2

The Best Mess

I've been quiet around this blog for a multitude of reasons.  None of them are probably good reasons, but they are reasons nonetheless.  We went "back to school" (or back to the kitchen table, the living room floor, and even occasionally my big, comfy bed, as it were) in August, and being on the horizon of an epic fall adventure with the family, I determined in advance that we would hit it pretty intensely for the first two months.  So far, that's going well.

This is the first year I've been "schooling" three kids, which has presented its own challenges.  As has trying to school three children with a precocious two year old and a mobile nine month old running and crawling about.  Nevertheless, we press on.  Because that's just what we do.  Because quitting and giving up and "I can't" are forbidden in this house.  Even, and especially when it's hard.  I'm a bit of a taskmaster in that way.

Things I am not a taskmaster about:

1.  Keeping a clean house.
2.  Following curriculum instructions exactly.
3.  Drinking water instead of other tastier, bad-for-you beverages.

As I type, Sam is in St. Louis for five days, I am "down" with strep throat, and my house is a total disaster.  I seriously hope I don't get in a car accident or fall out with a kidney stone emergency because if someone came into the house right now, I would die.  Of embarrassment.  But my kids are awesome.  So I do have that going for me.  Aside from a few minor mishaps, mostly involving a particular two year old's solo bathroom misadventures that are best left untold, they have cared for themselves well the past two days while I was laid up in bed watching Parenthood and being a weenie over a fever.  (I don't handle fevers very well.)  While this was the perfect opportunity for me to become derailed, yet again, we press on.  At the risk of sounding too much like a Pixar character, we're just going to keep pressing on.  Just keep swimming.  Progress is progress.  Even if it's imperfect.

Most days I feel like a mess, but that's okay.  Because life is messy.  (Just take a look around my house.)  In my Ready, Set, School post in August, I mentioned grace being the theme of the year.  Oh my goodness, is it ever.  I'm loving grace.  It's all going to be okay.  In the middle of the mess, I'm digging in.  I'm experiencing this life.  Imperfect though it may be. 

Imperfectly sandy.  In every nook and cranny, even.

Sometimes the mess is in the form of a mysterious sticky substance in the two year old's hair.  "What is that, Leah?" - "I don't know. Oh. It's milk." - "Why did you rub milk in your hair?" - "I don't know."

Sometimes the mess isn't a mess anymore because the big sister steps in to comfort a suddenly-scared-of-the-dark little sister with a tight embrace until they fall asleep in each others arms.

Sometimes we're just a sweaty, geocaching mess.   

Sometimes Mommy and Daddy try to soak up a little too much life and Leah has to lay down in the middle of feeding turtles and take a little rest.  (She's not actually asleep here.  But we aren't exactly sure what she was doing.)

Sometimes, I'm so distracted by the rest of the mess that I forget to feed the baby and he has to eat drawer handles for lunch.  (Objection, relevance?  Sorry.  I just love this picture.)

Sometimes we forego elaborate birthday celebrations in favor of finding 11 geocaches on an 11th birthday. At night.  In the Target parking lot.  And behind small businesses.  In the trees.

Sometimes what was a big, huge mess last year turns out to be this year's greatest joy.  This kid, right here?  I could not be more proud of the young man he is becoming.  I look forward to each day I have with his goofy sense of humor and his dizzying intellect and his tender heart for his little sibs.  

Sometimes the mess I should have recycled months ago becomes the best toy on the premises.

Sometimes I rag on my precious middle child and her wild counterpart two year old sister, but the truth is, they're both pretty awesome.  Sarah has requested the job of putting Leah down for her afternoon nap.  She reads her a book (or four), then lays down with her for a few minutes until she goes to sleep.  Sometimes they both do.  You guys...I'm dying.  This is the child whose door I would have to stand guard at for literal hours to get her to take a ten minute nap.  Those messes you battles for hours at a time?  In three years, you'll likely reap some sort of reward.  The hard work is almost always worth it.

Sometimes it feels like I'm neglecting my littles for the sake of education or basic sanitation practices or those darn meals that need to made.  THREE TIMES A DAY.  Then I look in the [disastrously messy] playroom and see this kid playing contentedly.  In her snowflake shirt.  In September.  And I smile.  Because, man, I love this mess.

You know why this mess is the best?  Because it's the mess God gave me.  This is my life, and I am forever grateful for every imperfect minute of it.
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. ~Colossians 3:17
2

Ben Eleven

Time.

It's fleeting.  It's precious.  Some days it drags on slower than a slug dipped in cough syrup, and then, suddenly it's been eleven years.

Eleven years.

If I were to write a blog post for each of my kids' birthdays, I'd spend my life writing birthday blog posts.  (Large family humor, it's a bit of an exaggeration.  This is true.)  I do, however, feel led to address these offspring of mine on their birthdays from time to time.  This year, this eleventh year, is one of those times.

This past year with Ben has been a game changer.


This kid rocks.

Each year of childhood has its challenges.  Newborns don't sleep.  One year olds can't talk.  Two year old are highly volatile.  Three year olds are stuck between toddlerhood and childhood and that's frustrating for everyone.  So on and so forth.  Six year olds lose all of their teeth.  Seven year olds grow new, huge ones back in their places.  Nine and ten year olds know everything and are anxiously awaiting that rite of passage into the age of "middle school."

Middle school.  Yikes.  Not anyone's finest years, am I right?  I think back to when I was eleven.  I bought my first pair of Reebok classics with my own money because it seemed really important to have name brand shoes in middle school.  I walked those gigantic, bright white size 10's down to the bus stop on my spindly little chicken legs.  Everything about me was at least as awkward as those shoes.

This doesn't seem like that long ago.

It was 1994.  20 years ago.

I think the most alarming thing about Ben turning eleven this year is all of the math problems I've associated with it.  If he follows a traditional path and goes to college after his senior year of high school, I only have seven years left with him in my home.  This is less than half of his entire life up to this point.  And I know how fast eleven years has gone.

When Ben blessed us with his presence on September 5, 2003, I was 20 years old.  If Ben were to follow that particular path, he could be a dad in a mere nine years.  Say what?

Wasn't he just born yesterday?


Yes.  Yes, he was.  That day changed the entire course of my life.  Retrospect has given me the gift of seeing now that it was only for GOOD. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
My Amazing Ben,

The moment I found out I was pregnant with you, I knew I had become "a mom," but it didn't hit me until we left the hospital that your dad and I were fully responsible for you.  I admit right up front that I didn't know what I was doing.  I still don't.  I hope it's not obvious and that I at least fake it well, but I'm going to need lots of grace, especially from you, my dear, oldest child.  Although I've never been "an oldest," I see now what's expected of you and how much we had to learn as we reared you, and it's not an easy job.  The good news is, you kind of rock at it.

I've watched you grow now for eleven years.  I cannot believe it's been that long since that day we first met 8lb 13oz you.  Such a plump, precious baby with a head full of dark, dark hair that had everyone questioning if there had been some sort of parental mix-up.  You still have the thickest, most enviable mop of dark, dark hair, but you're no longer as plump as you are a strapping young man.

I won't dwell too much on Baby Ben, but I do want to highlight a few things from this past year because I am so, so proud of you.  In your tenth year, you learned personal responsibility (should I bring up the math lessons here?), you learned the value of a good attitude and how it affects your performance, you laughed so much, you learned to take a joke and even how to make some at your own expense, you become a big brother again, and you continued to grow and develop your relationships with three little sisters who all adore you.  You grew in wisdom and in stature.  Hey, we can even share shoes now.  You have exhibited maturity in ways far beyond your years, and you've cut loose with giggles and sillies that could not be more appropriate for a boy of ten.  You have hit your quota of words by 10am on countless days, but you keep right on chatting.  You might make an amazing radio personality someday.  You have helped in the kitchen, folded a million towels, cleaned toilets, unloaded dishes, cleared off tables, babysat.  You're going to make the most amazing husband and father some day. 

I cannot believe you are eleven years old, but I'm glad you are.  Because even though I thought I was unprepared for the awkward middle school years, I'm finding that I enjoy you more with each passing day.  You are a hoot!  I love your sense of humor.  (I'm claiming that one.  You're welcome.)  Keep making me laugh, Ben.  Keep loving on your little sisters and brother.  Keep being a brother worth admiring.

Just for fun, here's a little photo overload of your past ten years.  Maybe when you're a dad you'll realize why this made your dear old mom cry.



I love you, Ben Eleven (nope, not as nice a ring as Ben Ten). Keep smiling and making me smile.  You are one awesome young man.  I'm honored to be your mom.

Love,
Mommy


3

Ready, Set, School!


We are on Day 4 of our school year, which means I am already completely overwhelmed, feeling ill-equipped, and noticing that my entire house is in shambles (even worse than the norm). Honestly, I'm beginning to think this is where I have to be as a "teacher" for this thing to work. Because I *cannot* do it on my own. Praying for God's grace to cover my inadequacies and for my children to thrive in spite of me. How can I pray for *you* today, friends?
I posted this on my blog's humble Facebook page last Thursday.  It was a day not unlike any of the others.  I woke up, optimistic that things would go perfectly, hopeful that the 484 approximate items on the to-do list (that I no longer officially write down because it stresses me out too much) would all miraculously get checked off, knowing full well that these types of thoughts only cause things to derail faster than usual.

I tried a new thing this year.  We began school before I was "ready."  I didn't clean the entire house first.  I didn't organize the playroom/school room and take a cute picture of it on the first day.  I didn't even have all of the curriculum yet.  It'll be a soft start, I said to myself.  We'll ease in.  Grace is the theme of the year.  I am trying to shed this "all or nothing" mentality that I've worn like a hair shirt for my entire life.  I have to tell you, after 30 years, it doesn't come easily.  But I'm trying.

It's messy.  It's imperfect.  We're already "behind" on some things, and ahead on others.  But...BUT, it's working.  They are learning.  Willingly, on occasion.  And even though I'm a frazzled, discombobulated mess, they are making it.  The dishes accumulate faster than I can wash them.  The floor, which really ought to be clean right now so that creeping and crawling Noah won't locate every speck and eat it, is hopelessly dirty.  The clean laundry pile is only discernible from the dirty laundry pile based on its location on the laundry room floor, and they are both about to earn their own zip codes.  But...BUT, it doesn't matter.  At least, it doesn't seem to matter...to the kids.

On the docket this year, we've got the usual suspects - History, Grammar, Reading, Math, Writing, Latin, Piano, Handwriting, and Science.  Then we've a few new ventures - Spanish and Guitar.  We're tracking all progress with monthly sticker charts, from the ten year old boy to the five year old girl.  This is the first year we're schooling three kids.  And while it's no doubt going to be tough, it's not insurmountable.  Because, well, God.

There are several things I've vowed to incorporate into my thoughts and my heart this school year:

When I get proud and take credit for my kids successes, I need to remember the glory goes to God.  I'm just a proctor.

When I feel ashamed by their behavior, I need to remember we are all sinners from birth and this is not a reflection on me, but a fallen world.  Plus, there's always grace.

When I feel inadequate, I need to remember that God hand-picked me to be the mother to these children, not the fun-mom on Pinterest, not the together mom at the grocery store, not the pretty mom at the nail salon.  Me.  These kids are my responsibility, my gift, if only for a very little while.

When I get frustrated and angry and overwhelmed, I need to remember my blessings.  Count it as joy.  Because oh my goodness, I don't even know what it is to suffer.  I don't know what it means to truly be afraid.  Or hurt.  Or even overwhelmed.  Seriously.

Sometimes I like to think I'm clever enough to come up with ingenious phrases like, "Though it be madness, yet there is method in it."  But then I realize, William Shakespeare I am not.  So instead I resort to taking pictures of my kids doing wacky things, captioning said photos, and calling it a blog post.  This is what I've done to the art of writing.  And that, my friends, is how I'm going to wrap up this one.  Here's the soft opening of our 2014-2015 school year, pictorial edition:

The most frequent question I'm posed regarding homeschooling is, "What do you do with the little ones all day?"  I could write an entire post about this.  It wouldn't contain advice.  It would simply be example after example of them getting into mischief because they are given license to "explore" while we are schooling.  Aside from babyproofing the best we can, we count on the natural bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood to carry us through the day.  Of course, that often looks like this, and may include big sisters sitting on babies, babies pulling hair, sisters throwing things at babies to get a reaction out of them, babies eating school work...whatev -


And then there are those times where the two year old disappears for literally less than one minute only to reappear looking like this (that's diaper cream, folks - it doesn't wash off) -


The day our public schools started back, we took a trip to the "big city" of Macon to do some geocaching, our newest, fun, and practically free (except for gas) hobby.  We hit 100 finds that day.  So, I had to take some pictures and I'm even including a rare "treat" - one of me and Noah, who was quit literally along for the ride.  Yes, that's me attempting to hide my ample belly fat with my forearm.  Mission unsuccessful.  But, on a related note, when I told the nurse the other day at a dr's appointment how much I weighed, she said, "You DO?!  I guess your height helps you carry it well."  So, I took that as a compliment and I'm cutting myself a tiny bit of slack because, five babies.  I keep promising I'll start exercising again soon.  In all of my spare time.  Did I mention it's taken me a full week to write this one post?  Now you know.  Oh right, geocaching pictures.  Geez, girl can go on a tangent.


We have settled into a sort of frantic groove in the past week.  Still figuring things out.  It's always chaos at best to start with, methodic madness, for sure.  Our little homeschoolers are marching to the beat of their own drums, just like weird, unsocialized homeschoolers do.

Like when Leah insisted on wearing swim wings and goggles...to the SPLASH PAD at a Fun Friday homeschool gathering last week.


Or when Abby insisted she could concentrate on her math better in Noah's highchair.


I started homeschooling for my kids.  Because for a lot of different reasons we felt like it was the right thing to do for our family.  What I didn't realize was that it would impact me far more than I imagined.  Every single facet of my sin nature is challenged every moment of the day.  It's all out on the table and I spend most of my time asking for grace, not doling it out.

This is my attempt at honesty and transparency.  I'm cranky and I'm tired and I feel like I'm doing a downright lousy job, but I know that's just something the Master of Lies would have me believe.  So, in the interest of everyone else in my household, I'm off to bed.  Before I end up pulling one of these numbers in my comfy, green chair -


Even still I might have to get me one of these shirts.  Leah and I are two peas in a pod in the crabby department.

Until next time, when I'm hopefully past the frantic, overwhelmed stage and I can report to you in coherent connected thoughts.  Haha, good joke, right?  I can't do that on my best days!  Blessings, friends!!!!  Hope you're all doing great!!!


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