Friday, June 27, 2014

Shepherds


Summer sits thickly all around us. It's in the air that has us sweating at 8 pm as we play outside at Gramma's waiting for Daddy's surf ski practice to end. In night-time thunderstorms that leave children scrambling and disoriented. In daytime trips to the pool and the library, and watching more tv than planned.
Summer has been going on long enough that the boys earned enough quarters doing school and house work for new monster trucks. And has been busy enough that I only managed to get pictures of them with their quarters, and haven't gotten one of the monster trucks yet.


We've been blessed with visits from family. A few weeks ago it was my sister M and her daughter C. The Dude was doing swim lessons at the time but was too shy with his instructors to improve much. But a couple trips to the pool with cousin C, and he was jumping in by himself.

This week it was my sister A and her 4 kids, who are hardly kids anymore. My neice, R, who soothed baby Greystoke with professional Monica moves. L, who kept the older 2 boys entertained, Jess, the baby whisperer, and Jeff, who bonded with Aquaman over Monster Jam.

There is nothing quite like the gift of family.




The boys have started gymnastics class, and yesterday JT got to go and watch. Both Aquaman and The Dude spend the majority of the time bouncing and admiring themselves in front of the mirror. The Dude has a long winded explanation to the teachers for why he can't (or won't) do anything they ask him to do ("I don't need a drink of water. I have a water bottle in the car."), though he generally does it after a little prompting.
They love it. And I enjoy sitting for an hour in air conditioning, and relative quiet.

Greystoke has been pretty busy too.
Mostly doing this.


And this....

And a little of this....

In his brand new crib.
There is furniture all over our house, because JT's parents recently moved out of their 2nd home in Indiana, and gave us some of their furniture from it. However, JT hasn't had time to move it upstairs yet, since he is working and has competition practice twice a day, so there are dressers stacked up all over living room.
It's slightly disconcerting. But no more than the laundry that never gets caught up, or the food that is always on the floor because it seems like as soon as I get one meal cleaned up, it's already time to eat again.

JT did get the crib set up yesterday though. We're going to start with naps, since he woke up like 3 times the first hour I tried him in the crib last night.

He's a dream, this kid. Every night he sleeps a 6-8 hour stretch. During the day, he cries only briefly when he's hungry. He wakes up, eats, smiles and kicks a bunch, then takes his pacifier and drifts back off to sleep.
He is the kind of baby you read about in books. It's good I didn't have him first, I might think I had some sort of awesome baby parenting skills. But the fact is, he requires very little skill at all.



Snuggling his Wubbanub buddy.

8 weeks of Maternity leave is coming to a close.
Last week, right in the middle of the boys' first gymnastics class, my boss called me and announced that her boss had decided I could not return only 2 days a week, which had been approved 6 months ago, after all. I told her I didn't have childcare for a 3rd day, and that I would have to let her know what I would do tomorrow.



I kind of wonder why that call came in. Maybe it was to test my heart. Maybe it was to show me my heart. Maybe it was a chance for God to show me my husband's heart.


I didn't enjoy the rest of the day. The action of the evening swirled around me, and I barely had a moment to open my bible while I nursed the baby, but I had plenty of moments to utter the words: "help" to God.

And when I finally had a moment at the end of the day to discuss it with my husband, we were on the same page again: I may have been there 7 years, but it's just a job, a means to an end. My heart is at home, and anything else is just extra. I would call the next day and let my boss know that I was going to look for a per diem job.
But before I could call, she called back. They had reviewed the budget, and it was a false alarm. I was free to come back 2 days a week, "and I am so sorry to have bothered you with this."

But honestly, I'm not sorry. Because it was a reminder to me of God's promise to our family: "help is here."
It's what Greystoke's name means. Help is always here. We may not quite be able to touch Him sometimes, but it's right there, and when we jump out, He'll catch us. He always does.


I'm falling behind on my "read through the Bible in a year", but I keep plodding along at my own pace, and I'm ok with that. I've started reading it aloud whenever I am nursing Greystoke, and more and more often, I find Aquaman, coming from wherever he is playing, usually holding a monster truck, and sitting at my feet to listen.



He often stops me to ask questions. Right now I am going through Job, and he is fascinated by it. I love to see him come to deeper understanding about the ways of God, as he goes beyond just the storybook version of the Bible.

But honestly, each night as we read the Jesus Storybook Bible together, I get as much out of those same old stories as I do from my own reading. We've read through this Bible probably 10 times in the past year and a half. Often, Aquaman begs to read 2 stories, and often, I can't resist.


Last night, it was the story of the shepherds:

"Now where would you send your splendid choir? To a big concert hall maybe? Or a palace perhaps? God sent His to a little hillside, outside a little town, in the middle of the night. He sent all those angels to sing for a raggedy old bunch of shepherds watching their sheep outside of Bethlehem...you see, people thought shepherds were just nobodies, just scruffy old riff-raff. But God must have thought shepherds were very important indeed, because they're the ones He chose to tell the good news to first."


At first I thought about how sometimes I feel like scruffy old riff-raff.
Especially right now. I have no right to be sitting here writing this blog. My older boys are playing in the sandbox that has turned into a mud box since I forgot to cover it before the storm last night. I haven't even begun the laundry for the day, and I definitely haven't taken a shower.
There is bedroom furniture everywhere, all over the living room, and cereal on the floor from breakfast.


Then, I thought about the homeless man I saw, walking across the street to the park where JT was getting ready to have his competition BBQ. He had a walker, and a backpack, and I loved him.

Come to find out a little later, there he is sitting in the pavillion, and he says to JT: "is this your family? Is this your new baby?" And I brought Greystoke over to see him, and he was sitting there reading his Bible, and he said "you don't have to get up for me."
And I thought about how he thinks he's not worth getting up for.
But Jesus got up for him. Jesus didn't just get up for him. Jesus died. Just for him.
JT says that man is always at the park, and that he is definitely thirsty for God, and I'm praying that he sees how important indeed he is to God, if not in this world.

Summertime is a full and wonderful time for our family.
It is an exhausting one, with all the planning, and practicing, and fundraising, and someimtes the busyness can all feel like vanity.

But what if, today, my boys are that raggedy old bunch of shepherds? What if, so are those kids practicing their lifeguarding skills, and that homeless guy who is searching for the Lord there on the beach?

They are. They all are. And we are. And it's not so bad being nobodies. Because to God, we are very important, indeed,

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Relationship....Not Rules

The house is quiet, save the whirring of 2 bedroom fans, and the almost 7 week old who's grunting and nursing in my arms. The summer sun is already streaming through the windows, hinting of the heat to come, but we are officially on summer schedule.

 JT's evening practices are stretching past 8 now, and then the boys have to show him their block creations, or tackle him a few times. I've been saving their allotted tv time for evening as well, and we all watch Aquaman's favorite netflix show....Atlas 4D. The child who is terrified of all Disney movies and half the PBS shows doesn't blink at the sight of a real erupting volcano. I find that amusing. And amazing.

Greystoke slept one 6.5 hour stretch and another 4 hour one last night, and we are both feeling very good.

Thanks to touching base with a friend who has a baby the same age, I restarted swaddling him yesterday, and he has been very pleased. He doesn't like the same kind of tight swaddle the other 2 boys liked, so I discontinued it a couple weeks ago. But I seem to have found a looser way to do it now...and yesterday for the first time in weeks he started taking the pacifier again, which is a relief on a lot of levels.

All that sleeping, and pacifier sucking, when your infant is breastfed however, comes with mixed feelings. I woke up in a lot of pain this morning, and spent 30 minutes trying to wake him up to relieve it.

He is a sleepy boy, and after the other 2 who were NOT, I often find it unnerving, though also quite relieving. And I also find myself desperate not to screw it up. Now having a child who seems to follow the books a little better, I am on the hunt for methods and formulas to make our lives easier.

But I am also all too aware of the dangers in that.

A new baby and summertime have been a tiring mix, as much as I wanted it this way.

This is the first year of really experiencing how much Aquaman relies on the stimulation of school.

Though he tires of the academics...of the sitting in a chair, and concentrating..school is really very interesting. They're always moving from one activity to the next. There are many different people he encounters each day. He is always learning something new...be it a game or song or how another 6 year old acts. We ran into a boy who sat at his kindergarten table at the park a few days ago, and though he often complained that this boy was bossy and aggressive, he begged me to ask him to come over to our house.

In some ways, the boredom has been good. Stuck in the house with a frequently napping 6 week old, the boys have been forced to be creative. I think that's what summer is all about.

I've been a bit appalled by the fact that Aquaman has been driving me a little crazy these past few weeks. And then it hit me this week...wouldn't ANY person that I spent this much time with every day be driving me crazy? I mean, babies are different, and even 3 year olds.

 But Aquaman is a boy now. A boy with very strong opinions that he needs to be recognized. A boy who never ever stops talking. I find that more exhausting than all the couch jumping in the world.

I've also been frustrated by his behavior, which I have been interpreting as terrible. He argues with me, and with his brother, about everything. If he starts doing something he absolutely cannot stop until it is completed to his liking. Even if that means crying hysterically while he completes whatever he is making with his blocks.

The Dude hasn't been much better. Entering the 3.5 year old disequilibrium around the same time that he is also realizing that Greystoke is not just some temporary joke, he is here to STAY, has him struggling for a foothold. And he can really dig his nails in.

Thank goodness that 2 weeks ago I caught the end of a Focus on the Family broadcast about the strong-willed child. Cynthia Tobias was discussing her book: "You can't make me (but I can be persuaded)". I reserved it from the library, hoping I'd find some methods for how to deal with all of it.

I read it cover to cover in 2 days, and what I love about her as an author is, I didn't find a method. I found God. And I remembered that parenting, like our relationship with God, is a relationship, not a rule book. I know that. But sometimes, especially when I am tired and insecure, and adjusting to a major life event, it is easier to fall back in to looking for a quick fix. A formula that will magically solve our problems.

Aquaman was sent almost 6 years ago to humble me and remind me of this. I found out early that often the same thing with him would never work twice. The only thing that DOES work is love. Acceptance. And my own humility.


The book reminded me that a child is not wrong just because he is different from his parent. As a rather compliant person myself, it is often hard to understand why everything has to be so hard with my first two.
But it is simply how they are wired. It's not easy, but this week I have been better about letting things go that are not a matter of physical safety or eternal consequence. Though sometimes, in the heat of the moment, I still freak out about the mess on the floor, or the door left wide open, mostly I've been taking a breath and just cleaning it up. The result? Less arguing. Less fights, even between the two boys. Crazy how a little patience rubs off on the whole family.

Aquaman is up now. JT is heading out the door to his beach practice, and we will all be following close behind, as we have a couple other times this week. It's the perfect way to start the day...7:30 am...a way to burn energy early before the sun is too intense. Starting the day in the fresh salty air. Sometimes I think our outside time is as much for me as for my active little boys. But when I watch Aquaman venturing farther out into the waves...facing them down with determination...I appreciate more that strong will. That will allow him to overcome the fearful nature that I understand far too well, for I struggled with it too as a child.
I love to watch JT, weighed down by a 30 pound vest named The Dude, and how he never treats our little boys like nuisances, even in his busyness.


My seemingly more compliant child is kicking in the nap nanny at my feet. The Dude is now in my lap, passing gas, and wiping his nose on my arm. And today I'm going to throw the method books out the window. And love my boys just as they are. The baby who likes routine, but likes snuggles even more. The 3 year old who needs imagination and creativity and lots of activity. The 5 year old with the scientific mind who just needs to be heard.

I'm grateful the God loves us each how we need to be loved. Grateful that He shows us how to love each other the same way.

Thankful for one more week of maternity leave, for returning only 2 days a week when I go. For 2 sets of grandparents, one set who is just returning after a long 6 weeks, and boys who are so excited to see them. For a first gymnastics class this afternoon, and how differently each of my sons will react to it.

For a baby who, in the midst of the chaos of monster truck bridges, just quietly drifted off to sleep.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Hot Shower

It's Friday morning. Greystoke is back asleep after an hour of cooing and smiling at everyone.

The older boys have eaten their breakfast and we finished our 30 minutes of reading so that they could cross off the day on their library calendar and earn a book buck. That is very important to Aquaman.
Now they are shooting marbles down the stairs in two noodles taped together, which is what they have been doing since we bought the noodles and marbles yesterday at the dollar store.

Aquaman wanted to buy a matchbox car, because apparently 2000 of them is not enough, but I insisted on the noodles and marbles, and they have not disappointed.

Trapped in the house so much of the day due to having a small baby and very intense sunshine means we have to find creative ways to have fun indoors. Especially right now, when summer boredom and new sibling jealousies leave the older two jockeying for position and therefore fighting constantly.

Aquaman just approached me and asked where I kept his schoolwork from kindergarten, because he would like the painting he made of an elephant. Apparently it was the "best painting he's ever done". I hope I saved it. I doubt I did. Toward the end of the year I was kind of chucking everything, being that we already have a closet full of artwork and we've only completed one year of elementary school.

The Dude is now screaming at Aquaman about nothing in particular and will probably soon be in a full-fledged 3.5 year old rage.
He is entering "friend or enemy" stage, and this week he has traded places with Aquaman in being the exhausting one.

The dog will now not allow JT to bring her out at all, because 2 weeks ago, while walking her, he accidentally clanged 2 coffee cups together, and apparently she felt threatened by that. The next day, when JT tried to take her out, she jumped on the couch, shaking, and then pooped on it. Now she goes in the closet every time he asks her if she wants to go for a walk. She seriously needs some anxiety medicine.

Since I now am the only one who can take her out, and since JT is gone at work or practice about 12 hours a day now...I have to take all 3 kids and her out for walks. About every other day she ends up pooping on the floor because I cannot get her out soon enough.
Yesterday while walking her, The Dude, who was running along beside us pushing his toy, decided his shorts were slightly wet, and took them off in the middle of the sidewalk, and then refused to put them back on. Then he spent the next 10 minutes screaming and naked as we walked back, and all of the neighbors stared. Like they don't stare at us enough already.
Aquaman dutifully returned for the shorts and carried them home. Greystoke squinted in the sunshine and told me in no uncertain terms that he had had enough. I dropped the bag of poop, and then Aquaman stepped in it.

Somehow, we made it home in one piece.

Being as our only option with the dog is to keep cleaning up her poop and dealing with her anxiety or put her to sleep, we just keep cleaning up the poop and try to laugh just when we feel like we're going to go crazy. I'm pretty sure she has turned us off ever having another dog again.

Yesterday was my 6 week postpartum checkup, and all 3 boys accompanied me.
The Dude took all of these office pictures, to keep him from playing with the stirrups...

 It was smooth and easy since I have not had any recovery troubles.

It was even kind of fun to be back.
The Dude came to all of my OB appointments with me, and was an office favorite. They called him "husky" because they liked his voice. Right before the doctor came in to deliver Greystoke, the nurse told me that he said "I'm going to miss seeing her little boy in my office."

It was a strange feeling being there with what is probably my last baby.

When I was in the waiting room, I heard the receptionist talking with someone who was obviously scheduling their first OB visit. "When was your last period?" She asked. And I had a wistful moment thinking of the 3 times I had been asked that very question as I called on the phone, and how I wouldn't be asked it again (in the same context anyway).

Today is the older boys' last swim lesson.

Next summer Aquaman will be old enough for swim team, and so far wants to do it, "as long as he doesn't have to swim in any races".

Two days ago at the swim lesson showers, I ran into a girl I went to middle school with who has two young boys and asked "how 3 was", because she is trying to decide whether to have the 3rd.

It isn't a difficult question, when you're in the thick of it. I guess maybe because in my case, each child has gotten a little bit easier, and not harder as is the case in some families. And of course because once that little baby is in your arms you can't imagine it any other way, even if there is a little more chaos. And mostly because, always, even in the busiest days of two, there was something that just felt empty and incomplete in our family before Greystoke was here.

I think about how last year at this time, I was just coming out of several months of struggling with some pretty deep depression. Some of it was certainly physical (my body just doesn't agree with hormonal birth control), but I realize now that much of it was just knowing that there was supposed to be another person in our story.

And somehow, perhaps just because we are right where we are supposed to be, adding a kid and cutting out some of my work has made our marriage closer and deeper. Despite that there is less money, I believe in JT's work more. I care less that he is working right now many many hours for no money at all. I see how what he does matters, whether he gets paid for it or not.

I see how, despite some days falling into bed wondering how I screwed up my children today, and wishing the bathrooms had magically gotten clean, and shutting the boys' closet because it is a jumble of disorganization, what I did today matters too.

I heard someone on Focus on the Family say yesterday on the way home from the OB appt: "Success is not measured on what you accomplish in life, but on how your grown son describes you to his friend."

I'll admit, I'm not always patient these days. I am somewhat sleep deprived. I feel perpetually dehydrated and ridiculously hungry. I can't seem to process all of the questions that Aquaman has been throwing at me lately. I honestly just don't know the answers: "how do they build the middle of a bridge? Does coke evaporate and turn into rain? Does that cause air pollution? How do you make soap? Does cardboard melt?"

I don't sometimes know what to do when The Dude starts flailing around and screeching at the top of his lungs because his water cup is not filled to the top, or he can't go out into the puddles.

But I remember when I was pregnant laying in The Dude's bed with him, up in the middle of the night while he tossed and turned, feeling Greystoke kick and prod me from the inside, and for some reason the thought came into my head: "if I didn't have this third child, I bet I could get an iphone".
And how I laughed out loud, in the middle of the night, at the very thought.

 At the ridiculous comparison.

Greystoke is an amazing baby. He's slept 6 hours in a row 3 times now, and every night sleeps at least a 4 hour block. Some nights he falls asleep in his bed all by himself. I can count his fussy days literally on one hand. There will be 3.5 year old fits, and 5.5 year old questions, and many many days where he drives me crazy. But so far, 3 kids is a charm. A tiring one, but an amazing one.

Aquaman just entered the house from the courtyard and announced: "we're playing in the dirt!" So I guess I better get moving. I'm way behind on laundry, the bathrooms definitely need to be cleaned today, and swim lessons start in an hour. I'm guessing both of them, and the courtyard, will need baths.

Mostly, I need to go take a shower myself, because I've found that is the best place to start my day in prayer each morning. To start with a prayer of thanks...for the way the hot water soothes the tightness that I have in my neck from laying curled around various children all night. For the way the coffee and the ice water slowly soothe the sleep deprived/dehydrated headache. For the 3 boys who leave me sore and tired and thirsty.

Then there's the praise for who God is. For His patience with me, for His great love that is more than I can comprehend. For the sacrifice He made in sending His son, that He loved even more than I love my own sons. Then confession of my gross imperfections. Of my selfishness in the daily grind. For bursts of impatience when Aquaman is tattling for the 50th time, and The Dude is refusing to share again and Greystoke wants to be fed for hours on end.

And the endless supplication, that sometimes only comes out in just two words: "help me".
Praying for the wisdom of Solomon, to know how to arbitrate the endless arguments. When to step in, and when to let them work it out. How to help Aquaman curb his insatiable need to tattle. How to help The Dude curb his impulsive need to lash out in frustration.

There is a long, hard, wonderful day that I can't do on my own stretching out in front of me.

It's going to start with a shower.