind, thinking that again, “I have to get off the floor.”

It was just hurting so badly while on the floor, something made me feel that if I was not on the floor, I would feel better, labor better, with less pain.

It took a while… about 15 minutes, to be able to get into a not-lying-down position.  While I was getting up, at one point, I was on my hands and knees.  While there, I had the thought, “OK, this doesn’t suck as badly as being on the floor.”

It was still completely miserable, but it wasn’t as awful as lying down.

As I picked my hands up off the floor and rocked back to a sort-of kneeling position, I started to feel pushy.

Ah ha!  It was transition.

Oddly, this didn’t make me feel any better.  I was still feeling very insecure, very befuddled…

I know that when women labor naturally, the best place to be is in that… irrational, deep place of instinct.  However, even though in my previous births, especially with Audrey and Fiala, when I reached a place of transition and starting to feel pushy, I was so elated.  Even though I was deep in myself, drowning — in a good way — in labor itself, there was an underlying joy and expectation.

This time, not so much.  It just stunk.  I just kept thinking, “I have to get to this next point, because then it will feel not-as-awful.”

Never, except perhaps with my first birth, when I was altogether inexperienced, had I ever felt like that while birthing.

At that point, Pam stuck her head in.  She said later that she could hear that something had changed.  Stephanie said, “She’s feeling pushy.”

I somehow communicated that I wanted to get up on the bed, on all fours.  Someone put a pile of pillows at my head, I don’t know who.  That was perfect.  My head against the headboard, resting on my arms, which were on the pile of pillows.  Just right.

I remember thinking, “This is just right.”

Funny enough… when I was discussing, in a previous prenatal appointment, how I envisioned myself giving birth, I said something like, “Well, not on my hands and knees.  I don’t see that at all.  I don’t think that would be comfortable at all.”

And I can’t say that I was comfortable, but for one reason or another, it was just right, it was where I needed to be for that birth, for this baby.

I started pushing at 9:25.  My water had not broken, which I found very odd, given the fact that it surely had leaked earlier in the morning.

The girls, Audrey and Fiala, were still in the room.  I was proud of them — for being involved, for caring, for not freaking out…

They were on my right, on the side of the bed.  Martin was on my left.  Pam was at the foot of the bed.  Where everyone else was, I don’t know.  I had my eyes clamped shut, and it took all my concentration just to be.

Even with the first push, it didn’t feel quite right.

I wasn’t concentrating on pushing crazy-hard, though.

Knowing from my previous births, I get into robot-birthing-woman mode during the pushing phase:  My tendency is to push too much, too hard, not judiciously.  I hate the “ring of fire”, which is aptly named for me.  I just want to get past that, past it, past it.  So, I push like crazy.  I have since learned that the ring of fire is when the perineum is stretching, and if I don’t want to tear, that I must be patient, let it stretch, hold it right there, even as it burns, wait, wait…

But after — I think it was — two pushes, my water broke.

The energy in the room shifted.

I can’t describe it any other way.  The energy changed.  Alicia came over on my right and took hold of my leg to angle it just so, underneath me…  I didn’t know what she was doing, and frankly, I didn’t like it.

Pam was still at the foot of the bed, and I could hear her giving instructions, but I have no idea what they were.

She was supporting me.  She was there, working, doing something.  She was using both hands.  She was directing me when to push, which was 100% OK.  I had told her in a prenatal appointment that I don’t completely trust my instinct, because my instinct wants me to over-push, and that I would be listening to her and trusting her.

I could hear her voice, calm but firm, raised but not loud.

I was pushing, but it still didn’t feel right;  it didn’t feel powerful.

I found out later that my baby had a nuchal hand, and that became apparent after my water broke.

That sensation I had experienced, the previous night, about baby Jean trying to push her way out with her hand??  It was true.  It really was her hand, right at the mouth of the uterus, right at the cervix.

That is probably why I was contracting for eight days — my uterus was trying to get her positioned correctly, get her hand out of the way…  It didn’t work.

I didn’t know all this was happening — oddly, I couldn’t feel it at all.  Pushing was very painful, the ring of fire was very painful…  but Pam manipulating the baby’s arm while I was pushing??  I had no idea.  I didn’t know there was a hand/arm issue at all, until afterwards.

But, when baby Jean presented with her hand right next to her temple, Pam said that she first tried to push the hand back down.  She could get it to the collar bone, but Jean kept sticking it back up.  Then, Pam showed me how, when a baby is birthed, if her arm is bent, the elbow sticking out can be problematic.  So, she had to pull the arm all the way out, first.

And this is why pushing didn’t feel right to me;  it is why it felt ineffective — because of the malposition.

Pushing hurt.  Even when I wasn’t pushing, it hurt…  Looking back, there was no respite — from about 8:45 to 9:45, when baby Jean Marjorie Joy was born.  Only one hour.  But it was a very long hour.  It was all pain, all the time.

I wasn’t fighting it.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t relaxed.  I wasn’t fearful.  But, I was definitely in pain.

I’ve heard that the difference between pain (or even agony) and misery is one’s emotional state.  I did feel befuddled and unsure of myself.  But, I also felt cared-for, loved.  I felt assured that I was in very competent hands.  I just had to trust everyone… and I did.

At some point in the pushing, I became pretty loud.  The girls left the room.

I asked them later if they were scared by me… being loud.  (It wasn’t screaming, it wasn’t yelling… I don’t know what you’d call it.  It was just loud.)  And Audrey said, “No…  It was just too loud, so I left.”

I think there was something in her that said, “This is too intense,” and she took her exit, with Fiala following.  Even that, I think is just right.  They weren’t frightened.  They had just had enough and could probably sense that they were no longer of any help.  Prior to that, they’d often kiss my cheek, or put their hands on my belly…  At one point, Pam said, “Do you see when her eyes are closed?  That is when her belly hurts and you can’t put your hands on her belly because that hurts her more.”  And they didn’t.

I pushed for a total of 20 minutes.  That felt like a really long time to me, as all my previous babies were between 4-7 minutes each.

But she came out… with me being loud…

And you know that amazing emotional high — just absolutely saturated with JOY and love after a baby is born naturally?  I have experienced that five times.  I’ve studied that phenomenon, and in the birth classes that I (intermittently) teach, I describe the hormonal process that leads to that awesome feeling, and how it’s designed by God…  And, amazingly… the process that gets the baby OUT is very similar to the hormonal process that got the baby IN.  That feeling after a baby is born is remarkably similar to an orgasm.  I am 100% convinced that it’s part of God the Father’s plan for birth to culminate in a feeling, and experience that is BEYOND WORDS, both to help the mom and baby bond, to assist in the mother forgetting the pain of birthing, and so that there is… and emotional reward in doing a job well done.  Among other good things.  It really is a complicated an amazing hormonal process.

But this baby??  Um, no.  I didn’t feel that.

I was just flat-out relieved.

That’s it:  Relief.

Relief.

Relief.

I was just relieved that she was out, that my baby was earth-side, that she was here.

But after that point, my memory is very fuzzy.

I was talking with my husband about the birth, two days after Jean was born, and he mentioned catching the baby.

“What?” I was incredulous.  “You caught the baby?  I didn’t know you caught her.  How could I not know that?  How could I not know that you caught our baby??”

Pam was at the foot of the bed, tending to me, and Martin was still at my side, and she told him where to put his hands, as when the mom pushes out the baby, she kind of curls below the mom when she’s on all fours.

I didn’t know this happened.  I literally had no idea.

He continued, “Yes, and I held her as you turned over, and it was sort of awkward because she was still attached to the umbilical cord.”

How could I not remember this?  I don’t think I remember rolling over.  I don’t remember seeing my husband with our brand-new baby.

I don’t even remember anyone placing her in my arms.

I do remember seeing both Pam and Alicia rub baby Jean all over… she was fairly blue after birth.  I remember them exclaiming about how huge she was.  As they were doing this, I remember taking off my tank top so that the baby and I could be skin-to-skin.

Baby Jean pinked-up, and someone placed her in my arms.  She had a lot of hair, for one of my babies.  She was really, really chubby.  Right after, someone else reached over and put one of those stretchy baby hats on her head.  I buried my face in her neck…

kissing my newborn's neck

Some short time after that, I birthed the giant placenta.  We took a good look at it… And Laura took it home, which kind of freaked out Martin and Stephanie.  I wasn’t freaked out.  Folks do all sorts of stuff with their placentas.  I kind of considered it, but after experiencing no PPD with my previous five, I sort of figured that having it encapsulated was an expensive novelty and I decided to pass.  We could have kept it and planted a tree over it, buried in our yard.  “A tree???” Martin asked.  I knew he would be a tough sell on alternate uses for placentas, and that he would feel zero attachment to it.  So, I hadn’t even brought it up, prior to birth.  I figured I was just doing well, getting a home birth, and that the whole placenta thing wasn’t a hill worth fighting over.

Pam and Martin weighed our little chub.

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Ten pounds, seven ounces.

My biggest yet.

Little Squishy.

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My sister Robin arrived…

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That is Fiala, Pam, Robin, Audrey, Martin, and Stephanie, all looking on to measure her head.  Her head was 14.5″ (that’s big) and her chest was 15¼” (that’s really big).  She was 22-ish inches long.  I think Pam measured her at 22, but at Jean’s first pediatric appointment, when she was one week old, she was 21½”.  And then the following week, she was 21¼”.  Jean didn’t shrink…  so, we can call her 22″, but who knows?

Measuring her chest

And this is the team (minus my other daughters)…

Laura, Pam, baby and me, Alicia

Martin, Laura, Pam, baby and me, and Alicia

And now, quite apropos, my baby is crying…  Sweet girl.

………

She’s just a baby.

Martin and I keep saying that to each other, “She’s just a baby.”

Even with the unusual-for-me birth, and even with a horrific event where my nipple detached about 40% due to a bad latch (yes, it was as awful as it sounds), this has been a stress-free month.  There is peace and joy and the absolute delight of infancy, and the acute awareness of how quickly it passes…  My husband and I have been in glorious enjoyment of baby Jean Marjorie Joy.  There is a sense of completeness, of finality;  we both know she is our last, and we are going to enjoy every last second of her being “just a baby.”

With my first birth, at age 24, I was younger and more physically resilient.  However, I’ll trade NOW for then, any day.  I was so stressed out with Ethan, sure that each cry of his was an indictment against my mothering.  Now, Jean cries, and I laugh at her sweet, cute, sad, squishy face, and her baby-ness where she is just absolutely sure the world is going to end…  I don’t laugh in a mocking way.  She’s just so sweet.  She’s just a baby.  She doesn’t know.

But this time, I do.  I know to treasure it.

Older women tell younger mothers that all the time, “Treasure it.  It passes so quickly.”  I was SO TIRED of hearing that continually.  But, now I’m an older mother, and I know…  I know…  But, I treasure it all the more, because I do know, now.

She’s just a baby.

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