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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.

Comfort and Deprivation {Lent 2022}

27 Mar

We’re about halfway through the Lenten season. I don’t always give up something for Lent (I don’t believe it’s biblically necessary to do so) but I do like how it increases the anticipation of Easter, much like Advent does for Christmas.

Often when someone gives something up for Lent, they use the time or resources they would’ve spent on said thing and focus on God instead. Instead of scrolling social media, they pray. Instead of buying Starbucks, they donate to a charity. Travis and I gave up grains for Lent, which hasn’t really resulted in either a time or money savings (in fact, it has cost more money and taken more time to prepare foods that don’t contain grains).

So what’s the purpose then? Well, not eating grains has prevented me from eating the usual low-hanging fruit of cereal, bagels, quesadillas, toast, mac & cheese. And those first few days were rough, because it felt like I was hungry all the time, but couldn’t just go grab something. I had to slow down and make something to eat. As I reflected on that, I saw how my soul is constantly thirsty, but I often try to appease it by grabbing the easiest thing — another cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a movie, a book, shopping, social media. My real need is to slow down and nourish my soul with God’s word.

After those first few days, we adapted and it wasn’t as big of a struggle to not eat grains. But as the days went by, I noticed how much comfort I usually derive from my food. Not that I was emotionally overeating before, but I never felt deprived. Now I felt deprived, because certain foods that I enjoyed and wanted to eat were off-limits. The feeling of deprivation is the reason why I don’t do diets, but for the period of Lent, I let that feeling remind me that I’m not supposed to feel comfortable and satisfied here on Earth. This world is not my home. I am a sojourner, an exile.

Because we stopped buying bread, tortillas, mac & cheese, etc. during this time, the kids have also been “deprived” of their normal foods (though they do still eat some grains in the form of crackers and stuff). They have done well overall with the difference, but it gave us an opportunity to talk with the girls about the anticipation of heaven, and how we shouldn’t feel completely at home here, because the world does not love Jesus.

I will confess that I haven’t stuck to no grains 100%. There have been a few times when I was so. hungry. (breastfeeding mom here!) that I caved and ate a bowl of oatmeal. It’s also birthday season in our house (all our kids’ birthdays are March, April, and May), and we had Neola’s dedication. So there’s been some cake. But giving up something for Lent is about the heart, not some legalistic requirement. Since it has caused me to reflect on and examine my desires for creature comforts and the lack of deprivation in any area of my life (except sleep!), I would say that it has accomplished its purpose so far.

It has also shown me that while I don’t plan to continue the no-grains thing indefinitely, I do differentiate between grains that are worth eating, and grains that are not. A grain that is worth it for me is a burger bun. Eating a burger without a bun is just soooo not the same. Another would be pizza — I love me some pizza (though the cauliflower crust kind from Costco is great too!). A grain that is not worth it for me is spaghetti, or really any type of pasta. I don’t ever crave pasta, so I don’t feel deprived not eating it.

Only 3 weeks to go until Easter!

Hope: Don’t Give Up {2022 Focus}

23 Mar

My word for 2022 is HOPE. The subtitle for that word is Don’t Give Up. The Scripture God gave me for the word HOPE is Lamentations 3:21-23 —

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

An alternate translation of verse 22 is:

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”

It is God’s mercy to me that I am not consumed by this season of life (parenting four young kids and homeschooling). It is because of His compassion to me that I haven’t given up and curled into the fetal position indefinitely. There are so many moments, even whole days when I am tempted to. Because it all feels like too much. From my viewpoint, I am falling short in every area — parenting, homeschooling, homemaking, personal goals.

When one is trying so hard to do something right and well, but still meeting with failure, it would be understandable to just give up, right?

But God’s steadfast love prevents me from giving up. He sustains me by giving new mercies every morning, mainly in the form of HOPE.

The way I’m viewing HOPE is this: Hope doesn’t give up. Hope doesn’t look at the challenges before it and grow discouraged. Hope isn’t cynical or pessimistic. Instead, Hope continues to believe that things can change. Hope keeps showing up, pressing forward, living faithfully into God’s calling for that day. Hope accepts what God allows, even if it is not what was wanted.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to “call to mind” God’s mercies for HOPE so far this year.

When I want to work out in the morning, and be productive after the kids go to bed, but sleep deprivation from baby Neola makes extra sleep the greater priority, I have to remind myself of hope.

When I feel incapable and daunted by the thought of and need for potty training Corbin and sleep training Neola, I remind myself of hope.

When the girls are showing troublesome attitudes and Corbin is throwing yet another tantrum, and I am tempted to feel like I’ve failed them as a mother because of what I’ve allowed them to do, or acted like myself, I remind myself of hope.

My natural human reaction to these discouraging and overwhelming situations is self-pity. Like Oswald Chambers writes,

“Most of us collapse at the first grip of pain. We sit down at the door of God’s purpose and enter a slow death through self-pity.”

(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

But HOPE reminds me that I don’t have to give up, or collapse in the face of these challenges. God gives new mercies. I can trust Him to keep providing, day by day, what I need. I can trust Him even if I don’t meet my goals, if I lose my temper again, if my house is a mess, if I can’t figure out how to get Neola to sleep better. My purposes may remain unfulfilled, but HIS purposes will be accomplished.

God’s provision of new mercies every day won’t mean that I wake up in the morning or enter different situations feeling competent or on top of things. I hardly ever feel that way, and I actually think that is intentional on God’s part. Jesus fed 5,000-plus people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. He didn’t produce a banquet table laden with food. He just stretched the existing food farther. He takes the little that we have, and He makes it enough, as we need it.

As I’ve been digging into Lamentations 2:21-25, I read in a John Piper sermon transcript (from almost exactly 28 years ago),

“Our task today is not to have the strength needed for tomorrow’s burdens. Our task today is to live by the mercies given for today, and to believe that there will be new mercies for tomorrow. Today’s mercies do not include strength for tomorrow; they include faith that tomorrow’s unseen mercies will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

(John Piper, “Today’s Mercies for Today’s Troubles,” March 13, 1994)

I love that. Like the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness, God gives just enough for each day. I must live in moment by moment dependence on Him. And because His provision of mercy for this day, this moment is always sufficient (and abundantly so!) for my need, I can always have HOPE.

Here’s to a hope-filled year.

2022 Goals: Consistency

31 Jan

Wait, what is this? A blog post that isn’t an update about a child? Yes!

With the turn of the calendar to a new year, I have felt God enabling me to do more than just survive. Because that’s what I have been doing since Neola was born last May—simply surviving. Part of doing more than surviving for me is reconnecting with the things that bring me joy. My husband and kids bring me joy for sure. But writing… writing has always been the thing that gives me the “I was made to do this” vibe.

So here I am. I have dreams of coming to this space (still, after starting this little ole blog back in 2008!) from a coffee shop table with a hot caramel latte, complete and coherent thoughts whirling from my fingers to screen via full-size keyboard. But in reality, I’m chicken-pecking and constantly recorrecting it on my phone while nursing a baby with a lukewarm cup of home brew, and my other 3 kids are watching screens. Because that’s my reality right now.

And that’s what I’m learning: to make my dreams, goals, desires work with MY life, with my REALITY.

It seemed that no sooner had I written down my goals than they were jeopardized by lack of sleep or a baby who wouldn’t go to sleep when she normally does. And I was reminded of why I haven’t made goals for many years. Really, since laying down my dream of writing a book.

Because I am not in charge of my own time. My family owns it right now. And truth be told, having goals or plans outside of being a mom and wife often leads me to resenting the fact that I am a mom and wife. I’m sure most moms have had the experience of planning to turn over a new leaf of getting up before the kids only to have them in turn randomly wake up earlier than normal.

I don’t, however, think the antidote to that uncanny conundrum is to just give up trying to do things. That’s what I had been doing, and also why I was burned out. And when I’m burned out, I hold on to my husband’s free time with a death grip. He has been trying to do more than survive for several months, and I pretty much told him that I just wanted him to acknowledge the ship was sinking, and to go down with it (and me) instead of trying to rise above. How ridiculous is that?? But when you’re underwater, breathing through a straw, you just. can’t.

I see in myself this pendulum, swinging from the extreme of determination on one end to the other end of giving up. I desire consistency, but it can so easily become a measuring post for failure. Like so many other things in the Christian life, only God can enable me to live in the middle, to hold it all in gracious balance. To pursue those things that give me life, but to not despair, wallow, or get angry when life happens. To hold desires in my heart, but not let them despotically rule my will.

What does that look like practically? One of several things I’ve learned from a mom on Instagram named Phylicia Masonheimer has been to have several slots during the day or week when something can be done. If Neola doesn’t go to bed until 9:00 on the night I was supposed to do the budget, it can slide to a different night that week, because I only have 2-3 things to do each week after the kids go to bed (instead of allotting a different thing each night so that if life happens, the wrench thrown in is a big one). (The other things I learned are: when you’re making a routine for your family, don’t add new stuff in, just arrange the stuff you’re already doing; and instead of following a schedule based on the clock, follow a routine — an order in which you do things.)

I also just read two great books by Dana K. White called How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind and Decluttering at the Speed of Life. I’ve always been an organized person, and have done quite a bit of purging, but over the last year or two, I’ve let the things coming into our home greatly outpace the things leaving our home. Dana writes that anything that I can’t keep under control is clutter, and that habits are the way of routinely keeping that clutter under control.

We’ve had a good system down for dishes and laundry, and right now we hire a cleaning lady. But the areas in our house/lives that routinely get cluttered/neglected are: the kitchen counter (specifically, the paperwork that I shove into a big pile so that it doesn’t appear messy); the wall cubby/shelf area in our master bedroom (it’s out of the reach of the kids so it ends up being a dumping ground); our budget; and our photo memories. So far, I’ve determined to do the budget or work on a photo book once a week (alternating every other), and to sort through paperwork once a week.

And when life happens (like it did this week), I will type out blog posts on my phone, in the dark while waiting for my kids to fall asleep, which is what I’m doing now (nursing the baby only lasted for about half this post).

I will end this blog post with a thought I’ve had about why people like the feeling of a new year and resolutions. There’s just something about the feeling of a clean slate, right? God created us this way, to thrive on being made new, and experiencing His new mercies every morning:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

“[See] that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Even if the goals and plans I typed out here lose steam or morph over the course of this year, I am thanking God for a constructive, motivated start to 2022. ❤️

Our Brand of Crazy {A Day in the Life}

8 Sep

Baby #4 is now 4 months old, so we’ve pretty much gotten into the groove of being a family of 6, and let’s just say… it’s nuts.

I know more than a handful of families who have at least 4 kids, and I’ve had to be very careful to not compare our level of activity, sanity, and general having-it-togetherness to theirs, and think, “But why can they handle doing x and y with 4/5/6 kids, and we can’t even find time to clean the bathroooms?” The short answer is: because we’re us, and they’re them.

Here’s a little peek into our brand of crazy:

Our days usually start with Corbin (3.5 yrs) getting up at the ungodly hour of 5:30. He wanders out of his room (which he now shares with Annabelle) into ours, and we pull him into bed with us, hoping he’ll go back to sleep. Sometimes he does. Most times, he doesn’t. He does lie there until 6:00 or so before whispering, “Mommy, hungryyyyyy.” So then I have to get up. I grab him an applesauce and fig bar, and make myself a cup of coffee while he watches the iPad.

Emma (8.5 yrs) and Annabelle (6.5 yrs) usually wander out of their rooms between 6:30 and 7:30. Now that Emma has her own room, she comes upstairs every morning after making her bed, getting dressed, combing her hair, and brushing her teeth. I don’t even tell her to do that! #winning

Travis and Neola are usually up by 7 or 7:30. Travis is a night owl and lately has been working extra at night (his company is super busy) and going to bed late. Neola always wakes up happy, and I usually wait an hour or so to feed her. The girls like to hold her in the morning, and Neola is also usually content to lie on her activity mat.

Once all the kids are up, they go from zero to 60 way too fast. Sometimes they dive right back into whatever they were playing the day before, sometimes they invent something new. (This morning, Emma came up with her play hairdresser stuff and now we’re doing spa day, and it’s not even 8:30.) Last week, they were sending their backpacks from the deck to the swing set via an umbrella “basket” sliding down a rope, and then playing together on the platform of the swing set. I don’t even know what!

Around 8 or so, I wrangle them for breakfast, which is usually some combination of toast, yogurt, cereal, or protein shake. Each of them asks for a different variation, but I allow it because 1) then they actually eat it and 2) all of the options are easy to make. I try to start school while they’re eating because they’re a captive audience, but sometimes I end up having to feed Neola or wrangle Corbin, or pick up a mess, or who knows what.

From breakfast on, the day is a blur. The biggest challenge I have is getting the girls to sit down for our combined subjects (Bible, Memory Verse, Poetry, and History or Science) while also trying to occupy Corbin with an interesting-enough activity that won’t require too much supervision or result in too big a mess. (Sensory bins, painting, kinetic sand, even markers are all no-go’s. He makes a mess with everything.) If he’s not content to play with toys, we usually do play dough or water wows, he works on something at the table with us, or we move school outside. Some days, though, he watches iPad until our combined subjects are done and then one of the girls goes to play with him.

And usually, just about the time Corbin is occupied, and the girls are at the table, and I start reading, Neola starts crying because she needs a nap. Ok, new plan! The easiest way to get Neola down for a nap is to swing her in our chair swing (I guess they’re called a hammock swing?) outside — meaning I sit in the swing with her. If we just started school, I have the girls come outside with me, and either I read or they read while I’m swinging Neola. If we had covered a few subjects before she got fussy, then we just take a break.

Then there are the days that the older kids are just riled up. They’re giggling at everything, or chasing each other around, or fighting over toys, or won’t stop trying to talk to each other while I’m reading. Or they really want to do a certain activity while I read (like swing, or monkey bars, or twirl in circles) but they can’t do it while also paying attention (as evidenced by their inability to tell back what they learned, or know what happened in the story). Or my favorite, I’m reading and they get up and walk away without a word to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. ?!?!?!?

After our combined subjects, the day is a flurry of feeding Neola; keeping Corbin out of trouble; getting snacks and making lunch; putting Corbin down for a nap; alternating math, reading and language arts with each girl; getting Neola to nap; switching laundry; cleaning up random wrappers and sippy cups; discovering inside toys that are outside and outside toys that are inside; sweeping up sand off the kitchen floor; drinking yet another cup of coffee; trying not to care that the oven, microwave, refrigerator, kitchen sink, dishwater front, sliding glass door, master bathroom, and windowsills are all disgustingly filthy; changing diapers, poopy and otherwise; and diffusing umpteen fights over ridiculous things.

But it also includes the kids playing store and doctor; riding their bikes or pushing each other in the jogging stroller; drawing funny pictures; creating Barbie worlds or truck crashes; pretending Duplo blocks are fruits and vegetables at their farmers market; and getting dirty outside.

School-wise, it’s seeing Annabelle finally read a story, completely on her own, and be so excited about it. It’s having Emma say her favorite subject is math, and that she likes multiplication and division more than addition and subtraction. (!!!) It’s watching them create imaginary worlds based on what we just read about, or having them ask questions about something, googling it, and learning about it together. It’s seeing siblings playing together for hours on end, the little brother wanting to be like his older sisters, and the baby sister getting oodles of attention all day instead of just hanging out with boring ole mom.

So it’s crazy. But rewarding. But also crazy. And exhausting. That takes us until whenever Travis gets off work, which is usually between 5 and 6 pm. One of makes dinner while the other wrangles the kids (some days, I want the peace and quiet of cooking; other days, I just. can’t. and I deal with the kids while Travis cooks.) We eat around 6 or 7. Corbin hardly ever eats what we make. He is the *pickiest* eater! Annabelle puts a small fight but usually eats it all. Emma is almost always a champ (because she wants dessert).

Around 7:30, we start the bedtime routine, which is: give the kids melatonin and vitamins, tell them what to do next at least 4 times even though it’s the same every night (jammies, brush teeth, potty), catch them lollygagging in the hallway or doing “one last thing” with a toy, and threaten to either throw their toy in the river or give them a spanking. After all that, Corbin (and now Annabelle, since she moved to his room) watch 5-10 minutes of “baby truck” on the iPad. We try to read picture books with them but often run out of time (see aforementioned lollygagging). I’ve been reading Emma a book before bed, but down in her room. (Bedtime downstairs with just her is a different world from the circus upstairs!)

After the older kids are in bed, we finish loading the dishwasher if it’s not already done, I fold laundry and tidy up the upstairs (the downstairs only gets picked up once every couple of weeks at this point). Neola usually nurses and goes down around 8:30/9. Sometimes Travis works on his computer or down in the garage. Sometimes I take a shower because I didn’t get one in the morning, or even change out of what I wore to bed the night before. I always end the night with either reading or watching a show. I just finished reading Anne of Green Gables. Now I’m reading The Moonstone and watching Victoria on Prime.

I honestly think that if Travis and I both could figure out how to fit in a Bible quiet time most days and a workout 3 times a week, and if we could hire a cleaning lady to come every other week or once a month, we’d feel like this life was fairly manageable. At least, manageable until our kids get a little older and we get into a different season.

When Corbin was born, I felt like any margin we had had with only two kids disappeared. If you got behind with three kids, in sleep or house projects or whatever, you just stayed behind.

Well-meaning people told me that having 4 kids was just like having 3 kids.

…It isn’t.

My friend Sarah put it well when she said, “Until that 4th baby can actually play, you’re just adding a baby to the craziness of your first 3 kids. The newborn/baby stage is hard no matter how many kids you have.”

If 3 kids was a marathon that Travis and I were able to run with a very slow, focused pace as long as it involved no detours or side shows, then 4 kids is a relay race where we have to hand off kids or tasks or duties to other people every so often. We can’t carry it all ourselves. Some parents might be able to with 4 kids (or maybe they just act like they are able to), but we are finding it difficult.

Travis’ job lately has been stressful because he says they’re putting out one (proverbial) fire after another. They’re just moving from crisis to crisis. There’s no time to be proactive or intentional. They are overwhelmed by the amount of work, and completely reactionary.

That’s our parenting life right now too. Overwhelmed by the amount of work. Moving from crisis to crisis. But nevertheless, we must strive to be intentional. It’s hard to believe parenting can be any harder than it is now, but I do believe that the challenges continue in different form as kids get older. So if we’re not intentional now, then when?

Homeschooling definitely adds to the crazy and I’ve wondered more than once in the last few weeks if we should just send the kids to public school. But for this school year, we are here, taking it one day, one moment at a time, and trusting God to redeem our failures and stretch our two mites into enough.

Thoughts on Grief: Our Dog, Katy

7 Jul

We lost our dog, Katy, today to old age. She was roughly 13 years old, though as a rescue shelter adoptee, her age was always more of a guess. We used her adoption date of August 9 as her birthdate, and knew she was roughly a year old when we adopted her, putting her birth year at 2008.

Back when we first adopted Katy, I blogged about it. You can read that post here. In that post, I said, “Katy is such the perfect dog for us that I feel totally blessed by God through her. Since she is a year old, she’s pretty much done growing, she is totally house trained, and she is pretty obedient to our commands. Best of all, she’s the perfect size to cuddle with me (which she loves to do!) and she’s strong (typical of her breed) so that she can still run and hike with us, once she is cured of her heartworm (a condition she had when we adopted her…but the Boulder Vet Clinic will treat her for free because we adopted her from the shelter).”

Right after we adopted her, we were walking out to our car with her on the leash. I was a very green dog owner, and knew practically nothing. Turned out, her collar was on way too loose (and Katy had a very thick neck compared to her head, so it was very easy to slip things off over her head), and she ended up pulling out of it, and running off across a busy street and into another parking lot. Travis and I ran after her, yelling. Thankfully, the Humane Society staff saw what had happened, and came out with treats and helped us corral her.

She did that several times in the first six months to a year that we had her. If we held the front door open too far or too long, she was out the door and down the street. I’d follow after her on foot, and Travis would get in the car. No matter how much I called Katy, or even when Travis arrived bearing treats, she would act like she didn’t know us and keep running. She even ran off once at elk camp. Thankfully, we always got her back (but I always wondered if that’s how she ended up as a stray dog in the first place, because it seemed like she had had an owner before). She eventually bonded with us, and stopped running away. She actually became very reliable on sticking close to us.

Katy was a great dog, and we really loved her. For three years, Katy would drape across my lap and cuddle whenever we watched TV (until I got pregnant with Emma, and then had no lap!). She slept in our bed (until I got pregnant and needed the extra room for pillows!). She even snuggled headfirst into the bottom of my mummy sleeping bag when we were up at elk camp. She loved going on runs and hikes, and always had more energy once she knew we were headed home.

We always laughed that Katy didn’t do many traditional dog things. She didn’t like playing fetch. She didn’t like water. She didn’t dig holes. She didn’t slobber. She didn’t chew things up. We’d feed her, and she would eat it whenever she felt hungry enough. And until we got Charlie in 2010, she didn’t even bark. We didn’t even know if she could bark. She was so well-behaved that we left her free-roaming in the house while we were at work, and she never had any accidents or did naughty things.

But then we got Charlie, and Katy’s personality changed. She started being guarded about her food, started chewing on the couch, started barking (she would even bark at the sound of a doorbell on the TV). But Katy had a friend now. Since they could no longer be trusted in the house alone, we left them in our laundry room while we were at work. We had to replace the trim in that room before we sold the house, because they destroyed it. I worked only 5 minutes or so from our house for a few years, so I’d come home on my lunch break to take them on walks. Then I worked from home for a year and not long after Travis switched jobs and started working from home, so they once again had free reign of the house.

We took the dogs camping, hiking, backpacking, running, walking. We took them to dog parks occasionally. We tried teaching them to walk next to us on a leash, and then gave up. In Colorado, our friends, D and Doug, would watch Katy and Charlie any time we went back to Minnesota to visit family.

In April 2013, Emma was born. I’ve already mentioned that Katy got booted out of our bed and off of my lap during pregnancy. Then life with a newborn diminished our attention to the dogs even more. But they never retaliated. Instead, Katy would sit in front of Emma’s room like a guard dog. Around our friends’ kids, and as Emma grew up and we added other kids, both dogs, but Katy especially, demonstrated loads of patience and gentleness. I never worried about her reacting poorly to attention from kids.

In March 2014, we sold our house in Wheat Ridge (suburb of Denver) and moved back to Minnesota. We lived with Travis’ parents for three months while we looked for a house. During that time, Katy and Charlie got so much exercise that they both lost a good 5 pounds (and that’s quite a bit when you’re only about 40 to begin with!) even though we were feeding them twice as much. Katy’s personality changed during that period too, as a result of being so active.

In June 2014, we moved into our current house, and about a year later, finally put in a in-ground fence. Katy was never one to run around on her own, but she liked exploring. At one point, she had a pustule on her belly that we were covering with old t-shirts, pulled into a knot on her back with ponytail holders. She’d go off exploring on the woods at my in-laws’ house and come back shirt-free. She and Charlie wrestled and play-fought, and she was always the leader on walks (whereas Charlie’s personality has always been more bungling, Eeyore-like, and “Squirrel!” ADD).

Katy was a fast learner, and a smart dog. She caught flies in her mouth, and was great at catching food too. She laid down on her belly, her rear legs tucked underneath her, and her front legs crossed like a lady. Both her ears stuck straight up, until she got a hematoma in her left ear one winter. The vet had to cut it open to drain it, and that ear never stood up again. Katy was prone to tooth decay, so in Colorado, we had her teeth cleaned every year (which required her to be put under). Our vet up here never thought Katy’s teeth looked bad enough to merit that.

Over the past couple of years, Katy’s age began to show. She slowed down. She didn’t like going on walks much anymore. Her back legs got weak and she often fell down on our wood kitchen floor, unable to get back up. She grew deaf, and could only hear you if you clapped really loudly. She became ravenous, and often bit your hand if she even thought you had food in your hand. She pooped and peed in the house if you didn’t let her out often enough, or at the right time before/after/during feeding. When she wanted to come back in, instead of pawing at the door like she used to (I’m guessing she just couldn’t, with how weak her back legs were), she’d grow impatient and circle the house, checking every door for someone to let her back in. Travis would see her run past his office window several times in a row.

We joked (and lamented) often in the past year that she was more active in her sleep than she was when she was awake. She loved sleeping on her side and putting her feet up against a wall, bookshelf, laundry basket. Then she’d dream she was running, and her toenails would tap against the hard surface. It was often quite loud, and would wake me up several times a night. It drove me crazy! I’d get up and pivot her away from the wall, because if you tried to move her, she’d make her trademark yelp that sounded like a sick walrus.

There were many moments of frustration and flippant, inconsiderate comments on our part during the last few years. It was hard to deal with a needy dog while taking care of three kids and being pregnant (and now, having four kids, one being a newborn). But I’m so grateful that we were faithful to Katy, knowing that she was too old to go live somewhere else. Travis and I wondered many times over the past 3-4 weeks what we should do about Katy. It just wasn’t clear. So I prayed for God to make it clear.

Late last week, we came to the conclusion that it was just time. Katy wasn’t going to get any better, and we were sad that she kept falling. So this past Monday, we called and made an appointment to have her put down. We wanted to wait until the girls were here (they’re still up at my in-laws’ cabin) but then Katy stopped eating. She even refused to eat turkey lunchmeat, which is not the Katy we knew! So we moved the appointment up a day, to this afternoon. But she passed on her own. Corbin, Neola and I were at the park. Travis had come upstairs for coffee, and heard Katy yelp in the garage (we had moved her out there on the dog bed, because she had soiled the carpet where she was laying inside). He could tell the end was near, and so he stayed there and petted her until she was gone. She was laid to rest near our garage.

I’m thankful God made it clear, that we had time to be more intentional with Katy, that she died at home instead of a vet office. And I’m thankful that God blessed us with Katy. She was a great dog, and I hope that I see her again in heaven someday.

Pregnancy #4: 6 Weeks Postpartum

23 Jun

Neola is 6 weeks old today, which means I am 6 weeks postpartum. I’ve posted about my postpartum journeys with each of my other three pregnancies, so no reason to stop now!

Physical Recovery

I didn’t have any tearing or stitches, so no issues there, though I do notice that my tailbone still hurts if I recline on it when I’m slouching.

The afterbirth pains were intense again, and even the maximum dosage of Ibuprofen and Tylenol with Codeine didn’t keep them under control, but heating pads were a lifesaver. The pains lasted for 4-5 days after Neola was born.

My bleeding was never very heavy, but it did last a whole month, which got really old. I took stool softeners for the first couple of weeks, and didn’t have any issues there, thank goodness.

For the first few weeks after birth, I found it taxing to walk around or bend over much, but by about week 4, I felt my stamina and core strength getting better, and now I can walk several miles and be fine.

My ab muscles are non-existent, and I have only done a couple core workouts, so that unfortunately has not gotten much better. I notice this the most when I have to hold Neola for a long period of time — it ends up being really hard on my lower back. I was wondering the other day, “What would it be like to care for a newborn when you’re actually in shape?” I have never had that experience.

But on the whole, I have to say that the physical recovery from birth has been smooth.

Weight / Body Image

I’m about 13 lbs from my pre-pregnancy weight.

This pregnancy has been the slowest and consequently most frustrating recovery in terms of weight loss. I still can’t wear any of my pre-pregnancy pants, even the ones that I bought around this time with my other pregnancies. My body shape stores extra body fat in my stomach, so I can get all of my pre-pregnancy pants on but some I can’t button at all, and the others cause major muffin top action and are frankly just really uncomfortable. I’ve bought a few pairs of pants and shorts trying to find something I can wear right now (so that I can stop wearing my maternity leggings!), but haven’t had much luck. I am planning to go shopping this weekend, though, and hopefully find something. I’m pretty sure this is the result of all that candy I ate during pregnancy (whoops), and maybe age? Let’s go with that.

That said, I am extending grace to myself. My body just created a human being. It’s only been 6 weeks. I know from my previous pregnancies that it takes time to get back in shape, but it will happen eventually. It’s just a season… my LAST postpartum season!

Emotional

Speaking of which, that has been the main thing I’ve reminded myself of during the past six weeks: This is just a season. It’s just a phase. This is the hardest it will ever be [in terms of physical exertion and balancing the needs of four young kids]. It will get better. We will figure out a rhythm. Life will find a new normal, where we feel mostly adjusted. Don’t worry about the things that aren’t getting done right now, or that we don’t have time for. This is just a season.

Both Travis and I have had hours or days when we can’t see the truth in what I wrote above (it doesn’t help that he’s extremely busy and stressed at work right now), but overall we’ve been able to keep these challenges in perspective, and maintain our hope and optimism.

Back when Corbin was born, I really struggled with feeling isolated, like I was always feeding a baby or sleeping while my family hung out without me. I prayed about that a lot before Neola was born, and I think God answered that prayer by making her unwilling/unable to nurse, which forced me to pump and feed her bottles. Bottles meant feeding Neola could be done by anyone, so the girls, Travis, and grandparents have all shared the load. It’s not the answer to prayer that I envisioned, but it has made the issue of feeling isolated from my family non-existent, and for that, I praise the Lord!

I’ve also been reading We Would See Jesus while pumping. I read that book several times back in college and early married life, and it’s been such a good reminder that I have access to Jesus wherever and whenever, that I don’t need to be having a consistent quiet time or praying a certain amount to have a relationship with Him. It’s also been a great reminder that Jesus sacrificed everything for me, not just some things, so I can sacrifice for my kids, trusting that God will not only provide, but bless abundantly.

My biggest challenges with managing four kids on my own while Travis is working have been 1) Corbin and 2) the messes. Corbin is a handful. We are trying really hard to have him watch less iPad, but that means that instead of sitting in one spot, he’s making messes or playing outside only God knows where. He’s hard to keep track of. Even when I take Neola outside to feed her a bottle, Corbin only stays on one side of the house for 5-10 minutes. I think that’s the biggest difference between him and the older girls — they would play in one area for an extended period of time. He is all over the place. Not only that, but he also gets into trouble. He dumped out containers of water in the garage, took off his diaper and pooped (not on purpose, but because he’s not at all potty trained) in the playhouse, rode his bike down the driveway out onto the road by himself several times (good thing our neighborhood is pretty quiet). He often plays with water and soap in the bathrooms, and gets into the girls’ makeup. He brings indoor toys outside. He puts the riding toys in the kiddie pool. He definitely keeps us on our toes!

And then there’s the messes. I have tried and tried to get Emma and Annabelle to pick one mess up before making another, and reminded them while they’re making a mess that they’re going to have to pick all of it back up. But the reality of the situation, I’m realizing, is that their energy to make a mess—I should say “get toys out” or “create imaginary worlds”, because their play is at least always intentional these days—is always going to outstrip their energy to clean it up. And then you add Corbin into the mix… the end result is that there are all manner of toys strewn in every location imaginable. Thankfully our house is tucked in the woods so I don’t feel pressured to have things cleaned up for any neighbors.

I am trying really hard for both my kids’ sake and my own sanity to remind myself that it’s ok for toys to be scattered around. It’s ok if playing hard with things occasionally results in something being destroyed or broken. My kids are making memories and using their imaginations, and not wasting their lives watching a screen all day. I’ve also been tapping into the things I learned in counseling—when I sense I’m starting to get overwhelmed, instead of flying off the handle, I calmly ask the kids to pause what they’re doing and clean up one mess. (Because, I’m realizing, it’s not messes in general that stress me out, it’s when there are messes everywhere.)

And as always, coffee is a lifesaver and consumed in copious amounts. When I am up for the day after too little sleep, a cup of coffee brings me joy and reminds me that it will be ok.

Pregnancy #4: First Trimester

12 Nov

We are expecting our fourth child in May! My official due date is May 17, two days before our wedding anniversary. But since our first three kids arrived either early or on their due date, I highly doubt the date will be shared.

That means I am 13.5 weeks along. So far, this pregnancy has been very different than any of the others, not so much in terms of physical symptoms but in mental experience. (Though I am showing much more at 13 weeks this time around!!)

Back in June, I had an ectopic pregnancy. We caught it before it got bad. I had had weird bleeding for a while, then when I started having stabbing pain, I took a pregnancy test. It was positive, so I went to the ER pretty much right away. I had surgery within a few hours, and went home the next morning. Because of COVID, I was in there alone. It was a lonely experience but I felt God increase my faith and reliance on Him.

They took out the whole Fallopian tube that was affected, but assured me I could still get pregnant with just one. I didn’t know how long it would take, but after waiting two cycles to try again (what the doctor had told me to do), we got pregnant that first month. I took the pregnancy test on September 9 and it was positive!

Another reason this pregnancy has been different is that we had wanted to start trying back in the summer of 2019. Unfortunately I had been on the depo provera method of birth control, and I discovered after going off of it, it can take up to 18 months to get pregnant. It took 9 months for my period to come back. And then I had the ectopic. So this pregnancy/baby was waited and longed for far more than any of my others. We had given ourselves until the end of this year, and if I didn’t get pregnant by then, we figured we were meant to have only three biological kiddos. (Which is still a huge blessing, don’t get me wrong!)

Another way it’s different is that at age 37, I am now of “advanced maternal age” and insurance (supposedly) covers extra things like genetic testing at 12 weeks, and a detailed ultrasound and fetal echo at 20 weeks. We have already done the genetic testing and know that we are having another GIRL. Honestly, we were hoping for a boy to even things out, but we trust God’s wisdom. And baby is healthy so I am incredibly grateful about that.

Because of my history with the ectopic pregnancy, I had ultrasounds early. My first was at (what we thought was) 6 weeks. But unfortunately, only the gestational sac and yolk sac were visible. The tech explained that it could just be too early — maybe my dates were off. (I do think that I ovulated slightly late.)

So I had a couple of HCG tests to make sure things were trending in the right direction (which they were, but I had had a miscarriage back in 2017 so this was bringing up bad memories and lots of anxiety), and we went back for another ultrasound a week later. That was such a long week!! This whole first trimester has felt like waiting on pins and needles for more information. We hadn’t planned on telling anyone for a while but I needed my friends to know what was going on and to pray, so I told my Bible study ladies and another close friend.

Thankfully, at my second ultrasound, there was baby with a heartbeat. Baby measured 5 days behind where we thought I should be, but apparently you have to be more than 5 days off at that point for them to change it. So my original EDD of May 17 was kept.

Physically, I felt sicker with this pregnancy than my others, but I have noticed a correlation between being really active (maybe “overdoing it”) and feeling sick, so I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that this time around, I have 3 kids, am homeschooling, and am just that much older (Corbin will be a couple months over age 3 by May).

My cravings, on the other hand, have been practically the exact same as my other pregnancies — salty foods and fruity things (including fruit itself). Probably my number one craving is Asian food, followed very closely by French fries. Sweet things have lost a lot of their appeal.

My acid reflux is NOT loving my pregnancy cravings. Interestingly, since getting pregnant, my acid reflux hasn’t manifested itself in a burning in my throat, but instead, my chest just feels tight and it’s a little harder to breathe. Which also makes it hard to know when I’m having acid reflux. But I will say it’s a lot more comfortable.

My biggest goal in this pregnancy is to keep exercising, even when I don’t think I have the energy for it. I found a Prenatal Barre program on Beachbody that I’ve been doing, and the best part is that the instructor has a whole bunch of 10-minute workouts (the regular workouts are 30 minutes long). I’m hoping/planning to do one of those 10-minute workouts most days. They are definitely effective, even if they’re short!

My other goal in this pregnancy, and the main reason for finding out gender so early, is to purge clothes and organize our utility room. Clothes take up so much room! We need more space for other things.

I’m also trying to convince my husband that we should frame and drywall a wall to close off our extra bedroom space downstairs so that the girls can move into that space, and baby can have her own room. (Corbin would keep his room.) We’ll see how it goes.

Emma and Annabelle are totally pumped about having a baby sister (they’ll have just turned 8 and 6 when baby arrives). Corbin is just starting to notice my belly is getting bigger. I think he’ll start to understand more when I’m obviously not just getting fat.

We did a piñata gender reveal for the kids, but apparently Emma had overheard Travis and me talking earlier that day, so she already knew it was a girl. (Stinker!) The girls still had a blast hitting the piñata— and getting the pink candy!

Why I Stopped Using Social Media, and Am Not Going Back

7 Sep

Note: I am not writing this post to judge or shame anyone. This is simply my experience and my opinions. If it prompts you to think a little deeper about your social media usage, great! If not, keep calm and post on!

The What

I spent June, July, and August 99% detached from social media. I did have to jump on Facebook a couple of times to gather information about or RSVP to an event or group that someone had told me about in person.

With the time that I would have normally spent on social media, I read a couple of news emails that I had sent to my inbox, so I did stay aware of what was going on in the world.

The Why

I have been going to counseling to figure out why I struggle so much with mom guilt, neurotic housekeeping, and feeling overwhelmed. Back in May, I started wondering if all the extra voices and “highlight reels” I was seeing on social media were maybe just adding fuel to the fire.

The How

I deleted Facebook and Instagram off my phone. Voila! Disconnected. I didn’t delete my accounts because I wasn’t necessarily planning for my hiatus to be permanent.

I found other ways to share things. When I took a super cute photo of the kids, I texted it to my parents and in-laws. When I ran across a good quote, I texted it to a friend who I thought would appreciate it. If I wanted to tell someone about my deep love for silicone kitchen brushes, shocker, I just kept it to myself.

Note: I do consider texting to be a form of personal interaction. Even though it’s still electronic and not face to face, it’s intentionally communicating with a specific person or group of people.

The Experience

The first few weeks of my social media hiatus, I missed posting more than I thought I would. I was still in the mode of looking at life through an Instagram lens, and processing thoughts in terms of captions or posts I  could add to my Stories.

But I didn’t really miss seeing other people’s feeds. In fact, not knowing what they were up to was actually kind of freeing! When I saw friends in person, we could actually catch up, instead of just retelling what we both already knew from seeing one another’s posts on social media.

After those first couple of weeks, I stopped thinking about posts and started just enjoying my life. Sometimes I took photos with my phone, but most of the time I didn’t. Instead, I noticed things. This awareness went hand in hand with my learning about the Charlotte Mason method for homeschool. I started really looking at butterflies, moths, and dragonflies; I collected mushrooms to identify; I watched squirrels and birds in the trees. I took mental snapshots of moments, and just enjoyed them without camera in hand. The few photos I did take were mostly to commemorate moments I had already enjoyed, instead of an attempt to document everything in hopes that something turns out worthy of posting to social media.

The Result

I had always justified my use of social media with the idea that “it’s fun to see what people are up to.” And I do still really enjoy knowing about people’s lives. But I think that this modern version of “knowing” has taken a natural human affinity and distorted it. Before social media, the main way you learned about other people’s lives was through actual human interaction. You run into Sally at a park and chat for 15 minutes about what you’ve both been up to. Or you do a play date with Mary and hear from her that Jane just bought a house and will close next month. Or you wonder what Bridget is up to, so you just call or text her to catch up.

I realize that the pandemic has decreased the usual amount of in-person human interaction we’re getting with people beyond immediate family, so that would seem to be an argument for the value of social media. But ask yourself this: Is seeing vacation photos posted by a friend from high school enriching your life? Is it adding value to your life to see photos of the birthday party an old friend from the state you used to live in hosted for her 5-year-old? Even if you limit who you follow on social media to those people you actually know and see on a regular basis, do you really need to see what their kids are doing every day?

Some of you might say yes, and honestly, even now as I’m typing this, I want to agree. Because I do like seeing cute pictures of kids and hearing people’s thoughts. And God created us with an innate desire to know others and be known.

But here’s the problem with social media: Knowing about people’s lives, without interacting with them over it, creates a vacuum. We know way too much about people and yet spend way too little time actually getting to know them. (Don’t even get me started on the people we follow that we will never meet IRL.) My rule of thumb is, if something important happens to someone I know and care about, it will come out in my personal conversation with them. If it doesn’t come up, then I don’t actually need to know.

“I don’t need to know.” That is pretty much the antithesis of social media. Social media is built on the idea, nay, the lie, that we have to know everything, all the time, from everyone, and if we don’t, we will be left behind. What will we have to offer if we haven’t seen the latest viral video, or the funniest new meme, or… or… or… something new that I can’t even imagine right now because I’m not on social media?!?!

I’m taking a stand against that lie in my life by being done with social media. Even though I am tempted, I am not linking to this post from FB or IG. I don’t need people to know that I’m leaving. And they probably wouldn’t care anyway. Surprisingly, knowing less about other people and having the anonymous universe know less about me makes me feel better. Being slightly “off the grid” has allowed me to enjoy my own, real life more.

(I say slightly because yes, I am still telling the universe in a blog post about why I decided to stop using social media. If that makes me a hypocrite, then so be it.)

And so, I will end this post with probably the last up-to-date term from social media that I will know…

Mic drop.

(Full disclosure, I am not deleting my Facebook account, since it is unfortunately the method of communication that several IRL groups I am part of has chosen. I plan to delete my Instagram account once I download all my data, which is in the works. And I do plan to keep my blog.)

What We Did in the Summer of 2020

1 Sep

The Summer of 2020 was like no other. Well, actually for us, it wasn’t *that* different since we are mostly homebodies anyway. But since it also coincided with me not being on social media, I wanted to write down the things that we did this past summer before I forget. We:

  • Biked from the Arboretum to Dairy Queen
  • Hiked in the open space across the river
  • Went to the Nisswa Waterpark (Corbin LOVED it, Emma was brave enough to go down the waterslides on her own, and Annabelle hung out in the kiddie pool)
  • Barbies, Barbies, Barbies
  • Went to the Gull Dam beach a LOT. One time, we brought our dinner of McDonald’s there, and got caught in the rain. Another time, we left Ryder from Frozen there in a rush to leave.
  • Corbin started swimming in a life jacket. He LOVES the water, and quickly abandoned playing on the beach. For a while, he loved throwing things around in the shallow water, but toward the end of the summer, he only wanted to swim.
  • Boated to Squaw Point on Gull and swam for a couple hours on the sand bar
  • Emma started swimming without a life jacket and started wearing swim goggles. She loved diving for things on the bottom of the lake.
  • Went to my in-laws’ cabin in Voyageurs National Park 3 times. The first time, at the beginning of June, the girls went up with my in-laws for the first 3 days, then Travis joined with Corbin for a very short trip.
  • The second time, in July, all 5 of us went (and my in-laws were there). It rained the whole full day we were there. I swam out to Blueberry Island and back, in the rain, while the girls and Travis paddleboarded alongside. We hiked to the zipline and back.
  • The third time, in August, Travis’ whole family was there too. We celebrated our 3 kids’ birthdays. We paddleboarded over to Houseboat Bay and back (in white caps!). We threw clay at each other.