metrical Monday wk. 3

  Here we are at week three of metrical Monday where I am attempting to help my kids gain an appreciation for reading poetry and memorizing Bible verses. And so far I have to say that these children of mine … Continue reading

metrical Monday wk.1

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Yes. Yes I chose the word metrical because it begins with ‘m’ so it would go with Monday. It also means ‘of, relating to, or composed in poetic meter.’ So even if it stretches our minds a little bit to … Continue reading

permission to breathe

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I look around the house at the mess everywhere. With guests staying here and a house-helper who has been out for a week now, I can’t find a corner of this apartment that isn’t a disaster. There’s more to do … Continue reading

life with four

My keypad is a little rusty. It’s been a while now since I had the energy and space to sit down and write. Even now I know that at any moment Sugar Baby (my nickname for our new addition) might wake and I’ll have to stop what I’m doing and tend to his needs. Babies are like that. They don’t understand, “I’ll be there in a minute.” At least this one doesn’t.

But he’s doing great. What a sweet countenance this one has– I’m a big fan already and so is the rest of the brood. There’s four and a half years between him and his sister, so it had been a while since I’d taken care of a little baby. I’d forgotten how physically demanding it is when they only want to nap in your arms and not their beds; when they eat every three hours and poop every two. Add to that the fact that I have three other children and I live in a foreign culture without family support and you have yourself a very tired mommy by the end of the day.

So life is exhausting and full, to say the least. I’ve asked my friends with four or more how they do it– how they make time for themselves, keep a marriage healthy, see to everyone’s needs, etc. at this stage and no one seems to have a magic answer. At least not one I like. It’s more like just hold on and live through it until your youngest goes to school or college.

Fabulous.

Behavioral changes in the older children have also flared up since baby’s arrival. Our sweet Princess went from being the baby to big sister overnight, a big jump for a little girl. When we returned to India back in January I noticed that big sis had gotten a bit more sassy, independent and dramatic. If a meal isn’t delivered when she wants it she’ll ask me “am I supposed to starve?” She also started a fake cough and pretends that she can’t breathe when she gets into trouble to avert our attention away from whatever offense she’s committed (we know she fine because she’s talking to us). The first few times I sort of freaked out thinking she was in peril until I got a clue about what was going on. Well played.

The problem was she needed more from me than I was giving to her. Only she didn’t know how to say that. So instead she tried to get attention any way she could. On the other hand, our second born tends to get less attention because he doesn’t demand it. One day I realized I hadn’t spent one-on-one time with him in several days so we scheduled a “reading date” before bedtime. He loved it. Just us reading a few of his favorite books filled his little love tank. I never want our family to be so busy that only the squeaky wheels get the grease.

Our oldest helps me out with Sugar Baby and is my go-to guy when daddy isn’t around. It’s great to have the extra hands and it makes him feel responsible. A win-win for everyone, I’d say.

Then, there’s that all-important relationship that suffers the most when a new one comes along. Everyone will tell you to make time for your husband and don’t neglect your relationship when you have kids. This is all very well-meaning and true of course. But the reality is he can feed, clothe and bathe himself, so I let him and take care of those who cannot. It’s also hard when you don’t have regular baby sitters to go out. And let’s be frank, an outing with all four is more work than fun right now.

We recently decided to have Wednesday night date-nights in-house. We might watch a movie, play a game or read a book together. Right now we are going through The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Yes, this was my idea. It’s not glamorous, but we’re trying to connect and not just co-exist.

So life with four has been an adjustment. Grace has to be given in abundance or we would walk around frustrated–me most of all. If you have four or more let me know how your family survives thrives during this busy season of life and how you make time for everyone, including yourself.

get out of the way, Mom

Yes, that is a very high wall my boys are on!

Yes, that is a very high wall my boys are on without any railing! Cringe.

For five weeks the boys were in India and the girls were in the US. The girls were busy preparing for a new baby and the boys were, well, not bathing regularly and having their own adventures with their dad. And while they said they missed me, I’m sure there was some relief that mom wasn’t around to constantly be telling them to “be careful,” “don’t fall off that high wall,” or “watch out for snakes, monkeys and open manholes.” You know, the normal stuff mom’s say.

Of course, it was hard to know they are on the other side of the world having a glorious time and I wasn’t a part of it. But I didn’t need to be. Dad was there, and adventure and fun are his thing, not mine (just to clarify, I am fun, in my own way. Break out the scones and put on some Downton Abbey! Yeah!). They made memories of a lifetime, ones they are still talking about because the adventure required bravery, courage and a certain comfort with dirt.

They did not inherit my DNA when it comes to adventure (or dirt), and for that I’m grateful.

Bat-filled caves, snakes, a harrowing drive up a mountain, and a hike down a narrow path that has a steep drop-off. Whew! They did more in one day than I would have thought possible with a six and eight year old. The great thing is that they still talk about it as a grand adventure. Think about it: in one year they saw the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and got to ride on an elephant.

Boys in ParisHow many kids do you know who can say that?

My boys also have started playing with the neighbors. Which is great, they just happen to be playing on the street and not a fenced in backyard (have I mentioned street dogs before?). In all these things I have to hold back my fears or else they would never get to go outside our gated house. The truth is that too often I allow my fears to stifle my children, but I’m trying to do better. I want them to grow in independence and at the same time be safe. It’s a delicate balance.

So as a mother of three boys now, I have a choice: 1) Worry about them so much that I make them a nervous wreck and afraid of everything (my go-to move), or 2) Stop worrying so much about all the things that “could” happen. Protect and educate them when I need to, but stop imposing my fears on them so that they can grow confident and learn how to make their own choices.

One is my natural response because it makes me think that by worrying I’m in some way controlling every circumstance. The other, well, is harder because it means I have to admit that I’m not in control of everything and my boys don’t always need mom hovering over them to be safe.

So sometimes it’s helpful and needed for a mother to say no and protect her cubs in this crazy world. But sometimes mom (and her fears) just need to get out of the way and let them climb, run, get dirty, and just be boys.

birthday blues

We asked our sweet almost six-year-old what he wanted to do for his birthday– a party at McD’s, perhaps? But alas, he wanted his birthday at home with his friends. So we decided to switch things up a bit: we invited only school friends (to meet some new people) and we did the party on a week-night, which was his actual birthday. Sounds simple enough, right?

I made the invites, he chose the friends he wanted to come and all was well. Everyone had a week to RSVP. However, by the date given for the RSVP I began to get nervous. Only a small number had replied and so far it had only been the girls, which made up about half the list. Well, that day came and went so I asked Ben to ask some of his classmates. Why did I do this you ask? Does a five-year-old asking another five-year-old really know what his parents are planning? I should have known of course they would all say they were coming, but I chose  optimism instead of my usual go-to-move which is realism.

The day of the party came. I am currently approaching 34 weeks pregnant and very uncomfortable, but for him I persevered through an uncooperative sciatic nerve and worked all day cooking, game-making and trying to have everything perfectly vegetarian for our guests, something I would have never even considered in the US, but it’s a must here.

By party time everything was ready and our first guest arrived. A sweet girl who doesn’t know a word of English. Ben adores her and they are good friends even though she’s a head taller than him. Then, forty-five minutes later, the next guests arrived. Yes, forty-five minutes and several mosquito bites later (we were standing on the porch and outside the gate looking for party-people) another girl from his class and her twin brother who is in another class showed up. Then soon another girl or two– all dressed to the nines for an Avengers birthday party. They looked more like they had dressed for a Barbie or Disney Princess party.

I started to panic. We played a game involving Captain America’s shield. I panicked some more. Where were the boys? Where was his best friend that he had wanted there so badly? Why did these kids look at me like a bunch of deer in headlights when I was trying to be fun and engaging? Panic had set in indeed.

I decided we should eat some dinner since it was now past seven and our American bellies were growling. The hubs and I started making plates of food to give to the kids– just pasta, sauce, fruit salad and veggies with dip. The first child said no thanks and it was a domino effect after that. I should have gone for the deep-fried nuggets and potato Smiles that everyone else serves at these things. Rookie mistake.

Utterly defeated by this point (and wondering how the five of us were going to eat an entire pot of elbow macaroni) we moved on in my well-crafted-kid-party program. I pulled out the shortbread cookies, colored icing and sprinkles. Like everything else, the cookies all started crumbling before we could get the icing on. One child dressed like a small bride refused purple icing, along with everything else. Truly, I did not understand these children.

By this time parents had started showing up to collect their children–yay! We hurriedly put candles on the cake and sang a Happy Birthday to our special boy. He looked happy. I was still in panic mode, but I willed myself to enjoy the moment. The kids did eat cake–the white part at least. Some weren’t sure about the layer I had tinted blue so they left it. Then, one mom couldn’t believe her kids had not eaten anything else, started asking the other kids if they were hungry and for some reason they all decided now was the time, after dessert, that dinner sounded better. Some ate a little– at this point I just wanted it over. I didn’t dare mention the last game involved popping balloons. Neither did the hubby. We were done.

Two hours from start to finish, but there were moments that felt like an eternity. The parents all showed up and I learned to never have a birthday party on a week-night with people you don’t know, especially when you are very pregnant and when RSVP means call only if you can come since most people don’t like to tell you no. The last guest left so he opened his gifts, took some photos and said goodnight to the birthday boy who said he’d had a fine birthday and seemed genuinely happy.

Mission accomplished.

superhero son

A new post is long overdue. And it’s not like nothing ever happens that is write-worthy. It’s really more about me not being able to write what’s going on, because in truth, so much is going on I don’t know where to begin. And truthfully, I don’t know if a blog is even a place I want to begin to unpack everything that’s on my mind. I’m not exactly a bleeding blogger–not yet anyway, but give me some time.

So while many things can’t be articulated right now, I can always talk about my kids. They are a never-ending source of insight and humor in my life. As such, I thought I would share what my son told me last night because it something I’m going to write down in the journal I keep for him. It’s just that precious.

I once believed in magic–or something like that. Like the wardrobe in Narnia kind of stuff. I suspect that most of us did in some way or another if we had any imagination or wonder about us at all. Things that our young minds could find no explanation for that could be filed in our “magical” category. If you didn’t have this category as a child, I’m sorry. Really, truly, sorry. Believing in some sort of magic or fantasy is part of the joy of childhood. At least that’s how it was for me and still is for my kids.

So last night. I tucked in my younger two and let the older one stay up and read his Hardy Boys book. He’s at that brilliant age where we can sit side-by-side reading our own books and this counts as quality time. I love this. Anyway, he put his book down and looked at me seriously.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Something’s up with me.”

Oh no. My mind raced with thoughts and fears that something very traumatic has happened to my child and our lives are about to change forever. I guess you can tell I’m a worst-case-scenario kind of gal. Anyway.

“What’s up?” I try to ask casually and hold my breath.

He stood up, still looking serious. “Even though I’ve had no training at all, I am really good at climbing (he is a monkey) and I can do this.” At which point he proceeds to put his hands on the bed and jump up, twisting his legs in some quasi-Jedi-like move. His face is sincere. I want to chuckle a little because it’s so endearing. But I don’t dare. It would be devastating.

“Yeah, that’s impressive. So why do you think you can do this?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting super powers.” He wants this to be true, I can tell. I nod in recognition. Perhaps he’s seen a little too much of the Avengers lately? Perhaps.

The following morning he and the Hubs have a similar conversation in the car. He confesses that he thinks he’s turning into a super-hero, but hopes he’ll be part Thor (he loves the hair and he is 1/8th Norwegian after all) and part Iron Man. This explains why he’s been asking me if he’s more like Iron Man or Thor lately.

Maybe we’re bad parents for letting him believe that magical, unexplainable things can happen to him. But I don’t think so. I once believed that the New Kids on the Block tour bus was going to drive down my rural Georgia road and break down right in front of my house and Joey would instantly fall in love with me. I believed that and a million other crazy things with all my heart. It didn’t crush me or scar me for life when it didn’t happen– or maybe it did and I’m blocking that out.

I think that sometimes we need to believe in a little magic, mystery and the possibility that extraordinary things really do happen in everyday life. I do.

And honestly there is still that part of me that believes that the seemingly impossible is, well, possible. So I love that he has a huge imagination, unless he actually is morphing into Thor right before our eyes. Which would be amazing. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

 

don’t lose your twirl

When we were children most of us remember twirling around and around until we fell dizzily backwards onto the summer grass, eyes closed waiting for our heads to catch up with the rest of our bodies. That sort of happy/sick feeling inside twirling gave us made us want to do it again as soon as we could stand up straight. Unless, of course you had to stop because you twirled yourself right into a wall or table or your cousin’s head–  this is just hypothetical, of course.

Recently my daughter was twirling, as she is prone to do, when suddenly she stopped mid-twirl and told me quite frankly, “Mom, I hope I don’t lose my twirl.” For a second my heart froze. She was saying that she couldn’t imagine a time when she would no longer want to spin around furiously and swish her skirt in a very princessy sort of way. But to me it touched on a tender spot and I’ve pondered her words ever since.

Why do we grow up and lose our twirl, our sense of wonder and romance and endless possibility? Surely I wasn’t always this pragmatic–was I? No, I’m certain I wasn’t. I was like her– twirling around, dreaming about kissing my Prince on the lips and stuffing baby dolls up my shirt to pretending to be pregnant like mommy. I honestly thought I could be a princess some day. She’s like I was–twirling and all. She has big little girl dreams that she wants to see come true tomorrow. And honestly that scares me to death.

The truth is I can’t twirl anymore, not literally anyway. I get a little queasy just thinking about it. Something happened to me in my twenties to my head and now I get dizzy just staring up at the sky while I’m walking or watching 3D movies. And twirling? Not going to happen without me passing out. Or worse. So I guess you’d say I’ve lost my twirl. And lately it feels gone in more than in just a literal sense. Wonder, joy and awe replaced often with anxiety, fatigue and fear. Who can think of twirling when I’ve got all that holding my feet down like lead weights?

But this is not what I want for her. My dear, precious girl who is full of so much joy and kindness and determination. I want her to keep her innocence and free-spiritedness as long as possible–which seems increasingly difficult to manage in this world. Oh, that her heart would not be too bruised or damaged by others! But even if it is, I hope she can face these storms with the grace and fearlessness I’ve already seen in her.

This is the choice I hope she makes– to keep dreaming and dancing and loving with an open heart. To keep her twirl even when life is hard; when there are monkeys hanging around the neighborhood, the power is constantly going out and family and friends are far away. Again, speaking hypothetically.

And if by chance she ever loses her twirl, my deepest hope is that someday she would find it once again. Maybe I will, too.

i hate goodbyes

My heart has been aching for my oldest son for the past few days. He’s experiencing, again, the pain of goodbye.

Because we live abroad and all of our family is planted back in the US, goodbye is a all-to-common word. But so is hello. Only hellos take time to nurture and develop into something more substantial and goodbyes are mostly painful. Especially when you’re eight years old.

This weekend we got away and made some new friends where we were staying. Our kids swam together and had a great time playing in a giant air-filled ball in the pool and eating dinners together. After a few days my son started lamenting the fact that we only had two more days and how he wished we could stay longer or live close to these friends.  By Saturday evening he knew the time was short and had became sulky and irritable. At dinner he took out his anger on his younger brother by punching him in the leg. As such, he found himself in time-out alone for the rest of the meal.

As we all walked back to our room he opened up that he thought life wasn’t fair. And looking at us with tear-filled blue eyes he asked why do we always have to say goodbye to the friends we make? Like in February when his best friend at school moved to America. And before that when we moved to India. This is the boy who cried right along with me when we first moved here and felt so alone it hurt. He has been old enough to remember the friends and family we left behind. And quite frankly he’s tired of goodbye.

My husband’s family moved quite a bit while he was growing up and even to this day we pause and try to think where he’s “from” exactly–so he gets this to some degree. But for me, I had the opposite experience. Growing up we moved one time and it was to the house next door. I had the same friends from kindergarten until graduation. If anyone moved it was a major event. And when new people came in they had to prove they could be like us–just ask my best friend in sixth grade who adapted her Ohioan accent to sound more Southern (I have videos that could black-mail both of us and testify to this fact).

Here my son is the outsider trying to figure out where he belongs and he’s done amazingly well, but sometimes it gets to him, like it did this weekend. I don’t want him to close himself off in the future just because he’s afraid of the hurt that goodbye will cause later.

What to do? For now we have encouraged him to talk about his feelings. Cry. And grieve the loss. I wish I could tell him it gets easier, but for me it hasn’t and he’s so much like me sometimes it’s frightening. The pain of separation from the people and places I care most about is not something I can get over by getting new friends or embracing a new place.

I imagine this will be something we will dealing with for a long time to come as I’m not sure we’re the stay-in-one-place forever sort of folks. But I’m new at navigating the waters of wounded little hearts. So if you have any tips on how to make goodbyes easier I’d love to know what they are!