County Fair, babies, and redemption 

Oh. My. Word. 

The whirling maelstrom of rabbits, food projects, art, kids, trips to the fairgrounds, sewing, mixed with just a pinch of pixie dust. Some sort of magic was at work to keep me sane and get all the stuff done and turned in on time.

The effort turned out to be well worth it. Proud mom alert: bragging ahead. In the art competition, every kid who entered something took either reserve or grand.

This is our oldest with the clock he made from some old wood. Reserve grand champion craft.

This is our youngest one to enter the fair with his reserve grand champion craft- a deer head made from a gourd. 
The ribbon list was extensive. Three grand champions, three reserve grand, several first place (including science fair-elementary), and three kids made the sale with their baked goods. The rabbits were a learning curve, but we came home with a third place, a tenth place, and a whole lot more knowledge.

Oh, and we got to see the newest member of the family on ultrasound! The kids thought that was pretty cool- and no, we didn’t ‘Find out’. We will be old fashioned that way and delightfully surprised when baby arrives. I told my hero that this one is already preparing for life as #12… little stinker had his/her hands up, chin tucked, for all the world like a boxer with his guard up. Ready to rumble. 

Maybe it’s the pregnancy, maybe just that our first anniversary is fast approaching- but I have been much more introspective lately. Aching for the children and all they’ve been through. Wishing that I could fix it but knowing that it’s not fixable- only redeemable. Remembering my granddad… the man who married my grandma and adopted her two little boys, one of them my father. He gave them his name and his protection when their own biological father refused to. My father-in-law’s father did (almost) the same. He encouraged my FIL to keep his last name, though, and be the man that would redeem that name and make it honorable. I am so grateful to those men, one of whom I will never meet. They give me hope that our children- all of them- still have a shot at a good childhood and a healthy adulthood. That the brokenness of those few years doesn’t have to translate into a broken life. 

So as we remember this weekend the ultimate redemption story- the sacrifice of Christ and His triumph over death- I hope you are encouraged. I hope that you see how a God as big as the One Who spoke the world into existence can take the destruction caused by sin and selfishness and turn it into something beautiful and victorious. This is always His story, and it never, ever gets old.


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Parenting boot camp

Nine months and counting. It has been nine crazy, wonderful months since my hero and I said I Do. Time, as it tends to do, is flying past. Football season is over, county fair season is upon us, choir and homeschool co-op are rounding out what I give the children at home. We are learning so much more than how to read and figure…

This morning, case in point. Our two eldest tend to pick and needle and overreact with one another, which this morning ended with one running outside beyond frustrated and the other acting innocent… “Well what did I do?” The hormonal balance of our oldest two girls has been fun to deal with, and so once everyone chilled out we called a family council. 

Enthroned in state upon the couch, our offspring ranged in a wiggly line in front of us, and our Great Dane moaning about us Sitting On Her Bed, we addressed the troops. We imparted wisdom about controlling our emotions rather than being controlled by them. We admonished those who delight in causing a ruckus to not do that. We were stern, firm, but kind. We NAILED the parental lecture. And our children were perfect after that. They just needed us to TALK to them. 

And if you buy that, I have some ocean front property in Arizona for sale.

My hero and I were talking last night about our parenting challenges, the individual personalities of our warriors-in-training, and how best to mold their wills without breaking their spirits. It is imperative that they learn to be under authority. That is something that we never – but NEVER- outgrow. That is a life skill that makes you employable, teachable, leadable, and qualifies you to lead. And of course, it is the one discipline that our teens buck the hardest. 

We are deep in parenting boot camp right now, learning as much as our kids are. Parenting teens and tweens is challenging on a good day, but add blending a family into the mix- doubling the teenagers and the tweens- well, that takes it to a whole new level. 

Marriage to a Marine makes this form of boot camp survivable. He used to take raw recruits, straight out of boot camp, with skills that were frightening- and his job was to turn them into REALLY scary, disciplined men. The trouble was, they already knew they owned the world. They KNEW they were bad dudes. And he had to teach them that they weren’t as bad as they needed to be. He was badder, he was more experienced, he was meaner…and more treacherous. 

His Marine Corps experience is directly transferrable to our current challenges. These kids think they know life. They think they have skills- and they do, because we have trained them. BUT THEY AREN’T DONE YET. They aren’t the disciplined, kind, determined, creative, thinking adults that we intend for them to be. And let me tell you, every ounce of my fairly extensive patience and his boundless creativity is needed to finish the job we’ve started. The best part is that he has SO MUCH FUN doing it. He reminds me to have fun, too- not to get bogged down in the daily frustrations (or die from the picking and needling). Here is a picture of my crazy, creative, kind, determined hero… back when he was doing the easy stuff, making men into Marines. 

A Stinky Situation

Our house is, shall we say, vintage. Which suits me just fine. I have said for years that I was born in the wrong era… the 1950’s would have suited me much better. The cars had class and substance, the appliances were just cool, the fashions SO much more my speed, the pace of life and culture my comfort zone. And our house is from that era. Along with its septic system.

Now. When our house was originally built, it was tiny. One bedroom, a galley kitchen, one bathroom. Some industrious person in the ’60s or ’70s added on two good sized bedrooms, making the tiny cottage into a 3/1. When my family got ahold of it five years ago, we knocked out the wall between the living room and kitchen, so the kitchen doesn’t feel like a closet any more. But there is still just one bathroom.

When I lived here as a single mom with six kids, the one bathroom was an adventure. But the antiquated septic system just kept trucking… I knew I would have to replace it one day, but just not TOday. So I babied it along, kept my fingers crossed, and prayed a lot. It held.

Enter my hero and the brown eyes. Overnight, the little house’s occupancy doubled. The bedrooms sprouted more bunk beds, the yard grew bicycles and stilts galore, and the septic system screamed in terror. We made it a few months, but back in December I noticed a smell. Ick.

When my hero went to investigate, he didn’t investigate for long. Without going into disgusting detail, we will just say that it was obvious that the time was NOW for some drastic measures. Like, a new system. Oddly enough, the system designed for one or two people was simply unable to keep up with the demands of 13 people. 

The adventure of finding a contractor, permits, inspections and the attendant red tape began. We put up a temporary fence to keep small people out of the leak zone. And waited. Weather- family issues- more weather- and finally, yesterday, the work began.

Our contractor is so neat. He handles a disgusting job with humor and fun- the kids love watching the heavy equipment rip through the dirt effortlessly. I bet the septic guy has never smashed the old tanks to more fanfare… the cheers from the peanut gallery were resounding. And it was not without educational value: the kids learned about grade and drainage and the awesome power of machinery. Getting them to do their regular schoolwork while the drama was going on outside… that was another story. I’ve herded cats more easily.

This looks like the kids are close to the action, but they were restricted to the back porch. Matter of fact, they mostly lived on the back porch yesterday…probably will today as well. He set the tanks yesterday, and today will finish the drain field. And I am so very thankful. The septic system was one of those quiet little concerns that lurked in the back of my mind for years. It was a bummer when it happened, but at least now we won’t have to worry about that any more. Who knew that septic tanks could look so beautiful?

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.

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.