Cheaper by the Dozen

So amazingly, caring for and schooling a family of 11 kids keeps me kind of busy. Blogging has most definitely taken a back seat. But the holidays are over, hubby is on a three month seven days a week work jag, and we are finding our groove again. Well, we were. Life’s most predictable attribute is its unpredictability.  Just when I was beginning to get my game face back on, figure out how to school and homemake and farm like a boss… morning sickness kicked in.

Yes, you read that right. Our dozen will be complete in August. And right now, this tiny little person who isn’t even big enough to make me look pregnant is kicking my butt. Tired, nauseous, tired… well, let’s just say I love my naps these days. The kids have been great helpers,  and my inability to stay upright all day long has forced me to do what the older kids have been begging me to do for a while: let them cook.

I love cooking for my family. I love making healthy, filling meals for everyone. My hero complains- he says I am making him fat. But he doesn’t stop asking for seconds, so I don’t take his complaining too seriously. Anyway, with my sense of smell on overload and *ugh* raw meat too much for me to handle, I have had to press the older kids (12 and up) into a cooking rotation. They love it. Undoubtedly,  it goes better if I am able to coach from the sidelines- but the food is usually edible, and the experience for them is priceless. 

They are all excited about the new baby. They all think THEY should choose the baby’s name- THEY ALL are going to be the new baby’s buddy (I’ll come back to our buddy system later)- and they all can’t wait to meet him or her. I am so thrilled that they are happy. And my favorite quote from my favorite movie sums up my feelings on the subject:

“You see, this baby won’t have to worry if he’s a Yours or a Mine. He is just… OURS.

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Crazy Rednecks

I have said before that my husband and I are unrepentant rednecks. We are both fiercely independent,  hard working, creative crazies who like fast vintage cars and big guns and wide open spaces. So it was perfectly fitting that we spend part of his Christmas vacation teaching our children to love the same things. He wanted to get me a gun for Christmas, but wasn’t sure what I could handle. So we went out to our land and brought some toys. Targets? Who needs targets? Cheap water bottles explode when you shoot them with a 12 gauge shotgun, which is WAY more fun. And then you can stand them up again, grab your .30-06 deer rifle, and shoot the caps off of the already dead water bottles. Highly satisfying. Needless to say, he decided I wasn’t a pansy when it comes to guns. The older kids got safety and shooting lessons from their very own Marine shooting instructor, too.

Then we put the boom sticks away safely, and the kids led a mad dash through the woods in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Funny how they always pick the ones that are twice the height of the ceiling… it took some discussion to convince them that if the tree is twice as tall as Daddy, it WON’T FIT IN OUR HOUSE. But finally, the perfect tree appeared. We walked into a clearing and there it was, waiting for us. Complete with golden beams of sunset and angels singing. Our boys produced the saw, cut it down, and hauled it out with excited yelps, energetic advice to each other, and lots of arm waving and grunting. My hero and I followed their passionate charge at a more leisurely pace, enjoying the woods and the drama unfolding before us. Sibling stepping on the tree while it is being dragged to the truck? Check. Tree getting hung in brush on its way out? Check. Prickles and pokes from the needles? Check check.

We made memories that day. Together. Another step in our journey away from “us” and “them”, to just “us”. So from our big, crazy redneck, blended family to yours…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Just not enough.

Most days, in this adventure of blending two big families, we do pretty well. There is a definite upward trend in our identifying as a FAMILY, brothers and sisters seeing one another as siblings rather than competitors or intruders. We work together, we play together, we are silly together and sad together. Good things.

And then, there are THOSE days.

Those days when everyone is cranky. When one is irritated and the other is guilty by eye color. (All of my hero’s kids have brown eyes; all of mine have blue eyes.) When the still-fresh shock of our lives being turned upside down yet again gets on everybody’s nerves. It doesn’t matter that this time, the change is a blessed one and not a destructive one. It is a huge shift, and even though before we got married, their life with single parents was rough…it was familiar. The last time their lives were turned inside out, pain and devastation followed. Now, some days, I think they expect more of the same.

My job is to prove their fears groundless. My job is to love past the hurt. To extend grace and firm boundaries to the hurting child behind the angry hurtful words. To show them that this time, change heals.

Let me tell you, on THOSE days, I am painfully aware that I am just not big enough for this assignment. How do I extend grace to this young person who just basically called me an incompetent fool? Usually THOSE days happen when I am being bombarded on many fronts by criticism or difficulty. Thank You, God… yes, I know it makes me stronger. I had this funny idea that He had grown me so much through the abuse and divorce and single parenthood… that I was somehow entitled to some smooth sailing for a while. Ha. That’s what I get for thinking.

C.S. Lewis said, in his Chronicles of Narnia, that “Often the only reward for a job well done is to be set another and harder task.” Maybe the struggle on THOSE days is the applause of heaven… maybe it is simply the next level in my training as a disciple of Jesus. I do know that they require a depth of grace and strength and self control that I don’t have yet in myself. I have to lean SO HARD on Christ. The good news is that He is always there to help,  His Word my constant check and guide. No, I am not sufficient for this task. I fail regularly. But by His grace and through His strength, we are growing and uniting as a family, and it is good.
I may not be enough, but He is.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature… 2 Peter 1:3-4

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.