Certifiable

People have jokingly accused me of being crazy. What they don’t know is that they are right on. You have to be just half a bubble off of level to volunteer for this job. But to add babysitting to the mix? Yeah, that’s nuts.

Sort of. I watch a one year old while her mom works. The kids get a chance to play with a baby, I get my baby fix, and it’s all good. I sort of expected it to be harder… I remember when my oldest was a baby, and EVERYTHING was hard. Even going to the bathroom. Could I put her down without danger? What if she CRIED? Eleven kids later, I think I can safely add the title “Professional Mom” to my resume. I know it’s ok for babies to cry. I have an eagle eye for chokable objects. My Mom-radar functions quite well, and I learned a long time ago to trust that mysterious yet indispensable tool: intuition. Babies and kids need basic things; love, food, rest, safety, and boundaries. And with the eager “big brothers” and “big sisters”, it will be a miracle if this kid ever learns to walk. 

One thing I did forget… and that is how the pace of life has to change with a baby. I have to allow sooo much more time to do ANYTHING. It is probably a good change. Another ball to juggle, another piece to the already mind breaking logistical puzzle, but my days seem much slower. Maybe because I sneak a nap when the baby does…??? Another survival trick I learned a while ago.

Managing a bunch of kids when you have older ones isn’t all that insane, really. Not like when they were little and needed ME every minute. We just traded that intense season for another one… teens and tweens. Give me baby giggles and even screams over a suddenly “mature” offspring who knows more than I do about everything any day. But that is another post- right now I have a baby to enjoy.

Baby steps

You would think, with all the helpers running around here, that the house would stay clean and orderly all the time. Eleven sets of hands can get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. Right?  Of course right.

Or not. I think my children are part squirrel. I will get one set doing their chores, walk away to motivate someone else, look back, and the first one is already sneaking baby bunnies into the house for socialization. (Well, they ARE stinking cute.) 

But I am seeing an upward trend in the order of the house. Six months ago I needed scuba gear to be able to breathe… I was drowning. It took me realizing that there are a bunch more of THEM than there is of ME, and assigning age appropriate chores, training them to do said chores, and now we are working on doing chores without Mom sounding like a broken record. “Do the dishes please.” “Trash out, buddy.” “Laundry going, eldest.” “Dishes please.” “Trash out, dude. Don’t forget a new bag.” “Laundry…” “Dishes!” “Trash!” “LAUNDRY!”
And so forth. We have a points system that we implemented several months ago, tied to their allowance. Good behavior, motivation, quietly being helpful without drawing Mom’s attention to the fact that you are being helpful… all of those things earn a blue point. But things like fighting with siblings, back talk to parental units, slacking on work… those things earn a red point. Blue points earn bonus $$, red points earn negative $$. A fine, if you will. It involves some math when it comes to doing allowance, but it is a great motivator for the kids. Those that are approval-driven don’t want their name tarnished with a dreaded RED MARK, and those that are income-driven don’t want to lose any of their allowance. One or two pretend that they don’t care, but when everyone else gets their allowance and they used all theirs up by mouthing off and fighting… well, that does tend to motivate.

So the baby steps are there. Every time we go on a cleaning spree, it takes less time to get the house in shape. I am learning how to manage people, not just try to do everything myself…because I can’t. I hung up my Wonder Woman cape a long time ago.

Bugs and birthdays

I have been fairly quiet on here for a while. It turns out that the end of football season did NOT slow life down much. Maybe it is the fact that a house full of eleven kids just stays busy… all the time. 

But the week before Thanksgiving, we picked up a stomach bug that, I kid you not, was the mother of all stomach bugs. About a five day duration start to finish, left us weak and tired and VERY intestinally cleansed. Until you have experienced five people throwing up at once, and the copious amounts of laundry and floor scrubbing that accompany small people who can’t make it outside because the toilet is occupied… well, if you have never experienced it, there really isn’t anything to compare it to. Imagine you are nauseatingly hung over with an octopus flinging buckets of vomit at you while you simultaneously are juggling two buckets and negotiating an obstacle course of kids toys and yucky clothes… that might come close. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Just call me Hercules. Cuz I’m not dead yet.

But just before and just after the Vomipocalypse, we had some happy times. The baby of the family turned 5 (!), and our oldest boy turned 14. Holy cow. How are we old enough to have teenagers? We were just teenagers ourselves, I thought… but I digress. Daddy has had some time off from work, and has been able to tackle his project list. But, true to the laws of nature, (thanks, Murphy!) it has been an uphill battle. You go to change the spark plugs on your truck and discover that you don’t have the right tool. The next day you return with the right tool and discover that it is the wrong size. Then throw up for a week. Then get the right size tool and practice your contortionist skills to finally change the spark plugs. Go for a triumphant test drive… and blow a radiator hose. The NAPA guy knows not only your name and vehicle, but your wife and all the kids. So grateful for a patient, determined man… he just tackles one challenge at a time and doesn’t get flustered.

It has also been a lovely week with our young adults. Two teen girls in the house makes for a wild emotional roller coaster on a regular basis… but let me tell you, it isn’t just the girls who need the Drama Queen tiara. I wish I could capture all the hormones flying around here and channel them as an energy source to power… something. Because if one isn’t “monster-ating”, the other is- or maybe “man-sterating”. Shakespeare would be impressed. High drama, this is.

Anyway, we are still kicking… just still learning how to juggle. 

When Mommy gets sick

The dreaded day has arrived. My iron clad immune system has finally succumbed to one of the bugs that one of our offspring managed to pick up, and it put me on my tailfeathers. In bed. Can’t move.

I had felt an urgency these last weeks to train the kids in how to run the house in my absence. We busted our tails, we cleaned everything, and then I gathered the troops and said “Okay guys. We aren’t going to waste all this effort. We are going to KEEP the house clean, not just clean it every week or so.” So I broke each room down into eight task sets. Assigned them to children with appropriate abilities, trained them in how I wanted them done… and we have been rocking and rolling. The kids are taking pride in keeping their areas nice, they get incensed when they have just cleaned their spot and someone messes it up. (Welcome to my life, little padawans)

So the inmates are running the asylum. And in my short pieces of awareness, I discover… they are doing well. Minimal sibling scuffles. Schoolwork is being done as assigned, mostly with them helping each other- willingly. I am reading spelling words and correcting papers, but not much else. And my oldest daughter amazed me by finding a recipe in one of my books, making it from scratch, and feeding everyone a truly wonderful lunch. 

I hate being sick. I love being the queen of my home, managing and serving and doing. But I have learned something about my kids today; that the hard work of training them DOES pay off. My dream of raising responsible, self sufficient adults isn’t just a pipe dream, it is really happening. Sometimes they just don’t demonstrate the full range of their abilities until they are forced to. 

Isn’t that true for all of us, though? Pressure shows the quality of the individual. And while I knew I had some great kids, today I was really proud of them. They rose to the occasion. And it gives me hope on the days when bickering and strife are all I hear- there is much more to them than this.

tired

There are different kinds of tired. There is the mental exhaustion of dealing with difficult problems. The short term burn of completing a big project (VBS comes to mind). The bone deep weariness that comes with infants that won’t sleep through the night. Physical tiredness from exertion. 

And then, there’s us.

Not sure what it’s called when the second you sit still, you fall asleep. WHERE doesn’t matter so much, so long as the surface is horizontal. I have never been a soldier, but I am pretty sure that we approach battlefield fatigue. Given a couple of days off, with no kids, my hero and I would probably sleep the whole time. I know there is a balance between getting everything done and actually resting… still trying to find that balance point. 

Maybe we are overachievers. Maybe homeschooling, sports, church, keeping house with eleven kids, farming, working, AND trying to have a life is kind of a lot. Or maybe the tyrrany of the urgent is pushing us over the edge.

Yesterday at church I was reminded that time is a precious commodity. Once it’s gone, you don’t get it back. Where is my time going? Am I redeeming every hour, using it to the best of my ability? Or just spinning my wheels in a crazy whirlwind? 

These aren’t questions that I can slap down an easy answer for. In my sleep deprived fog, even figuring out WHERE the time goes will take concentrated effort and determination. But it was a good challenge. To discern between urgent and important; to be completely invested in what I am doing at the moment, not thinking of the five thousand other things that I need to do; to live mindful that tomorrow is a hope, but not a promise. And so, the same way I am going through my house and getting rid of excess STUFF, I will be going through my time and trimming the waste there as well. I would love to hear your success stories on making your time count for the important stuff, and how you decided what that was. 

National Challenge Your Parents Day

Maybe y’all missed it, but yesterday was National Challenge Your Parents Day. A day set apart for young people to declare their autonomy, to rise up in the face of parental rules and structures, and strike a blow for freedom. It was a day to be noted, to be memorialized in the annals of history.

At least, that’s what it felt like at our house.

No one was without a part to play in this drama. From the oldest to the youngest, even the mildest mannered of our children staged an Incident. The youngest actually tried it twice. The coup was unsuccessful and the oppressive parental regime still rules, but their voice was heard loud and clear. Authority and its restrictive rules is not appreciated by the young people. Not one bit.

Oh, but my children… what if I told you that the rules are your safety? Just like when you are determined to fly with a bedsheet and I have to explain to you the Law of Gravity is no respector of persons- not even if that person wears a Superman costume?  What if I try to help you see that unbridled anger at your brother leads to destructive behavior that as an adult would get you arrested for assault and battery? (Last time I checked, punching someone in the nose and calling them names fell under that category.) 

I used to think that the older my kids got, the more susceptible to reason they would be. Maybe some kids are, I don’t know. But when your beloved offspring will sit there and argue, bargain, wheedle, coax, plead, and cry to try and escape the consequences of their behavior- for which they were duly warned and clearly advised that continued infractions would incur said penalty… sometimes the reasonable parent has to resort to the tactic known as Parental Fiat. It goes like this:

Because I Said So.

Now Go To Bed.

My hero tucked the troops into bed and prayed with them, like he does every night. His steps, as he came back down the hall, sounded like he was carrying a heavy load on his back. He stopped when he entered the room, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. 

“Oh my gosh, honey. ALL of them? In one day?”

I groaned and hugged him and told him what an amazing daddy he is. And we took comfort in the fact that ONE DAY our children will be tortured by their own children. One day they will understand how it really would be so much easier to just let them rule the house. Want to swing from the tallest tree on a rope that is old and will break? Fine. Have fun. Want to drink soda and eat candy for dinner?  No worries. It’ll be great. Pound the bloody snot out of your brother? Sounds like a blast.

But I love them too much. The rules HAVE to remain firm, the consequences sure. There is safety and even joy in knowing where your boundaries lie. The understanding of the WHY for those boundaries can come later. But for now, my hero and I lean on each other and thank God for a new day- and we pray for the grace to parent wisely and justly. The same way that our heavenly Father parents us. 

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Farming, or something like it

My hero and I are both die hard rednecks. I was raised on a dairy goat farm,  he in the Valley in California where livestock and crops still abounded. (Don’t ask me how a redneck could have been born in California. I try not to question the workings of Providence.) So it has been natural for us to accumulate quite a variety of animals. The two dogs and one cat are pretty standard- except for the fact that one dog is a Great Dane. We just like BIG around here. The two ponies aren’t too far out of mainstream- my kids don’t even know how lucky they are. How many kids beg for a pony every Christmas? Even the forty chickens are… well… forty chickens. They scratch,  they peck, they lay eggs and fill the freezer on occasion. The chickens get us a little closer to legitimate farm-dom. The thirteen rabbits…since we sold one last week, my hero said “Now we’re really farmers!” But today is an auspicious day. Today were joined by three meat goats; one buck, two does. (That is one boy and two girls, for the uninitiated.)  We are inheriting them from a friend, which is how we end up with a lot of our animals. 

If we aren’t careful, we will soon move from farm to menagerie. We are already pushing it with the parrot. He was named Chango (Spanish for monkey), because he likes to hang upside down in his cage and cock his head sideways- contemplating. We have dreams of a tropical greenhouse inhabited by chameleons and birds… We love growing things, too. Our pomegranate trees are loaded this year, and we enjoyed peaches and plums from our fruit trees this spring. 

Maybe that is why we have so many kids. We are addicted to LIFE. The vast variety of gifts, talents, personalities, abilities- even just in our little family- is mind boggling. The satisfaction of tending our growing things, whether they are plants, animals, or people, and watching them become mature and productive… that satisfaction makes all the struggle worth it. Most days. Some days require sneaking a chocolate from your secret stash in the freezer to really make it worth it. 

The Edge of Insanity

No, I didn’t fall off the edge of the earth. I am still here, madly trying to keep my crazy life at a functional level.

This little photo sums it up for me. The minute I start to feel like I may have everyone pointed in the same direction, they scatter. Like when you are trying to get your chickens in the coop. They bunch together right up to the door and then…poof. Feathers everywhere.

I get asked a lot, “How do you DO it?” My stock answer, chuckling, is “Not very well”. But I guess if you define a successful day as one in which everyone got their school mostly done, everyone was fed, and no one was permanently damaged- well, we are wildly successful. 

The days start early- my hero and I reluctantly stagger out of bed around 5:00am, and I usually cook him breakfast and get him out the door by 5:30. Then I have an hour or so of quiet to pray, think, catnap, work out, whatever…until the first little feet come pattering down the hall. From that moment, it’s ON. Non-stop GO; feeding people, educating people, directing people, loving on people, feeding them some more, running to practice, running errands, feeding people… I spend a lot of time feeding people. Everyone has their own plate with their name on the bottom- their own cup, their own bowl. I grab a stack, start serving food and calling names, and they all scramble for seats. There are no special orders here- you eat what you are served, or you get it for your next meal.  Picky eaters need not apply.

9:00pm finds us at family devotions- a tradition instituted by my hero. The kids take turns reading Scripture, praying, being goofy… But at 9:30 they are in bed and my hero and I get to finally eat and talk. I think once football is over, our schedule won’t be so crammed- but for now, we are doing great to get to bed before midnight. Then do it all again the next day.

Yes, I look at the end of football season with wishful thinking. Life will slow down then, right? But I know it won’t. Not once 4H kicks into high gear- martial arts training- art classes- whatever else rears its head. We are flirting with the edge of insanity, and are contemplating how and where to call it quits. Every family has to find their sweet spot; the place where everyone gets to do fun stuff or learn useful skills, but Mom doesn’t go nuts. I will let you know once we find ours. Until then, excuse me while I round up my squirrels…

ee

How could you miss the obvious?

You know, lately I have begun to question whether I am cut out to be a parent. As parents we are supposed to be wise, patient, kind, insightful… near-omniscient, benevolent beings charged with the molding of young lives. But children have a way of exploding the Hallmark perceptions that we blissfully pack into parenthood.

Exhibit A:

Child #2, rinsing cereal down the kitchen sink and talking at the same time. 

Me: Hey, please don’t dump food down the sink!

Child #2: I’m not dumping food down the sink. (scrapes the bowl out with fingers)

Obviously I am mistaken as to the definition of “food”. Or maybe “sink”. But I was definitely WAY OFF.

Exhibit B:

Enter Child #11, with child #10 crying.

Sibling tattled that #11 hit #10 with an action figure.

Me: “Why did you hit your brother?”

#11: “I didn’t.”

Me: “Then why is he crying?” (The wails increase in volume.)

#11: “I tapped him. Very softly. I was nice!” 

Me: (eyeing the mark left by Captain America) “Then where did this come from?”

#11 shrugs, big innocent four year old eyes: “Maybe he was playing with a marker.”

*facepalm*

But my favorite is Exhibit C:

Child #2: “Why am I in trouble? I just don’t get it!”

Me: “Well, we have explained it six times. Mainly for arguing with Mom.”

#2: “I don’t argue with you!”

Me: “…um… yes… regularly…”

#2: “No, I don’t! I never argue with you!”

Me: “You are arguing with me about arguing!”

#2: “No, I’m not!”

Me: …..

Yessir, I missed my career path big time. My powers of observation are evidently far too limited for this parenting gig. Maybe I should consider something not quite so taxing for my inferior mental capacity… like rocket science. Jeez. The things that no one tells you about raising kids…

Love and Respect

We were given this book as a wedding gift. Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. I had read it before, in my frantic quest to save a dying first marriage- but this morning, as I re-read it with my hero in mind, I was brought to tears by the formidable grace of God.

The pain of our past relationships forged so many things in us. Determination, for one. The never give up, never say die mentality… we are two bulldogs for tenacity. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and all that. But the determination to love- to demonstrate it visibly and consistently, even when you are tired or frustrated… The will to model respect, even during disagreements. We have had hammered, tempered practice in these things. Do we mess up sometimes? Yes. But the habit is already there. And my hero makes it so easy. His love and regard pours gasoline on the fire of my respect for him. 

In case you haven’t noticed, ladies- our men live for respect. They crave it the way we crave love. Dr. Eggerichs points out that the one feeds the other- she respects him, and he loves her, so she respects him more and he loves her more. In our blended family, we have together purposed to be the reason our kids want to get married. One of our oldest kids watched the crash and burn of the first marriage and has very loudly stated that they never want to do that. But together, we want to model the relationship that we wish they would have with their spouse someday.  One way I have chosen to show respect and appreciation for my hero is at the end of a long 12-hour shift, when he is physically exhausted but still smiling (I love that, by the way)… I unlace his heavy, steel toed work boots and pull them off. I tell the kids that is MY job. He knows that I appreciate his long hours and hard work. The kids see that I value his efforts. When my boys get married, I hope that their wives will demonstrate respect and appreciation for them- because their daddy is most definitely training them how to love a wife. He calls me while he is commuting to work, and sometimes on his way home. He hangs out with me in the kitchen while I am serving dinner to The Horde, sometimes helps either cook or serve or referee- but he is there. He brings me gifts every time he goes to the store; small things, maybe raspberries or a new flavor of chips or a potted plant. We date each other- very purposefully, because you don’t just impulsively go out with eleven kids to take care of! 

Yes, those eleven are a lot of work. And yes, I am flat out DONE at the end of the day. But the small effort that goes into a smile, or words of appreciation, or some honey wrestle time… that small effort pays such huge dividends, that I would be cheating you if I didn’t tell you. Love, to your man, is spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Appreciate his efforts, honor his achievements, and buckle your seat belt. You will enjoy the ride.