Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He is not broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul, but his life.” G.K. Chesterton
I sort of have two sets of kiddos…I like to call them my Bigs and Littles. Between daughter number two and daughter number three there is 4 1/2 years. Sophia is 4 years younger than her closest older sister and 4 years older than her little sister. She is sort of too young and too old all at the same time. She is Sophie in the middle. More on that later. Most of the time I put Sophia in the Littles category…she is 8 years old. But, I suspect that this year things will change. 3rd grade is a transitional year. That leaves Elinor 4, and Samuel 1. My babies. Technically Elinor is a blossoming toddler, approaching 5, but she is still little in the sense that she needs and loves lots of attention from mommy.
And that brings me to the dilemma,or problem of this post…
Mommy’s attention, a commodity supplied to meet the needs and wants of the family. A mom of many must have expert skills in commodity logistics. She must learn how to distribute her attention well which encompasses a skill set that includes: time management, prioritizing, and conviction.
As I had more children I began to feel the pull and tug on my attention, and it irritated me… you know, those prickly moments when one thing has to be abandoned to meet the need or want of a baby. I guess this is a growing stage for mothers, learning how to let go of self-direction and will and softening to the self giving style that characterizes all good mothers. Something inside of my mommy heart began to feel guilty when I dismissed a cry or arms up waiting to be scooped up. I quickly submitted to the reality of motherhood…babies are demanding and they deserve my full attention. I say no plenty, but it is not my style. My style with babies is…yes!
When I step back and look at the very nature of child development it seems that babies deserve the most attention simply because they demand the most attention. This is the natural way. This can only be accomplished in large families if I also follow the natural development of my older children. I must let go of control and allow for independence. Letting go of my older children is difficult for me…I know now it has everything to do with letting them grow up…I don’t want them to grow up so fast…it goes by so fast.
Dealing with my emotions as a mother is essential if I am to be a healthy mamma to ALL my kiddos. So for me putting babies first is possible only if I accept the natural development and growth of a family. In a way motherhood is a long goodbye. I am ultimately raising children to be adults. Letting my older kids be more independent, and trusting what I have already put into them is essential for the health of the family.
There are other instances where babies interrupt the practical goings on of a household. Like how they always want you when you have plans to tackle the laundry pile on your bed, or the mountain of dishes in the sink, or the weedy flowerbeds. Babies make me look very deeply at what I value and what it means to be human. We are all dependent on each other, no human can survive alone. Babies are so vulnerable, and they personify in a very dramatic way how vulnerable we all are. Babies teach me the delicate balance between the unseen and seen world. Yes, the physical needs of a child must be met, but not at the expense of the heart. Finding this balance is what motherhood is all about. We are caretakers of the highest order.
The decisions I make in the way I homeschool must include the babies…and not just putting them on the block schedule and fitting them in. No, babies come first…because they demand it. Because they need my full attention. Because my heart tells me that the kind of human being this baby will become is deeply connected to how I respond in all the little moments of interruption.
This is the time of year that I reflect on our home school journey… I evaluate, I ponder, and I make decisions. I think it is better to do this now… at the end of the school year… rather than wait until fall when I will be hopelessly idealistic….right now I am a realist. The end of a school year makes realists of most homeschool families. This year we welcomed a new little fella into our lives, and man did I have a time trying to manage all of the schoolwork, housework, and activities with the joys and concerns of an infant. However, we did manage…we made it, and it was a great year! We are very blessed.
Homeschooling is a never-ending learning experience on so many levels. It really is a lifestyle. That is why home school articles are so peculiar. Among articles detailing curriculum, schedules, and methods an inquirer will also find plenty of advice on relationships, homemaking, and spirituality. And that really is the best home school advice..the kind that gets down to the reality of home life. I have often wanted to express to new homeschooling mothers the importance of getting the bones right, then worry about the books! I am still working on the bones…it is my daily work.
One hard lesson I have learned this year is that juggling all the balls takes practice. I keep dropping the balls… fumbling around with awkward hands. That means I have to stop, pick them up again, and keep practicing.
Do you ever feel like you drop the ball?
It is just part of the experience. It takes humility to keep practicing…I pray for humility.
A friend once told me that four children were manageable by her own strength, but the fifth took God’s strength. This mom has since graduated from nursing school…while homeschooling and raising five kiddos. I am learning this lesson as I stubbornly try to manage by my own strength.
How does a mom learn to lean on God’s strength? Isn’t that just an overused cliche…some pat answer we spout when no meaningful solution presents itself?
However, many times this year I have been at my rope’s end. And in those moments, among the chaotic emotional noise, there is also peace…it’s like a deep well that I must descend. Go deeper..dig deeper..into the peace of God. In those moments I have a choice. I can accept my imperfection, stand before God with an honest heart, and pray, “Lord, help me.” Leaning on God’s strength does not mean that He rescues me from this life..this life I chose. No, it means that He helps me. He just helps me. And this co-op…this cooperation… is what homeschooling is ALL about.
In the spirit of humility we take on the task of Raising Them Right…it is hard work. It takes strength beyond ourselves. As I make plans for next year I feel more than ever before that I will need help. Join me here as I take you through my process…maybe we can inspire one another, pray for one another, and encourage one another to keep practicing. Check back for a few inspiring topics!
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It is 4 AM. I know my husband has to get up for work soon, but I cannot help it. As I crawl back in bed I begin to cry, and I tell him, “I cannot hold that baby anymore tonight.” He replies, “Do you want me to rock him?” The tears are coming down hard now. “It won’t do any good, but you can if you want.” In his slow and quiet way I feel Slade get up. I pick up the monitor and listen, a rustle and then the crying stops. And that is all I heard. When Slade comes back to bed he warns me, “Don’t expect to sleep long. He was tense. I am amazed he is asleep.” I have no idea what time it is as we drift off to sleep, I have no idea how our conversation drifted off as well. I do remember saying, “My skin hurts.”
This morning Slade said with a big grin on his face, “So, he slept from five until seven.” I snapped back, “That’s after being awake from three until five.” I snap back at Slade a lot these days. Oh how I want to be more patient. You would think after five kids I would know how to manage my emotions under pressure. And I am more patient than when I was at twenty-two. But I am not perfect.
Sleep is by far the hardest struggle when it comes to caring for a sensitive baby. I used to tell people that I could do anything in the day as long as I got good sleep at night. Well, I am still that girl…that woman….that mom who needs a fair amount of sleep. It would be easier if I didn’t, but I do.
Caring for Sam is a difficult job, I have even called him a difficult baby. If you have or have had a difficult baby-you KNOW it! If you have never experienced a difficult baby you may be offended by my label. Just know this, Sam is not a bad baby. He is what he is, and we love him the way he is. He brings more joy to our lives than he does hardship. In a very real way I am thankful I have a baby like Sam. I have had two very difficult babies out of the five, and I can honestly say the two of them have made me a better mother all around. My struggles with Sam are not really about making him act a certain way (although I do try) or be something he is not…my struggles are with stamina, and consistency, and most of all patience.
Below is a list of characteristics of my sensitive boy. Maybe you can identify. Here is the reason I need stamina, consistency, and patience…always more patience.
- The crying. Sam cries a lot. And the cry is not a whimper or normal cry, it is high pitched and LOUD! (My older girls call it the Nazgul scream.)
- The feeding. Non- nutritional sucking is very important to a sensitive baby. This can be very draining for mom, and misunderstood by those who think you are creating this situation by nursing too much. I disagree that nursing frequently makes sensitive infants worse. It is hard to satisfy a sensitive baby, but I do not think nursing frequently is to blame for highly demanding infants. Sam also had what I call the on/off syndrome. While nursing he was on, off, on, off, on, off. This makes public nursing a challenge. Bottle feeding is also frequent, and Sam does not eat much in one sitting.
- The energy. His fists are almost always clenched. He bows his back, and his muscles feel tense like he is on go most of the time. It is difficult to hold him because of this. Sometimes Sam will be jumping up and down in my lap, bowing his back into a back bend, diving for the floor, and hitting me with his fists, and I think He wants down. So, I set him on the floor or in his jumper and he screams uncontrollably. So I pick him back up, and we start the process over again. This goes on for most of his waking hours. Most of the time I just go through the up and down routine with the hope that he will set alone for a few minutes. Sometimes he does, but most often he does not. By the end of the day my skin feels like someone has rubbed me down with coarse sand paper, and my muscles are sore.
- The sleep. It seems that for sensitive babies sleep is the most difficult. Sam does not have the ability to calm himself or comfort himself. He is very sensitive to noise and light as well. When he wakes at night he can be almost inconsolable. Nap times are hit and miss, sometimes he rests well (1-2 hours) and other times he may only sleep 30 minutes at a time. Elinor, my other sensitive child, did not sleep through the night consistently until she was two years old.
- The aggression. Sam loves to growl, babble loudly, laugh loudly, scream and squeal, jump, hit, bang, scratch, pull, crawl everywhere, tear paper, dive, be tossed in the air, rock, on and on he goes. On the flip side this makes for some fun times. He also loves people, and can connect easily with others. But after holding Sam for a while you might feel as if you have just gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson. It’s intense.
- The routine. My first three babies loved their routine, and thrived on it. Sam is different. He eats, poops, sleeps, and plays at different times. This is hard to manage, but a blessing as well. He is somewhat adaptable to our schedule, but he gets over stimulated easily with all the activity in and out of the house. When I first experienced a baby that I could not put on a schedule I thought it was my fault….that I was unorganized and undisciplined. I have come to realize that I am a responder mother, and the lack of scheduling with Sam is in response to him.
Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. 1 Timothy 2:15
I got the call early in the week. It was my mother, and she told me that the two chanters at her very small Greek parish in Wichita Falls were going to be out of town on Holy Saturday and Pascha. I knew what was coming next, and I was terrified.
“If we cannot find anyone to fill in would you and the girls be willing to help?”
Last year we traveled to my mother’s parish for Pascha, and we were going again this year. My sweet mother had arranged all of it. Last year our whole family was together; my parents, grandmother, two brothers and their wives, our nephew, and us. We all stayed at a hotel and went to services together. It was wonderful, and I was so looking forward to this again. And then the call… the request that immediately changed my relaxed anticipation into fear.
I said yes. I could have said no. But, somehow I sensed that this was a wonderful gift our family could give Jesus for Pascha. I wanted to give Him a gift by helping the Church in Wichita Falls. I love my mother’s church, a country church with no pretensions. Cradle Orthodox tell me all the time that I know more about the faith than they do. This comment makes me cringe. I want to tell them, “What does knowing have to do with anything? You are here, you have always been here, in the Church, living and breathing the life of the Church. I am nothing.” That’s how I feel about this little church in West Texas that has held on to the faith in not so friendly conditions. It humbles me. It also amazes me, the care that Christ has for His Church, even very small churches in the middle of nowhere. No domes, no choir or traditional chanters, not even traditional icons. However, the heart of the Church is Christ, and He is everywhere present. He lives in the people who sing the joyous Paschal hymns.
I spent all of Holy Week preparing for the services of Holy Saturday and Sunday. My whole family pitched in, and it stretched us. We are in no way professional singers or chanters. However, we know enough to sing. And I have learned that we all know enough to sing! Every Orthodox Christian can and must sing Pascha! It is in the sweet melodies of the heart that Christ is hymned, remembered, worshiped, and glorified.
I had many plans for cleaning, cooking, and preparing for Pascha. But, all of those plans were let go as I prepared for the real Pascha. Let us now lay aside all earthly cares. There is something very wonderful about stretching oneself beyond the limits of knowledge and ability. It is truly in our weakness that we can experience the righteousness of Christ. It is when we feel that we cannot go on that we learn to lean on the one who can and does go on…unto the Ages of Ages. I remember Abraham who did not lose his faith as he considered the weakness of his flesh….
And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb. Romans 4:19
As Adalay and I set out very early on Saturday morning for the two hour trek to Holy Cross in Wichita Falls, I prayed once again, “Lord please send just one Greek lady that knows the special hymns in Greek, and Lord please receive my song, however off tune and choppy it sounds. I am just a baby, and I feel very vulnerable.”
And God provided. Out of the congregation He provided. He provided a wonderful woman visiting from Dallas that was once a choir director in San Antonio, she sang the special hymns in Greek. An elderly gentlemen whose wife is dying with cancer came and sang Gladsome Light in Greek, and as the tears rolled down his cheeks I thought, “This is the Church.” My daughter, Adalay, sang her heart out, and was moved by her participation. I could sense the work being done in her heart. Caroline helped her daddy with Samuel and the littles. It was a team effort,a family effort. This Pascha was so moving, my best so far as a convert. It was not the most put together, and I have definitely been more prepared and polished in the past, but it was the most real. It seemed that this Pascha made all things new.
And as we drove home, our bellies full of the lamb from the spit and baklava, I looked at my car loaded up with all the goodies that the wonderful women of Holy Cross baked and gave to us, I saw all the Easter eggs, I saw all the bags and blankets and pillows, and I smiled. I watched my bobble headed kiddos sleep, too tired to talk but oh so happy. I felt very full, full of joy.
We drove home in the rain, much needed rain. The day just kept getting better.
My brother called me at 10:00 Sunday night, and he said, “Well sis, Jesus sent a flood on Pascha.” He said he had never seen it rain so hard, and that he had gone out in his front yard and looked up and cried with thanks. We are in exceptional drought, the kind of drought that makes farmers and ranchers panic, and cities scramble to provide for citizens, and lakes dry up completely. Scary drought. But, Jesus sent a flood on Pascha. It will not cure the drought, but it is our hope. Rain does still fall from the sky.
Pascha is a flood! Pascha is like a flood in a drought! Christ is the rain for every parched heart. He is risen, and His flood washes away our sicknesses, our burdens, our sin. We worship His third day resurrection.
My friend and I spoke on the phone this morning, sharing Pascha stories…Pascha joy. She told me, “I cannot believe I have to wait another year to do this again.” I thought later, “You don’t.” Pascha is our present, an eternal present, and eternal feast of joy!
“God is love.” This is, for me, the greatest theological truth.
May we struggle to forgive those who have hurt us. May we beg mercy from those we have hurt….
All that this week is, it is nothing without Love.
Enlighten my mind with the light of understanding of Thy Holy Gospel; my soul with the love of Thy Cross; my heart with the purity of Thy word; my body, with Thy passionless Passion. Keep my thought in Thy humility, and raise me up at the proper time for Thy glorification. For most glorified art Thou, together with Thine unoriginate Father, and the Most Holy Spirit, unto the ages. St. Antiochus
Yesterday I wrote about The Good Life. And there is wonderful reason. For a couple of weeks I have been reading a little book called Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. I saw this book over at Through the Mind to the Heart, and it intrigued me. Lisa A is linking up with Mystie @ Simply Convivial for an online book club discussion. I decided to order the book…the title was the hook. However, I do not think I will be able to keep up with all of the Tuesday postings. We shall see!
The premise of the book is a re-envisioning of Christian education. Smith claims that liturgy is the heart of forming a Christian rather than ideas. Therefore he argues that what we do far out ways what we know. He uses the term liturgy in a broad sense to sort of create a seamless connection between all of life. He describes man as a lover above all. He contrasts that with other opinions from philosophical references that make man a thinker, or a believer. His idea that man is a lover gives the basis for what he says man believes to be the good life. The good life that a man chooses is driven by what he loves. And so I have been asking myself…what do I love? Or better, how does God love me?
I have read the contents page to see how Smith develops the idea of man as lover and how a love of God is formed in us. And surprisingly he describes the world as sacrament. This development will be interesting to read coming from a Protestant/Reformed perspective.
But for now I am just pondering the incarnation and how amazing it is. God has met me in the flesh. He has taken on matter, and through this incarnation He fills my life with grace. (I am thinking water, oil, bread, wine.) But, it is so much more than that. My interaction with the physical world, my liturgies, speak of a deep, unseen, and possibly unlearned love. For me this book all but says it…maybe the whole world is made of love. It’s in us, it is our DNA.
To love is to live, and move, and have our being.
This weekend my husband and I had a come to Jesus talk. Here in Texas come to Jesus is synonymous with getting down to the real stuff…confessing and purposing. It all started with my daughter Elinor. I was on the computer writing a post for this blog. Slade was cleaning the kitchen, and in walks Whirlwind (that is what we like to call our little buzz saw). She asked me to come outside and swing her, all of her sisters had refused. It was a gorgeous day, plenty of sunshine and just the right temperature. Well, I told her no. Slade kept right on cleaning. And she left dejected, tears in her eyes.
Now, I am not the mother that always says “yes.” I do not always play with my kids when they ask. So, it was not the “no” in particular that bothered me. It is a pile of nos, a big lazy pile of not nows, and in a minutes and not tonights and maybe laters that got the conversation started, the one where my husband and I vowed together to do better, to give it a little more gas. We both feel the overwhelming demands of five children, and their needs are always before us, always stretching us.
No matter your circumstance, you have a great opportunity for holiness. That’s what I heard a priest say once. That little sentence is stuck in my head like a bad song. I play it over and over.
My circumstance is always about my salvation. If I saw that I am in need, just as much as those I am called to serve, well maybe I could get this whole upside-down mothering thing.
So this morning instead of feeling like I had to get out of bed super early and pray, I just said my prayers in the dark while Sam nursed. Instead of scheduling and going about in a tizzy, maybe I can manage today with just doing the next thing, what my husband calls living organically. (He intervened last night as I attempted a written schedule. His words, “Honey, it won’t work. Just get up and hit it, live organically. Don’t waste your time.”) He’s right. I have tried micromanagement a thousand times…it always ends the same. Isn’t that the definition of insanity…trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results?
And so today I am just reflecting, and just hitting it.
The bulk of my emotional energy as a mother is spent on prioritizing and then making decisions. It is a hard task to juggle the needs of a family. And that does not even include outside relationships with extended family and friends. I can feel my heart as I choose one thing over the other, or say no to something important so I can say yes to something that I deem is more important. Sometimes the decisions I make are extremely difficult, decisions that from the outside may look small or insignificant, like who gets to go to the store with me, or if we go to see grandparents for the weekend or stay home and rest, or if I serve beans or fish for supper. You see, behind these decisions is a driving force, something that speaks of what I think makes a good life. It is the good life that I am in pursuit of, that I hope I am living. And so I push hard to get some things done.
And sometimes my choices cause disappointment, and I have to let those around me adjust. This is the hard part. And when I fail at the good life, I have to live with the regret. I find that a large part of the mother experience is learning to work through regret, and growing through guilt.
Evidently I believe that swinging my Whirlwind in her swing under a big Oak tree on a warm sunny day is the good life. Otherwise why would I feel regret at missing that moment? This weekend’s conversation was all about the good life, what my husband and I think makes a good life, and examining if are living the good life.
We chose it…this good life. It was all a choice. It is still a choice…one determined and purposeful choice at a time.
I found a few quotes on BrainyQuote that I thought were fun. Read through them and pick which one you most identify with. Just for fun I will give my guess at what your choice says about you.
Did I get it right? If not, it was fun anyway.
Friendship is a very meaningful part of my life. My introverted side loves the intimate friendship of one or two ladies, sharing our hearts, our lives. The extroverted Mandy loves the group dynamic. I love to laugh, hang out, and enjoy a robust loud conversation. I am pretty balanced, enjoying both kinds of interaction. However, here lately, I have found it difficult to connect in either way. I suppose it is because we are all so busy that we do not have time to spend on friendship, our families and personal lives are hard to handle as it is.
Friendships take nurturing, and nurturing takes time…time most of us do not have. Or do we? I think maybe we choose the wrong things, things that do not fulfill us. Like how we choose to sit in our living rooms watching TV instead of inviting a friend or two for dinner. Or how I skip the phone call in favor of one more load of laundry. Some of the things that take my time are necessary, there is nothing I can do about work schedules and church commitments and school obligations. But, my discretionary time says a lot about who I am. I say, “I do not have discretionary time.” Today I am saying, “Hogwash. I don’t believe that.”
Anthony the Great, the Father of Monks said, “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”
What does that mean for a housewife and mother of five? Well I have always believed that love begins in the home. I am not a mother who runs about being idle while neglecting my family. However, sometimes I think a home school mother can become a bit of an isolationist…bordering on an elitist. We have this atmosphere in our homes that we do not want interrupted or tampered with. I will be the first one to admit that opening up our home, our life, is a challenge. It’s difficult to be accessible. To be open, hospitable, unafraid, warm, and welcoming is a challenge for those who believe that our homes are a refuge from the evil world.
But where does that leave my neighbor? Is my neighbor evil?
The challenge of dark days is not to despair that ALL people are bad…to not participate in the culture of mistrust and suspicion. To be wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove. To keep loving, to keep being a part. And I am a part of this world, whether I like it or not. And this generation, and this country, and this town, and this neighborhood, and this family. I am not separate.
My home is not a sterile laboratory, free of contamination. It is a scary thing if I am the best person I know. Or my husband the best husband. Or my kids the best kids. That is true loneliness. And a true hindrance to friendship. I have to be willing to get dirty, to engage the drama, to be patient with failure, to learn that true tolerance is not about excusing sin, but bearing burdens and being willing to walk with someone, to take a long journey. Breaking the fallow ground of my heart, uprooting the weeds of intolerance is a desire I have right now.
If I repent to the degree in which I truly believe that, if I authentically live that, I think I would have the relationships I need and desire. True friendship is always a sharing of equals…I am the same…I am the chief.
It feels very good to the heart to love other people. I have felt God’s love for other people, and it is bliss. I wish I would remember that when I am angry, or hurt, or snubbed, or misunderstood, or ignored. I wish I would remember that when I see someone laying by the side of the road naked and sick, their sin exposed, ugly, and repulsive. I wish I was more like Mother Teresa,
Every person is Christ for me,
and since there is only one Jesus,
that person is the one person in
the whole world at the moment.
One person in the whole world. Do others feel that way when I am with them? A man that hath friends must show himself friendly, and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
Loving my neighbor can be a sterile act disguised by mannerly exchanges. There is nothing much worse than being treated kindly, but held at arms length. I have been done this way. I have done this myself. I have been extremely friendly to you with no intention of being your friend. And my heart breaks at admitting that. I want my manners and friendliness to be genuine and truthful, no guile. I want to be trusted and relied on. I want to be a friend.
Like my Mama used to tell me, “If you want friends, go be a good friend.”
Just something I am pondering, thinking about as I begin a new year…a new opportunity to be a good friend and neighbor.