2

How I Do It

I'm guessing not many of my friends here have seen the movie Young Frankenstein.  Even if you have, fewer still of you probably like it as much as I did.  My dad taught me from an early age that there is value in humor.  Stupid humor, even.  It's good to laugh.  Mel Brooks movies are good at making me do that.

Last time I posted I mentioned the question I get most often about our large-ish family and where we are going to put them all in this house.  The next question (or more like a general wondering) I'd like to address is, "I don't know how you do it."  I'm not sure if this is in regards to the sheer number of kids we have or the fact that I homeschool them.  I'm not sure I'm really qualified to answer the question because I'm not sure I know the answer, but I'm definitely going to try.  And I can't help but think about Young Frankenstein every time someone wonders "How I Do It" out loud in my presence.

You are in for a treat.


I don't mean to over simplify, but our story started with just a young couple and one kid.  Then we added another.  Then another.  So on and so forth.  You don't need those details, but we got to where we are just like everyone else.  One day at a time.  That part of the story is boring.  No one wants to hear that.

So I'm going to concentrate on the homeschooling thing because that's the fun part.  And by "fun," I mean the totally crazy, completely out of character, and life-altering part.  If you think this is going to be a post about How To Homeschool, you're barking up the wrong blog, so I apologize in advance.  I don't have any amazing strategies.  I'm more like a survivalist.  I think if my husband actually saw the way things work around here during the day, I might be fired.  That said, I wouldn't change if for the world.

Here's a small list of ways I do it.  Or don't do it.

1.  I've stopped answering the phone during the school day.  Yes, I'm sorry if you serial call me.  I won't answer.  Remember Deep Impact?  The asteroid?  The tidal wave?  That's me after one 2-minute phone call.  Crash and burn.  I don't recover.  Not your fault, but mine.  I've recognized this and cut out the problem.  It might seem rude, but it's not the cold shoulder.  It's survival.

2.  I start a load of laundry every morning before I cook breakfast.  Sometime around 2pm, I remember that load of laundry and move it to the dryer, only after I empty the contents of it on top of the pile of clean clothes on the laundry room floor.  Not recommended, of course, but this is how the laundry gets clean.  You'll have to ask someone else how they get it folded and put away.  (Just kidding, a couple of months ago, Sam made several loaded-down trips from the laundry room to the living room and sat the family in a circle.  Everyone grabbed their own stuff, folded it, and put it away.  Worked amazingly well.  This is actually how it should be done.  Maybe this weekend we can do that again.  I'm kind of tired of treasure-hunting in the mountain o' laundry for the other sock.)

3.  The kids load and unload the dishwasher.  Of course, this is detrimental to the long-term organization of the Tupperware shelf, but when people ask me "How I Do It" I assume they aren't specifically referring to "How I Keep the Tupperware In Order."  They do lots of other chores too.  There's a great value in working hard.  If I can teach my kids anything, I hope they learn this.

4.  I wait until Noah takes a nap to even attempt anything school related.  No matter if we wake up every day around 7 or 7:30, we just don't even try to do formal learning until the 16 month old isn't running around pointing and grunting.  The kid is loud.  And perpetually hungry.  Which is usually what he's yelling about.  He is also a bit of a tornado.  He requires A LOT of attention to keep him out of trouble.


(Sidenote:  If and when Noah is awake later in the day when we are schooling, I have to trust that his distracting presence is just equipping my children to work well in distracting conditions.  I've said before, I'm likely training up bomb defusers or air traffic controllers...both of those jobs are quite admirable and necessary.  I think I'm definitely doing the right thing here.)

5.  I take full advantage of mealtimes to cram some knowledge into their brains.  This is actually a lesson I learned from teaching 3's and 4's in Sunday School over the years.  Ask them to sit still and listen to their Bible lesson - not so much their favorite thing to do.  Sit them at a table with goldfish and some water - they can be still and attentive like you never imagined.  I brought this home and I do the same.  At lunchtime, we read aloud from a book, listen to our history lesson, recite catechisms, read a passage for narration and dictation, read a devotion.  You name it, we've probably done it.  Even still, sitting and being quiet is tough for a 16 month old, so I try to keep a steady flow of frozen blueberries coming his way.  They take a long time to eat.  I have been known to pass out lollipops.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  (Only, our "desperate times" are like, "Oh shoot, we haven't done history in two weeks!")

6.  We take it outside.  If I'm working with Ben on something that requires one on one time, I let the big girls take Leah and Noah out to the playground where I can do school with Ben and watch them from the kitchen table.  Everyone is happy.  Okay, probably not Ben.  Sorry, bud.  Someone has to buckle down and be responsible.  (He gets to escape on his bike when it's not his turn too.  All in due time.)




I've also noticed that Abby thrives just being outside.  We got three math lessons done one night out on the playground in the same time it would have taken her sitting at the kitchen table to do one.  It was incredible.  I can sit her at the table, watch her stare out the window longingly, half paying attention to what we're doing, or we can just do it out there.  The choice is obvious.

7.  Three little words - The Sticker Chart.  As a gloriously unregimented mom, I cannot be beholden to a daily schedule.  We don't have start and stop times.  I don't even know what subjects we'll cover some days.  We get to what we get to.  I have a toddler and a new three year old.  They bring the crazy, I don't need to add "trying to stay on schedule" to that mix.  But, just winging it wasn't working.  So, Sam, my logistician, suggested the idea of a sticker chart.  We came up with an appropriate pace for each subject over the course of a month, and we strive to fill in every bubble.  Some kids (ahem Ben) prefer to color their squares with permanent marker because smiley face stickers aren't very masculine (or something).  But, seriously, this has been a game changer.  Not only does it motivate the kids, but it motivates me.  See all of those blanks?   I better step up my game.



8.  I let them play.  Unstructured, purely imaginative play.  I couldn't keep my kids in a box if I tried.  They'd take it and turn it into a space ship or a room for their Polly Pocket dolls.  Wait...




9.  I laugh. A lot. I'm not talking Mel Brooks movie marathons or anything.  I find little things to be silly about.  Turns out, Ben likes making me laugh as much as I like to laugh.  I never knew my professorial eldest had such an amazing sense of humor.  These little giggle fests, with or without the company of the kids, are my fuel. 

10.  Some days I don't.  I just don't do it.  We go to the park.  We wander aimlessly around Walmart.  I drive around hunting for geocaches. We get away.  We experience stuff.  This isn't the norm, but it's amazing to give myself grace when I need it most.  I try to save these days for when I'm burned out, at the end of my rope.  This is not our modus operandi.  This is, quite literally, our breath of fresh air.




I don't know how we do it.  I don't honestly think I'm doing anything that any one of the seemingly bewildered people who pose the question couldn't do.  I do it with God's help.  One day at a time, with lots of coffee, a supportive husband, amazing kids, and a good bit of sheer will and determination.  Just like anything, it takes work.  It's not just going to happen if I sit back and think happy thoughts.  Good intentions don't get the job done.  Hard work does.  It takes getting my feet wet, my hands dirty, and hitting the pillow at night worn slap out.  And at the end of the day, it was all worth it.

Are we clear?  As mud?  Yeah, I thought so.

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A Place to Sleep

When we moved into our current home nearly nine years ago, we had one child and we were expecting one more in four months time. We nearly tripled the square footage from our "starter" home. To be honest, this place could have swallowed us whole.

The home that we decided that we had outgrown was previously occupied by a family of eight. When we were shopping around and toured that first home, I remember being utterly shocked that the beautiful, willowy woman in front of me had birthed six children. Then I was baffled at how they could fit comfortably into the lovely, but cozy 1080 square foot home before us.  Four boys shared one upstairs bedroom, two girls the other, and the parents slept in the lovely master suite on the first floor.  It was an amazing house with a great yard.  And they were a great family.

I made all of the standard big family comments, I'm sure.  Most notably, I remember saying, "Wow, you guys really stay busy," while I was standing in her front yard during the home inspection.  I didn't mean it in an inappropriate way (though people do sometimes), but I didn't know any better.  She was gracious and shrugged it off.   I was 19, super pregnant, and it was like 95 degrees outside in the middle of August.  I'm sure I could have said worse.

Fast forward 12 years.

In about five months we will be welcoming our sixth child.

Without a single hesitation, I can say that the most commonly-asked question I get is, "Where are you going to put them all?"

My answer?  I'm sure we'll figure something out.

Last fall we spent nearly four weeks on the road hotel-hopping as a family of seven.  If we can live contentedly in hotel rooms and suites, we can probably find a place for each of our kids to safely and comfortably rest their heads in our home.  I think what we fail to realize is that our kids are not going to perish if they have to share space.  We live in a four bedroom house.  Sometimes, it feels too big.  What happens when everyone has their own corner to go to?  All too often, everyone retreats to their own corner.  I think the family only grows closer when you have no choice but to breathe the same air.

For those who are wondering, Ben (the eleven year old) currently sleeps in his own bedroom on the bottom bunk of twin bunk beds.  Abby and Sarah share a room with a double-on-the-bottom/twin-on-the-top bunk beds.  Leah sleeps on our old queen sized bed in the nursery.  And Noah sleeps in a crib in our computer room (and he's never complained about that one single time).  At least, these are the alleged room assignments.  Usually, all three girls end up sharing one of their three beds.  When the new baby comes, I suspect he or she will room in with us for several months while we transition the three girls to sharing a room and move Noah to a big-kid bed in the nursery.  Then the new baby will graduate to the crib in the computer room (and I doubt he or she will complain either).  I've never tried to room-share with a toddler and a baby.  It could be a possibility, but since we don't have to, I tend to rule it out.

I'm sharing this because it seems important for people to know.  It's not a plan set in stone, because it's not something that I spend too much time worrying about.

Can I tell you why?


Because if I stop to think about it for 2 minutes and 4 seconds from a greater perspective than through my American-colored glasses, I see that I have much to be thankful for.  We lack for nothing.  My kids have a roof over their head, food to eat, and each other to lean on.  They are safe.  They have a twinkle in their eye.  They have people who pour Jesus into their lives.  They exude joy.  They are perfectly imperfect.  And for all of these reasons, I don't worry for a second about where we'll put them all.

I wish you wouldn't either.

2

The Winner of Best Hair and Best Dressed Goes to...

When we first moved into this house, Sam and I went to Kirklands and bought about a dozen matching picture frames of varying sizes with which to adorn the walls in our bowling alley of a hallway by the kids' rooms. Maybe a year after we had Abby I took the time to actually put pictures in those frames and probably another year later we hung them up on the walls. For seven years, baby Abby and little Ben have been frozen in time on the walls of our home. About a year or two ago, we got some more frames, filled, and hung them alongside the originals so that Sarah and Leah would have some representation. I suppose in another year we'll have to do the same thing again so that visitors will know that Noah and Shep 6 are actually members of this family.

I paused in the hallway the other day to look at those eight year old photos, at a time when we had just two children. I commented to Sam that I barely remember what it was like to have Ben and Abby alone. His reply? "They always looked good."

And he was right. They didn't go anywhere without matching outfits, brushed and styled hair, and new shoes. Even their "play clothes" were unblemished - with nary a stain or hole or mysteriously faded spot. They wore bibs at every meal. Their diaper bags were always stocked for any emergency that might arise with spare clothes that matched each other and actually fit.



With five kids, I'm usually brushing hair and putting shoes on (hopefully two of them, but not always) after we arrive at our destination.  The best hair style I can pull off is a ponytail.  Matching bows?  Maybe on Sunday morning.  Otherwise, forget it.  Their clothes are often well-worn and holey.  Most of the outfits I see Abby wearing in those old pictures on the walls have now clothed two little sisters.  Ben is growing at such a rapid rate that I'm going to start looking in Sam's closet for hand-me-downs because that sounds way easier than actually shopping. 

We aren't picture perfect anymore. 

But you know what? 

It's okay.

It's more than okay.  It's real life.  Let me tell you how much Ben and Abby cared about winning the titles of Best Hair and Best Dressed. 

They didn't.

We did that for us. 

Am I scoffing at well-dressed kids?  Absolutely not.  In fact, I would definitely prefer that we not show up most places looking like feral cats.  But as I mentioned in my last post, I have learned to relax a little.  The earth won't come to a screeching halt if I let the girls pick out their own outfits.  It's going to be alright if Ben roams the neighborhood looking like an 80 year old man in two different patterns.  (Hey, my grandfather got away with it.)  And poor Noah.  He's just lucky if he has pants on when we get out in public. 

This might not work for everyone - this whole "relax" technique.  But I do think there's an important lesson here. 

It's okay to reevaluate what's important from time to time.  I assure you my kids won't remember if they matched each other and what their hair looked like (well, maybe Abby will, but that's why she's learning to do it herself).  I can also assure you that whether their hair is crazy and their clothes are mismatched, what matters is that they remember their childhood fondly.  That they know they are loved.  That they live life to the fullest.  They get messy.  They have fun. 

I contend that they do..

 
 

Gloriously Unregimented, Highly Distractible Me

I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  I used to be together.  I was organized.  Some might have even classified me as Type A.  I spent at least 18 years of my life living this way, so naturally many people I grew up knowing and don't often see on a regular basis still view me as this personality type, even if I no longer adhere to the stringent Type A requirements.  Time and life experiences can change people, I think.

The other day, I read a parenting article about stress.  It alleged that having three kids is the most stressful.  One mother of four kids commented that once you get past three, you just don't have the thought capacity to even try to maintain perfection anymore. 

I would contend that it's stressful to have any number of children.  Also, that with the addition of each child, a measure of grace is added to you as a parent that enables you to "handle" another child.  As a mother of five plus one downloading, I totally agree with the sentiment that perfection is just not a goal I strive for anymore.  And, believe me, I used to. 

So does this mean I've lowered my standards?  Or have I finally learned to just relax?  I'm not sure.  Now I'm the complete opposite of what I used to be - I'm Martha turned Mary.  I still love a checklist, but now I can't remember where I put it.  The four walls of my home may be crumbling down around me, but [most days] I'm able to look into the eyes of my children and connect with them in a way I didn't used to be able to. 

People tell me often enough that I seem just like the type to have a gajillion kids running around. I'm so "easy going." I laugh, out loud, and tell them I guess I put on a good show. It's hard for me to think of my tightly-wound, chronically-stressed self as easy going. But, you know what? I think I might have turned out that way.

Five years ago, if you would have told me I'd be reading a book called If I'm Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where'd I Leave the Baby?, I'd have laughed and said, "I think you meant to give this to my mom."  Nevertheless, I nodded and Amen!'d my way through the book and all of it's painfully true glory.
I am the one who starts out to get her child a drink of water, stops briefly to pick up a paper clip from the floor, and ends up weeding in the garden with absolutely no understanding of why that child is still thirsty.
My guess is that I'm using only about 10 percent of my brain, at best, but I'm using that 10 percent at 185 percent of its capability.  That poor little portion of grey matter is always being asked to put out more than it was designed for.  And it is being asked to do so at a nonstop, incessant, seagulls-swarming-around-your-head kind of pace.
We don't usually engage in one intensive activity and push it to the limit.  We have hundreds of less intensive activities that fill every available space in our day and our brains.  Before we even answer one child's question, three more kids have thrown their question into the mix.  We don't have time to stop and redirect ourselves thoughtfully.  The oatmeal is boiling over, the UPS man is at the door awaiting a signature, and the baby has just gone into the backyard without a diaper on.  I would LOVE to be able to stop in between each task, turn my attention fully and thoughtfully to the next item needing my input, and give it my very best.  ...some moms can leave an activity for a moment, confront an issue that has suddenly appeared and then pop right back to the original activity.  In other words, these moms have a back burner.  But we gloriously unregimented moms, for whatever reasons, possess stoves that no longer come equipped with back burners - our stoves only have one burner.  It's a front burner, and it's always on.
I think she's been reading my blog.  It sounds a lot like spinning plates and asteroids, right?

Because of Carol Barnier's book, and another I just started called Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud, I have come to realize the need for margin in my life and how to create some.  Because I'm highly distractible and because I have trouble saying "no," I have painted myself into a corner of chaotic obligation.  Plus, I'm late to everything.  (Annoying.)

I hate that I'm not Martha, even though Jesus clearly doesn't require us to be.  How much praise did he have for Mary?  (A lot.)  Mary was able to just be and to appreciate.  I am learning to embrace who God created me to be. I am recognizing that we can change.  God created this often-introverted, scatter-brained, highly-capable but totally unfocused self.

I need to embrace my highly distractible nature, while having confidence to put up boundaries to protect my sanity.  I long to surround myself with people who understand that I simply cannot always be surrounded by people. People who understand that I love them dearly even if we only hang out every other month. Sometimes I feel like all I'm doing is pouring out. Sometimes I just need to steep.  Other times I need coffee with friends, I really, really do.  But sometimes.  I just need to be.  (And be alone.)

You see, Mary gave into the moment.  She recognized the wonder of what she was experiencing.  I have had the privilege of experiencing so many moments.  I can't even imagine how many I missed those first Martha-doing, twenty-some odd years.











You know, I enjoyed being a Martha while it lasted.  I got a lot of stuff done expeditiously, but I didn't know what I was missing on the other side.  A life full of wonder.

Spinning Plates and Asteroids

Life, ya know.  It's hectic (to be conservative).  I'm sure you've all seen the memes about introverts.  To make matters worse, I'm the homeschooling introvert of 3 kids with two kids 2 and under running around under foot while I try to achieve even a modicum of success at that.  Add a little bit of extra first trimester exhaustion to the mix (spoiler alert if you aren't on Facebook - Shep #6 is arriving around August 30th), and that just puts me at a level of difficulty I'm not sure I signed up for when I started this gig.

Due to lack of time (but not a lack of words, you know there are always plenty of those), allow me to sum up.

Most days, this is what I feel like I'm doing around here:


Most days, all it takes is a single distraction - a phonecall, a trip to the drive-thru for a cup of [decaf] coffee, an out-of-the-house commitment, Facebook, a string of text messages, a well-intentioned house project - for our entire day to end up like this:


And so, as I steal two minutes to throw this on the blog while frozen pizza is cooking for lunch (yet again), please forgive me if I seem out of touch.  Don't take it personally.  I love you all dearly.  I'm just doing the best I can.

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