Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Carols

Life is humming along to the sound of Christmas carols.
I remember when it took forever for Christmas to be here. Now it is here and past before I can catch my breath.
It's crazier than it used to be, and that takes some getting used to for me.
I used to make a real effort to keep things simple, and I thought that somehow that is how it would always be, if only I willed it that way. Back when I had 2 small children and life was completely exhausting....but in a different sort of way.
I was working 24 hours a week then, and I am working 24 hours a week now. But I have 2 more children. And the older 2 are in school. And the younger 2 are home a lot, even when I am working. And life is fast and complicated, even as I am constantly looking for ways to simplify it.
Life is all about change, especially with children. They are never the same this year as they were the last. Their needs are different, their stages are different. It's a wild ride, and you hold on tight. Because we will never have another first Christmas with Scarlett. All squishy in nothing but a diaper, all gummy smiles, not a tooth in sight, even as she hits 8 months old today.
And I have changed as a mother too, necessarily. Because you can't be the same kind of mother to one or even two as you are to four, and those adjustments are always hard. I don't have the same opportunities to sit and stare at my wiggly baby, or my rapidly turning into a big boy 3.5 year old as I did with Aquaman and The Dude.
But the love I feel for each of them is every bit as intense. That squeezing feeling in my chest like I can't breathe when I stop and look at them, just for a few seconds. I may not be able to read book after book after book to you in the middle of the day, Scarlett...Greystoke... I may not be able to stop every time you complain, the second that you need something. But oh how I love you. I would give you the breath out of my own body. You have already taken it away.

As is the usual course in December, the family succumbed to illness for a while. Hand foot and mouth went through the younger three, and this time I was sleep deprived and unhealthy enough to catch it too. What made it a double whammy was that the first day of it acted exactly like a stomach bug, so there was vomiting involved as well. Greystoke got it the worst. His temperature reached 104.4 and I was sure he had meningitis. The Dude and Scarlett got sick but only a few mild sores in their mouths. Before it all started, we noticed Aquaman's foot skin was all peeling off so apparently he was the culprit who started it all (probably from when he was going around licking the cruise ship), but he never actually got sick. Though I did have to take him to the doctor last week because he was complaining nonstop of being tired since we got back from vacation. A CBC checked out fine, and they ordered some more bloodwork, but this Monday morning he admitted to me that maybe it was just stress from school, as I had suggested, because he felt much better over the weekend.
Luckily it is now officially the first day of Christmas break. So we can get a break from germs and stress, but probably not a break from chaos. That is just our lives these days.
Scarlett is growing up so quickly. She is pretty exhausting now, though as adorable as ever.
She crawls wherever she wants to go. She pulls up on everything. She mostly follows me around whining and wanting me to hold her, and then pushing me away because she wants to get down.
She likes to eat Christmas tree needles, small legos, cherry tomatoes, and orange peels, but I have given up on the baby food. She waves hello, holds her hand up for high five when she feels like it, and laughs more than the boys ever did. Of course, she has a lot more entertainment than any of the boys had either.
My kids have been such an interesting mixture...Aquaman and The Dude were super emotionally intense and active. Greystoke was super chill emotionally and physically. And Scarlett is happy and full of energy. When she gets really excited (like when Aquaman does one of his crazy hand stands for her) or upset (like when I take away the clementine orange she has been trying to eat whole), she squeezes her fists together and scrunches up her face, just like Aquaman used to do.
She never takes a nap longer than 20 minutes, but has been sleeping better when she is not sick. She spends most of the night in my bed, but only eats a couple of times, spending most of the night sleeping and sucking her pacifier. So that is a relief. She is my first baby to reach 8 months without rejecting the pacifier, and I am thrilled about that. She loves her paci when she gets stressed or tired. It's also nice when I don't want her to eat legos...
Greystoke has been pretty super intense. When he has not been doing inflexible. To be fair, I think there is still a chance he is dealing with a situation in his ears, but as usual I can't get a straight answer from him. He is still waking up a couple times a night. He doesn't cry, but he never does even when his ears are terrible. When I ask him he says yes they still hurt. He has been through 2 rounds of antibiotics and they had a lot of fluid in them. He is still slightly congested. But he is absolutely terrified of the doctor, and the "pointy thing she sticks in his ears" and so I keep hoping they are just fine, and I have been putting it off getting them checked again. Because it involves a lot of screaming and holding him down....and that is just on the scale to get weighed...
And sometimes, he can be totally pleasant. I love reading to him at night. I love holding his hand as he drifts off to sleep. I love going places with him. Riding in the car and listening to him talk. When he is good he is just so good. When he is
The Dude is the same old wild bundle of energy, intensity, affection, and humor that he has always been. He is so delightful and completely tiring at the same time. You really can't be mad at him, even though he breaks everything he touches, squirrels away tissues and pens on the sides of his bunk bed, tapes little pieces of painters tape to the ceiling, and loses everything he touches (and has no recollection of touching it). I have been trying to sit and read with him more and I get 10 new gray hairs every time I do because it is so hard to get him to pay attention, but even as I am slowly losing my mind, I catch sight of the big grin on his face, underneath that floppy long red hair and I start laughing too. "This is fun" he said to me yesterday, just as that 10th gray hair was popping through. And I felt so thankful that he was having fun.
He is playing basketball and having fun at that too, despite Aquaman's best attempts to ruin his games and practices by being jealous. Sometimes he has no idea where the ball is. Sometimes he seems to lose track of basically everything that happens on the court. On Friday he got a big fat lip and some sore teeth before the game even started. Sometimes on defense he stands directly under the goal with his hands up in the air and doesn't move. He also likes to flap his hands and jump up and down in wild excitement when his team has the ball.
But he talks to every kid on his team with the same wild excitement. He makes friends with all of them. He cheers them all on. He listens to his coach. I am so proud of him every time he gets in the game and every time he sits on the bench. He got the Principal's award for character at school this semester, even though he is always talking and often doesn't finish his work.
Aquaman is a bit like Greystoke lately, though he leans more toward the mostly sweet side. When he is being sweet he is extraordinarily and shockingly so. He is so kind to babies and little ones. He has such a soft heart for them, even for Greystoke in his terribly frustrating stage.
He was very kind to my clients when I took the kids to visit and hand out candy canes at a couple of the facilities. He has talked a lot about how he wants to make other people happy, about how Christmas is about giving.
Those sorts of social situations are incredibly awkward and difficult for Aquaman. I mean, for a lot of kids they would be difficult, but particularly for him. He tries very hard and in his heart wants to communicate love but his body feels so stiff and uncomfortable from the onslaught of sensory and social stimulations that you can just see the struggle on his face. I want to hug him, but he doesn't always like that either, especially as he gets older. He likes to talk about it. He has all the right answers. He always has. There is a difference in knowing something and in doing something, and I know eventually his body will catch up. But I am so proud of the efforts he is making. He is even planning to play soccer in the spring. I did not ever think he would play a team sport. I am a little nervous about how it will go, but excited for him too, going out of his comfort zone.

When he is not being incredibly considerate he is completely driving me crazy. As mentioned before he has so much trouble with basketball because he is jealous of the attention we give to the Dude at practices and games. He struggles with his self esteem, and for some reason it is an insult to him if we tell The Dude that he is doing well. He also still has the tendency to be very rude to guests or anyone he does not know very well. As before, he knows and can tell you exactly how he should act, but completely falls apart when placed in an actual circumstance.

He is also entering the stage where he knows it all (who am I kidding he has thought he knew more than me since he was 2) Yesterday I handed him his handmade card and gift card for his teacher as we got out of the van. He has a history of forgetting to give these cards, so I instructed him to keep it in his hand and give it to her immediately upon entering the classroom. He said "I don't have a brain like yours, I don't forget", and put it on his backpack. In the afternoon he arrived home and I asked him where the card was and he said "I couldn't find it anywhere!" Infuriating.
He gets to buy a new gift card with his allowance money.
In hindsight he is probably reaching the age where I should give him advice and let him fail and reap the consequences without confluct so I will know better next time. I was just trying to get everything done as efficiently as possible but efficiency is impossible with children around, and shouldn't be my main goal anyway.
Luckily, he can now occasionally laugh at me and himself when I am getting frustrated about these things. He used to take everything way too seriously, but his sense of humor now saves him occasionally.
Going back to Christmas carols
Music used to be such a huge part of my life. It was a very big part of my family and my childhood. Especially at Christmas. At Christmas there was the Living Christmas Tree at Church and the Indialantic tree lighting we sang at in elementary chorus, and the high school band concerts. Silent Night by candlelight at our Christmas Eve service.
Music has taken more of a backseat in my life since I got married, and especially since I had kids.
JT's family is not musical at all. I love that JT still sings at church. I love that he sings in a confident and passionate way, even though it is not always on key. I love it because I know that Jesus loves it. I think probably JT will have the most beautiful voice of all in heaven because he used what he had to praise God on earth.
But we don't really go to any concerts, don't play a lot of music around the house. He has basically no musical history to relate to me if I do talk about it, though he of course listens politely.
And my oldest son is almost anti music. He has always hated music classes even in preschool because he found it humiliating that they wanted him to dance. He never even danced as a toddler. And if I try to turn on music at home, it overwhelms him. Once I had a classical song on and he asked me urgently to turn it off and said "it just makes me so sad that I don't know what to do."
And in some small way I understand what he means. I have found for me that there is a fine line in music between the holy sublime experience of knowing that there is more than our eyes can see, that empty aching and yet completely consuming fullness thar one feels when listening to something beautiful: and having one's emotions and be completely captivated by something other than God.
In some ways I have protected myself from the melancholy of music in the past 10 years.
I've had plenty of distractions anyway.
But there are some lessons from music that have been integrated into essential parts of my life.
Like the first and last notes.
We learned in school that the last note of a concert is the most important one, it is the one people will most remember. The 2nd most important is the first note. And so every night, I strive to make the last part of the day with my children and husband special. Bedtime is a sacred time in our home. Cleanup takes a backseat. We spend time together. I try to hold it together even though I am exhausted.
And the first time I see everyone in the morning they get a smile and a hug, even if it is 5:30 am, and even if I haven't had my coffee yet.
And every now and then I give way to music again, and find worship there. Every now and then I can tune out the chaos in my backseat and find God in the chords that surround me. And this is especially true at Christmas time.
Driving home from urgent care a few weeks ago with sick children in the backseat. I hadn't slept in what felt like weeks, and Breath of Heaven" came on.
"Do you wonder as You watch my face if a wiser one should have had my place? But I offer all I am for the mercy of Your plan."
"I am waiting in a silent stare. I am frightened by the load I bear. In a world as cold as stone must I walk this path alone? Be with me now. Breath of heaven hold me together, be forever near me. Breath of heaven light in my darkness, pour over me your holiness, for you are holy."

Or my favorite lines in "It came upon a Midnight Clear"
"And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!"

My life is such a vascillating dichotomy between feeling almost lost with weariness and unending details and feeling so filled with pleasure that I am like a baby who can't help but wiggle with the smile that lights up her face.
But underneath it all lies the current of peace, the knowing. He has it all in His hands, all in His plans. The lost Christmas cards, the little boy voices that are almost always set on high volume, the skunk faces, the lost sleep.
My favorite advent devotion that I have read so far was about how Christ came to serve us, and that is the miracle of Christmas.

I guess that sounds pretty selfish and lazy that that is what I needed to hear this Christmas. After all, Christmas is supposed to be about giving, right?
But I give all day, and someone is always needing something from me from the moment that I wake up to that last moment before I fall asleep there is this sweaty clawing at me that never seems to end.
And there is something really beautiful about having a relationship with someone who doesn't need anything from me.
"What a horrendous mistake it would be if we heard Jesus's call to be the servant of all in Mark 10:44 as a call to serve Him. It is not. It is a call to learn how to be served by Him. Don't miss this, this is the heart of Christianity....Our God does not need our service, nor is He glorified by recruits who want to help Him out. Our God is so full and so self sufficient, and so overflowing in power and life and joy that He glorifies Himself by serving us. Here is a general truth to ponder and believe: every time Jesus commands something for us to do, it is His way of telling us how He wants to serve us. Let me say it another way: the path of obedience is the place where Christ meets us as our servant to carry our burdens and give us His power....Jesus does not need your help. He commands your obedience, and offers His help."
That is the message of Christmas that I am basking in this year.
"Oh come Oh come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel."
That song always gives me chills. He came in this messy and humble human form to help us in our humanity.
He came to serve us. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Into the Big Crazy

Here I am again, stealing a moment on this last day of November. The last day before my favorite month of the year, and I am looking forward to it, even though I already know there won't be a lot of moments quietly marveling at the Christmas tree or getting all sentimental over a Hallmark Christmas movie. That's just not my life these days, and that's more than ok.

I have enjoyed my day so far, though the usual anxious urgency has been howling in the back of my head all day. I haven't taken a shower yet because I got up right when I needed to wake up the boys from school. Scarlett was up and down all night. And then at 3:45 she pooped. She has a terrible diaper rash due to this constant pooping from the combination of antibiotics and all the dairy I consumed on the cruise, so when she poops I have to wash her in the sink and then let her air dry before pasting her up with diaper cream and getting her dressed again. Then I held her while she was restless for an hour, and at 4:45 she pooped again....
So when my alarm rang at 5:45 and she was in a blissful wide open mouth relaxed state of sleep, I snuggled up and went back to sleep with her.
Needless to say, night weaning has been a lost cause since my last post. She has had 3 ear infections in a month, colds with night time congestion and coughing in between, and diarrhea almost all the way through. The diarrhea burned her so badly on the cruise because she was almost constantly leaking, and I just couldn't change and wash her as often as I needed to. I also only had a little vaseline along and not the heavy duty stuff we needed....and a load of cheap diapers when she really needed the premium kind. None of those are to be had in tourist shops in the Caribbean.

She had fun on the cruise though. She loved watching everyone, loved everyone always coming over to say hello. She especially loved the tinder boat ride to Belize on her 7 month birthday.

She is crawling now, all over the place. Pulling up on things. Sometimes letting go and standing by herself for a second before she topples to the floor. She waves hello occasionally, and gives high 5s when she feels like it. She smiles almost all the time. She loves the Tula my friend loaned me.When she is in it, she goes into this totally relaxed and snuggly state.
When I brought her to urgent care for her last ear infection a couple days ago and told them she was fussy, they looked at me incredulously. She was fussy...for her. She whimpers occasionally. She complains a bit. When she does get going, which never lasts long, she screams "Nananananana" just like Aquaman used to when he cried.

The cruise went ok. The kids had the time of their lives, and for that it was all worth it. They all wish they were "back on the cruise ship". Last night when I was rocking Scarlett in the boys' room, I heard The Dude murmering something in his sleep about "finding it on deck 4". There was a ropes course, plenty of hot tubs, bunk beds in the cabin, giant water slides, and 24 hour ice cream, so it was pretty much kid paradise. We relaxed our eating rules the whole week and let them eat lucky charms for breakfast because's vacation. I thought when we got back they would have to detox and would freak out from not having so much sugar, but Aquaman said "I thought this normal food would taste bad when we got back, but it's actually really good" as he sunk his teeth into an apple. And that's pretty much how they have been about it. (On a side note, Aquaman has just started eating unpeeled apples, out of nowhere, and I am through the moon with gladness that he can finally just go get a snack on his own).

We stopped at each port and got out for approximately 30 minutes, just to say we had been there. None were impressive at all, but we can all now say we have been to Mexico, and Honduras. JT did not get off at Belize due to some family health issues, and I did not get off in Cozumel, but he got to take the older boys on an excursion to swim with sharks and sting rays.

East, West, home is best.

Our family is now so officially enormous that we had to have 2 rooms, and since we signed up late, they did not adjoin. So JT and I had to sleep apart each night, which was sad. There was also a lot of stress related to aforementioned family health issues (his family, not ours), and JT got seasick the first night. I, the one who was terrified of throwing up the whole time before the cruise, never felt the slightest bit nauseous.

But it is good to be home. Back to the chaos, back to more ear infections (Greystoke has had 2 in a row 2, which makes him act....very special) and worn out kids, first basketball practices and work. Back to sharing a bed together.

I am so proud of my husband. And as he said "those who go to war together, come closer together". I am more in love with him than ever after once again facing adversity together and coming out on top. We stayed a team. We are one. That was my biggest thankful this thanksgiving.

This morning, as a reward, he got to clean up Scarlett's poop since it "squirted from her like someone stepped on a ketchup bottle" and I had her diaperless to help the rash. Just before we headed out the door to school dropoff, Greystoke shattered a glass bottle. I took the kids and ran, leaving him with a million pieces of glass to clean up.

I am so glad he gets a break at work.

I do not get such a break at work because I almost always have Scarlett with me, and sometimes other kids too especially when they are sick or when I am making up hours from vacation. I am so grateful for my job, it is one of the greatest gifts from God, because I used to beg Him to let me be home with my babies, and now I can be there for them and still work. It is incredible. Not only that but when I first quit CMS I missed it and the kids so much. But now I have fallen so in love with my clients that I barely remember feeling that way. I love the opportunity to be a part of their lives. I lie awake some nights wishing I could do my job better, because I am so thankful for it.

JT took the boys to get a Christmas tree when I was at urgent care with Ruth a couple nights ago.
I told the boys we could get the decorations out when I got caught up on laundry....which has taken a while since the dryer broke on the first load of post trip laundry and then I ordered a new one and there was an "incident" hooking it up. No one was hurt.

Plus I am still making up hours from our vacation so today was my first school day off to get to work on stuff. Unfortunately there was way more to do than one day's worth.
Hopefully I can go finish getting it put away before we walk to pick them up from school today and we can break out the decorations before we tackle studying geography and multiplication and learning to read, both of which have not come easily at all.

There is soup in the crockpot, I spent 20 minutes peeling and cutting a butternut squash with a dull knife this morning, all the while bitterly wondering if my kids would just shout "eww" the whole time at my soup. At the last minute, I traded out tomato paste for diced tomatoes because Greystoke and the Dude won't eat tomato chunks, so I am hoping for the best.

The shower is probably a lost cause. Fully completing the laundry put away might be too. I'll shut the closet door.
I have left Jesus sitting in our spot in the kitchen more times than I care to mention this week. He's still there waiting for me, right beside my Bible. He loves me anyway, I don't deserve it. But He won't hold it over my head when I return.

I ordered an advent devotion, and am going to return to my tradition of trying to keep the holidays as simple as possible this year. We are going to make peppermint playdough this weekend. We have a snack craft to make at home and deliver to my clients (foolproof I hope, I am no good at this stuff). I asked the boys their favorite holiday tradition last night, and they were walking to see Christmas lights in the evenings, and making Christmas cookies with Aunt Katie. It is the simple things they love. We will probably never go on another luxurious cruise,but we don't need to anyway.

I heard this radio program the other day about a lady who adopted an older child, and she said she and her husband were not afraid going in because they were ignorant about how hard it would be, and she feels that God helped them obey by protecting them from all the truth. I thought about having a 4th child and wondered for a moment if it wasthe same. It has't been for me. I was happy with 3 kids, I loved my boys, I told God we were good. He told me we weren't. I knew it would be hard. I knew it would be sweaty, and chaotic. But I knew it would be worth it. It is.

I struggle with a lot of mom guilt, especially when I am tired. The Dude needs so much help with school, and I haven't gotten to the reading curriculum lately. Greystoke has been watching too much tv. He also has a cavity. Scarlett has had multiple ear infections from exposure to older kids' germs, and the first child would probably never have the kind of diaper rash she does now. Aquaman is my "easy kid" right now, sensory issues, and poor study and eating habits, and inside out clothes and all. So a lot of times I ask a lot of him. A lot of times he gets lost in the shuffle.

But I am so glad JT and I followed God into this big crazy who knows what is going to happen next life. Because yes, He can be there on cruise ships and catching some sun on deck chairs, or sitting through a relaxing dinner not wondering if someone is going to break a glass (again). But I think even more so He is in the ketchup like squirting poop and the shattered glass. We can't see it all, but He is here. He is making all things beautiful. Even the broken things.