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Monday, December 26, 2011

Right now

Somewhere between the stockings,




singing Christmas carols,




the Christmas story from Luke,




the presents,




the phone calls to family and friends far away,




the food,




and the lights,




it hit me.


This is it. Christmas 2011. One shot. No do-overs.


Just like every other day of my life.


Today, my kids are 15, 14, 11, 9, 5, 3, and 1. This time next year-- no matter where I am, no matter what has changed, no matter what the circumstances are-- they will be 16, 15, 12, 10, 6, 4, and 2, God willing. 


One day, one shot. Enjoy it. Occupy it. Be fully there. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Squishing

I'm a squisher. I don't like to feel hurt, and I don't like to feel vulnerable, and I certainly don't like to deal with the nasties that try to rear their head in my heart from time to time. Given my druthers, I avoid confrontation. I have to work hard at intimacy. Like I said, I squish. Keep it inside. Fight the genie back into the bottle and slap a cork on top before he can escape.


Lately, I'm having to squish harder and harder. It's eating up energy that I don't have to spare and costing me far more emotionally than my stretched Momma self can afford to pay. 


What I've been squishing down is this: twenty years ago, my mother unceremoniously grabbed fistfuls of my belongings (a Smiths shirt, a pair of boots, my pillow, whatever was at hand) and shoved them into two black trash bags she had ripped from a roll under our kitchen sink. Then, screaming and raving like a manic djinn, she stabbed the heel of her hand into my back and forced me out of her house, into the street.


I was 17--a senior in high school.


My sin was not playing along during one of the episodes of mania that kept-- no, keeps-- my mother from living a normal, healthy life and having normal, healthy relationships. See, my mother follows the tides of rise and fall that are usually indicative of mental imbalance. And while she (and most of her family) refuses to acknowledge her inability to function, I can tell you that as one of those who lived with her day in and day out for 17 years that she is not well. No, not well at all.


Today, we have a strained, cautious relationship in which I don't ask pointed questions and refuse to rise to certain bait thrown out from time to time. My role is to listen from my post nearly 3,000 miles away as she catalogs how woefully inept everyone in her life is and how unfair their expectations of her are. Then I swerve the conversation 'round to how my kids are faring, and she gets off the phone. This is the extent of our interaction.


It's not exactly fulfilling, but it isn't damaging, either.


Twenty years ago, however, it was damaging. It was ravaging. It was being awakened at 3 a.m. to be summoned to her bedroom, where she would smoke cigarette after cigarette until the air was hazy and I could barely see her wild eyes as she told me over and over how despicable a man my father was. It was taking my baby brother to see a doctor because my mother's fanatical fear of steroids made her unwilling to treat the poison ivy that had covered the lower half of her son's body. It was calling her boss--again-- to say that she was sick and couldn't come into work for the fifth day in a row, then missing school so that I could keep an eye on her so that she didn't make good on her promise of killing herself.


I wonder from time to time what I looked like, how I appeared, to the people who knew me 20 years ago. I lied to cover up the crazy that went on in my home. I did stupid things to be liked by people and feel like part of the crowd. I clung to friends who weren't good for me. I was irrational and angry and all the things that look like surliness on the outside but are often little more than a crying, scared heart begging for love on the inside.


I had no idea what God had in store for my life the night that I walked in the rain to the nearest gas station dragging my belongings behind me. As I bummed money for a pay phone from a guy pumping fuel, I had no idea that some day I'd meet the Jesus who was keeping me safe that night, or worship the God who softened the heart of a friend's parents to allow me to live with them until I went to college. I had no idea that He'd bring my future husband into my life just 8 months later, or that one day I would be called Momma by children whose backgrounds range from my own genes to horrific abuse to shared abandonment. 


I didn't know any of this. All I knew was that I was homeless, hurt, and without hope.


Today I'm battling through all of this again, wondering why my heart is so raw even when my hands are so full. I have no doubt that God has a lesson for me here, that He's working some miracle in my heart even as I strain to keep my head above the current of old fears that threatens to drown me. In desperation today, I reached out to friends who have been His voice in my ear, reminding me of His love and His ability to hold my hand as I grow. So I'm plunging in, not squishing ... waiting to see what the lesson is.


I don't know where this emotional tide is going, but I trust in this: the same God who saw me through the events of that awful night and led me through the weeks and months that followed is still with me, twenty years on.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: Lotus Bumz diaper

Normally, to review a diaper, I use it heavily for several weeks, then write down my thoughts and share them. If something changes over time--say the PUL goes kaput or the aplix loses its stick-- I go back and make an addendum to the original review. Experience has taught me that in the first month or so, a diaper will show its true colors as it relates to quality and performance. Rare is the dipe that does the duty for two months and then just completely fails. 


I'll say up front, though, that I put the Lotus Bumz cloth diaper through a far more rigorous routine than is normal for me in review testing. 


I wasn't exactly meticulous when it came to washing the cover and insert separately, for one. (Normally, I don't wash both together.) My washer died during the test period, and I had to make do at a local laundromat. It was just too spendy to sort different loads, so everything got piled in at once into some massive industrial machine. Back home, the inserts went into the dryer but yes, I was careful to hang dry the cover. But because of the laundry situation, the Lotus Bumz wipe (and every other one I owned) sat dirty in the pail far longer than the general recommendation of two days. Vinegar and baking soda were definitely called for when my washer was back in service.


On top of that, Seven is now (ahem) using her diapers far more, shall we say, vigorously. This is a fully active, table-fed 22 pound 15 month-old who also still nurses a couple of times a day. Trust me ... a diaper is put through the paces by this lady. 


And finally, the Lotus Bumz diaper was tested for almost double my normal time. Why? Well, when I mentioned the diaper to several experienced cd'ing mommas, nearly every one of them was somewhat dismissive. Turns out, the patterns and fabrics in the Lotus Bumz line are repeated in other brands. One momma noted that she had searched online and found several of these products, all seemingly from the same pattern, and that she was hesitant to order any of them because of their lower price point and the similarities, which seem to indicate that they're being sewn up in one factory, slapped with an individual seller's label, and sent on their way.


"I think they're all [insert name of popular cd brand here] knock-offs," was her rant, "but without the quality control."


Now, I'm just a reviewer. I can't speak to the where and why of a diaper, or to the motivations of a seller, or anything so deep. I'm asked to report to folks whether or not a diaper does what a diaper was meant to do, and to do my best to make sure that what I write is an accurate representation of our personal experience.


Taking into account the skepticism surrounding the quality of upstart diaper brands, I decided to run Lotus Bumz through the wringer and see how it held up. 


Turned out, it was up to the job.




I was given a one-size pocket diaper with a silky exterior. Prints like this retail for $16.97 on the Lotus Bumz website, with solids a dollar cheaper. The snaps all proved solid, and the interior was buttery soft. Actually, it's a neat fleecy material completely unlike any other diapers I have. I can see this perhaps getting a little pilly after a few dryer runs, so I'd be extra careful to keep this one on the "hang dry only" routine. The neat aspect of this fleece, however, is the way that it lets go of solid. I've literally never swished this diaper. Everything just seems to roll out. Your mileage may vary with newborn poops, but for older kiddos ... how refreshing!






The fit of this diaper was perfect on Seven's long, skinny little frame. 




At 22 pounds, she's still at the second setting. This is a diaper with a nice bit of give in the places where you want to see it, ensuring the long wearing-life that makes OSs such a bargain. Also, it's a fairly trim fit. My sample came with one, OS insert. Just stuffed that way, it was only just enough to keep the butt of Seven's leggings from seeming saggy. The pocket easily accommodates more stuffing, though, so you can adjust absorbency (or just fill those sized-up jeans you bought for your cloth diapered little one!).




Like any snaps, be prepared for a bit of finagling at change time. Seven is no dream to change these days, so I actually "hire" a helper to keep her occupied while I snap her up. Lotus Bumz snaps are slightly counter-intuitive to me in their placement, but I never claimed to be a professor of ergonomics. Mr. Blandings has no problem with them, and will often pick this diaper out of the stack, saying it's an "easy one." Daddy approved! 


Performance wise, I can honestly say that this diaper performed almost exactly the way the brand my friend claimed it knocked off does on a day to day basis. The only leaks we encountered were when the diaper was single-stuffed and time (and rice milk consumption) had gotten away from me. Even then, the leakage was of the garden variety dampness around the back of the legs--just enough to make tights or leggings slightly wet. When supplemented with an additional soaker, Lotus Bumz OS happily held through nap time.  (I didn't try this diaper for an overnight, because I simply don't like pockets for that duty.)


From my hardcore trial period, I can say that the Lotus Bumz OS isn't of shoddy quality. Far from it. Even when not treated with kid gloves and treated like, well-- a diaper--it held up. The cost is right in the mid-range of many brands, and the patterns and prints are adorable. This isn't a compromise product. You know-- "Well, I can't afford that, so I'll buy this." It's a great diaper. Buy with confidence!



Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Classic BOOKS and BAIRNS

originally published Friday, November 13, 2009

(Written when Bee was 13, Jo was 12, Atticus was 9 and a half, Logan was 7 and a half, Oli was about to turn 3, Mani was 18 months, and Seven wasn't even on the radar.)

On grace


Do you ever notice that the one person who seems to zero in on all of your faults, the one person who gleefully calls you on the mat, the one person who nags you when you stumble is ...

You?

Yeah, it's like that for me, too. I am my own harshest critic. I am the one who points out my shortcomings, who sighs dejectedly when goals are not met, who brings out the wet noodle when things go undone. I am the one who sees that the floor has not been vacuumed. I am the one who tells guests at the front door to please excuse the fact that I have a living room overrun with small plastic whatnots. I am the one who sees the science book lying there, untouched, and chastise myself for failing to make time. Again.

I strive to be the perfect wife, mother, and homeschooler. Of course, I can't be any of those things perfectly. I'm lucky to even be a good wife to my deserving husband, a passable mother to my fabulous kids, and the kind of teacher that I want to be. I constantly walk around with the knowledge that life is a delicate balance. Ample portions must be placed neatly on each platter. This one is for my husband: I'll give him time, encouragement, love, support, respect, and a house that he will be proud to come home to at night. This one is for my children: I'll give them love, cuddles, discipline, gentle words, security, joy, and fun. This one is for my role as a homeschooler: here I place my self-discipline, my creativity, my intellect, the flames of curiosity, and all the patience I can muster.

All it takes it one slight nudge in any direction for everything to swing out of balance. Too much in the way of fun for the kids, and the self-discipline needed to accomplish those school goals can fly out the window. Too much time invested in helping my husband with the practical stuff, and I might just have to shuffle my kids off in front of the television for a half hour. And wait just one doggone minute here! Where's my plate?!?!

It's a balance. It's hard work. And it's heart work.

I really need to give myself more leeway and grace. I need to make sure I'm in line with God's will, and trust that the rest will follow. I need to tune into Him, and trust that He will provide the details as I move to be the woman He wants me to be.

If only I could quiet that nagging voice. "You're doing it wrong. So-and-so is so much better at that than you are. Are you sure you're cut out for this?"

And here's where I'm going to cut to the chase and throw open the doors to my heart:

Sometimes, the voice I hear isn't my own. Sometimes that voice belongs to my fellow homeschooling moms.

At some point, somewhere along the journey, many of us begin to feel like we've figured it out. We hit our stride (even if it's just for a season), and things are working well. Our husbands are madly in love with us and delight in our every word. Our children are impeccably behaved, cute as buttons, and geniuses to boot. Homeschooling is a joy, and we can't wait to begin each day's adventure in education.

And we start to think that we have discovered the secret. You know--The Way To Do It.

So, of course, we tell others.

We pass on tips on homemaking, housekeeping, being the perfect wife, child training, selecting curriculum, selecting a church, you name it. We rattle off reading lists, mention specific scriptures, talk about speakers we've heard. But instead of simply offering granule of life experience, we add a small caveat to our gleanings. It's usually completely unspoken, but it's there. It's judgement.

If you don't wear dresses all the time, you're not conservative enough.
If you don't have a dozen kids, you're not a good enough mother.

If you don't joyfully submit to your husband 100%, you're not a good enough wife. If you don't wake up at 4 a.m. for a 2 hour prayer-time, you're not a good enough Christian.
If you don't do school for six hours a day, you're not a good enough homeschooler.
"Did you see how her son acted at co-op? Awful. You know, I'm so glad that we have a first-time obedience policy. My kids never act that way, because they know we mean business."

"I heard they're having marital problems. If she would just stop trying to run the family, they'd be fine."

"I doubt they even actually homeschool at all. They seem to be involved in every activity coming and going.
"

For some reason, homeschooling and legalism seem to walk hand in hand quite often. And the truth is, legalism is appealing. It seems to offer the one charted course that leads to the safe, soft-focus destination called Perfection. There are rules and order in legalism. There are Scriptures with very definitive takes on very specific things. There are clear-cut right ways and clear-cut wrong ways. Go this way and it will all turn out. Veer off course and-- you're told--you'll hit the rocks. And really, who doesn't want a guide book that promises to make everything in your life turn out just so?

I have struggled with legalism. I have looked at my own life, with it's bruised apple spots, and thought that maybe the answer could be found in a certain attitude toward my husband, or a particular form of femininity. I have watched as my children have grown, and I have feared life's ups and downs for them, wondering if perhaps erecting certain fences in our family might spare them from future pain.

For a season, those things seem to bear fruit. And then, invariably, I hear that still, small voice asking me the question that never fails to bring my carefully constructed perfection crumbling down:
What about grace?

What about grace, indeed? Pursuing righteousness and holiness is a noble and good task. Bathing your family in the goodness of God, instructing your children in His words, being in the world but not of it ... these are all things that the Lord commands us to do.

But He also asks one other thing of us as we walk the path that leads, ultimately, to His mansion for us:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. --1 Thessalonians 5:11


My fellow homeschoolers, we all fight the feelings of defeat and insufficiency that lead us to look at our days and wonder why God chose us. Please, instead of adding to that chorus of pain with more baggage and assumptions, can't we instead give a good report of one another? Can't we look at the harried mom of two kids who is trying to make it work and pat her on the back without pointing out that we have six kids and are getting by just fine? Can't we quit turning up our noses at the wife whose husband has no interest in being a leader of anything, let alone their home? Can't we drop the co-op dress codes that make it seem as if Jesus wouldn't be caught dead in a room devoid of denim jumpers?

Can't we extend grace?

Because frankly, we need it. We need it from ourselves, we need it from our friends and, most of all, we need it from God. The thing is--the Lord offers it new every morning. It's the rest of us who haven't gotten the memo.

I'm working on grace right now--for myself and for those around me. I'm praying that God gives me His eyes, and His love. And maybe, maybe ... just a little bit of His grace and mercy to pass around.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pretties, please

I tell you, having a baby girl around again has done something to my brain. I'm not sure I'll ever fully recover--especially since Mr. Blandings is as deeply in love with the cuteness as I am. Having a partner in crime somehow makes the whole pink indulgence seem less, well ... indulgent.


I love cute stuff. I love girly stuff. I love the fact that Seven has the cutest, perkiest little Cindy Lou Who pigtails I've ever seen. I'm hopeless, I tell you.


And my friend Lorri is aiding my addiction.

Cute, girly ... hair stuff. ((sigh))


Enter her giveaway, then pop on over to her site and check out the darling little pretties she and her daughter have collaborated on. (Don't you just love that it's a Mom and Daughter team?)

Just don't blame me if you win and end up fawning over cute all the time, too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fully five


... and just discovered the sheer joy of superheroes.


He's kind of a superhero to us, anyhow, so the cape is just an added touch.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, OLI!!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Classic BOOKS and BAIRNS

originally posted Sunday, January 17, 2010


(Bee was 13, Jo was 12, Atticus was 9.5, Logan was 7.5, Oli was 3, Mani was 19 months, and I was just about to discover that I was pregnant with Seven )

If you have eyes to see

You live your life, day in and day out.

You cook in the same kitchen, hug the same children, pull on the same shoes when you need to run to the car. This is life, and you are living it, in the trenches, present and in the moment. The ceramic insert to your crockpot breaks, and you're shocked to find that replacements aren't available, as that model was discontinued seven years ago. Is it possible that the baby's nails need to be trimmed again? Didn't you just do that? One day you realize that it's time for a new laundry hamper, and wonder exactly when the side to this one split open. As you're pressing your lips to your 9 year-old's forehead, it dawns on you that it's time to trim back that mop of bangs flopping over his eyes. Your shoelace snaps as you pull it taut, and it occurs to you that you've been tying these same shoes onto your feet for the past four years. Has the toddler really outgrown that 2T zip up hoodie? And we don't have one in the next size up? Surely he can make due with the 4T. I'll just roll the sleeves and it will hang a little low.

These things just seem to happen, because time is invisible. Life presses forward, straining against the seams of our reality, urging us a little farther down a road we cannot see. The small stuff--the items enduring heavy use for years on end, the children who are always
growing, growing, the hours that pass by-- those details slip into the periphery of what we know as daily living.

Until, of course, you see your life through the eyes of others.

Suddenly, you sense that perhaps haircuts should come higher on the priority list. Or maybe a fresh coat of paint in the kitchen really would be worth the investment. You could probably afford the $15 for a new jacket for the two year-old; It's not THAT big of a hassle. Perhaps it's even time for grown-up furniture. Shouldn't you really pour more effort into keeping things a little more up to date?

Before long, you are looking at your old couch--which has hosted some of the best moments of your family's homeschooling history on its worn, welcoming lap--and wondering how it looks to eyes that don't see the beauty of a thousand read-alouds, of sick babies comforted, of anxieties soothed, of
"Momma, can I get a cuddle?"

It is simply a small, squat mass covered in outdated black tweed. Far too small for a family of a certain size. Far too old to hold the contours of modern furnishings. Far too drab to make a statement, complement a space, or add a design flourish.

If you're very quiet in these moments, and you don't tune your ear too closely to the outside voices pick-pick-picking at the vulnerable edges of your life, you just might hear this:

Love is rarely shiny or new. It is not often stylish or impressive. It neither draws attention nor seeks to better itself.

Rather, love is like that couch, the one that really ought to be placed on the curb, traded in for a better model, forgotten. Love makes no statement about the people who possess it other than this:
We will make room. Always, one more can be pressed into the wings.
The road less traveled is, for many, marked with certain sacrifices. Deciding to live on one income leaves few couples with the ability to finance grand vacations, full sets of matching furniture, or endless supplies of designer-label clothing. Homeschooling your children leaves little free time to creatively decorate a space, pour yourself into an energizing "me" hobby, or schedule a professional haircut every four to six weeks. And having a large family? Well ... utility-sized vehicles, crowded dining rooms, and lots of hand-me-downs come with the territory.

These are the sacrifices. For many people--especially those who would not journey those paths by choice at any point in their lives-- these sacrifices are the face of a life less everything: less beautiful, less abundant, less full, less fulfilling.

The cost is too high, for many people. They see weekend camping trips as pale excuses for full-scale amusement park fun. They cringe at the thought of cutting their own child's hair. They can't imagine having to forgo some purchases in the name of budgeting. They like the freedom in their finances, their schedules, or their marriage.

For me, the cost of that kind of life is more that I care to pay. Even though it is tempting, when I begin to see my life through the eyes of those who "have more," to begin to feel discontent with my surroundings or my stuff, I am brought back to the image of my hulking sofa, circa 1980. By the world's standards, it is an item that--like full-time mothering--has outlived its usefulness. But it is beautiful. Not for the sake of itself, of course ... but for how it has served. There is no glamour, no fame, and no show in patiently tending to a small flock of souls days after day. There is no honor or glory associated with serving hot meals and putting the laundry on hold long enough to fit in a game of UNO.

But there is love. And love, like time, is one of those invisible treasures that makes life far richer than any couch, shirt, trip, or thing. Love is what makes a family bind together. If, of course, you have eyes to see.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's that time ...


Time for Mary Grace to spend hours making Christmas whatnots. Ornaments. Cookies. Anything that says "Christmas" to me. 

Because it makes me happy, that's why.


Above is my latest Christmas ornament obsession--a very simple little felt birdie. Anyone interested in a quick tutorial?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful

I find that the daily grind of parenting a special needs child brings with it some amazing clarity, even in the midst of so much doubt. In parenting any child, there is the daily opportunity to weigh the good, the bad, and the ugly. But somehow, in watching Oli grow in his own little fits and starts, I can rattle off a list of accomplishments far faster than I can with just about any of my other children. Why?


Because no one has ever been able to tell us if he would have any at all.


He learned to speak in two-word sentences? Wow. Great. That's better than expected.


He's walking now? Awesome!


He's figuring out how to pretend? Wondered if that was even possible, but there it is!


So today, as everyone's blog seems to focus on the big sweep of blessing in their lives, I want to celebrate the small stuff. The Oli-sized victories. The things that don't need a holiday to deserve applause. In no particular order, I present four major Oli milestones for which I am thankful:


Oli is learning some visual discrimination skills. While he still can't name a specific color with any regularity, he CAN match two similar objects with fair frequency. Way to go, Oli!

Oli is learning body awareness. Thanks to this take-home activity from his OT, we were able to see that Oli DOES know most of his general body parts, even though he can't find quite the right words or actions to let us know. But building a "mat man" gave him the chance to wow us with his ability to put those parts in the right places with only a little guidance.

Oli is figuring out that toys are a representation of real things. Up until fairly recently, Oli played with a toy truck by running it repeatedly around in circles to watch the wheels spin. He's recently made the connection between the vehicles on the road and the ones in his toy chest. Nice deduction!

The sensory stuff is easing off a bit! Oli loves to play with playdough, dry rice, and other textures that used to make his skin crawl. He's also able to seek out these activities and use them to regulate his system occasionally. This is a big improvement in his quality of life and has opened so many doors for him.

What's on your "thankful list" today?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bee and Atticus

Tell me their slouches don't look similar!
She's 15. He's 11.


She likes chess, Converse, and reading. He likes chess, Converse, and reading.


Bee, meet Atticus. Atticus, meet Bee.


Atticus is a very tall American boy. Bee is an average-sized Nepali girl. Guess what that means?

Monday, November 21, 2011

TODAY

Today is the day. Monday, November 21, 2011. At 6 p.m. PST, Bee will start her visa interview. Please be in prayer as we ask the Lord to grant our daughter the ability to travel home with her father and brother for the Christmas season.

Mr. Blandings told Bee that people who she will most likely never meet this side of heaven had committed to pray for her interview, and she was both humbled and stunned. Even if this interview brings another negative answer, her heart has already been impacted by the strength of prayer and the depths of the true and living God's love for an orphaned girl cast off by Hindu society. Thank you!!!


I will update this post as soon as I hear from Kathmandu.


ADDENDUM: For those not running on a U.S. calendar or clock, the interview is Tuesday, November 22, at 8 a.m. local time in Kathmandu. Here's a handy dandy online converter to help you figure out when the interview will be taking place in your area.

UPDATE: Two and a half hours into the interview now, and still no word. Bee has to be interviewed alone, so Mr. Blandings and Atticus are pacing outside, waiting ... 

UPDATE: After a three hour interview, Bee's visa was denied by the same man who has denied her twice before. She walked out standing strong. Mr. Blandings is a puddle. I cannot thank you enough for the prayers.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Teens

 Maybe I'm like a rabbit who hasn't learned to run for cover at the sound of a hound baying, but I don't fear parenting teens.


I view it with a healthy dose of caution, no doubt about that. Teens are emotional rogues. They are hormonal tempests. They are immature, though their options aren't always. There's a lot there to give a parent pause, for sure. But I don't fear it at the same level that I hear in the voices of my fellow moms.


"Ugh. The teen years."


"You have a teenager? God bless you, honey."


"Better you than me."
Jo, 14, being all the the things that are GOOD about teens

Raising teenagers seems to be something a little less pleasant than waking up to a big, fat cold sore on your lip on your wedding day. When asked, most folks would take the cold sore; at least you know that some lemon balm or peppermint oil will take wipe out the virus in a week to ten days.


Parenting teens? Well, it's the gift that keeps on giving. For seven years or so.

I'm not a professional, but as I see it, the problem with parenting teens is that we want to slow down, stall, or even arrest the process that we ourselves were so keen on starting the moment they were born. Be honest--how thrilled were you when your newborn held her head steady for exactly six seconds before letting it flop unceremoniously to the side? You were over-the-moon titillated. And why? Because your wee babe was showing the very first signs that she would some day be an independent, physically capable, adept human being.


You celebrated his first solid foods. You clapped when she took her first, stiff-legged cruise around the couch. You hung her first attempt at writing her own name on the fridge with pride, and even sent pdf'd copies to all of the grandparents-- and your Aunt Lily, in Boston. You cried when he learned to read. You celebrated her first goal with a family trip to the ice cream parlor.


And now, here is your child, crashing through firsts left and right ... and the last thing you want to do is applaud.


Bee, 15, stretching her wings
The first time she realizes that girls often stab one another in the back. The first truly poor choice in friendships. The first opportunity to look back on something with real regret. The first chance to take responsibility to the next level. The first time making you worry over a later-than-expected arrival home. The first flared temper over not being heard.

When we look at our teens, we must realize that standing before us is a project nearly complete. Nearly, but not entirely. This is a butterfly who has emerged from her chrysalis and is searching for a warm, safe spot in the sun, where her wings can dry, be stretched, and make their first tentative motions mimicking the miracle of flight that will be her daily lot for the rest of her days.   


Maneuvering friendships. Overcoming disappointment. Learning from mistakes. Tackling new challenges. Being accountable.


Those are grown-up things. Grown-up things. Does this mean that you can't teach them to your teen? No? Does it mean that you can't lay the groundwork early on, even in their preschool years? No. But it does mean that holding a teenager to the performance level of an adult is unfair.


They aren't adults. Not yet. Praise the Lord!


There are still precious, precious years to be poured into a teenager. And yes, some of them are going to stalk off like the Prodigal Son. Some of them are going to leave us, their hapless, hurt parents, stunned and sobbing on the floor, crying out to the Lord and trying desperately to figure out what led us to this place. Some of those wayward kids will not come back. Some of them will kick us while we're down. Some of them will break our hearts again and again and again. I know that this happens, and I'm not denying it. I'm not saying that parenting teens is a sunshine and lollipops walk in the park.


But for most of us--the blessed majority, really--parenting teens is really not the root canal we've been told to expect. Like any exercise, there are days when it is bliss. Then there are days when you stare, gape-mouthed, and wonder why on earth the Lord ever thought you could handle raising the clearly demon-afflicted sinner who calls you "Mom" (to your face, at least).  But these are just moments--and moments set the tone for the tapestry of time, but they do not have to define it.


I am still a newbie at this whole game. I still have a lot to learn--and I'm eager to be educated. My mantra is "I'm not raising children, I'm raising future adults." As such, I don't expect lock-step zombies to populate my home at any stage--most especially not as they are finishing the job of preparing those wings and are eying the surrounding horizon, looking for the right direction in which to fly. I want individuals. I want people ready to change the world. I want the same fire that spurned a child on, on, on until she mastered how to pedal her first bike.

The teen years have much riding on them, yes. They are the closing session in the nearly two decades of very hands-on parenting that we are able to give most of our children. They are the years where we throw in as many, "Oh, by the way ..." addendum as we can, hoping to give our children an edge as they enter the ominous-sounding Real World. There's a lot to sneak in before your child is no longer under your roof: off to college, maybe married, perhaps working his or her first actual career-type job. It's a big job, parenting teens. No doubt that.


But fear? Fear doesn't get the job done. Fear only pushes us to inactivity, misgivings, or worse. I didn't inherit a spirit of fear. So while I may have very real reasons in the next few years to be afraid of the repercussions of specific choices or circumstances as my children navigate into young adulthood, I'm not going to claim fear as my rallying cry for the next season of parenting. Instead, I'm going to keep walking on towards the goal. One step--and teen--at a time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review opportunity

People ask me all the time how to get started reviewing: homeschool products, books, diapers, the list goes on and on. Usually my advice is to post a few reviews of things you already have and feel qualified to write about. Be completely honest. Post it. Then contact companies in whose products you are interested, and link them to your already-published reviews.


Alternatively, you may find that once your reviews are up, people will begin contacting you in search of a review. Or that an opportunity just comes knocking before you even get around to those trial run write-ups. Perhaps even an opportunity like the one I'm about to mention:


K5 Learning has an online reading and math program for kindergarten to grade 5 students.  I've been given a 6 week free trial to test and write a review of their program.  If you are a blogger, you may want to check out their  open invitation to write an online learning review of their program. 

 I was contacted to see if I was interested in writing a review. A scan of the website sold me. Logan struggles with spelling, and an online, interactive program which can be edited (I can add words that he frequently misspells) and learns which words he struggles with sounds like a good fit. In addition, because they offer preschool readiness skills, Oli and Mani can sit with an older sibling or me and learn how to use the computer a bit. So far, I've kept them as far away from my beloved Mac as possible {grin} but I know that the ability to handle a mouse and get acquainted with a keyboard is going to be useful soon enough.

I was able to sign Atticus, Logan, Oli, and Mani up as students. Interestingly, though it's called K5, students can be up to 8th grade. Go figure.


So hey, sign up for the free trial. Tell them Mary Grace at BOOKS and BAIRNS suggested it. Use the site, and see how it works for you. Write an honest review. And start calling yourself a blogger/reviewer. You'll have earned it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Dress

I admit it: I probably enjoy adding to Seven's wardrobe a little too much. When Jo was little, we were so destitute that she wore whatever was given to us. As a matter of fact, the child didn't own a pair of pants intended for a little girl until we moved to WA and lost out on my cousin's generous hand-me-downs from her son. Then I had four boys in a row, and stripes, solids, and plaids ruled the day. Would you like that in blue or green? Wanna' get crazy and put a screen printed puppy on that?


So yes, Seven has been a welcome diversion in the clothing department. Oh, the options. The colors! The fabrics! The styles! I've thrown myself into making things for her. Skirts, dresses, and even an adorable little hat that stretched my knitting skills to the limit. I've not tried socks yet, but they're on my radar, trust me. I just can't help myself.


I also find myself trolling sales racks when I'm out and about. That's how Seven got the shirt that she wore on her birthday--the one that announced that she was the Birthday Girl. Yup. $3.99 on the sales rack. As if I could pass that up.


I still only buy things that I truly, truly love. The Birthday Girl shirt, for example, makes me smile every single time I see those photos. I knew it would. So $3.99 was an investment well worth the return. Other items that have found their way into Seven's closet have been just as irresistible. The girl owns nothing that I don't absolutely adore. If it's simply a cute item on sale and it doesn't make me grin at the thought of seeing her toddle about in it, then I pass it by.


As such, she doesn't have a closet bursting at the seams with more dresses, skirts, and shirts than one child can wear in a lifetime, let alone the three months it will all actually fit. She has a wardrobe of about ten outfits. Ten outfits that show off all her cuteness, that make me smile like crazy, and that suit her sparkly little personality.


Hanging in the back of the closet are the retired clothes. The outgrown treasures that I have no idea what to do with just yet; my heart is still deciding. There are only a few things there, special things that I'm not sure would ever look right on anyone but Seven. Among those limbo clothes sits my all-time favorite dress. It's a sweet little babydoll number in blues and browns from Naartjie. I bought in on clearance for $7.50 about 8 months ago. The colors weren't typical of the palette I generally choose for my baby girl, but the patterns gave me heart a little tug. So I bought it. She wore it. And she wore it. And she wore it.


Seven in The Dress at 6 months


It became such a favorite that I found myself neglecting other items in her closet, simply because I loved that little dress so much on her.


But of course, the day came when the dress no longer did what it was intended to do. Meant to be a below-the-knee little number, it crept up until the whole of her (admittedly large) cloth-diapered bum was visible. The seasons changed, anyway, and the dress came out of rotation. I remember putting it on the hanger for the last time with a knowing sigh. It was like saying goodbye to a friend. Unable to simply slip it into a bin, I left it in the closet, where I could visit it from time to time and relive the dash that the last year has been.


This morning, as I selected something for Seven to wear, the dress caught my eye. Could it possibly .... ? I wondered. I had seen other people do it. Sure, it's might not be the sweetest look ever, but maybe, just this once ...




Seven in The Dress at 14 months


You know, it works for me. Tomboy meets sweetheart, maybe? Patterns and prints and jeans. Rickrack and denim cuffs. I think she pulls it off.


Seeing Seven in that dress reminded me of how big she is, how quickly she's growing, and how much I adore the 14 month-old phase. And while I'm having a blast with the little things--like outfitting my baby girl--it's the big things that really keep my focus. Time is fleeting. Soon enough, this adorable little dress will head back to the closet, this time forever. Before I know it, she'll be drinking from a big girl cup, then writing her name, then asking if she can take horseback riding lessons. She'll have very definite ideas about what she wants to wear, and in what colors. 


And you know, I'm o.k. with that. Today, I'm just happy that I got a peek into how much she has grown, but how little she still is. And yes, I'm happy that the favorite dress got one more chance to shine!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Save the date

Bee's visa interview will take place on 8 a.m., Tuesday, November 22, in Nepal. Do a little number crunching, and you come up with 6 p.m. PST on Monday, November 21. 


I'll be praying like crazy. Care to join me?

Gentle



We've reached the stage where people have no idea what to make of Oli. He doesn't talk intelligibly--or at least not the way that a boy just weeks prior to his fifth birthday should. He doesn't maintain eye contact, engage, or ask questions. His play is repetitive, often little more than the imitation of a routine act like tying his shoes. He doesn't understand the concept of personal space. Sometimes, he stares blankly into the air, and even when you call his name he doesn't snap from wherever he is back to the reality of now.


This makes people--children, adults-- uncomfortable. They ask him questions, wait for answers, then fidget and look slightly embarrassed when nothing comes. They smile at him and seem slightly put off when he does not immediately smile back. They finally tend to look just past him, or avert their eyes altogether and settle on one of the children who seems able to meet these minimum human standards.


People don't know what to do with folks like Oli who just don't fit into our notion of what it is to be a man, woman, or child of a certain age, or certain standing. Mental illness, cognitive difficulties, processing disorders ... these things make the general populace squirm, I have found.




The funny thing is, animals have no such qualms. If I had a dime for every puppy that bounded a ten feet out of its way to throw itself into Oli's lap, or every horse that patiently let my little man nuzzle into its neck, or every rabbit that stood stock still to let Oli stroke its long back ... well, I'd be rich.


Oli is gentle with animals. He connects with them on a simple, mutual level. There is an ease about him when something small and fuzzy settles into his lap. It's not something that I see when he mashes his play-doh in frustration, trying so, so hard to mold it into the same ball he sees Mani mastering with ease. It is something else. Something instinctual and yet profound.




With animals, Oli can simply be. They don't ask him questions that he can't answer, or rate his performance based on a set of skills he can't comprehend. They don't look at him funny when he flaps his arms or covers his head and shrieks for no reason. All they ask is that he doesn't tug too hard at their vulnerable spots, or squeeze in places that hurt. If he does either of these things, they will shy and he will be left empty-handed. No more stroking of velvet fur. No more warm, sweet snuggles. No more rough tongue lapping at your wrist.


Oli gets this.


And the animals get him.

It's good to be accepted and loved, no matter how small the creature offering you its trust.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Classic BOOKS and BAIRNS

first published Friday, September 5, 2008


(Written as Jo was about to turn 11, Atticus was 8 and a half, Logan was 6 and a half, and everyone else was a blessing we'd not yet met.)

 Apostle Paul, meet Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd, meet the Apostle Paul.


No doubt you read this post's title and began asking yourself if MG has finally gone so far off her rocker as to be certifiably insane. I regret to inform you that I have actually been certifiable for quite some time, and am now working in my PhD in the area. I'll let you know when the sheepskin arrives.

My children have fallen into a nasty little habit as of late. Of course, I am ashamed to admit that it's gotten to the stage of "habit"; in order for something like that to develop, it has to grow from a tiny little seed, be allowed to blossom and then finally entrench itself. Clearly, I missed quite a few character training moments in this particular area. Most likely, I cruised past the warning signs with my eyes eagerly trained on something I saw as more important. I do that sometimes, I'm sorry to say.
This particular habit I see my children manifesting is one that's a particular hurt to my mothering heart: tearing Logan down. Igh. Just seeing that in writing makes me cringe. I mean, how do you miss something like that?

The fact is, it's been coming for years. And while I've been trying to navigate the choppy waters of sibling relationships, I'm afraid I completely missed the boat on this one.

The seeds were sewn back when Logan was a toddler. For some reason, each consecutive child in my life has spoken intelligibly at a later date than the one before. Jo was spouting fully-formed, grammatically correct sentences with multiple, appropriate adjectives by one year of age. "Mommy, may I have the fuzzy, yellow duckling, please?" That was Jo. Atticus was somewhat slower to the draw. What set him apart was his vocabulary--apparently, falling asleep to me reading to him from Whitman's Leaves of Grass made an impression. "It's ominous!" he said of an approaching storm one afternoon shortly before his second birthday.
Logan did not speak at one year of age. He muttered little more than his own Logan-speak even as he approached his second birthday. At 30 mos., I sat down with him and made a list of every word he had ever even tried to say. The list stopped at 21 words and consisted mainly of sounds more than words: "duh" for "ball" and the like. I decided to pursue professional evaluation.

After six months of therapy, some intensive home intervention and a little maturing, Logan began to speak with fair intelligibility. It wouldn't be until he turned five, however, that I would say his speech issues became a moot point.

During those first years, his siblings learned that unless Mom was around, understanding Logan was a fairly taxing exercise. As siblings are wont to do, they often decided that this was a little more involved than they really wanted to be, so they began blocking him out altogether. Logan's response? In true Logan fashion, the reasoning came down like this: "Well, if you're not going to listen to me when I'm nice, I'll
make you listen to me when I'm mean!"

I work on this with my older kids to this day. It's not an every day thing at this point, but it's still something I keep my feelers out for. Four years of, "Are you listening to your brother?" Four years of, "Try again, Logan." Four years of, "He's talking to
you, Jo."

((sigh))

So that's where this all started. Logan gets ignored. Which has now been translated into, "What Logan says is probably wrong."

Now this jump I really don't get. I suspect that it comes from the fact that I have one very intelligent, dominant firstborn (that would be Jo) and one super-grandé intelligent oldest male (Atticus). And of course, anything they say is, by definition, right. And the opposite of right is ... (follow along with me here!) WRONG.

So if Logan disagrees, he's wrong. The problem is that Logan is no dummy. He's actually just as full of factoids and general knowledge as Jo, though clearly less obsessively detail-oriented as Atticus. As Logan has come into his own and is now a big old first grader, he not only wants to be heard, he wants to be
HEARD. But what he gets is often this:
Logan: "If the next president serves two terms, I'll be almost 15 when he leaves office."Jo: "Two terms is eight years."Atticus: "You'll be 14."Logan: "I know! I said almost 15, because the inauguration is in January and my birthday's in May."

Did you catch that? It's really subtle to the casual on-looker. Logan must be wrong, because he is
Logan. That's the upshot here.

I know that some people will dismiss this as part and parcel of being a little brother. I'm sorry, but I can't swallow that. It's rude, it's wrong, and above all, it's completely disrespectful. I expect more from my children.

This morning, after hearing the above exchange and watching Logan hunch down in his chair and generally lose a bit of his morning sparkle, I snapped.

"Everyone up!" I announced. The kids looked at me like I was a crazy woman. Didn't I know that there was hot food on the table? This was breakfast time, by golly. A sacred hour in my house. Who gets up at breakfast time?

"Out to the gameroom! I want each of you to build me a Lego wall. Make it 4 big bricks wide and ten bricks tall."

Their eyes still wide, Jo, Atticus and Logan marched out to the gameroom. Ten minutes later, they were back, each carrying a little Lego creation. I instructed them to put the walls in front of their plates and to listen very closely.

"My children, you have fallen into an ugly habit," I began. "The Bible says that a house divided against itself will not stand. And yet, here we are, dividing against ourselves. My children are doing to one another exactly what the world does: pick and pull and hurt. And it's got to stop."

I read to my children from 1 Corinthians 8:
We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. We talked about what we know, what we think we know, and what other people know.

Then we moved on to 1 Thessalonians 5:11:
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up. Which would be where our lovely Lego walls come in: today, whenever someone uses their words to correct someone else in any way that uses their knowledge but is ultimately undermining, they will have to physically remove one of that person's bricks. In other words, the intangible from your lips will be made tangible. You will see how you are breaking others down.

I finished up by pointing out that each one of us really and truly is a little wall of Legos. We are our own little structure ... but at the whim of others. The things that break us down can slide so easily off of the tongue as to be almost unnoticed. And there it goes ... another brick from the wall, leaving us less sound, less sure, and less encouraged.

I'll report back on the results ...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy BIRDday to you

I had no intention of posting these, but a friend recently asked where I had come up with the ideas I'd used for decorating for Seven's first birthday party. I told her about the hours I'd spent scanning blogs and noting my favorite ideas. Then she asked why I hadn't returned the favor and posted my own pics to serve as inspiration to other Mommas. Ummmmm ... because it hadn't occurred to me? 


To remedy my bloggy faux pas, I present ... the BIRDday Party.

The entrance
 
We live in a townhouse with a narrow front walkway. Since balloons or cute yard signs or anything of that nature wouldn't have been seen from the street by our guests anyway, I commissioned Jo and her best friend to set the stage in chalk.



The cupcakes
 


With the number of kids in attendance, cupcakes were the way to go. Easier to serve and, given that we'd be outside, no plates would be needed unless someone was just feeling particularly neat and tidy. I saw these sweet bird's nests, but decided that snipping marshmallows and whatnot was probably less fun than spending my time enjoying the birthday girl. So I simply saved a bag of robin's eggs candies back at Easter time, pulled them out of the freezer in September and, voila! Cute little nests!


The highchair banner
 


I really, really wanted to do a highchair banner. I have no idea why, but I saw some on etsy and fell in love and, well ... I just had to do it. So I did.


Seven's was a two-evening project for Jo and me. I bought coordinating scrapbook paper from the craft store, a few embellishments to sprinkle here and there, and we set to work.


I drew out a pattern for a fat little birdie, then we cut out a bunch of bodies and wings and had fun mixing and matching. It really was a fun, no-rules craft. And I liked the results so much that I'm keeping the banner to reuse when Miss Seven turns 2. 


The serving area
 

Since the actual party was outside, we just needed a staging area in the house. So I pushed my kitchen table against the wall, and used it as a buffet. I went with all kid-friendly and loosely bird-themed nibbles.


There were twigs (pretzel sticks), flowers (fruit kebobs), suet cakes (rice crispie treats), and birdseed (sunflower seeds). Jo and I made these markers while we working on the banner.


Located on the wall above the serving area was what turned out to be everyone's favorite part of the party: the year in pictures.


This was so, so easy and yet so sweet and fun. I simply took one photo from each month of Seven's life, printed it as a 5x7, and hung it on a color-coordinated ribbon with a mini clothespin. To anchor the ends in a classier fashion, I covered the tips of my pushpins with yet another cutout of a paper bird.



To label each month of this amazing last year, I printed out a free template and used leftover scrapbooking paper from the high chair banner. My handwriting isn't as fancy as some of my computer's fonts. I let it do the pretty part: I printed out "birth" through "11" on white paper, then glued it on to the little tags. Mr. Blandings loved this so much that he moved it to the wall in Seven's bedroom, where I get to enjoy it every day. And Jo (who is going through a teen phase of valuing originality above mere imitation) is convinced that she's going to be seeing this particular decoration "copied" at every little one's birthday she attends for years. Really--it was that cute!


To cement the theme, I put together a playlist of all bird-related songs ... but since we spent 90% of the party out on the back hill, I'm fairly certain no one noticed "Bye Bye Blackbird," "And Your Bird Can Sing," "Three Little Birds," "Blackbird," and the like. But I knew it was there. :-)

Nominated, part 2

Turns out, not only was I nominated for the Best Special Needs Homeschooling Blog category-- I was nominated in Favorite Homeschool Mom Blog, as well as Best Photos Blog. I didn't notice because frankly, I didn't look under such vaunted headings. I'm sure that says something about me on a very deep emotional level, but right now, I'm not interested in psychoanalyzing the whole thing. Instead, I'm just going to sit here and say, "Wow!" and try not to sound like Sally Fields too awfully much. :-)

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Joshua 1:9





It is no small thing to put your son on a plane and send him halfway around the world.



It is no small thing to watch him collect his belongings, listen to him dream over what God has in store for him while he is abroad.


It is no small thing, too, to see him cast a glance over his shoulder as he walks through the massive, sliding doors of the airport and search for you--one last time-- to offer a reassuring smile.


I'm going now. I'm off! Can you believe it, Mom? I'm doing it! I'm really doing it. Just like you always said I would ...


Five years ago, I wondered and worried and prayed over the spectre of fear and defeat that threatened to swallow Atticus. Night after night, I would pray with him, asking God to cut his anxieties down to size, to give him victory, to help him claim the steadfast heart that Jesus wanted for him as a young man of God. More often than not, Mr. Blandings and I would slip into his bedroom just before we turned in for the night and pray once more; this time, it was Joshua 1:9. Every night, over and over, we prayed this verse:


Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

We recited it by day light, when the worries appeared. Over math that seemed too difficult. Over words that seemed too hurtful. Over fears about the future. Over questions that seemed too deep. Over a heart that seemed destined to cower.


Years later, I can tell you that the roots of this Scripture are so deep in my son's spirit that I have seen him whispering it to himself as he prepares to walk into a crowded room of people he doesn't know. 


Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Today, Yahweh walked alongside Atticus as he took one small leap from boyhood to manhood. The God who hung the stars in the sky stood nearby as Atticus and Mr. Blandings made their way through security, found their gate, and settled in to wait a while. Then, it was Yahweh who carried my beaming boy on to a gigantic Airbus. Right now, the three of them are hurtling through the sky en route to Nepal and whatever adventures and blessings await them there.


Five years ago, none of this would have been remotely possible. Five years ago, it was a struggle for Atticus to strap into the car for a ride across the mountains without mentally steeling himself for the fiery death he knew was lurking just around every bend. Yet today, with God's help and to God's glory, this same young man kissed me fiercely as I prepared to leave him at the airport. His hands were not clammy, his face was not pale, his heart was not racing.


I must have held on a little too long for our last hug. The truth is, my heart breaks just a little bit with each day that I am away from any of my children, and knowing that it will be two weeks before this gawky man-boy is laughing at my side brings a hard lump into my throat. I was pondering this, holding on tight, as Atticus started to pull away. Sensing my hesitation, he leaned in just a tad closer, found my ear, and whispered.

"Joshua 1:9, Mom. 'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.'"

I cried just the tiniest bit as I let him go, even though really, it would have taken nothing for me to break into full-fledged sobs.  But to what end? Has God not commanded me? I will be strong and courageous. I will not tremble, nor be dismayed, for the Lord my God is with my son ... wherever he goes.