Thirst {2023 Focus}

14 Jan

Last year, my “word for the year” was Hope, and it was sooooo applicable, and helpful, and I probably reminded myself to Hope in God and Not Give Up at least once a day, if not multiple times a day. Because it was a haaaaaaarrrrrrrrddddddd year. Like, the hardest of my life. Not the hardest in the sense that at any one thing really hard happened — for example, not like the year my mom died, or the year I had a miscarriage, or the year I had emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy. But hard in the sense that Travis and I were both stretched beyond our limits, every day, without reprieve. A quote from Madame Hohlakov in The Brothers Karamazov says it well, “What’s killing me is no one thing in particular… but everything together, that’s what is too much for me.”

It wasn’t just having a fourth child, or just that she slept (and still sleeps) terribly at night, or that she wouldn’t (and still won’t) nap on her own, or that my preschooler was (and still is) stubborn and contrarian, or that my husband works from home while we also homeschool, or that we homeschool period, or that my husband’s job was really stressful (for the last several years), or that our fourth child needed surgery for Hip Dysplasia and then to be in cast and a rhino brace for four months. It was all. of. it. together.

But we are, finally, starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. Neola is out of the rhino brace during the day and started walking right before Christmas. She can handle the stairs now, so we took our stair gate down. Corbin has grown a lot in preschool since September, and can now actually sit through an entire church service (which he has done twice!). Emma and Annabelle are learning how to make basic meals like quesadillas and mac & cheese in the kitchen, and often include Corbin very well in their play, which is especially helpful when I’m holding Neola for a nap. So the kids are gaining independence and getting easier to manage on the whole.

A consistent struggle our family still has, though, is dealing with messes. Because we homeschool, we are home. A LOT. And things get messy. Fast. We are still following the routines I mentioned in a previous post, but there’s still so much stuff to deal with on a daily basis—toys, hair brushes, dirty dishes, water cups, laundry, papers from preschool and church, winter gear! I decluttered and organized a bunch last year. And we changed our Christmas gift-giving this year to decrease the amount of new toys received. But we still struggle!

My order-loving personality thinks that true happiness would be found if I could just once and for all solve the problem of house messes and clutter. I thrive in a tidy, peaceful, welcoming, cozy environment. But trying to keep the chaos at bay in a house of four young kids while homeschooling makes me feel like I’m spinning my wheels and going in circles.

So when thinking about what I wanted for this year, I really wanted to choose a word like Tidy, Order, or Predictable. I’ve been yearning, desiring, thirsting for more order, balance, peace—less mess, confusion, stress. But I knew choosing a word like that would be missing the point. True, lasting, deep-seated happiness isn’t found in a clean, tidy house (and a clean, tidy house isn’t realistic anyway!).

I thought about what was beneath those urges and yearnings, and realized it was a thirst for more. Last year, I had a lot of desires and wishes that I didn’t have the ability (energy/time/hands) to carry out. I am so thirsty to engage with more of life.

As I thought and prayed about the word Thirst, God brought these verses from Isaiah 55 to mind:

Isaiah 55:1-3

The Compassion of the LORD

[1] “Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
[2] Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
[3] Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

Everyone who thirsts…

That’s me.

He who has no money…

That’s also me, bringing nothing to the table.

Come to the waters! Come, buy and eat!

God provides generously, abundantly, compassionately, intentionally, initiatively.

Why do you spend… your labor for that which does not satisfy?

That’s a good question. I don’t want to spend my labor on that which doesn’t satisfy. God, show me how to not waste my energy, time, attention, moments.

Listen diligently to me… incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.

God, it is Your ways that lead to life. Help me choose Your ways over mine. Help me prioritize prayer more this year, in my own walk, in my homeschool, with my husband, and in our family. I want to listen diligently.

Thirst.

This year, I want to thirst for the better thing. If something isn’t serving me well, or increasing my thirst for God, His Kingdom, and eternity, out it goes! I have finite time — I need to use it wisely on the things that satisfy.

To that end, I have made changes to my social media habits. I took the month of December off from Instagram and Facebook almost completely, and I am not planning to reinstall the apps on my phone. I can view the sites in a web browser, but it’s kind of a pain, so it’s not as enjoyable to scroll. I also am not posting to my stories any more, will only post to my wall (or whatever you call it) about once a week, and I unfollowed almost all accounts of people I don’t know in real life. I do better in my own life with less social media.

I have also already used my focus word when deciding between chores and family fun. One night, we decided to go on a flashlight hike in our neighborhood after dinner. (It actually ended up being the night of the full moon in January, which was super cool, and meant we didn’t really need flashlights!) Going on the hike meant that the house didn’t get tidied up like normal, but I thought about the verse, “Why do you spend your labor on that which does not satisfy?” Needless to say, I chose memories over routine. And it was amazing! One of my favorite memories with the kids of all time.

I’m excited to see what God has in store for us on 2023. I also hope it involves a little—make that a lot—more sleep.

Learning Some New Things

19 Nov

To follow up my last post about relearning the same old things, I thought I’d share a couple of the new things I’ve been learning over the past six months or so.

Bad Days Don’t Have to Turn into Existential Crises

Recently, all my kids (9, 7, 4, 18 months) sat through a church service with minimal drama or chaos. I was pleasantly surprised. This past week, I planned out meals Sunday night, picked up a Walmart order on Monday, and we had non-frozen-pizza dinners the whole week. Bedtime on Monday night with my husband gone actually went really smoothly. Our three older kids all share a bedroom right now (their choice); I nursed Neola in the chair in the room while singing songs, and everyone zonked.

But these things don’t mean that I am a great mom or that I have it all together — mostly it just means that the stars have aligned, and things have fallen together in such a way as to work out swimmingly. Case in point: Bedtime Tuesday night (with my husband still gone) was a total cluster. Same mom, same kids, different outcome.

Sure, there are some routines and preparations that have gone into those situations, but any parent knows that you can prepare or you can not prepare; you can teach or you can not teach; you can do your darnedest or you can wing it; and you really have no control over the outcome. Because your kids are their own persons, and they have their own experiences and factors going into every and any situation.

Sometimes things go really well.

And sometimes they just don’t.

It was fairly easy for me to learn that just because a certain situation worked out well didn’t mean that I was super mom. No sooner had I had thoughts like that than one of the kids threw a tantrum or hit their sibling, and it was painfully obvious that no, indeed, I am NOT super mom with angelic children that I have perfectly raised.

But it has taken me longer, much longer, to learn that those bad days, those stressful situations, also don’t mean that I am a bad mom, with bad kids. Carrying a screaming child out of a store because I told them I wouldn’t buy them a toy, or having a child wander off in church or a store and be brought back by a helpful but slightly judgmental adult, or losing my sh!t on my kids while they fight about who gets to play “delivery” with the groceries we just bought while the toddler is screaming full-bore — any and all of these situations threaten to prove to me my worst fears: I am a bad mom; I can’t handle my kids, let alone homeschooling; other moms are way better at this job than I am; and why did God entrust me with these souls?

But bad days or stressful situations do not have to turn into existential crises. Just like the parenting triumphs, they can be viewed as circumstantial. Like the saying, “Bad days don’t make bad moms,” stressful situations and bad days don’t need to be interpreted in the light of who I am or my worth as a person/mom. Having a rough homeschooling day where we did not even scratch the surface of what we needed to get done because of kids with bad or whiny attitudes, or mom’s own meltdown, often tempts to me wonder, “WHY am I homeschooling? How did I think I could handle this? These kids would be better off in school.” But a bad day doesn’t mean that the lifestyle you’re living is the wrong one for you. A bad day means a bad day. Period. Get up the next day and try again.

And for the love of Pete, don’t make any big decisions about your life while you’re having a bad day! Do something that makes you laugh or takes your focus off how frustrating things are. Get your kids outside. Watch a funny show. Take a nap with the baby. Then, when you’re in a better place and mood, if your lifestyle choices really are the wrong ones for you, God will reveal that to you then. Things always look worse at night and in the throes of a bad day.

Do the Hard Work of Healing

It’s hunting season here in Minnesota, which has been the annual nadir of my mental health since my husband is an avid hunter. I’ve blogged about that here and here. My husband and I joke (but it’s not a joke) that hunting is a four-letter word in our household. I have a love/hate relationship with hunting. I love that my husband has a hobby that he really enjoys, and that provides fresh, wild game meat for our family (95% of what we eat for red meat). But I hate that it takes him away from the family on top of his full-time job, for hours and often days at a time.

I have prayed and prayed about this issue, asking God to help me have an encouraging, positive attitude about his hunting. But year after year, I feel the familiar grip of bitterness and resentment. Back in 2016, this feeling led to me getting a part-time job. I thought that having something outside the house would help me better deal with being “stuck” alone with child duty for what felt days upon days. And it did… somewhat. It also added stresses and challenges of its own. (A big reason why I think moms, whether they work in the home, work from home, or work outside the home, all have unique challenges and hardships! None is on the whole easier or harder — they’re just easy and hard in different ways.)

Now I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama to four, and I can honestly say that I really enjoy all this time with my kids. Do I love every moment? Absolutely not. Do I love the constant messes (when your kids are here all. the. time., the messes!!), the whininess, the juggling, the constant at-home-ness? Not always. But it is worth it in so many ways.

Nevertheless, it has increased the challenge of my husband being gone hunting. As I was praying about this issue again this fall, God brought to mind the story of the paralyzed man lying by the waters of Bethesda (recorded in John 5:1-15). This scene was powerfully portrayed in the show The Chosen. “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked the man. “Do you want to be healed?” God was asking me.

So often, we want deliverance from a hard situation, but we are clinging to certain things that hold us back. We cling to excuses, lies, and fears. In the case of hunting season, I had an expectation of what it would look like for God to deliver me from my bitterness and resentment. And when He didn’t do that, I wondered why He was allowing me to continue to struggle with this year after year. Would it always be this way in our marriage? (Which led to the slippery slope of, “Doesn’t my husband care about our marriage? Why would he continue in a hobby that causes so much strife?”)

This year, there were two specific instances when I was on the verge (and even sliding over the edge) of a self-pity breakdown. I went to God in prayer, and wrestled with the truths He had given me through my recent Bible study. In my mom-dazed brain, I honestly cannot even remember what specifically they were right now! But the gist was that if I really wanted to be free from this struggle, if I really wanted to get well, then I had to do things God’s way. And doing things God’s way in this situation was letting go of all the excuses and justifications I had for why hunting season was so hard and overwhelming; trusting God to supply every thing I needed as I needed it; and support my husband in hunting with a positive attitude.

Have I done this perfectly? No. Well? Probably not. But I have made progress. It has been a personal sacrifice to support my husband in hunting. But I think the difference this year is that the sacrifice was made for God, not for my husband. But in submitting to God first and foremost, I have also been enabled to submit to and support my husband.

(Lest you get the wrong impression, part of our continued journey in figuring out how we can incorporate hunting into our family life in a healthy manner is also figuring out how I can get more regular breaks from the kids to do things that bring me joy. Hence why I am in a coffee shop right now typing this post!)

If you are reading this, I encourage you to look at a challenging situation in your life and honestly ask yourself, Do you want to be healed? Are you willing to do the hard work of healing? Are you willing to do things God’s way, despite any excuses or justifications to the contrary you might have? God’s ways are always best.

“This God — his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).

Relearning the Same Old Things

17 Nov

Do you ever feel like you keep learning the same lessons over and over again? Like you have a certain struggle, pray about it, journal about it, and finally have an “aha” moment, only to discover some time later than you had actually learned that same lesson six months earlier?

Just me?

It happens to me all the time. Just tonight, I was going through old files in my Dropbox account, and read a gem from 2014. Here’s the context:

“The first 3 months of the year were spent getting our house [in Denver] ready to sell, selling it, and moving 1,000 miles. The next 3 months were spent living with Travis’ parents while Travis worked, studied for an engineering exam and we found a house. For the next 3 months, Travis worked long hours and traveled a ton, while Emma and I unpacked, visited family and friends, and got settled into a routine. These last 3 months have continued the trend of Travis working a lot (50-60 hours/week at home; 60-70 when traveling), which means he’s often unavailable on weeknights and weekends. He feels spread too thin in every area of life and I feel like we never see him. He feels hounded and I feel bitter. Additionally, we’re still feelings the effects of moving to a new place, and the time it takes to settle in and feel ‘at home’.”

Emma (1.5 years old at the time) was also dealing with tantrums, refusing to nap without being held, and fighting going to bed at night. We had to bring our two dogs outside on leashes because we didn’t have an in-ground fence installed yet. And my mom had been diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer and given 2-3 years to live (she died in February 2016, about 14 months after I first wrote these words).

This is what I want to make sure has a spot on the blog, (because I do come back and re-read blog posts often, to remind myself of all the truths I’ve learned, and need to relearn!):

{originally written November 2014, some minor edits made November 2022}

I was just reminded of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11, where he lists all the trials he has endured as a servant of Christ. At the end of them, he says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It takes faith to believe that Christ’s grace is sufficient. Because in the face of my current trials, it honestly does not feel sufficient. My trials feel a lot bigger. My endurance and hope feel small, growing weaker by the day, and I find myself wallowing in self-pity.

But that’s because I’m focused on my own ability, my own sufficiency. “How can I handle this? How can I make it through this?” Paul welcomed the opportunity to realize his complete and utter lack. He knew that his need, fully and frankly acknowledged, would open the door for
Christ’s glory and sufficiency to be displayed.

Notice how Paul doesn’t deny his weaknesses, or the difficulty of his situation. He’s not living in LaLaLand or completely immune to his suffering. But he also doesn’t go to the place of self-pity. He retains his hope and determination because of Christ’s power in him.

So instead of self-pity, my response to trials can be one of realism and humility. I can still acknowledge that the situation is hard, but instead of my joy hinging on the need to feel capable in and of myself, or having the circumstances change for the better, I can sit in the feeling of need, and the hard situation, and humble myself at Christ’s feet.

Hard things happen in life. Hard things are made even harder when I refuse to look for and see the good. When I refuse to offer God the sacrifice of thanksgiving, I destroy my own joy with my selfishness, greed, discontentment and impatience. It is not circumstances that bring happiness – it is my reaction to those
circumstances.

And that’s where the supernatural, transforming power of the Spirit comes in. I am incapable of making the sacrifice of thanksgiving without God
enabling me. Like Ann Voskamp says, “Ingratitude was the fall — humanity’s discontent with all that God freely gives.” My natural bent is ingratitude. In my natural state, I only tell God that “It’s not enough” and “This isn’t what I
want.”

I have to admit, some days, in my sinfulness I’d rather have my own plans realized than find joy in accepting what God allows. But it is a losing battle to fight against the circumstances of life. If I truly want joy, I must instead fight against my ego, my pride, my selfishness, my impatience, my expectations, my demands, and my standards. I must even fight my dreams and desires, because all I am must be surrendered at the foot of the Cross. And regardless of when or how I am made weak, I can trust God to meet me with His strength.

“O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on
my enemies.”
Psalm 59:9-10

“Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34:10b

“Steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.” Psalm 32:10b

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalm 50:23

Life Lately: Routines Edition

16 Oct

I’ve never been much of an intentional-routine type person. And even when I’ve tried to implement more intentional schedules or routines, they usually fall by the wayside within a week or two because #life and because it just doesn’t come naturally to me or my hubby. We are very spontaneous, game-time-decision kind of people.

But having four kids has forced us to get better about routines. For the past 4-6 months, we have doing a few things that have made a big difference in our home life. We developed these routines over time, based on what we were actually kind of already doing (it has never worked for me to decide on a routine and then try to implement it).

  • The kids do chores after dinner. Emma loads the dishwasher and wipes down the kitchen table, and Annabelle cleans up whatever area of the house or yard is the messiest (usually it’s the upstairs living room). Corbin picks up all the shoes left out and puts them by the front door.
  • The kids each have a calendar where they keep track of checkmarks for following through on their morning and evening routines, and they earn rewards for certain amounts. But we also expect them to do their chores regardless, so if they don’t do their chores, they not only don’t earn a checkmark, they lose one as well. It has helped keep them motivated.
  • Either Travis or I do the hand-wash dishes and set up the coffee maker for the morning after Emma has loaded the dishwasher. Having coffee ready right away in the morning is so amazing! We set it when we’re in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner so that we don’t forget about it.
  • I unload the dishwasher and dish rack every morning while the kids (especially Neola) eats breakfast (otherwise she just wants to play with the clean dishes).
  • I do at least one load of laundry every day. I used to wait until each person’s hamper was full to do their laundry so that I’d have a full load of just their clothes to wash. I kept everyone’s laundry separate because I found it a pain to fold a load of laundry that had a little of everyone’s stuff in it. But then my kids went through a period of time where they all four had their clothes upstairs, and the dirty clothes were getting put in whichever laundry basket was the most convenient, so I was just naturally washing everyone’s laundry together. Once I figured out my system of sorting clean, dry clothes into a separate laundry basket for each person, thus making the folding process much more streamlined, I decided to just always wash everyone’s clothes together. So now I just do the laundry as it gets dirty. Everyone’s dirty laundry from the previous day pretty much makes a full load, and I usually run a load of towels or sheets each day too. I do still get a little behind frequently, but I love loading the washer at night — makes it so easy to start right away in the morning. I fold the kids’ clothes when their laundry baskets get full — usually about once a week (I put Travis’ and my clothes away a little more often). I really like this laundry system for now!
  • Since the fall of 2021, we have had a housecleaner come twice a month for two hours to clean our bathrooms, kitchen floor, and some other odds and ends. It has been a lifesaver! Some day I will go back to cleaning my own house, but that day is not today. However, there are still plenty of other things that need cleaning that our housecleaner doesn’t get to. As often as I can, I try to clean one of those things each day for at least five minutes — even just cleaning one thing here and there makes a difference.
  • I try my hardest to plan out lunches and dinners for the week on either Sunday night or Monday morning. Then I either put in a pickup order for Monday on the way home from the girls’ gymnastics class, or I take Corbin and Neola grocery shopping during gymnastics (their class is an hour long in a small community so it actually works out about perfectly). I used to only plan out dinners (and sometimes not even that…) but having a plan for lunch is so helpful. I don’t have to rack my brain every single day, or end up making the same thing all the time, or decide on something only to discover we don’t have a key ingredient, or buy a different vegetable in the store and forget about it until it has gone bad. I want to start planning breakfasts eventually too, but mornings are rough for me right now (#sleepdeprivation), so that will have to wait. The kids all have their own favorite thing for breakfast too (Corbin — toast, Annabelle — yogurt, Emma — English muffin or oatmeal), so I’m not even sure they’d be amenable to me making one specific thing for breakfast.
  • Corbin just started going to preschool three days a week this fall. On those days, Travis and Neola take him to school (it starts at 8 AM), and I get 45-60 minutes of school in with the girls. Travis has also been taking Neola on a walk during/after lunch so I get another chunk of time to do school with the older girls then. I’m still figuring out which subjects are best to do when, but overall, the routine is working well. Doing school with Neola around is tough — because she’s in a cast/brace for hip dysplasia, she is much needier than normal. I am hoping that things get much easier when she’s done with her treatment!

I think that’s all the routines I can think of. Two areas of life that Travis and I have not been able to figure out a good, consistent routine or system for are Bible study and working out. Probably the biggest challenge with that is Neola’s nighttime sleeping habits. She wakes up 4-6 times a night, so I am beyond sleep deprived. After bedtime is tricky (though not impossible) because usually I am completely dialed, and I am often nursing or holding Neola in the morning before she completely wakes up, so mornings are tricky too. But the long and short of it is that I just don’t want it badly enough.

Just this past week, I did have, and tried out, the idea of me working out for 20-30 minutes right away in the morning when Travis leaves to take Corbin to school (M, W, F). Then I don’t have to wake the girls up to do school either (because they’d be up by the timer I’m done). Travis can work out on Tuesday and Thursday (and sometime on the weekend) when I am out of the house with the kids at Homeschool Group or BSF.

I also am planning to either get up early to do my BSF study or do it on my phone during Neola’s naps. I did it in the app last week, but then the app or internet wasn’t working during BSF so I couldn’t access any of my answers, and it looked like I hadn’t done my lesson. 😬

Anyway, that’s our daily routine with four kids right now!

Tips for Surviving a Young Toddler in a Hip Spica Cast

28 Sep

Tomorrow, Neola will have been in a hip spica cast for hip dysplasia for six weeks.

She only had dysplasia in her right hip, so her bright pink cast is not symmetrical — it’s down to her toes on her right leg, but only down to above her knee on the left. It also goes up to about her armpits in the back, but curves down in the front, low enough that we can see her belly button. Tomorrow she goes back to the doctor to get a new cast (there is a small possibility she will go straight into a rhino brace, but we are mentally preparing for another 6 weeks in a cast.)

I did a LOT of research online before her surgery, so we haven’t had to figure out much on the fly, which I’m thankful for. But just like having a baby, there are things I thought we would use a ton that we haven’t used much, and vice versa. So to parents who are preparing for having a child in a hip spica, I would recommend waiting to buy most things, unless you buy it from somewhere that you will be able to return it if it doesn’t work.

Diapering

This was one of the most daunting things to think about before her surgery, but honestly, it’s not that bad. You get a routine and comfort level with it, and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Her cast has gotten wet a few times (the hair dryer on the cool setting took care of it), and she’s had two decent blowouts that took a while to clean up, but changing just pee diapers is overall very similar effort-wise to pre-cast.

What has worked best for us with how small the diaper opening is in Neola’s cast is 4 steps (this is a fairly common way to diaper in a spica, so if any of this is confusing, I’m sure you can find other resources out there with more information):

1. Perimeter Diapers — We cut premie or newborn diapers in half and tape the cut end shut. We like using 3M Durapore or waterproof adhesive tape. Pull or cut the tabs off the diaper and line the edge of the diaper opening with them, absorbent side facing the skin. Tape the cut/taped end to the outside of the cast. (Our hospital lined the diaper opening with waterproof tape before she came out of surgery. With all the taping and untaping of the perimeter diapers, the original waterproof tape was starting to peel up, so we added a layer of bright pink duct tape over the waterproof tape, just on the outside of the cast.)

2. Incontinence Pad — We have found these to be better than diapers in the cast opening because they are longer and skinnier than diapers. (I read a lot of people just went down a diaper size for diapering in the cast, but with the way Neola is casted and the way the opening is cut, bigger diapers just don’t fit that well.) Because Neola’s cast comes down in the front to just below her belly button, we are able to push/pull the pad all the way up the front of her cast, with 2-3 inches to fold over the cast in front (held in place by the big outside diaper). Then there’s 3-4 inches to tuck in back to cover her bottom. We have tried Poise Regular Length Level 6 and Amazon Essentials Level 6. Both have worked well, but we like the Amazon ones better. You do have to buy quite a few at one time though.

3. Diaper Insert — Most of the time, we also put a newborn diaper over the incontinence pad just for extra protection. It’s not completely necessary though, so sometimes during the day we skip this step (especially when using the Amazon incontinence pads).

4. Big Outside Diaper — Size 7 diapers fit the best over the outside of Neola’s cast. I had read that another mom used cloth diaper covers over the outside of her child’s cast because then they could just wash them, and they were cuter than a disposable diaper. I bought some, planning to do the same thing, but they just weren’t big enough. (Single tear.) But since I bought them on Amazon, I was able to return them.

Other helpful things for diapering: hair dryer, penlight, and fabric scissors for cutting diapers

Bathing / Cast Care

We have used bath wipes from the hospital, as well as Mustela No-Rinse Cleansing Water for cleaning Neola’s exposed skin. Both work fine. We’ve gotten away with only having to actually wash her hair a couple times so far (once was after she threw up and it got in her hair — but thankfully the puke didn’t get on her cast!).

We haven’t had a huge issue with her cast smelling. I mean, it doesn’t smell like a flower garden, and there’s a faint urine smell, but overall, it’s not too bad. I have spritzed the outside of her cast a few times with water and lemon essential oil, then drying it immediately with a hair dryer.

We initially had issues with her cast getting wet (before we started using incontinence pads) and so we bought a Cast Cooler, thinking that would be the ticket to keeping her cast dry (she was often sweaty also when it was still hot outside). But we ended up returning it. It was too big to fit flatly on Neola’s cast anywhere, which meant it didn’t work properly. We haven’t really needed it anyway. The hair dryer works just fine, and we use it at least once a day. Neola enjoys the sensation.

In the past week (knowing that we were close to a new cast), I’ve also let her crawl around in woodchips, pea gravel, and dirt. I just put a sock on her casted foot to keep the stuff from getting in there. Her uncasted leg is often quite dirty.

How it started…
How it’s going.

Eating

I heard about the Nuby Easy Go Lightweight Booster Seat from several other spica parents on Facebook during my research, and bought it ahead of time from Amazon to try it out before Neola’s surgery. We weren’t sure that the belt straps would be long enough to fit around her cast, but they are!

We have enjoyed this as a way for Neola to sit with us at the kitchen table and eat, but she is able to push against the table and tip her chair back. Because we have three other kids and can’t just sit at the table with her all the time while she’s in the seat, we moved our kitchen table so that her chair is pushed against the stair railing, so that she can’t tip her chair over. This seat is also easy to bring along to restaurants. I wish we had more than one!

Neola eats all the same foods now as she did pre-cast, with the exception of super messy ones like spaghetti. None of my kids have tolerated bibs, and Neola is no exception. I bought a bib that had full-length sleeves, thinking that maybe that would help, but she still hated it. Thankfully, she has tolerated a bib “skirt” (it’s really just a wider-than-normal apron that we made ourselves) that we tie from her waist all the way around to the back of the chair. Her shirts still get dirty, but her cast is protected.

Thankfully we haven’t had any issues with Neola being constipated.

Sleeping / Nursing

Neola has been a fairly terrible sleeper her whole life (waking up 4-5 times a night) so thankfully, being in a cast hasn’t made it that much worse. I still nurse her to sleep for naps and bedtime, and then when she wakes up during the night.

At first, nursing seemed a little daunting but I’ve figured out what works for us. The glider we have in her nursery has fabric sides that are roomier and less rigid than a normal recliner so her right leg (the one that is fully casted) can fit down in the side when she’s lying on her side to nurse. When I nurse her on my floor bed in her room, I make sure that her right knee is resting on the mattress and her right foot (the casted one) is hanging off the side of the mattress (but not so far that her foot is touching the floor).

When I need to switch sides when nursing her, I’ve found that spinning her around on her back with her feet/cast away from me is the easiest way. (But that only works when I’m on the floor bed with her.) Otherwise, I have to grab her under one armpit and under one leg, sit her up on my lap, and then switch hands to lay her down facing the other way.

For sleep, she is on her crib mattress next to my mattress on the floor (this is what we were doing pre-cast and it actually has worked pretty well during the cast—we also use her mattress as a diaper changing station). Once she’s asleep, I place her on her back with her butt between two pillows — one is under her head/torso and another under her legs. She doesn’t love having to sleep on her back, but she’s doing pretty well with it considering. Since she wakes up so often on her own during the night, I haven’t had to worry about intentionally changing her position during the night.

For naps, she still likes to sleep while nursing, and we have been able to get her to fall asleep in the wagon. She didn’t initially like the Wallenberg car seat that we are borrowing from the hospital but she’s adapted to it, and will still fall asleep fairly easily in the car if she’s tired.

We tried adding neck support by velcro-ing small pillows to her car seat. It has had some success. Also, she is only unbuckled in this picture because I was taking her out of the car, and wanted to quick snap a picture of her head leaning against the pillow.

Activities

Believe it or not, we are finding the activity/entertainment aspect of her cast the hardest part. I’m sure there are unique challenges at any age, but with Neola only being 16 months now, she’s not interested in a lot of things that she would be if just six months older: playdough, coloring, screen time, board games, singing, reading books. She just wants to chew on the books, eat the playdough, break the crayons.

So what do you do with a casted 16-month-old? I’m sure these things won’t work for every child (because every cast is a little different) but these have worked for us:

* Walks / Time Outside — Neola fits nicely on our Radio Flyer push trike, Step2 rollercoaster, and Radio Flyer fabric-sided wagon. She can swing by herself or with us on our circle swing and hammock chair swing. She also fits nicely in our ErgoBaby carrier, and we borrowed a Stokke carrier from a friend that allows to her face out.

* Toys — we rotate toys every week or so, because she gets bored quickly. She has enjoyed puzzles and books (on her own) the most. She doesn’t actually do the puzzles — just plays with the pieces.

* Sitting — We made a Spica table and modified a Bumbo seat, so those are two spots she can sit to play with toys. The Bumbo tray doesn’t work anymore, but we have a big lidded tote bin that is the perfect height for her to use as a table when in the Bumbo. We also use it for storing a lot of her toys. We read a lot of people say that they used a bean bag chair a lot, but Neola hates it. She doesn’t not want to be laying down at all. Thankfully we didn’t buy a new one — we tried her in bean bag chairs we already owned.

* Crawling — Neola figured out how to crawl around a little by about week 2 of the cast. It’s hard work so she ends up kinds of sweaty, and can only do it for about 15 minutes at a time, but she loves this freedom.

Sometimes she gets stuck, but overall, she is amazingly capable in the cast!

* Getting out of the house — Whether going shopping or to a park, Neola enjoys getting out of the house and people-watching. Bonus if it’s a park that has an adaptive swing she can fit in. I also signed her (and me) up for an ECFE class on Mondays, which will give us something new to do.

* Fine Motor activities — we’ve tried a variety of activities that I found online: rescuing small toys from underneath painters tape, pulling pipe cleaners out of a colander, pushing pom poms into a spice jar, mess-free “painting” with finger paint in a ziploc bag. The painting was a total flop. The pipe cleaners were too easy. Painters tape was too until my hubby figured out more elaborate ways to tape the toys down. The only activity that she really still enjoys is the pom poms in the spice jar, and recently, popsicle sticks in a water bottle.

* Eating — Thankfully Neola loves to eat, so we feed her 5-7 times a day. It does get tricky to figure out what else to feed her, though, with all that eating! Her favorites are fruit, applesauce, string cheese, salami, and crackers. Oh, and chocolate.

If she gets recasted tomorrow, we are also planning to buy her a Wheely Bug ride-on toy and modify her Little Tikes swing, so that she has a few more options of activities.

Clothing

Before her surgery, I went through all the 2T and 3T clothes (1-2 sizes bigger than what she had been wearing) that we had saved from Neola’s older sisters, took out all the things I thought would work, and washed them. I brought several things to the hospital in both sizes. I’m glad too, because in general, 2T things are just a little too small. We also discovered that regular shirts don’t work well because of how far her cast comes up in the back — they end up just getting bunched up under her armpits.

So I ended up buying about 4 short-sleeve and 4 long-sleeve 24-month size onesies from Walmart (this fall, their Garanimals brand has some $5 bodysuits with stretchier fabric that have worked really well — the others with more standard cotton fabric just *barely* snap around her cast, though they do work too). Garanimals also has matching skirts for those, so I bought every color they had (a total of 4) in size 3T. I also bought four 3T bodysuits from Target’s Cat & Jack adaptive line (2 short-sleeve and 2 long-sleeve), but they were more like $15 each.

For bedtime, she wears the same things (minus the skirt), and we have found that a regular long-sleeve shirt stays in place okay if layered over a short-sleeve bodysuit. So we do that quite a bit too. Size 3T clothes work the best, but flowy/loose size 2T shirts and dresses work too.

We can’t get even super stretchy things up her legs to her bottom — everything has to go over her head — so bodysuits and skirts have worked really well. We’re going to need to figure out some new tricks though because fall has arrived in Minnesota! I bought some girls-size knee-high socks from Walmart but they were too tight 😢 so I need to figure out something else.

Church Nursery / Childcare

We didn’t need to worry about daycare with Neola since I stay home and homeschool our older kids, but we did want to be able to put her in church nursery on Sunday mornings and for Bible Study Fellowship on Thursdays.

So I made a sticker to put on the back of her shirt that says to not pick her up by the armpits but to make sure to support under her cast. (I just printed a word doc onto full-page label paper and cut them into squares.) We also bring her modified Bumbo to the church, and mention that she can crawl around some, so she doesn’t have to be held the whole time. We tell them to not worry about changing her diaper, and if she’s smells poopy, just page/text us. So far it has gone well with her in the nursery!

Overall

The cast-care aspect of this experience hasn’t been as bad or hard as I had feared, but the rest of the situation has been extremely challenging — mostly because she’s our fourth child. We can only put her down for 10-15 minutes a few times a day. Otherwise, she wants to be held and entertained, and even then, she’s sometimes just frustrated that she can’t do what she really wants to.

Getting school done with my older kids while Neola is around is practically impossible. My wild third child and only boy goes to preschool three days a week. My husband brings him to school and takes Neola along, so I have 45 minutes in the morning to do school with our oldest two, then Travis can usually take Neola in the afternoon for another 30-60 minutes.

Our health insurance covers a “home health aide” so we have been trying to get something going there, but it is [not] surprisingly hard to get anything done with these four kids, who are here, all day, every day. We have survived the first six weeks, but I do think we are going to need to make some changes in order to survive the next six if Neola gets recasted.

Anyway, that has been our experience with a young toddler in a hip spica cast!

Corbin Travis: 4 Years

12 Aug

Despite the fact that I am posting this almost 6 months late, I really did write it only a week after Corbin turned 4 back on March 22. Since he has changed so much in the past 6 months, I am leaving this as his 4-year update, and will write a different post about how he’s changed since then… which will probably end up being his 5-year update (if I’m lucky).

On Corbin’s birthday, it snowed wet, heavy snow all day so we mostly stayed inside. We had banana bread and strawberries for breakfast, went to the dollar store for balloons and gifts from Emma and Annabelle, made Corbin’s birthday cake (he helped), opened presents with Daddy at lunch, painted a wooden race car he got, took a nap, made snow castles with a sand bucket outside, took a mega bubble bath, and ate cake after dinner.

Size

Corbin was 38 lbs (69%) and 3’ 4” (43%) at his well-child checkup. He is wearing a mixture of 4T, 5T, and XS (4-5) clothing, but still has some 3T pants that fit (he still has short legs!). He wears size 10 shoes.

Sleeping

Corbin is a champion sleeper these days. It is extremely rare for him to wake up in the middle of the night. But he is still an early riser (usually up by 6/6:30 AM), and we have to be extra careful to not make noise in the morning if we’re up early — if he hears anything, he gets up.

He still takes a nap most days because he is stuck in (what I call) the purgatory between needing a nap and not needing one. He can skip his nap without needing to go to bed at 4 PM, so sometimes he does (when it just works so much better for our family to not deal with his nap), but it almost always ends with him being a basketcase by dinner time. And with the other three kids to deal with, we don’t really ever end up putting Corbin to bed earlier than normal, even when he does skip his nap. So for now, he still takes a nap pretty much every day. They usually last 1.5-2 hours.

Because he still naps, he goes to bed after the girls. For a few months (December and January), all three of the older kids were sleeping in the same room upstairs (Corbin and Annabelle in the bunk bed, and Emma on the floor). But because Corbin wasn’t really tired by the time the girls needed to go to bed (sometimes he’d nap until 4, so no wonder he wasn’t tired by 7:30!), he would flip and flop in bed for a looooong time, meaning Travis would sometimes sit in there waiting for him to fall asleep for over an hour (if Travis left before Corbin fell asleep, Corbin would follow him out). Now the girls are back downstairs together, so we can let Corbin stay up a little later (until 8/8:15), and then leave his room faster when he finally does go to bed. I am also trying to be intentional about getting him down for a nap between noon and 1, instead of between 1 and 2, and waking him up no later than 3:30.

He hasn’t asked for milk at naps and bedtime for a long time now (probably since age 3.5?), but his love for “cakey” (his blankets) and sucking his thumb is still going strong. We have misplaced cakeys at times and then bought more, so now he has about 6 cakeys, and he often wants to have more than one with him at any given time. And with the thumb sucking, the dentist told us that age 5 is about when we should start intervening if he hasn’t stopped on his own by then, because it is causing him to have an overbite. 😬

Eating

Corbin is still the. pickiest. eater. ever. For breakfast, he has long requested applesauce and jelly toast. (The first words out of his mouth in the morning would be, “Mommy, I’m huuuuungrrrryy. I need applesauce and toast.”) Travis didn’t like him eating so much sugar right away in the morning though, so recently we switched to applesauce and strawberries, or if we’re out of strawberries (which we often are because we go through a whole 2 lb. container of strawberries in a single day sometimes), he’ll have applesauce and yogurt, or applesauce and Cheezits (which he calls Chipits).

So obviously, Corbin loves applesauce and strawberries. He also enjoys cheese pizza, protein shakes, carrots or broccoli and dip, summer sausage or venison breakfast sausage, cheese, most fruits (clementines/mandarin oranges, apples {he likes to eat them whole, but then wastes about 75% of them}, blueberries, blackberries, pineapple, peaches), yogurt, macaroni & cheese, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, PB&J, quesadillas, pancakes/waffles (with lots of syrup of course!), quick breads like pumpkin or banana, popcorn, and bacon.

Other food he loves, but we limit how much he can have, are any type of fruit snacks, chips, veggie straws, crackers, popsicles, candy, hot chocolate with marshmallows, toast, cereal, and McDonald’s.

So pretty much anything that is a lot of grains or sugar, he’s all about, and anything healthy is out. He refuses to eat bananas, avocado, tomatoes, rice, most noodles besides macaroni and cheese, potatoes, chicken, and anything we make for dinner.

My goal at this point is just to get Corbin to eat anything that has even a semblance of nutritional value, and to not over-eat any one food (because he would eat only strawberries all day long if we let him).

We have half-heartedly tried to get him to eat without watching a screen, but he just won’t sit at the table then. We have made a rule at dinnertime, though, that there is no iPad. So what ends up happening is that Corbin plays in the living room (pretty much the only time of day that he plays great on his own!) while the rest of us eat dinner, and then I focus on getting Corbin to eat something (whether the food we prepared or just a yogurt) after we’re done. It’s all we have the energy for right now!

Development

Since my last update on Corbin at 3 years, his vocabulary has continued to grow, and he says some pretty funny things these days. A few:

“What?! Serious?”

“Hey, what’s the big idea?”

“My name is Budkiss.” Or he lines up his trucks — “This is Mommy, this is Daddy, Emma, Ducky, Baby Sister, and Budkiss.” (He does also say that his name is Corbin.)

“Mom, I need to talk with you.”

“I’m a big boy! I have big muscles!”

“Let’s do it!” Still with the fist pump.

“It’s not faaaaaiiiiiir!!!” (He said this 25 times a day for a few months, while throwing a tantrum. 😩)

“Mommy, play with me?” or “I want to play with guys!” (He calls Emma & Annabelle together “guys”.)

“Daddy, I love you.” Or “I missed you Daddy.”

There are many more. Corbin is a very talkative, outgoing boy, and often rambles on so quickly and enthusiastically that no one (including Travis and me!) can understand him. At times, the girls are able to interpret what he’s saying for us (since they often were playing with him or saw what he is talking about). He was evaluated for a speech delay, but didn’t score low enough to qualify, so a lot of it is just that he talks so fast! The sound he has the most trouble with (and is the most obvious) is that his f’s are s’s. “Firetruck” is “Siretruck.”

Corbin is still very dramatic and overreacts often. When throwing a tantrum these days, he still slams doors but more often than not, he tips over piles or furniture, dumps out bins, pulls down jackets, rips up paper, etc. He also takes his frustration out on Neola sometimes (though most of the time, his rough play with her is just the way he tries to play with her). When he does get mad and take it out on her, he justifies it by saying, “Baby is being naughty!” Just a couple of days ago, he pushed Neola when she was crawling on the wood floor and she got her first fat, bloody lip. 😢

He can be a total sweetheart though, and lately has started voluntarily saying, “Daddy, I love you” and asking for a hug and kiss. He likes to give hugs and kisses to everyone, and last spring, right before Neola was born, we were up at my in-laws’ house. As we were saying goodbye, Corbin wanted a hug and kiss from everyone. When he got to his cousin who is in his early 20s, Drew felt it was awkward to kiss Corbin on the lips, so he offered his cheek. They were at a stand-off for a good 5 minutes because Corbin was adamant that it had to be the lips! It was hilarious. Finally, Corbin conceded and kissed Drew’s cheek.

He has also taken a much greater interest in Neola over the past couple of months, I think because she is much more interactive now, and because she’s an easy target (she can’t escape or fight back yet!). He is fairly rough with her, but she takes it like a champ. He likes to bring his giant gray blanket out from his bed, and nest on the ground with it, usually draping part of it around or over Baby.

He also enjoys playing with Emma and Annabelle, when they will let him. He got a Captain America action figure for Christmas, so that he has something to play with when they’re playing Barbies. (He often just plays with their Barbies too though.)

As far as “academics” go, Corbin is starting to recognize letters and numbers, he can say the alphabet and count from 1-20 (for the most part). He has incredible fine motor and gross motor skills. I am often impressed by how he can climb things at a playground, or kick balls, or jump over/up on things, and he just learned how to use my laptop, moving the cursor around using the touchpad and clicking on things (I honestly thought it was going to be too hard for him because the girls struggled when they were older than him, but he picked it up immediately!). He has also shown an interest in playing the piano using the Simply Piano app.

He enjoys painting and using daubers (for about 5-10 minutes), and has dabbled in cutting and glueing, but he does not have the patience for coloring. And he almost always destroys his art creations after making them, sometimes because he’s mad, sometimes because he just wants to tear it apart (which often I am ok with, because we can’t keep everything anyway!).

Other things Corbin enjoys:

* Swimming — Give him warm(ish) water (70+ degrees) and this boy is a fish! He has no qualms about jumping in (so we have to make sure he is always wearing his life jacket!). He is much more adventurous in the water than either of his sisters were at this age — he loved jumping off the diving board down in Florida. Just recently, he showed us that he can almost swim the doggy paddle without a life jacket! But if the water is cold, he doesn’t last long!

* Sledding — Corbin loves sledding. Travis pulled him and the girls around our yard in sleds behind the snowmobile, and our neighbors also had an epic sledding hill this year (from blowing all the snow from their driveway into a pile). Again, he is quite fearless when it comes to sledding. But we did have some mitten drama early in the winter — he’d get mad about something and take his mittens off, and then his hands would freeze. Then he would have bad associations with going outside, so it was a battle to get him to go. Thankfully, being in Florida for a month turned that around, and he has mostly been eager to go outside since. (I am more careful to replace his mittens quickly too, though he doesn’t take them off nearly as much as he used to. He is able to get his thumbs in the thumbholes this year too, which definitely helps!)

* Screen time — This is still a major challenge with Corbin (as I mentioned when writing about his eating habits). He loves playing with people, but I often have other things I need to do, and Emma & Annabelle often exclude Corbin (or are playing something he’s not interested in), and sometimes he wants someone to play what he wants to play and the girls aren’t willing. And when he can’t get anyone to play with him, he wants to watch “peach and the hamburger” (which is what he calls YouTube Kids, and he means videos of hamster mazes… he starts there but ends up watching other things). If I’m willing to play with him, I can often distract him away from the screen, but sometimes he’s in one of his zoning-out, recharging phases, and he refuses to do anything else.

* Biking — Last summer, Corbin got very proficient at riding his balance bike. We briefly tried him on a small pedal bike but he couldn’t figure it out (though he does know how to pedal a trike). Hopefully this summer, we can combine the balance and pedaling, and go on some family bike rides!

* Playgrounds — In Florida, I finally came to the realization/acceptance that Corbin is a playground child, and not a hiking one. He flourishes on playgrounds. They’re his happy place. He gets sick of hiking about 50 feet in, and then just wants to play in the dirt. When we were at the Kennedy Space Center, Corbin was in heaven in the Planet Play area. We spent several hours there. He also loved a children’s museum we went to just recently that was an hour away. Wish we had something like that in Brainerd!

* Nesting — Corbin pulls the king size blanket off his twin bed every single day, bringing it out into the living room or kitchen to nest in. He doesn’t nest so much with laundry these days (though still does on occasion) but the blanket… it is always in the way! When we were in Florida, he did the same thing, but his twin blanket wasn’t big enough for his liking, so he would take the king size blanket off my bed and schlep it all the way downstairs every day. I’ll probably look back at this habit and think, “How adorable was that?!” But it gets kind of old right now!

* Trucks/Hotwheels — Corbin still loves all manner of trucks, cars, Hotwheels. This year, he developed an affinity for Hotwheels tracks, and got one for Christmas. He still likes the Twister Trax too (unfortunately the battery-powered cars just don’t last very long in this house of dog hair and girl hair), and we spent a few weeks setting up elaborate courses with both of those sets, complete with ramps, loop-dee-loops, and obstacles. He hasn’t played with his big trucks as much over the past 4-5 months, but still does occasionally. He just has so many now! 😬

Giving his trucks a check-up

* Dirt — this boy loves getting dirty!

* Halloween — Corbin was obsessed with pumpkins last fall. He carried a mini pumpkin around with him for almost the whole month of October — to church, to the store, to bed. He also really loved skeletons, and on Halloween night, was more interested in the decorations than the candy.

A first this year, Corbin performed in a gymnastics show, and in the Christmas choir at church. Since he had never done anything like that before, I wasn’t sure how he would react to being “in the spotlight” but he did so well! The only issue we had was that Nana & Papa Kluthe came to the second service at church, and then Corbin just wanted to be with them, instead of being up on stage. But he did really well the first service, and was one of the few kids actually doing the actions! He knew everything to do for the gymnastics show too, even though he struggles with being a great listener in class.

Potty training this boy has been slow going. He has been able to go #1 on the toilet for several months, but there has been almost no progress on #2. I say almost none, because for the longest time, he would poop and not say anything, and if he was playing downstairs or I was holding baby for a nap, I wouldn’t notice it for 20-30 minutes (or sometimes longer 😬). But now he usually does come and tell me, because he doesn’t like the feeling of it. So that’s progress. (He did also poop a couple of times on the potty recently, so I know he *can* do it. Now it’s just a battle of the wills.)

The other challenge of getting him to poop on the potty is that his poop habits are completely random. Our girls had a time of day when they usually pooped, so we could kind of anticipate it. But with Corbin, I have no idea when he’s going to poop. So I’ve been reluctant to just put him in underwear, because I know I’ll end up cleaning poop out of underwear a lot. (And I already have a few times.) I also tried the naked-from-the-waist-down thing for a few days, and had to clean a turd off one of our kitchen chairs. 🤦‍♀️

Another one of Corbin’s quirks this past year after we celebrated his 3rd birthday was that whenever we celebrated someone else’s birthday, we had to light candles and sing to Corbin too (or he would freak out and throw a fit). For a long while after he turned three, he was convinced that it was his birthday whenever there was cake and candles. He is actually still kind of like that now, a year later, but now I think he understands it’s not his birthday; he just likes blowing candles out. (The picture below is Corbin on Emma’s birthday.)

Corbin got a couple of injuries this year. The worst was when he was climbing the bleachers during the girls’ gymnastics camp, slipped, and caught himself with his eye socket.

I also found this picture of him with a big lip, but I can’t remember how he got it!

He chipped his right front tooth by falling on the wood floor back when he was probably about two, and then just recently he took a digger again. It’s amazing that he still has his front teeth!

Some more photos of Corbin just for fun:

And that’s Corbin at 4 years!

Neola Bethany: 13-14 Months

24 Jul

Neola is 14 months old as of July 12. These past couple of months with Neola have been so fun! She’s not walking yet, but getting oh so close!

In Neola’s 11-12 month post, I didn’t mention anything about what we did for her first birthday. Her actual birthday on May 12 was pretty lowkey — we had doughnuts for breakfast (that we had just bought that morning from Cub), played in the rain, had McDonald’s for lunch, and went to soccer practice for the older kids at night. #fourthchild #firstbirthday

But we celebrated all four kids’ birthdays with our families on May 21. We did a (very, very loose) superhero theme. It ended up being a FREEZING day. We had the older kids’ soccer games that morning, and I ended up running home between games with Neola to get winter gear for everyone because we were all turning into icicles. For the party, we ate food and played with water balloons (for the kids, the fun of water balloons outweighed how cold it was).

Size

A week after her first birthday, we took Neola in to the doctor because she had had a ton of mucus, a bad cough, and was super fussy/clingy (unlike her), and it has been going on for almost three weeks. Turned out, she had a double ear infection. 😢 So we gave her amoxicillin for 10 days and she was better…

For about a week. Then she got the same thing again: congestion, cough, fussy. After two weeks, I brought her back in. Another ear infection. 😢 Now she was put on a stronger antibiotic, Augmentin. She hated the taste of that medicine, and it gave her a bad diaper rash.

During that same time, she got two new teeth on bottom, and two molars on top. And then she got Covid on top of all that! Needless to say, there have been some rough nights of sleep!

Long story short, I just took her in for her well-child visit on the day she turned 14 months, and she is now 22 lbs 9 oz (76%), 2 feet 7 inches tall (81%). At her (sick) doctor appointment on May 19 (only a week after her first birthday), she was 21 lbs 10 oz and 2 feet 6 inches tall.

Sleeping

Neola’s sleep is still not ideal. But since I’ve been sleeping on the floor with her (I’m on a twin mattress, she’s on a crib mattress), the wake-ups are generally not terrible (unless there are a LOT of them, then it’s painful). On an average night, she probably wakes up 2-4 times, nurses, and goes right back to sleep. On a rough night, she wakes up 6-8 times, and sometimes cries when I try to roll her back onto her mattress.

She mostly sleeps on her side, though recently she has started sleeping on her belly a little. She rarely sleeps on her back anymore. I am encouraged that there have been a few times when she has fallen asleep on her own (with me laying right there) after flopping around a bit (as opposed to nursing to sleep). She has also fallen asleep in her crib a few times after crying for 5-10 minutes (I reserve that for the times when she won’t settle down and go to sleep, even though it’s bedtime). That’s progress!

She is still consistent in her napping preferences: she falls asleep either nursing, in the stroller or in her carseat. I actually wish she didn’t fall asleep in the car so easily because she will take a 20-minute cat nap at 5 or 6 PM sometimes when we’re on our way home, and then she’s wired until 10 PM. We also discovered that she likes mowing the lawn with Travis.

Her typical schedule is wake up around 6:30 AM, first nap 9:30-10:30, second nap 1:30-3:00, bed around 7:30.

I’ve been tempted to feel guilty about Neola’s sleeping habits, and while they are often challenging (because holding a baby for naps when you have three other kids is hard), I come back again and again to the conclusion that these are just the circumstances God has for us right now, and we don’t need to “solve the problem.” Thinking that we can (and should) “fix” this leads to us trusting ourselves, instead of trusting God.

I’ve also reminded myself that all of our other kids had their own unique sleep challenges at this age, but are sleeping champs now, so we must’ve done something right! And I also found a community of people on social media who are supporting kids’ sleep habits without sleep training. Those are the messages I needed to hear: It’s ok to not sleep train! It’s ok to share a bed on the floor with your toddler! It’s just a season!

Eating

Neola is an eating champ! She eats almost anything. She loves pretty much any kind of meat (lunch meat, chicken, brat, pulled pork, pork tenderloin, taco meat, salami, meat stick, summer sausage). She also LOVES cheese (we mainly feed her cheddar and mozzarella). She also loves berries, grapes, watermelon, teething wafers, Graham crackers, Goldfish, and raisins.

I always feed her breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then usually a couple of snacks too. Sometimes she eats a snack while I’m making food, and then she eats more while we’re eating. I’m actually kind of amazed that she’s not chubbier based on how much food she eats. 🤷‍♀️

She’s still nursing, mostly in the middle of the night, but also before both of her naps (if I’m planning to hold her, otherwise she will fall asleep in the stroller or carseat without it), and when she goes to bed. We’ve given her cow’s milk a few times, but she doesn’t seem to love it.

Like I mentioned earlier, Neola got two more teeth on the bottom middle (for a total of 4), plus two of her top molars, bringing her up to a total of 10 teeth. Now I think she’s starting to work on the bottom two molars. Teething affects her sleep a little, but it mainly makes her clingy and snotty during the day. This girl produces so. much. mucus!

Development

Neola is a mover and a shaker these days! She learned how to pull up on things and crawl up the stairs (but not down) around 13 months, and is getting into all sorts of things these days. She is pretty timid when it comes to learning how to walk though, and doesn’t even have much interest in pushing the alligator clacker around.

Her favorite activities these days are playing in the sandbox, playing in the water table, pulling tupperware out of the cupboard, crawling up the stairs, and nesting on the floor mattresses in her room. She enjoys swinging, but definitely gets to a point where she’s had enough sitting around and wants to get out. She also loves ripping apart tissues, napkins, wrapping paper, books, etc.; digging through mommy’s purse; and pulling books off bookshelves.

Neola is curious and likes checking out almost everything — except her baby toys! She plays with those the least. (After her hip dysplasia surgery, I might declutter most of her baby toys… we’ll see if she plays with them more when she’s not mobile.) Her favorite thing to play with is my earbud case (now with the earbuds taken out). She opens and shuts it, opens and shuts it.

Speaking of which, because Neola got Covid right before her surgery (and still tested positive two days before the surgery even though it had been over a week since her initial positive), her surgery got rescheduled to August 18. So we have a whole other month to do summer activities that involve water and sand. 🙂

Since her first birthday, Neola has gone kayaking on our river, boating on Gull Lake, camping at Itasca State Park, and on an weekend trip to Duluth.

She is almost always a trooper, and actually did no worse than normal with sleeping away from home, which is all I can ask for (haha!). The hardest thing about camping was that she just wanted to put the rocks at our campsite in her mouth all the time!

Of course, Neola still gets a lot of attention from her siblings. Corbin has started really playing with her too, which is super sweet overall, but he often gets a little rowdy and makes her cry.

Neola is the sweetest little girl, and we love her so much! I am really trying to soak up the baby stage with her, because it is going by so fast! She’s almost a toddler already! (single tear)

And that’s Neola at 14 months!

Thoughts on Marriage After 15 Years

1 Jul

Do you, Kathy, take Travis to be your husband, your partner in life and your one true love; will you trust him, respect him, laugh with him and cry with him; loving him faithfully through the good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles you may face together? Do you give your hand, your heart, and your love, from this day forward, as long as you both shall live?

On my wedding day, I answered “I do” to that question.

After 15 years, I still do.

But it’s not without sacrifice. On your wedding day, you acknowledge that the future may not be all sunshine and rainbows, but you have no idea what that will entail, and honestly, you are so in love with your new spouse, it’s hard to imagine a time when your marriage vows could be put to the test.

But in the 15 years Travis and I have been married, our vows have been tested. In every conflict and season of bad times, we have been faced with the question: were we serious about the promise we made that day?

The truth is that there are times when you don’t like your spouse. When you feel like there’s no possible way you two could be any different. When their quirks and idiosyncrasies drive you up the wall.

Many in our world hold themselves apart from their spouses, and when things get hard and their love grows cold, they cut bait and move on.

God willing, Travis and I won’t. We will continue to go to battle for our marriage. Whenever we find ourselves fighting against each other, and not for each other, we will regroup. We will humble ourselves, have the vulnerable conversations, and be willing to sacrifice and change for the good of the other.

And it is a battle. There is a spiritual war going on in every Christian household, with Satan and his demons trying to destroy, or at least disarm, the powerful picture of Christ and His church that is marriage. Satan wants the husband to pursue his own interests at the expense of his wife and family. He wants the wife to disrespect and mock her husband behind his back. He wants disunity in parenting decisions. He wants lack of intimacy. He wants two people who pass like ships in the night, orchestrating a chaotic life, with neither love nor friendship between them.

So Travis and I cannot be content with drifting apart. We can’t just focus on other things and let it happen. At the first hint of distance and disunity, we have to take action. We must apologize and admit, when the other confronts us with ways we’ve wounded and harmed. We must swallow our pride and insults. We have to refuse to bring up the past in begrudging ways. We have to choose to believe that the other person is sincere in their love and desire to change. We need to be willing to learn and grow from our mistakes, or to at least try imperfectly to do things differently. We must extend grace to the other person when they fail again.

Those things are not easy to do. In fact, they are the very opposite of easy. They are the hardest work. Fighting for my marriage requires fighting against my natural human instincts of self-righteousness and pride, of feeling justified and without blame. I must be able to admit when I’m wrong, and to see my husband’s side. Even when I think I’m right, I must be willing to allow that I could be wrong…

Because I am a sinner just like my spouse.

And that is really what it all comes down to. Do I really believe that I am a sinner, in need of a Savior? That I am just as much to blame for the problems in my marriage as my husband is? Maybe even more so? Do I believe that I am hopeless and helpless without the intervention of God in my life?

Or do I grumble against my husband, focusing on what he should be doing differently? “If only he had a daily quiet time… If only he worked less… If only he put his tools away… If only his dirty socks were taken off right-side-out… If only he contributed to household chores more… If these things were done my way, we wouldn’t have an issue. Therefore, my husband is the problem.”

I confess that I am often tempted to think that way. But he could say the same about me. “If only she didn’t care so much about the house being clean… If only she didn’t let the kids watch so much screen time… If only she didn’t buy the kids so many treats and toys… If only she gave me more physical affection and intimacy… If only she supported me more in my hobbies and time away… If these things were done my way, we wouldn’t have an issue. Therefore, my wife is the problem.”

This way of thinking will destroy a marriage if left unchecked. Like John Piper illustrated in one of his marriage sermons, when we discover that the landscape of our marriage is littered with cow-pies (all our problems and tensions and disagreements), we must get out our pitchfork and scoop all the cow-pies into a pile. We don’t pitch our tent in the middle of, or even next to, the cow-pie pile. We go find a clean area, no matter how small. That’s where we pitch our tent and live our lives. When we have to revisit the cow-pies, we will. But we will not live there.

Practically speaking, that means that I have to practice gratitude and focus on the positives. What does my spouse do right? How does he communicate love and commitment? He might be showing love and respect in a way I don’t recognize. Even if it’s not my love language, I can affirm what he is doing, while also respectfully reminding him of what does make me feel love and respected.

Finding a clean area free of cow-pies means finding some way to have positive interactions with my spouse. If all we talk about when we’re together are stressful things like work and parenting decisions, or if the only time we see each other is when the chaos of home life is bombarding us, no wonder we’re having a hard time!

Not living next to the cow-pies also means that I lay down my demand that things be the way I want them to be. If I get mad at my husband every time I’m doing laundry and have to flip his socks right-side-out, I’m living next to the cow-pies. If I rehearse over and over in my mind a careless word he spoke to me without bringing it up with him, I’m living next to the cow-pies. If I am angry and bitter at him for saying he wants to do something differently, or for making a different parenting decision than I would have made, I am living next to the cow-pies.

So I must believe that I am a sinner just like my spouse, and be willing to admit that just because something is my way doesn’t automatically make it the right way. Humility is willing to admit fault and to change.

On the flip side, do I also believe that because Jesus died for me and I now have the Holy Spirit, I am empowered to change? That I am not captive to my personality or habits? That God is able to grow my spouse and me together, and bridge our chasm of differences (or at least use our differences together in a divine balance).

As Christians, we should never say, “That’s just the way I am” or “I can’t change.” We can recognize that we have unique personalities determined by God, but we must submit even our personalities to God and allow Him to sanctify them. That means we have natural tendencies, but we can fight against them if they are causing sin or strife in our lives.

In my own life, I have long struggled with anger. When I am hurt or sad, I don’t cry or mope; I get mad. When I feel overwhelmed and flustered, I get irritable and impatient. When I am tired and clumsy, I get frustrated. When I am too hot or too hungry or have to pee really bad, I get angry.

But does that mean my anger is ok? “It’s just the way God made me.” No, it does not mean that it’s ok. The way God created me does not give me license to sin. I must be willing to place my whole self on the altar, to allow the Spirit’s sanctifying power to cleanse all of me — my quirks, my interests, my strengths, my weaknesses, my hobbies, my tendencies — ALL of me.

Marriage has revealed so many layers of sinfulness in my heart over the years, and often the process of sanctification seems incredibly slow. Like, so slow that I seriously wonder if anything is even happening. But I cling to the promise in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 regarding sanctification that “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” He WILL change me!! As I look back on 15 years of marriage, I see how He HAS changed me. I’ve matured and deepened in my faith and in my relationship with Travis. So often it didn’t feel like I was growing. But the Spirit was indeed at work. The key is to keep pressing forward, and keep desiring to change. Like A.W. Tozer says in The Pursuit of God:

“Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life in hope ourselves to rend the veil. God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it crucified. But we must be careful to distinguish lazy `acceptance’ from the real work of God. We must insist upon the work being done. We dare not rest content with a neat doctrine of self-crucifixion.”

The promise of 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 is so great that I’ll quote it again to end this post (using the Phillips translation):

“May the God of peace make you holy through and through. May you be kept in soul and mind and body in spotless integrity until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is utterly faithful and he will finish what he has set out to do.”

Ask God to be faithful and present in your marriage, and watch Him finish what He has set out to do!

Neola Bethany: 11-12 Months

22 May

I failed at writing a post about Neola when she turned 11 months 🤦‍♀️ so there’s a lot to write about in this post!

11 months
12 months

Size

Neola is pretty much all in 18-month clothes these days. She can still technically wear 12-month sleepers, but they are getting too small. I need to put them away. She’s still in size 3 diapers though, and size 3 shoes. Compared to our other kids at this age, Neola is kind of a string bean.

At her first birthday party (a party to celebrate all the kids’ birthdays since they are all only 1.5 months apart)

I haven’t scheduled her 1-year well-child check yet… We found out in April (right after she turned 11 months) that Neola has hip dysplasia in her right hip. I had been noticing clicking in her hip (or knee I thought, I couldn’t quite tell where it was coming from) and asked her pediatrician about it. She wasn’t too concerned. Then I asked the physical therapist we were seeing for Neola’s torticollis (which has 99% resolved, yay!) about it, and after observing that Neola favored one leg over another, and was non-weight-bearing still, she suggested getting an x-ray. So we did, and turns out she does have hip dysplasia. We were referred to Gillette Children’s in the Cities, and had our first appointment on May 17. Neola will need to be treated, and in a spica cast for 3 months. But more on that in a different post!

At Gillette Children’s

Sleeping

Neola hasn’t made any progress in her sleeping habits, and I haven’t pushed it because of the unknowns involved with her hip dysplasia. So for now, we are just sticking with what works, even though it’s hard.

So, what does work? Well, since my last post, I finally went all in on the floor bed (I’m on a twin mattress and Neola is on her crib mattress) and took down Neola’s crib. I did that because she was sleeping better on the floor with me, and the crib took up so much space that our floor beds had to be in front of the closet, which made my pillow situation tricky because the closet doors would make noise when my pillows pushed against them.

Then
Then
Now

For Neola’s eleventh month of life, I was trying to get up after putting her down at bedtime to do dishes, tidy up, fold laundry, set up coffee for the morning, hang out with Travis a little, etc. Inevitably, Neola would wake up right after I went to bed, or wake up before I was done with whatever I was doing, so I was going to sleep around 11 PM. More recently, however, I have been so incredibly tired after getting Neola to sleep that I either have to take a “nap” from about 8 to 10, then get back up to do whatever, or just go to bed with her.

I still hold Neola for the two naps she takes a day (she usually nurses to sleep). It’s a little tricky sometimes with the other kids, but Travis is also home working all day, so he checks in on them every so often (and they go bother him some too). They often play outside during her morning nap, and the girls usually watch a show during her afternoon nap (which is when Corbin is also napping 🙌).

Soaking up the nap snuggles because they won’t last forever
She still loves napping outside.

Eating

Neola is a pretty good eater. She likes most food. Her favorites are puffs, teething wafers, turkey lunch meat, salami, sausage, cheese, clementines, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, peaches, graham crackers, and pizza. At this point, we pretty much feed her whatever we’re eating (as long as it’s soft enough).

Birthday donut 🍩

She has been mildly sick for about the past month… it started with a clear runny nose that we attributed to teething, but that continued and morphed into so. much. mucus that she would gag on the gunk in her throat and blow snot all over me while she was nursing. Then she got a bad cough, and finally we discovered just last week that she has a double ear infection. But this is really the first time she’s ever been sick, so thankful for that! I mention it here, because it did affect her appetite. But now that she’s on antibiotics, she is eating more again.

Epic snot bubble
What a legend.

Development

Neola started crawling for real the day before she turned 11 months. Before that, she would scoot around by getting on her hands and knees, and then sitting back down, swiveling in a different direction. Since she was “backing up” and not seeing what was behind her, she sometimes got herself stuck doing that…

She is very curious and loves checking things out — even outside! She has no qualms about digging in the dirt or sand, picking up leaves, pinecones and sticks, and grabbing handfuls of grass. She is even pretty good about not putting those things in her mouth.

Ice is a different story…

She is not pulling up to stand yet, but she will pull up to kneeling. We weren’t sure if we should encourage her to stand or walk with her hip dysplasia, but her doctor said it was totally fine, so we will try working with her more on that.

She still doesn’t love the baby carrier but will tolerate it every once in a while.

Hiking in falling snow

Neola can clap, and bang two toys together. She loves emptying containers, and ripping paper, toilet paper, tissue paper, etc into little pieces. She also loves grabbing books and dumping out the dog water dish.

She still enjoys going on walks (it’s still an almost foolproof way to get her to sleep if needed) and loves swinging, but beyond that, she hates being cooped up. She wants to explore!

Neola often smiles with her nose scrunched up. It is so cute!!

Other things Neola does often are rake her fingernails across my chest (so painful and it leaves scratches!) and try to put her fingers in our mouths. She also likes to try grabbing eyeglasses off people’s faces. I usually nurse Neola when she’s tired but if I nurse her when she’s not in the mood to sleep, she often gets bored and bites me. 😖

Neola still gets a LOT of attention from her siblings. Corbin has gotten better at actually playing with her, which is so sweet. He still is a little rough, but Neola rolls with the punches (sometimes literally) quite well.

Neola’s siblings push her around a lot in this truck.
The girls put that backpack on her.
The girls all wore floral dresses on the day we dedicated Neola (March 13).

And that’s Neola at 12 months!

The Raw Struggles of a Homeschool Mom

2 May

I make plans. They look so good on paper. I feel optimistic, like maybe I could actually get all the stuff done that needs to get done. I’m not being unrealistic. Maybe ambitious, but not ridiculous, right?

Then life happens, and I am forced to admit that yes, any ambition in my season of life with my specific kids is ridiculous. If it’s not the baby crying or needing a nap, it’s the toddler/preschooler throwing another tantrum and becoming the wedge pulling me in multiple directions. And if it’s not him, it’s my big girls complaining about school or whining about my making them clean up the messes they’ve made. And if it’s not them, it’s the dog chewing up a poopy diaper or my husband venting frustration that he can’t find the tools that HE moved. NO ONE COOPERATES. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THE ASSIGNMENT.

I feel good on the days we actually do more for school than just math and reading. Not just because I feel like the girls are learning more, but also because those extras are fun. They’re creative, and not just the “bang it out so you’re done” school.

But those days are few and far between. 

This season of life — baby who won’t nap without being held and wakes up 4-5 times a night (on a good night); preschooler who is intense, loud, and over-dramatic; homeschooling 1st and 3rd grade; husband who could be (and should be) working 60 hours a week — is breaking me. Both Travis and I are being swallowed up by so much stress and chaos that we might go down with the ship, and never recover. 

What does God want? Put aside the voices of other homeschooling moms, and even my own standards, and ask, What does God want from my day? Does He want me to follow the schedule I’ve laid out in my planner, forging the path no matter who I mow down or flatten? Or would He rather me walk in obedience, which looks like trust and patience? No yelling, no forcing, no threatening. Just clear expectations, and appropriate follow through.

I can’t live that way. That’s my first response. Because how would anything get done? And how can I keep my cool when they are so stinking disobedient?!

But what if, just like tithing is an expression of trusting God to materially provide what we need, acting in love and patience was an expression of trusting God to multiply the time? Trusting that what He wants us to get done WILL get done. And whatever does not get done, didn’t need to be done.

But I don’t want to surrender control to my schedule, and my agenda. I have surrendered everything else! I have surrendered my body, my time, my sleep. I have given up my hobbies, my lunch, my sanity. Must I also surrender this?!? 

“I just want to…” The death knell of those words. That’s what I was thinking this morning. “I just want to do school so we can be done!” And “I just want to go on a freaking walk!!” Those words are my discontentment. Those words are me saying to God, “I don’t want this life. You are not enough for me.” 

After studying Jesus’s awe-full sacrifice on the cross, how could I possibly say to my Lord that He’s not enough for me? I am not enough for Him!! He is everything for me, and more. 

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. I am so overwhelmed by emotions, by frustrations and feeling thwarted by my kids in every aspect of life. Help me see and believe that YOU ARE NEVER THWARTED. Your plans are ALWAYS accomplished. Do I believe that? Do I believe that Your plans for my kids will be accomplished? 

I don’t want to admit that I’ve been wrong. I don’t want to go back to my kids, with my tail between my legs, and say that *I* was the one in the wrong this morning. Because THEY…!!! But I must. I must repent. I must choose God’s way. I must surrender. If I want true freedom, true peace, true contentment, I must do it God’s way.

Give me the strength, Lord. Give me the kind of strength You had during your trial, beating, and crucifixion. Strength borne out of complete trust in the Father’s plan.